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Cruises to Busan, South Korea

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple and Haeundae Sea in Busan, South Korea (Photo: Daengpanya Atakorn/Shutterstock)

About Busan, South Korea

Located on the southeast tip of the Korean Peninsula, Busan is South Korea's second-largest city, but it lies closer to Japan than to the capital, Seoul. It's home to 3.5 million people and is the country's largest port city, as well as either the world's fifth-busiest or ninth-busiest cargo seaport (depending on whose stats you believe). The city's name translates from Sino-Korean as "Cauldron Mountain," believed to be a reference to nearby Hwangnyeongsan Mountain.

Many elements, both old and new, come together in Busan. On the historic side, Bokcheon-dong, to the north, is home to fourth-century burial mounds that have yielded many iron weapons, indicating a complex and powerful society during that era. Further north, Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Silla dynasty (668 to 936 AD); royal temples, tombs and golden artifacts remain. Gyeongju's royal eighth-century Bulguksa Temple earned a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and other ancient temples are scattered throughout the Busan area.

Busan is also a shopper's dream, with both markets and huge mega-malls. It's home to the world's largest department store as well as Korea's biggest fish market. Depending on your preferences, you can pick up the latest K-cosmetics (Korean cosmetics are hot all over Asia) or snack on a wide variety of street food.

The city is known as the "summer capital of Korea," thanks to its six beaches, nearby parks and hiking spots. You'll also find museums, Korea's largest aquarium and plenty of other attractions to keep you busy.

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Why go to Busan, South Korea?

Pros:

A busy, modern city that also has deep historic roots; you'll find malls and markets here

Cons:

While there's plenty to do, some of the top attractions require a long trip from the port

Bottom Line:

Whether you're a shopper or a history buff, you'll find something of interest

Busan, South Korea Cruise Port Facilities?

Cruise ships dock at the end of a pier, with a basic building housing only immigration, security screening services and a small waiting area. Wi-Fi is available here, though there are only a few seats. Outside the building, Busan Bank sets up a mobile currency exchange truck on the cruise pier that's also equipped with two ATMs. About a 10-minute walk up the pier is Busan Port International Passenger Terminal, which serves ferries. Inside the modern building, there are a few shops, including 7-Eleven, places to grab a bite and a tourist information center -- plus restrooms and Wi-Fi. Just be prepared for potential crowds coming and going on ferries.

The passenger terminal is about a 10-minute walk from the Busan metro's Choryang station (Line 1) and a similar distance from Busan train station, which also has a Line 1 metro stop.

The piers and passenger terminal are separated from the rest of town by a highway and a train yard. Your best bet is to take the free shuttle bus to Busan Station. If you're walking from the pier, go to your left as you face inland to skirt around the train yard and pass through the train station, which also has shops and eateries.

On the other side of the train station, you'll find Texas St., an infamous drinking and red-light district for American servicemen in times past, and now known for bars and shopping. A few blocks to the north is Choryang traditional market, a covered market with food and other items.

Good to Know?

Depending on the current situation between North and South Korea, you may or may not want to discuss politics with your guide or other locals. Our guide was very forthcoming with her thoughts, and we found the conversation quite interesting.

When we visited, Google Maps was searchable for locations, but would not give directions from one place to another. If you're taking a taxi to a particular destination, it would be a good idea to print out the name and address in Korean. (Tip: Google usually lists both languages in the results when you search in English.) Some restaurants are difficult to find by address alone. If you're taking the metro, there's often information online from others who have been there, offering directions from a metro stop.

Getting Around?

On Foot: Unless you like to wander, it's probably not very efficient to tour the city by foot, since it's very spread out. There's not a lot to see in the port area, which is not in the center of things.

By Shuttle: The port operates a free shuttle bus that runs between the pier and Busan Station (about a 10-minute drive), where you can catch the metro. There was also a second shuttle ($10 charge) when we were in port, making the 20-minute trip to the city center, and dropping passengers at the Phoenix Hotel. There's a metro stop near this drop point, too, as well as Yongdusan Park, Lotte Department Store and several markets.

By Metro: Busan's extended subway system has six different lines, with Lines 1 through 4 serving the city. To make it easy, you can get an all-day pass, available at any ticket machine in a subway station. There is also a loaded-value card, called the Hanaro Card, which can be used for discounted fares on the subway and buses and regular fares in taxis; you can buy them at metro stations, Busan Bank and convenience stores.

If you don't get a pass or card, know that the fares are based on a two-sector system, so the price depends on how far you are traveling. Ticket machines have an English option, and only accept bills and coins of 1,000 won or less. On Line 1, you can reach several markets, including Jagalchi seafood market; and Gamcheon Culture Village. Line 2 gets you to the Skywalk and Centum City. Subway signage and announcements are also made in English.

By Bus: Busan has a city bus system with both regular and express buses (priced differently). Enter and pay (no change given) by the front door and exit at the rear. You can also use a Hanaro transit card to pay, which gives you a lower fare and the ability to transfer twice within 30 minutes of exiting the bus, though you must touch your card as you leave the bus to get this benefit.

By Hop-on Hop-off Bus: City Tour Busan (BUTI) operates four different loop buses, including one that picks up at Busan Station. The first Red Line bus leaves the station at 9:30 a.m. and the last one stops there at 4:30 p.m. The various loops hit several beaches, cross the bridges and visit museums, shopping spots and the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, among other destinations. See the website for schedule and details. Note: Buses don't operate on Mondays, except for on holidays.

By Taxi: Taxis are available at the pier, and drivers are usually good about using the meter -- but check to make sure, because there are a few unscrupulous drivers out there. Note that there are two types of taxis: regular, and the more expensive red-and-black deluxe taxis, which are much more expensive. Regular taxi fares are 20 percent more at night. It should be fairly easy to flag taxis around town, unless it's raining. Taxis also accept the Hanaro transit card for payment.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

South Korea's currency is the won (pronounced "wahn.") For current currency conversion figures, visit  www.xe.com. When ships are in port, Busan Bank sets up a mobile currency exchange truck on the cruise pier that's also equipped with two ATMs. You'll find ATMs that accept foreign cards at convenience stores and banks, as well. Most businesses don't accept U.S. dollars but do accept credit cards.

Language?

Korean is the official language in Busan. Although it was once written using Chinese characters, since the 15th century there has been a phonetic alphabet, known as hangul. So, while the written language may look very pictographic, it's actually more easily deciphered than Chinese. Don't expect English to be generally spoken -- though it's likely that there will be English speakers at popular tourist attractions and some shops. Cab drivers will probably not speak much English, except in the more expensive deluxe cabs.


Busan, South Korea Cruise Reviews

TRUEBLUE66
Sail Date: May 2019
Final port day and a lunchtime arrival in Busan, South Korea. We booked an independent tour along with a few other passengers and had a great guide, Beth {not her real name which was too hard to pronounce}. She had... Read More
KetoCruiser
Sail Date: Mar 2019
Used tour with locals to provide a tour of Busan. The tour guide had very good English and was open to speaking about life Korea as well as knowledgable about Busan. Lunch provided was a Korean bbq which you had... Read More
SonzTwin
Sail Date: Mar 2019
A complimentary bus by Millenium takes you to town in Busan... Read More
Yaya_in_Oz
Sail Date: Sep 2018
On my first visit to Busan, I took the shore excursion to the Tongdosa Temple and the United Nations Cemetery. We drove through the different areas of Busan out to the north, so I had a good view of the suburbs,... Read More
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