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Seoul or Busan: Which City Should You Visit?

So, you’re thinking about a trip to South Korea, and you’re faced with the dilemma: Seoul or Busan? Well, I’ve got some firsthand experience to share with you.

I embarked on a solo journey in October 2023, and let me tell you, it was an adventure of a lifetime. During my travels, I had the incredible opportunity to explore both Busan and Seoul and trust me, it was love at first sight with both of these remarkable cities.

First stop: Busan. Gorgeous beaches, vibrant markets, and a sense of laid-back coastal charm that’s hard to resist. I was drawn to Busan to soak in the sun and uncover the hidden gems of the coastline. Gamechon Village, in all its colourful glory, was another major drawcard for me, and it didn’t disappoint. 

But, of course, I couldn’t visit South Korea without experiencing the heart and soul of the country – Seoul. This dynamic city beckoned me with its electrifying energy, rich Korean culture, and a tantalizing array of food that would make any foodie’s heart skip a beat. 

In this post, I’m here to help you make that tough decision between Seoul and Busan, based on my own adventures.

Get ready for an exciting journey as we explore Seoul or Busan: Which City Should You Visit? 

Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan was a major drawcard for me when deciding to travel to Seoul or Busan

Should I visit Seoul or Busan?

Let’s dive into the wonders of both places and see which one speaks to your inner explorer.

Starting off with an overview of Seoul and Busan. I always find a general overview a good way to get a feel for a destination I am thinking of travelling to. 

About Seoul

Seoul, the bustling capital of South Korea is situated in the northwest part of the country, near the border with North Korea and is home to over 9 million people. It’s a place where tradition and modernity harmoniously coexist, creating a dynamic atmosphere that’s hard to resist. 

The city is filled with cultural wonders, with historical sites like Gyeongbokgung Palace and the traditional charm of Bukchon Hanok Village, where centuries-old houses line the streets. 

And let’s not forget the food – Seoul’s street food scene is incredible, offering savoury and (very) spicy delights. Whether you’re into shopping, history, or simply soaking up the energetic city vibe, Seoul has something for everyone.

About Busan

Busan, on the other hand, is positioned in the southeastern coastal region of South Korea and is the second most populous city in the country, with over 3.5 million people.

Busan is known for its stunning beaches, such as Haeundae and Gwangalli, where you can soak up the sun, swim, or take a walk along the promenade. You can tell, locals and visitors in Busan live a slower-paced life than they do in Seoul. 

One of the city’s standout features is Gamcheon Culture Village, a colourful hillside community that has transformed into an open-air art gallery. 

Busan also offers a unique blend of old and new, with historic temples like Beomeosa and modern attractions like the iconic Busan Cinema Center. And of course, you can’t leave without trying some of the freshest seafood in South Korea, courtesy of Jagalchi Fish Market.

So if you’re yearning for a more laid-back coastal experience, Busan might be calling your name. 

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Seoul vs Busan can be a tricky decision. A drawcard for Seoul is the Bukchon Hanok Villages

Pros and Cons Summary: Seoul and Busan

Before we do a deep dive into the key differences between Seoul and Busan, here is a quick summary of the pros and cons of both Korean cities. 

ProsCons
SeoulCultural Richness
Historical Sites
Modern Attractions
Shopping Variety
Culinary Adventures
Efficient Transport
Crowded
Can be Expensive
Air Pollution
Harsh Winters
Limited Green Spaces
BusanCoastal Beauty
Relaxing Atmosphere
Fresh Seafood
Milder Climate
Cost-Effective
Cultural Experiences
Fewer International Connections
Less Diversity
Fewer Shopping Options
Less Public Transport

Seoul vs Busan

Now we are getting into the nitty gritty of Seoul or Busan so you can find the right city for you, should you need to make this tough choice! 

Things To Do

When you’re deciding where to jet off to, let’s be real, having awesome things to see and do is a total game-changer, right?

Now, when it comes to the epic showdown between Seoul and Busan, let me tell you, dull moments are absolutely not on the agenda, even if your Korean vocab consists of a friendly “hello.”

But here’s the scoop: These two cities are a bit like yin and yang when it comes to the adventures they offer, so let’s dive into the juicy details.

Heading to the DMZ tour to visit the North Korean border is a must on your trip to Seoul

Seoul

Let’s kick things off by diving into the exciting stuff to do in Seoul. The list is pretty much endless! If you’re a history geek like me, you’re in for a treat. There are places like Gyeongbokgung Palace, where you can catch the changing of the guard ceremony and feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

And then there’s exploring the street food in the traditional Gwangjang Market. Trust me the dumplings with kimchi are unreal!

You also can’t miss the DMZ tour which takes you to the border of North Korea and South Korea, such a surreal experience! 

➡️ Book the DMZ tour here (The one I took!)

But wait, there’s more! Seoul’s not all about history. It’s a modern marvel too. Check out Gangnam, the district with sleek skyscrapers and high-end shopping. And don’t get me started on the nightlife – it’s electric! The city really comes alive after dark, with countless bars, clubs, and live music venues.

So whether you’re into culture, or history, or just want to party, Seoul’s got you covered.

Busan beaches such as Haeundae are perfect for those who are looking for a relaxing holiday

Busan

Now, let’s shift gears and head to Busan. If you’re in the mood for a more relaxed coastal experience, you’ve hit the jackpot. This city’s all about the sea.

We’re talking about Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches, where you can soak up the sun, swim in the clear waters, or just enjoy a long lunch by the beach.

And here’s a hidden gem – Gamcheon Culture Village. It’s known as the Santorini of Korea. Every alleyway is adorned with vibrant murals and sculptures, making it an open-air art gallery you won’t want to miss.

A visit to Nampo Dong is another must to explore the huge fish markets down on the wharf and you can’t miss shopping in Seomyeon, a trendy city that is full of energy

Busan’s all about embracing the sea, with its coastal culture, and offers a unique perspective on South Korea.

➡️ Why not book a Busan & Gamechon Cultural Village Tour

Size

Now, let’s talk size of both cities!

Seoul

Seoul is like the bustling big sibling in the family – it’s one of the planet’s largest cities, with its urban sprawl stretching as far as the eye can see. 

This can be both exciting and a bit overwhelming. But no worries, they’ve got an amazing metro system and buses galore to help you get around.

So, if you’re ready to conquer a sprawling metropolis, this is your playground.

Busan

But if you prefer a more manageable size, Busan’s your jam. It’s less sprawling, which means exploring’s a bit easier, and you don’t need to worry about getting lost in a concrete jungle, well sort of…

Plus, it’s perfect for a more relaxed pace if you’re into that kind of thing.

Dining and Nightlife

So you’re a foodie headed to Korea to try all the street food or perhaps you and your mates are eager to hit the bar scene and dance the night away?

This next section is for you as we compare Seoul and Busan’s food and party scene. 

Michelin star dumplings in Gangnam South Korea. Seoul is home to a range of authentic dishes

Seoul

Onto the really good stuff – food! . From street food stalls where you can munch on tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) to Michelin-starred restaurants serving up Korean BBQ and bibimbap. Seoul’s a foodie paradise

And when the sun sets, it’s time to get the party started.

Seoul’s nightlife is off the charts, with bars, clubs, and live music venues galore. Or perhaps some karaoke? Whether you want to sip cocktails with a view or dance the night away in a swanky nightclub, the city’s nightlife scene is a thrill.

Korean fried chicken in Busan. I found there to be less options to eat in Busan compared to Seoul

Busan

Busan offers a different culinary adventure. It’s all about seafood. The Jagalchi Fish Market is a must-visit if you’re a seafood lover.

You can sample everything from sashimi to grilled fish. It’s a seafood lover’s dream. And if you aren’t such a fan of seafood, it’s still worth a visit for the cultural experience! 

And while Busan might not have Seoul’s extensive nightlife scene, it’s got its own charm. Think beachfront bars, cozy pubs, and live music venues, especially around Haeundae Beach. It might not be as massive as Seoul’s nightlife, but it has its own unique, laid-back vibe.

Connectivity

Good public transport can make or break a trip with a jam-packed itinerary, particularly if you’re on a tight budget.

We are going to go through how easy it is to get around both Seoul and Busan.

I was pleasantly surprised, I found navigating public transport in Seoul and Busan pretty reasonable. English signs are everywhere and people are super friendly, even offering help before you have a chance to ask. 

Trust me if I can navigate Korea with only a few hiccups (getting on the wrong bus 3 times in a row) then you will be absolutely fine!

Seoul

Seoul is a transportation hub in South Korea. They’ve got it all – a fantastic metro system, a comprehensive bus network, and excellent connectivity.

If you’re planning to explore beyond Seoul, you’ll easily be able to hop on a train and be there in a jiffy. 

Busan

While Busan has reliable transport for navigating the city, it’s not as extensive as Seoul’s.

If you’re travelling to other parts of South Korea, chances are you’ll connect through Seoul more often, because Busan’s web of connections isn’t quite as far-reaching.

Cost

Now, let’s chat about the nitty-gritty – cost.  

I found travelling around Seoul and Busan to be quite reasonable. You won’t find the prices of Thailand but considering the modern infrastructure in Korea it’s no surprise that you get what you pay for.

Seoul

Being a bustling international city, Seoul comes with a bit of a higher price tag. 

Accommodations, dining, and entertainment can sometimes make your wallet feel a bit lighter. But here’s the deal – the experiences here are often worth every penny.

Whether it’s dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant, staying in a swanky boutique hotel in the heart of the city, or indulging in high-end shopping, Seoul is the place to do it.

But that being said, you can certainly explore on a budget by staying in hostels, making the most of convenience store meals and sticking to window shopping. 

Busan

On the flip side, Busan is a bit friendlier on your budget. 

Accommodations, dining, and entertainment are generally more budget-friendly. I was very surprised with the mid-range hotel prices in Busan, more on that up next.

You’ll find a range of options from guesthouses to mid-range hotels, and dining in Busan is often centred around fresh seafood and local specialties, which won’t break the bank. 

If you’re all about a more budget-conscious trip, Busan’s got your back. 

Traditional hanbok dresses at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Accommodation

Lastly, we are going to compare the accommodation options in Seoul and Busan including where I recommend you stay.

Seoul

Seoul offers a diverse range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly guesthouses and everything in between. 

You can experience the lap of luxury at renowned international hotel chains like The Shilla or The Four Seasons, enjoying top-notch amenities, gourmet dining, and stunning views of the city. 

Or if you’re more budget-conscious, don’t worry – Seoul has a wealth of mid-range and budget options, including comfortable boutique hotels, hostels and guesthouses. 

For an authentic experience, consider staying in a hanok, a traditional Korean house, in neighbourhoods like Bukchon Hanok Village.

Where to Stay In Seoul

If you’re all about young fresh energy, art, and a vibrant nightlife scene, Hongdae is your go-to neighborhood in Seoul. 

I highly recommend staying in Hongdae for an unforgettable Seoul experience. This dynamic neighbourhood, named after Hongik University, is filled with university students and other travellers.

You’ll find loads of unique cafes, shops, market stalls and indie boutiques, making strolling through the streets an adventure of its own. When the sun sets, the neighbourhood transforms into a bustling hub for live music, street performances, and late-night dining and shopping.

The nightlife here is fantastic, with countless bars, clubs, and karaoke rooms.

Hongdae’s central location is also a major plus. It’s well-connected to public transport making it easy to explore other parts of Seoul. 

But if you’re seeking a more traditional and historical experience, consider Bukchon Hanok Village (Jongno-Gu). It’s a charming neighbourhood filled with well-preserved traditional Korean hanok houses.

Here are my suggested stays in Hongdae and Bukchon Hanok Village.

Bunk Guesthouse in Hongdae is an excellent place to stay for those on a tight budget or looking to meet other travellers

Where To Stay in Hongdae: Bunk Guesthouse (Where I Stayed)

I had the pleasure of calling Bunk Guesthouse my home during my time in Hongdae. This cozy guesthouse is the very essence of Hongdae – a neighbourhood known for its youthful energy, artistic flair, and bustling nightlife.

Staying at Bunk Guesthouse, you’ll find yourself right in the midst of the action. There are cozy common areas and a welcoming atmosphere that makes it easy to connect with other travellers. But they offer free breakfast, an equipped kitchen and tours that you can book as an add-on.

Although the guesthouse was quite old (and had some weird smells) you can’t beat the location. Plus there are a few private rooms (which I opted for) perfect for those who like their own space but still want to socialise with others. 

➡️ Book your stay at Bunk Guesthouse here

Where To Stay in Jongno-Gu: Bukchonae

If you’re the kind of traveller who loves a more serene and traditional experience, look no further than Bukchonae in Jongno-Gu.

Located in the heart of Bukchon Hanok Village, Bukchonae offers a unique opportunity to stay in a beautifully preserved traditional Korean hanok house. 

Staying at Bukchonae, you’ll find yourself surrounded by charming hanok houses, quiet alleyways, and a sense of tranquillity that’s often a welcome contrast to the bustling streets of Seoul. The Hanok itself is a testament to the beauty of Korean architecture, with its wooden beams, intricate designs, and inner courtyard.

But here’s the kicker – despite its peaceful atmosphere, Bukchonae is still conveniently located near some of Seoul’s major attractions.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, is easily reachable, and Insadong’s art and shopping district is within walking distance. It’s the perfect choice for travellers who want to explore the historical and cultural side of Seoul.

➡️ Click here to book your stay at Bukchonae

Busan

Busan’s hotel scene offers a more relaxed vibe. You’ll find a selection of beachfront hotels in Haeunda that offer stunning sea views, making your morning coffee extra delicious.

The city, Seomyeon, also has mid-range and budget accommodation options, with comfortable hotels and guesthouses catering to a range of budgets. 

While you won’t find the same concentration of luxury hotels as in Seoul, Busan’s accommodation options provide a cozy and coastal charm that aligns perfectly with the city’s laid-back atmosphere.

Where to Stay in Busan

When it comes to finding the perfect home base for your Busan adventure, let me tell you, Seomyeon is where it’s at! 

I chose to set up camp in Seomyeon, and here’s why: this neighbourhood is not only central but also a dream for anyone who loves convenience. 

One of the perks of staying in Seomyeon is its proximity to public transport. So, if you’re anything like me and you want to cram as many attractions as possible into your itinerary, Seomyeon is the place to stay.

Plus it’s such a trendy city that I loved exploring.

But if you’re dreaming of morning beach walks or perhaps a few cocktails as the sunsets over the horizon consider Haundae.

It’s a bit further from the city centre, but you’ll be steps away from one of Busan’s most famous beaches. So, while it’s not as central, it’s a fantastic choice if you’re all about the sun, sand, and sea. Plus I hear the nightlife is pretty epic.

Here are my suggested stays in Seomyeon and Haeunde.

Shire Hotel Seomyeon is where I stayed in Busan

Mid-Range Hotel in Seomyeon: Shire Hotel (Where I Stayed!)

Let’s talk about where I stayed on my Busan adventure – the Shire Hotel in Seomyeon. 

Staying here was great value for money. This mid-range hotel has the perfect blend of comfort, convenience, and affordability, making it an ideal choice for travellers who want to make the most of their Busan journey. A private room and bathroom for $50 AUD per night, yes please! 

The Shire Hotel’s central location in Seomyeon is a game-changer. As the bustling heart of Busan, Seomyeon is a major transport hub, which means you’re practically minutes away from all the must-see attractions. Whether you’re hopping on the metro to explore the city or enjoying a walk to discover the vibrant streets, you’re in the thick of the action.

There were all the amenities including bath robes you could need plus I was treated to 2 free coffee vouchers. Just a note, the hotel building is on the older side which you will start to notice the more you look, for example, cracks in the tiles etc.

➡️ Click here to book your stay at The Shire Hotel

Mid-Range Hotel in Haunde: Felix by STX Hotel & Suite

Now, let’s talk about another fantastic option for your Busan stay – Felix by STX Hotel & Suite in Haundae. 

If you’re all about beach life and you want to be close to the sandy shores, this mid-range hotel is an excellent choice. While it’s a bit further from the city centre, it offers a seaside escape that’s perfect for beach lovers.

The hotel provides a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, with spacious rooms that often come with lovely sea views. 

Location-wise, you will be right on Haeundae Beach which also has plenty of restaurants and shops nearby.

And when you’re in the mood for a little exploration, you can easily reach the city’s attractions using public transport, just budget for 30-45 minutes of travel time.

Book your stay at Felix by STX Hotel & Suite

Starfield Library in Gangnam Seoul is a fantastic place, not to mention all the shopping in the mall where it's located

FAQ’s: Seoul vs Busan

Moving onto some commonly asked questions about whether you should travel to Seoul or Busan. 

Is it cheaper to go to Busan or Seoul?

Ah, the budget question! Here’s the deal: Busan is generally a bit kinder to your wallet. 

Accommodations, food, and having a good time in Busan won’t leave you feeling like you’ve just emptied your bank account. 

On the flip side, Seoul, being the big international city that it is, can be a tad more on the pricey side. 

So if you’re looking for a cost-effective adventure, Busan is your go-to.

How is Busan different to Seoul?

Oh, the juicy differences!

Busan and Seoul are like two awesome flavours in the same ice cream cone. 

Busan is all about that coastal vibe, with its stunning beaches, fresh seafood, and a laid-back atmosphere.

On the other hand, Seoul is the buzzing heart of South Korea, a blend of tradition and modernity with a range of cultural experiences and vibrant city life. 

So, it really depends on your flavour preference – beachy and laid-back or dynamic and city-centric.

Is Busan worth visiting?

Absolutely! Busan has its own unique charm that’s well worth the visit. I absolutely loved my visit to Busan and since it’s just a 2 hour train ride from Seoul, it’s worth adding to your itinerary.

How could you not love it, it’s got gorgeous beaches, a colourful culture village, and a focus on seafood. 

Whether you’re into beach bumming, art exploration, or just want to unwind, Busan’s got you covered. It’s definitely a destination that’s worth adding to your travel bucket list.

How many days do you need in Seoul and Busan?

Now, the number of days is where it gets exciting! 

In Seoul, you’d ideally want 3-4 full days to dive deep into the city’s rich history, culture, and all the culinary delights it has to offer. 

As for Busan, 2-3 full days should do the trick, giving you enough time to explore its breathtaking beaches, and cultural treasures, and savour its seafood delights. 

You can also take a day trip from Seoul to Busan if you’re short on time.

But hey, the more time, the merrier! You can always extend your stay if you want to savour every moment. 

Seoul to Busan distance?

Getting from Seoul to Busan is a breeze, thanks to South Korea’s efficient transportat system. Here’s how you can make the journey!

1. KTX (Korea Train Express): The KTX is the fastest and most convenient way to travel between Seoul and Busan. Hop on the high-speed train at Seoul Station or Yongsan Station, and in about 2 hours, you’ll find yourself in Busan.

I caught the KTX from Busan to Seoul and it cost be around $70 AUD.

Just be sure to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.

2. Bus: If you prefer the road less traveled, you can take a bus from Seoul to Busan.

There are various bus terminals in Seoul, including the Express Bus Terminal and Dong Seoul Bus Terminal.

The journey takes about 4-5 hours, and you’ll arrive at Busan Central Bus Terminal.

3. Flights: For those already at the airport, flying is an option. Gimpo International Airport and Incheon International Airport both offer flights to Gimhae International Airport in Busan.

The flight takes around 1 hour, not including airport procedures.

4. Drive: If you’re up for a road trip, you can rent a car and drive from Seoul to Busan.

The journey takes approximately 4-5 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. Be sure to have an international driver’s license and a GPS device to navigate the route.

Seoul or Busan? Both Seoul and Busan are home to fantastic markets. This is one of the Gwangjang Market in Seoul

The Verdict on Seoul or Busan

So, there you have it, the grand showdown between Seoul and Busan. It’s not so much about choosing between right and wrong; it’s about choosing the adventure that suits your style.

For first-timers in Korea or those with limited time, I’d nudge you toward Seoul. It’s like a whirlwind of everything Korea providing you with a great introduction to Korean history, food and culture.

But, if you’re all about going off the beaten path, savouring the slow moments, and immersing yourself in a coastal paradise, then a ticket to Busan has your name on it. It’s like that hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

Wondering what I think? Personally, Busan surprised me and offered a more diverse experience. The combo of the beaches of Haeunde, the city of Seomyeon, the art of Gamechon Village to the culture in Nampo Dong, there was just so much to explore! I would go back to Busan before I go back to Seoul.

But here’s the deal: there’s no right or wrong answer in the Seoul vs. Busan debate. 

So, pack your bags, follow your heart, and get ready to create unforgettable memories in this beautiful corner of the world.

✔️ Flights: Book your flights on Skyscanner 

➡️ Car rental: Rent your car on DiscoverCars

✔️ Travel insurance: I recommend World Nomads

➡️ Accommodations: Book your stay at booking.com

✔️ Activities: Arrange your adventure trips and tours

What about other cities in Korea?

Not to confuse the matter but Korea has other great cities that are worth exploring beyond Seoul and Busan! 

Each city comes with its own unique flavour, here are a few others you might want to consider.

Incheon

If you’re flying into Seoul, chances are you’ll pass through Incheon. 

But it’s more than just an airport city. Incheon offers beautiful islands like Muuido and Wolmido, as well as a charming Chinatown and some fantastic seafood.

Gyeongju

This ancient city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its historical sites, including royal tombs, temples, and ancient artifacts. It’s like stepping back in time.

Jeju Island

If you’re craving some natural beauty, Jeju is the place to be. It’s known for its stunning landscapes, including volcanic craters, waterfalls, and beautiful beaches. It’s a paradise for nature lovers.

Read more about South Korea travel:

Is Busan Worth Visiting: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Busan
Seoul or Tokyo: Which City Should You Visit?
The Ultimate South Korea Itinerary 10 Days!
Is South Korea Safe For Female Travellers? A Complete Travel Guide
The Ultimate South Korea Itinerary 10 Days!

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