Each time I visit Busan, I fall in love with it just a little more.
The vibrant coastal city, surrounded by lush, green mountains is home to delicious seafood restaurants, an abundance of outdoor sights and activities, and some of Korea’s best beaches.
But, when I’m not gorging on fresh seafood, soaking up views of the city during a hike, or spending the day roasting at Haeundae beach, one of my favourite things to do is exploring the city’s many temples. Busan’s temples are some of the most impressive temples I’ve had the chance to visit in all of Korea.
Here are three of my absolute favourite temples in Busan and all of Korea.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Ah, the smell of the fresh, salty sea.
Surrounded by shimmering, cerulean waters and rich, emerald green trees, the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple couldn’t be more perfectly situated. Perched on the coast of the Sea of Japan, this sprawling temple provides breathtaking views from every angle. But, for the most breathtaking view of all, head up to the Buddha statue at the top of the hill. From here, you can soak up the panorama of the whole temple complex below with the wondrous, crashing sea as its backdrop.
This is one of Busan’s most popular attractions (for good reason, of course). And, with every popular attraction in Korea, the waves of people come with it. Try to avoid the weekend and head to the temple early in the day to have the most “zen” experience possible. Although, even when I arrived early, it was a challenge avoiding the treacherous sea of selfie sticks.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Haeundae station on line 2, exit 7. From here, take the 181 bus or the Yonggungsa shuttle to the Yonggungsa Temple stop.
Seokbulsa Temple is one of Busan’s true hidden gems.
So hidden, that it is literally tucked into between a crack of Geumjeongsan Mountain. Seokbulsa is different from the “common” Korean temple. The temple complex is fairly small and its buildings are quite ordinary. They lack the vibrant colour scheme that typically ornaments the walls and roofs of Korean temples.
So, why then is it one of my favourite temples in Korea? What makes it so special are the large, detailed Buddhist carvings right into the stones encircling the temple. From the top of the temple’s stairs, the carvings below along with the endless, vivid greenery blanketing the mountains in the background, make for an awe-inspiring view.
To access the temple, a bit of a demanding hike is required. But, the picturesque views along the hike and from the top of the temple definitely make up for the burning calves you will have for the rest of the week. The greater part of the hike is fairly easy – although, incredibly confusing. The signs along the trail are terribly misleading. I found myself walking in a loop for nearly an hour until an elderly Korean couple, sporting matching, highlighter yellow hiking gear guided me back to the right path. The final stretch of the hike on the other hand, is a real challenge. The long and winding road up to the temple is steep. Very steep. My legs were screaming at me the whole way up, so I had to stop to take brief snack breaks every 1.17 minutes.
But, there was a silver lining to this grueling hike! I suppose it discourages a lot of people from making the trek up to the temple. I didn’t encounter a single person along that road. I didn’t bump into a single person at the temple. And, I wasn’t struck across the head by a single selfie stick. It was blissful.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Oncheonjang station on line 1, exit 1. Head to Geumgang Park by foot (about 10 minutes) or by taxi. Follow the signs in Geumgang Park for the cable car. Once you’ve reached the top of the hill by cable car, make your way towards the South Gate. From here, continue following the signs for Seokbulsa through Namman Village. Here is where I got stuck in a loop. If you get lost like me, pray to come in contact with a Korean hiker, clad in highlighter yellow hiking gear. Although, this part of the trail is fairly popular, so it is very likely that you will meet others along the confusing trail.
I had the chance to visit Samgwangsa Temple during Buddha’s birthday festivities. Each year, during the weeks leading up to Buddha’s birthday, temples throughout Korea are illuminated by brilliant lantern displays.
The thousands upon thousands, colourful, glittering lanterns covering the entire grounds of the temple was the most remarkable display of lights I have ever seen. Visiting Samgwangsa during Buddha’s birthday continues to be one of my favourite and most magical moments while living in Korea. To read more about my experience at Samgwangsa Temple, click here.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Seomyeon station on line 1. From here, either take the 15 bus to the Samgwangsa Temple stop or take a taxi for about ₩5,000 KRW.