Korea’s second largest city after Seoul, Busan is the country’s principal port, and the departure point for ferries bound for Jeju Island. Koreans flock here for the local beaches in summer, and to sample the seafood at Jagalchi market, where a clutch of small restaurants serve fabulous hwe (sliced raw fish).
The city is home to the beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, perched on rocks just above the shoreline near Haeundae Beach, South Korea’s answer to Copacabana. The complex, which is a popular place of worship, is overlooked by a striking golden Buddha statue.
One of only a few urban centres not flattened during the war, Busan saw a massive influx of refugees during the conflict, many of whom constructed tiny, favela-style houses on the surrounding hillsides.
Known as ‘Gamcheon’, the largest such district ranked among the poorest neighbourhoods in the country until 2009, when the government invited mural painters and sculptors to spruce up its many empty properties. The result is a spectacular, vibrant, multi-coloured feast of contemporary art – a uniquely uplifting experiment in urban regeneration.
Geumjeongsan is the most easily accessible of the massifs looming just inland from Busan, with a cable car scything over the treetops to within hiking distance of its 801-metre (2,623-ft) summit. The entire top plateau of the mountain is ringed by the remains of 400-year-old walls, built in Joseon times to repel Japanese and Chinese invaders.
Only a few stretches remain intact, but a wonderful path follows their full, undulating course, yielding spectacular vistas over the metropolis and out across the straits. You can also spend the night in a monastery at the summit.