Seoul or Busan – which one to choose

Choosing between the largest and the second largest city in South Korea might be a difficult task but I am here to help you. I have been to both Seoul and Busan and loved them. Yes, they are different in terms of tourist attractions and general feel but each of them has its own charm.

If you’re planning a trip to South Korea and don’t know which one of these cities to visit, you’re in the right place. I will compare Seoul and Busan based on the following criteria: transport, prices, tourist attractions, accommodation and general feel. 

No matter which one you’ll end up choosing, both cities are among the most popular tourist destinations in South Korea and they definitely have a lot to offer.

Seoul or Busan? Which one will you choose?

Street art at Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

Busan Gamcheon Culture Village

How many days will you spend in South Korea?

If you have five or more days to spend in South Korea, I recommend visiting both cities. You can take the train for a few hours from Seoul to Busan or vice versa. Trains can be pretty expensive but with the Korea Rail Pass you’ll save a lot of money.

Five days are more than enough to enjoy the fast-paced life in Seoul and experience the laid-back vibe of Busan. I recommend spending three days in Seoul and two in Busan.

If you have less than five days to spend in South Korea, I’m afraid that you’ll have to choose between Busan and Seoul. You can make your choice based on the comparison below – Seoul vs Busan.

Korean traditional dance at Insadong Street

Street performers on Insadong Street, Seoul

1. Transport

Both Busan and Seoul are easy to reach by airplane. To check out flights availability, click here.

In general, the transport in South Korea is great. In both cities you can choose between getting around by public transport or taxi. If you choose the public transport, don’t worry! The buses and the subway work like Swiss watches. Actually, I recommend using the public transport since it’s cheap, reliable and convenient.

If you’re wondering about the connections with other cities, they are great too. South Korea is a relatively small country and there are buses and trains to any destination.

2. Prices

If you’re thinking about saving some money and visiting Busan instead of Seoul, think again! Both cities are quite expensive. How expensive they are, it really comes down to what you’re used to. We’ve visited South Korea after more than half year around Southeast Asia. For us, it was expensive but not as expensive as our next destination, Japan.

To give you an idea about the prices around the country, I will share with you some of the costs below (for accommodation prices, please check the section “Accommodation” below):

  • Bus: 1,200 won
  • Taxi: 3,000 won for the first two kilometers. After that, you’ll have to pay an additional 100 won for each 142 meters.
  • 1 meal: 10,000 won per person
  • McDonalds meal: 6000 won

*$1=1100 won, as of February 2019

3. Tourist attractions

There is one big difference between Seoul and Busan. Although Busan has some interesting tourist attraction, Seoul definitely has a lot more to offer. Below I’ll share with you each city’s top attractions.

Seoul

The fashion capital of South Korea, Seoul is full of hip & cool places. Apart from its youthful atmosphere, Seoul is the city where the new and the old come together. You’ll notice historical buildings surrounded by glass skyscrapers and traditional villages surrounded by highways. Seoul is definitely a city of contrast.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Below are the most important things to see in Seoul:

  • N Seoul Tower – Admire the best views over the city from the incredible N Seoul Tower. You can watch the city from the viewing platforms which are free or head to the observatory for a 360 degree panorama.
  • Lotte World Theme Park –  Situated close to the city center, this is the best theme park in South Korea. Get ready for a day full of fun and adventure and relieve your childhood!
  • Hongdae neighborhood – If you’re looking for some fun in Seoul, then you should head to Hongdae. Play some karaoke, eat a 32-cm ice cream, see the K-pop street performances or go clubbing. Hongdae is the place to be for party animals.
  • Bukchon Hanok Village – Visiting this traditional South Korean Village is a delight. You can walk and admire its architecture or you can immerse yourself in the local culture and rent a hanbok too. Taking a photo with this cute traditional dress among traditional houses is the best way to experience the South Korean culture.
  • The Royal Palaces – A visit to Seoul wouldn’t be complete without visiting one of the palaces. There are five inside the city but the most impressive one is the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Busan

Enjoy a laid-back vacation in Busan. Also called the “Miami of South Korea”, Busan is a great place to relax while spending a few days at the beach. Below are the most important tourist attractions in Busan. For a complete list of things to do in Busan, click here.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Busan

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

  • Gamcheon Culture Village – Are you ready for a splash of color? The “lego houses” in Gamcheon Culture Village will make you happy instantly. Admire the views while exploring this colorful village. There are tons of cool cafes and great restaurants around.
  • Sea Life Aquarium – Discover the underwater world and learn more about the sea creatures. With more than 250 marine species, the Busan Aquarium is a great opportunity to learn more about the sea life. 
  • Busan Fish Market – Seeing the Fish Market in Busan is a one of a kind experience. You’ll be surrounded by tons (literally) of colorful fish, coming in all shapes. If you want, you can even try the seafood at one of the restaurants.
  • Haedong Yonggungsa Temple – This oasis of tranquility is a bit far from the Busan city center but definitely worth visiting. One of the few South Korean temples situated by the sea, the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple impresses through its architecture.

4. Accommodation

In terms of accommodation, you’ll find options for every budget in both cities. Visiting them both, I have been searching for the best accommodation options and below are my top picks.

Seoul

  • Budget – JM Guesthouse Hongdae – excellent location, clean rooms, friendly staff
  • Mid-budget – Orbit – good location, stylish interior, spacious rooms
  • Luxury – Ryse Hotel – excellent location, comfortable, excellent breakfast

Busan

  • Budget – Silk Road Hostel –  excellent location, clean rooms (shared bathroom), super-friendly staff
  • Mid-budget – Value Hotel Busan – excellent location, big rooms, great view
  • Luxury – Asti Hotel – modern rooms, great location, excellent view

5. General feel

If you’re still not sure about choosing between Busan or Seoul, let’s talk about their vibe. Seoul is a big city with a lot of history but a modern feel. It’s fashion and technology-forward and you won’t get bored here. From endless shopping opportunities, to the famous Gangnam neighborhood, Seoul is packed with activities and tourist attractions.

On the other hand, Busan is more laid-back. I recommend it if you’re looking for a place to relax with your family while taking a walk on the beach. Busan is a beautiful city and I loved it but when it comes to tourist attractions, it doesn’t have that much to offer compared with Seoul.

6. Conclusion

I loved my time in both of these cities. Honestly, I loved Seoul more because there is so much to do and I love to explore new cities. However, this doesn’t mean that you should pick Seoul. If you want to go to a place to relax, you should definitely choose Busan.

So which one will you choose? Seoul or Busan?

May the travel bug bite you!

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Seoul or Busan, which one to choose

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1 Comment

  1. Mark
    July 18, 2019 / 10:18 pm

    Hi Aura, some great points about Seoul and Busan. Having lived in Korea myself I can agree with a lot of these. I myself do prefer Busan due to the beaches and amount of fresh seafood however Seoul is always a great time as well.

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