Even though you may have never before heard of Busan, this South Korean port city of 3.5 million people has beautiful beaches, graceful temples, and an enviably efficient, spotless, and easily navigable public transportation system. Road and transportation signs are clearly posted in Korean and English (and sometimes Chinese or Japanese), and tourist information booths are positioned near the city’s main attractions.
Whether you prefer planes, trains, or automobiles, here’s how to navigate your way around Busan, South Korea.
Transportation from Gimhae International Airport to Downtown Busan
Busan's main international airport is Gimhae International Airport (IATA: PUS, ICAO: RKPK). Although the airport is the country’s fourth busiest, with 16 million passengers passing through annually, its compact size (only two terminals) makes it easy to maneuver whether you’re flying domestic or international.
Once you’ve collected your bags, you’ll want to make your way from Gimhae to central Busan, which is only about 12 miles from the airport. Taxis are readily available, take approximately 30 minutes, and cost around 30,000 won ($27), but more affordable are either the light rail or city buses.
The airport light rail connects with Busan’s metro line two (green line) at Sasang Station. The journey takes 20 minutes and costs 1,500 won ($1.25).
Public buses depart regularly from the terminal to various points in Busan. Journey times range from 30 to 60 minutes, and the fare is around 1,100 won.
Limousine buses are another relatively affordable option and run regularly from just outside the arrivals hall to various hotels and attractions in the city. One-way tickets range from 5,000 to 9,000 won, and buses run from approximately 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
How to Ride the Busan Metro
The metro system in Busan is fast, reliable, and safe. Here’s what you need to know.
- The Busan Metro has only four lines and is incredibly easy to navigate. Maps can found either on a handful of smartphone apps or the old-fashioned paper variety at larger stations' information desks. Another bonus is that all station stops are announced in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese. Interestingly, a chirping bird's sound is used for stops that are transfer points to another line.
- You’ll need to start by purchasing a ticket, which for a single journey costs between 1,300 and 1,600 won depending on the line and the distance to your destination. You’ll receive a 100 won discount if you use a refillable card such as a T-Money, Cashbee, or Korea Tour Card, which can be purchased (starting at 2,500 won) at convenience stores and topped up at subway ticket machines. These rechargeable cards can be used on taxis, subways, and buses.
- The Busan Metro operates from approximately 5:30 a.m. to midnight and is considered an extremely safe option any time of the day or night.
- Peak times can be very crowded, but fortunately, the trains are air-conditioned during the hot summer months.
- It’s considered very impolite in Korean culture if you don’t give up your seat to a person older than you who is standing.
- Many stations are stair-access only, so check the Busan Metro website for accessible travel options if necessary.
Navigating the bus system in a foreign city may seem overwhelming, but not so with Busan city buses. Each bus stop has a screen that displays the bus numbers and the minutes until the next bus arrives, and information is generally written in English and Korean.
Bus fares can be paid in cash or with a transportation card. If you use the transportation card, be sure to tap it both when you board and exit the bus. Bus stops are announced in both Korean and English, so when you hear your stop called, push the red button on the wall or handrail to ensure the bus stops for you.
Taxis are generally found on every street corner, and though convenient and relatively well priced, they can sometimes be a time-consuming choice as they must navigate traffic and the sheer size of the sprawling city. While some taxi drivers speak English, be prepared with your destination typed out in Korean on your smartphone; unless the destination is a famous tourist attraction, there’s a chance the driver will need to enter the address in their GPS.
Regular and deluxe taxis are the two main types found in Busan, and both use meters. The starting fare for regular taxis is 3,300 won and covers the first two kilometers of the trip, with 100 won being added for each additional 133 meters. Deluxe taxis are black and often found lurking outside hotels and tourist attractions. Fares start at 5,000 won for the first three kilometers, and an additional 200 won every 141 meters. The main difference other than the price is that deluxe taxis generally accommodate more passengers and baggage.
- A few more helpful hints when navigating Busan’s taxis:
- A late-night surcharge of 20 percent applies to all rides between midnight and 4 a.m.
- A 30 to 40 percent surcharge applies to any destination outside the Busan city limits.
- Tipping is not customary in Korea.
- Taxis can be hailed on the street or in various taxi stands across the city.
- Taxis accept cash, and most also accept credit cards, Cashbee, or T-Money cards (confirm with the driver first).
- A red light atop the taxi means it’s available.
- It’s not uncommon for Busan taxi drivers to refuse passengers for any number of reasons, including that your destination is in the wrong direction from where the driver wants to go, the place you’re going is too close or far away, or the driver doesn’t want to deal with a language barrier. Although it’s illegal for taxi drivers to refuse passengers, it still happens, and a more amenable cabbie will usually appear shortly.
Various bike rental locations across the city provide bikes and helmets either free of charge or for a nominal fee.
Most visitors to Busan use public transportation, as parking, navigating, and traffic can be problematic for those unfamiliar with the city. If you do want your own set of wheels while visiting, you must have a valid International Driving Permit along with your regular driver’s license. Cars can be rented at Gimhae International Airport.
A few ferry lines run between South Korea and Japan, mainly between Busan and Fukuoka. Rates, departure times, and sailing lengths vary depending on the destination and time of year. The Busan Ferry Terminal is a 10-minute walk from Busan Station.
Tips for Getting Around Busan
- If you’re staying in Busan for more than a few days and planning to visit multiple areas, you’ll definitely save time and money by purchasing a Cashbee or T-Money card, which can be used for taxis, buses, and subways.
- Subways shut down at midnight and reopen at 5:30 a.m. During this time taxis are the best (and often only) choice.
- Be careful when you’re walking. It’s common for cars to park on the sidewalk in Korea and even for motorcycles to drive on footpaths if there’s traffic on the road.
Getting Out of Busan
If you arrived in Busan via a ferry from Japan or through Gimhae International Airport, be sure to schedule time to visit Seoul. Not only is Seoul a captivating capital, but the KTX high-speed train journey alone is worth the trip as you’re transported through forested mountains and extensive farmland before reaching the futuristic megalopolis.
A ride on the high-speed (190 mph) KTX train from Busan Station on the southeast coast to Seoul Station in the north takes approximately two hours and 45 minutes and costs 56,000 won ($50). The KTX also stops at many major cities in between, including Daejon and Daegu.
Express and intercity buses are also an option for most areas of the country and are cheaper yet more time-consuming than the KTX, weighing in at roughly 20,000 to 35,000 won. Express buses usually stop at a rest area so passengers can stretch their legs and use the facilities, but there are no other stops. Intercity buses stop at different bus stations along the way.
There are two main bus terminals in Busan, the Busan Central Bus Terminal (133 Nopo-dong, Geumjeong-gu, Busan), and the Seobu Inter-City Bus Terminal (201 Sasang-ro, Gwaebeop-dong, Busan).