Busan is South Korea’s second biggest city, but how to get to Busan from Seoul where most tourists fly into? There are several options available depending on time and budget. But firstly, is it worth visiting Busan at all?
Busan is one of Asia’s most underrated destinations. It’s a vibrant mix of markets, coastal living, mountainous back country and delicious food. There’s a reason that Lonely Planet named it the best city to visit in Asia in 2018.
A flight from Gimpo International Airport in Seoul will take just an hour or so to get to Gimhae International Airport in Busan. This is the quickest way to get to Busan from Seoul but may not be the cheapest depending on the time you wish to travel and how far in advance you book. Rome2Rio estimates that flights range from around 40,000 KRW – 200,165 KRW.
There are many airlines that operate this route: Korean Air, Jeju Air, Air Busan and Asiana all fly the route. Jeju and Air Busan are on the low cost end of the scale, where Korean Air and Asiana are a little more premium. Though, for an hour flight, I’m not sure it matters too much.
If you’re already in Seoul city, Gimpo Airport can be accessed via the Airport Railroad, about 30 minutes from Seoul Station. Gimhae Airport, on the other hand, is a bit further away from Busan city. It will take you around an hour to get from the airport into town and there are a few combinations of public transit that will get you there. I’d recommend using the Naver Maps app in South Korea to help you navigate, but here’s a few suggestions here:
For the least transfers (1800 KRW):
Take the train from International Airport Station three stops to Sasang Station, then take the intercity bus number 61 from the terminal at Sasang to Busan Station.
For the fastest time (1800 – 2000 KRW):
Take the train from International Airport Station three stops to Sasang Station, walk 6 minutes to Shinhan Bank and take the bus number 8 to Female Culture Hall where you’ll change to bus 67 and ride it all the way to Busan station.
Alternatively, if you prefer to travel by subway, take the train to Sasang, change to the green line 2 train towards Gamjeon station to Seomyeon Station and then change again at Seomyeon for the orange line 1 towards Dadaepo Beach. After 6 stops, you’ll arrive at Busan Station.
You’ll only save around 10 mins with the extra transfer, so if you’re worried about lugging bags around, then perhaps the fewer transfers is the option for you.
My favourite way to get around in Korea is without a doubt the KTX high-speed rail. It does take a little longer than flying at around 2 hours and 45 minutes but it is just so relaxing to plonk down on a train seat by a window and enjoy the scenery flying by. There’s also the added bonus of avoiding the trek out to the airports, which adds on around an hour and a half of travel time, too.
Train tickets on the KTX will cost around 60,200 per person.
Tickets for the KTX can be booked online via the rather clunky Korail website or bought at the station, however at busy travel periods an advance booking is definitely recommended. I found myself having to wait a few hours longer than planned at Seoul station because trains to Busan were booked up just after Christmas.
Alternatively, the Korea Rail Pass can be purchased to save some money if you’re planning on doing a bit of train travel on your visit to South Korea. The pass allows you to travel on over 80 routes across South Korea and access 600 stations. This pass also allows you to buy for consecutive days or allows you to be flexible. For example, you could use the pass to travel to Busan, stay there for three days, then activate it again for the return journey.
Hiring a car can be an area of anxiety for some travellers and is also the option on this list that takes the most time. With tolls, the fastest drive will take 4 hours and 31 mins and cost 26,700 KRW in tolls. Without tolls, that time blows out to around 7 hours. Car hire will cost around 145,700 KRW.
With tolls and a car hire, then you’re looking at around 172,400 KRW – nearly the cost of three train tickets, so in my opinion, you’re better off kicking back and relaxing with a coffee and a book on the train.
Koreans drive on the right side of the road, so as an Australian, it’s also a massive adjustment to drive on the opposite side to what I’m used to – when the train is such an easy option, I definitely am not keen to ramp up my anxiety level to deal with that! You must also have an International Driving Permit to hire a car in South Korea.
So, there you have it. Three options to travel to Busan from Seoul with varying levels of cost and difficulty. For my money, I’d pick the train as I found the train journey to be a relaxing way to see the Korean countryside, but the beauty of a country like South Korea is that there are many different paths to get to a destination. And Busan is very much a destination that you’ll want to come back to. Again and again and again.
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