Though Busan is best known for its beaches, the city is also a vibrant cultural hub that hosts an abundance of cultural festivals, creative events and shows throughout the year. The capital city, Seoul is also just a short trip away by express train and also hosts various festivals and events throughout the year.
From swimming in icy waters to watching a world-famous firework show, Busan has something to offer any crowd. Younger expats will enjoy the annual Craft Beer Festival hosted in June. While families with young children may find the International Kids and Youth Film Festival in July more family friendly. Below is just a small sample of the best events that can be found in Busan.
Annual events in Busan
First Sunrise Viewing (January)
One of the biggest Korean traditions is to ring in the New Year by watching the first sunrise. Busan has a few options for those hoping to join the early morning festivities. Two of the most popular venues for this are the Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches. Events usually include cheer performances, new year's greetings and an air show. There are also vendors selling tteokguk (rice-cake soup), which is traditionally eaten to celebrate the New Year in the hopes of bringing good fortune.
Polar Bear Swim Festival (January)
This unique event is held annually in January. It is meant to help embrace the cold winter weather, as well as pray for good health in the New Year. There are pre-festival events that are usually held on Saturdays with the main event taking place early Sunday morning at Haeundae Beach. Participants will jump and run into the sea. This is definitely one of the city's quirkiest events and shouldn't be missed.
Busan International Short Film Festival (April)
This was the first short-film festival to appear in Korea. In the beginning, only Korean films were screened during the festival, but by 2010 the festival had become an international affair and began accepting films from across the world. The festival aims to introduce outstanding short films and inspire up and coming producers and filmmakers.
Joseon Tongsinsa Festival (May)
This festival symbolises the peaceful cultural exchanges between South Korea and Japan. There are various programmes that run over a full weekend. Expats can learn more about the history of South Korea and Japan through street performances, cultural exchange performances, and a peace procession.
Busan Rock Festival (July)
This is an outdoor music festival that takes place every summer in Busan. The event accumulates acts from different genres such as rock, indie and metal. The festival has grown every year and now includes both Korean and international artists. This is a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon with friends, sharing a few beers and eating Korean street food.
Busan Fireworks Festival (October)
Arguably one of Busan's most popular events, the Fireworks Festival draws over a million visitors each year. The festival takes place along Gwangalli Beach and programmes include cultural events, laser light shows and colourful firework displays. If the beach gets too crowded, the festivities can also be viewed from Hwangnyeongsan Mountain, Dongbaekseom Island and Igidae Coastal Park.
Busan Christmas Tree Cultural Festival (November)
Annually the Busan Christmas Tree Festival is held in the streets of Gwangbok-ro in the Jung-gu district. Families will be mesmerised by grand LED light displays, a giant Christmas tree, street performances and much more.
Bell-tolling Ceremony for New Year’s (December)
The bell-tolling ceremony starts with a 10-second countdown to midnight. The countdown is followed by 33 tolls of the bell to officially mark the beginning of the new year. The event takes place at Yongdusan Park and expats can enjoy hot tea and eomuk (traditional fish cakes) to keep warm. Celebratory performances and fireworks end off the event.