Alleyway adventures on two feet are afoot
On a clear day, the view from the top of Yeongdo Huinnyeoul Culture Village is jaw-dropping.
There is life and stories hidden in alleys.
In Busan, many narrow alleys tell many stories, each of them unique.
The lives of refugees from the Korean War. Life during the Japanese occupation here in the first half of the 20th century. These historical alleys tell stories in far different ways than history books.
In these modern times, these relics of a different Busan are garnering a lot of attention from people eager to learn more about the past.
This month, Dynamic Busan highlights four distinctive alleys that should be explored, experienced and appreciated. While these alleys can be visited throughout the year, people can experience even more history and culture during the Old Downtown Alleyways Festival on May 26 and 27.
Photo time for visitors to the 40 Steps Stairway during a festival.
The 40 Steps Stairway will host an outdoor play, while traditional games and a flea market will be held in the Ibagugil alley. Songdo Alley will be the site of free food tastings, music performances and a photography exhibition of Songdo Beach, Korea's oldest public beach. Meanwhile, art from local creators will be displayed at the Huinnyeoul Culture Village in Yeongdo.
1. 40 Steps Stairway (40 계단)
The origin of the 40 Steps Stairway dates back to the Korean War. This area in Jungang-dong (neighborhood), in Jung-gu (district), used to be filled with ramshackle shacks where sailors and refugees made their homes. In those days, the area was the transportation and administrative center of Busan and the 40 Steps Stairway was created to link the old Busan Station with the pier.
Today, both residential and commercial enterprises have taken up residence here. Special themed streets have also been created in order to preserve the area's unique history. A monument at the entrance to the stairway greets visitors, while other monuments scattered throughout present life here from a different age, including monuments of an accordion player, middle aged man selling puffed rice, a mother carrying a child on her back and more.
-How to get there: Jungang Station (Metro line 1), exit 11. Turn right at the BMW shop. Walk straight until the 40 Steps Stairway.
■ The 40 Steps Stairway memorial hall
The 40 Steps Stairway Memorial Hall is the place where one can get a close-up look at the lifestyles of people following independence from the Japanese in 1945 until the Korean War. The hall, on the fifth floor of the Donggwang-dong Community Center, has many photographs of refugees, displays and more. Entry is free.
-Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weekdays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekends. Closed Mondays.
■ 100-year fish book cafe (백년어서원)
This cafe offers a variety of books such as philosophy, art and humanities, with various humanities classes held on weekends.
While reading a book here is enjoyable, it's not the only way one can spend their time. The interior of the cafe offers great atmosphere for relaxation. For example, the 100 pieces of fish carved in wood covering a whole hardwood wall hypnotizes.
-How to get there: Jungang Station (Metro line 1), exit 7. Walk straight past Standard Chartered Bank and turn right toward the alley. The cafe is located on the 2nd floor of the brick building.
2. Ibagugil Alley (이바구길)
Traversing the historic 168 Stairs is sure to provide some exercise!
Ibagugil Alley begins from Busan Station and continues to Sanbokdoro (mountainside road). This alley features memorials to the opening of Busan Port in 1876, the lives of refugees during the 1950s through the 1960s and the lives of citizens who participated in Korea's industrialization in the 1970s and 1980s. The alley's name, Ibagu, comes from the Busan dialect meaning of the word "story."
Other sites along the alley include the wall of Namseon Warehouse, Busan's first warehouse and the site of the old Baekje Hospital, which has been transformed into a cafe. Other historical places like Cho-ryang Church, established in 1893, and the 168 Stairs make this a very interesting alley to explore.
-How to get there: Busan Station (Metro line 1), exit 7. Walk one block and turn left at the Aritaum beauty shop. Walk for two minutes before seeing Brown Hands Baekje, the start of the alley.
■ Brown Hands Baekje
A four-story red brick building once known as Baekje Hospital now provides care for people of a more caffeinated kind.
Known as the first western style hospital in Busan, Baekje was built in 1920 but has since been reimagined as a cafe. While the inside is modern, its outer walls and timber construction are virtually unchanged from those earlier times.
■ 168 Stairs
Looking for a little leg exercise?
Follow along the wall of Choryang Church, which is covered with photographs and paintings, before reaching the 168 Stairs. This is a shortcut and the fastest way to get to Busan Port from Sanbokdoro, but is not traversed without effort. With a slope of 45 degrees across 40 meters, it's quite the climb. Those who brave the 168 Stairs, however, will be amply rewarded with an expansive view of Busan Port at the top. For those who cannot, or will not climb on foot, a monorail has been in place since 2016 that also gets the job done.
■ Kim Minbu Observation Area (김민부 전망대)
There is a sign at the beginning of the 168 Stairs pointing right. Before braving the ascent, follow the sign to the Kim Minbu Observation Area, which was created to honor the poet best known in Korea for his poem "Waiting Heart." From the observation area, one can see the many residential areas packed along Sanbokdoro beneath the observation area platform. Busan Harbor Bridge and the ocean can be seen from there, as well.
3. Songdo Alley (송도 골목길)
Songdo Beach has a history spanning over a century. It was the first beach in Korea, opening in 1913. While other beaches in recent years like Haeundae and Gwangalli have often received more attention, Songdo Beach's popularity is seeing a renaissance these days since a skywalk and cable car have been opened there.
Besides the beach, there are several interesting alleys in the area. A food alley entertains the taste buds, while walking trails along the coast provide natural refreshment. The coastal trail starting from the western side of Songdo Beach to Amnam Park, in particular, offers lush scenery via the forest and ocean.
-How to get there: Nampo Station (Metro line 1), exit 8. Walk 50 meters toward Yeongdo Bridge. Take bus 30 or 71 and get off at the Songdo Beach stop.
The skywalk, allowing visitors to feel like they are walking across the ocean, is a must-visit when at Songdo Beach. The skywalk begins from the beach, moving across Turtle Island and toward a lighthouse. It's open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., allowing visitors to experience both day and night views.
■ Songdo Beach cable car
The Songdo Beach cable car is back after almost three decades.
Reopened in June 2017 after 29 years, the Songdo Beach cable car passes 86 meters over the ocean for 1.6 kilometers from Songnim Park on the east side of the beach to Amnam Park. The ride takes about eight minutes. The crystal cabin option is a very popular (read: expect to wait a while) option as its floor is made of see-through glass.
-Tickets: 15,000 won, 20,000 won for the "crystal cabin."
-Hours: 9 a.m to 10 p.m. (depends on weekdays)
4. Huinnyeoul Culture Village (흰여울문화마을)
White stones and the blue ocean frame the impressively attractive Huinnyeoul Culure Village, located in Yeongdo-gu (district). The village, built on the edge of a seashore cliff, had a surplus of vacant houses as recently as 2011. Since then, however, a number of artists have moved in and began renovating the area, which has resulted in its growing popularity with tourists from across the nation.
First timers might find getting to Huinnyeoul difficult, but the journey is well worth their time. Walking along the stonewall walkway while seeing a panorama view of small and large vessels on the ocean is quite a sight that cannot be experienced elsewhere. Taking pictures in front the well-crafted murals or having a nice cup of tea at a local cafe are other ways to enjoy the village.
Be cautious, however, not to make too much noise when visiting. This is still home to people whose privacy must be respected. Be a courteous tourist.
-How to get there: Nampo Station (Metro line 1), exit 6. Take bus 7, 71 or 508 and get off at Youngsun Apartment bus stop, the entrance of the village. Or, bus 6, 9, 82 or 85 and get off at Huinnyeoul Culure Village bus stop. Walk to the three-way intersection. The village entrance can be seen from here.
■ Jeoryoung Coastal Walk (절영해안산책로)
Located near the Huinnyeoul Culture Village, this is one of the finest walking trails in Busan. It runs through Namhang-dong and Jungni harbor, connecting to Taejongdae Park. One can enjoy the view of the ocean through most of the walk.
Mosaic tiles painted at the entrance, lighthouses and haenyeo (female divers), among other themed paintings can be seen along the way.
An observation deck can also be accessed. Visitors to the observation deck can check out boats, Nam-hangdaegyo Bridge and Daemado Island if the sky is clear enough.
Walk along the coastal trail until the pebble beach. From here, one can purchase the freshest seafood, caught by haenyeo on-site. Continue to Taejongdae Park, another excellent way to spend a couple hours.
-How to get there: Nampo Station (Metro line 1), exit 6. Take bus 6, 7, 9, 70, 71, 82, 85 or 508 and get off at the Busan public health center bus stop.