BUSAN, South Korea — Summer has descended on Korea, and, as usual, it brings along the annual typhoon of frantic libidos brainwashing young folk to look awkwardly down at the floor while they ask each other out on dates. So starts the of hordes of hormones biking in Hwamyeong, bodies packing kimbap for mountain picnics and innocents pressing their lips together to make weird sucky noises.
Yes, the season of love makes us do strange things with and to one another. It is in that spirit that I’ve compiled a thorough collection of Busan’s best date spots.
Note: As a general rule, I tried to stick to location-specific spots for local flavor. That means I’m not bothering to mention noraebangs or chain restaurants, not because they’re poor choices but rather to showcase local neighborhoods’ flavor. But, hey, it’s your date, so if Kimbap Cheonguk is where you wanna plant that first smooch, go for it.
Show off your Tetris skills: Seomyeon’s World Arcade is a great place at literally any hour of the day. (Dance Dance Revolution pros only come out at 4 a.m.) Basketball, first-person shooters, Tetris, Street Fighter, air hockey and noraebang fill out most of the complex, though attention must be given to that absurd circle ride where the Korean guy in a booth and spins you around really fast while making fun of you for not being Korean.
Sit in bizarre and little-known cafes: Rather than hitting up Angel-in-us for the umpteenth time, try one of the area’s unique spots. Personal favorites include Daracbang, near the northern Thursday Party, which offers an accessory shop on its first floor and outdoor terrace on its second; and Playground and Tokyoloose, both on second floors near Barbecue Camp in the southern end. The former is easy to spot for its calorie-counting stickers on its outdoor staircase that tell you how much you burn for each step you take.
Drink craft beer: For a goodnight pint, Seomyeon is prized for being one of the only areas in the city with craft breweries, with Who? Pub being a long-standing victor with nice light and dark ales in a rustic cottage-y atmosphere. That said, the recently born Savoy in the northeast offers a delicious coffee brew for 4,500 won and has been packed every weekend since opening.
Kyungsung & Pukyong National University
Take a hike: The coastal park of Igidae offers a solid two-hour hike that’s neither strenuous nor boring. I actually wrote an article on the hike nearly a year ago and later learned that a friend had read said article (not knowing I was its author) and, inspired, decided to propose to his girlfriend there. They’re still married, to boot.
Look intellectual by looking at books: After you’ve exhausted yourself by walking, consider heading to Fully Booked in the northern ?KSU area. They offer a bit of food and drink, but the main attraction here is used English-language books, of which they have the largest selection in the city, and a big piles of board games. After all, nothing says sexy like earning 14 points for spelling the word sexy in Scrabble.
Swoon by saxophones: Yes, KSU is home to crazy dance joints like Blue Monkey and Kino Eye. And, in fact, either of those places are a good idea if you two are in a dancing mood, or the men reading this don’t mind Korean dudes clawing at their dates for an hour. But for something more low-key, opt for a jazz bar like the classic Monk, which has a cavernous feel with intimate booths, upper scaffolding seating and dim lights. The relatively new Jazz Cat is otherwise usually less busy but makes up for it with a spunky bartender to make you feel a bit more welcome.
Eat weird street food: Though odds are you’ll both have seen the Jagalchi Fish Market already, have either of you eaten there before? Those food tents are often quiet and you’re guaranteed to discover a fun meal and instant conversation starter. If you’d rather grab some light snacks, just walk around the area near BIFF Square and eat street food for an hour. Nampo’s got the richest abundance of fried donuts, dried fish and spicy chicken-in-a-cup you can get in this city. Trying something new and discovering potential allergies is one of the best ways to ensure a memorable date experience.
Take a spin on a boat: Okay, so it’s not exactly Nampo-dong, but Taejongdae Park lies at the bottom of Yongdo, that island south of Nampo-dong. In addition to being a pretty little hiking spot, there’s a boat you can take for 5,000 won from the northern edge of the park to the southern tip, and back again if you want. You can trek through either direction instead, but definitely grab the boat at least one way, because it’s a gorgeous ride. Before you leave, though, be sure to eat at one of the ajummas’ fresh clam tents at the southern edge.
Strike out in a good way: If all else fails, there’s an awesome bowling alley just outside of Jagalchi station called ABC Bowling. Don’t let anyone tell you that bowling is a bad date idea. It’s awesome.
Pretend you’re in Europe: Haeundae distinguishes itself by being more upscale than the rest of Busan, and with good reason. If you want to enjoy a quality French or Italian meal, and can afford to shell out 20,000 individually, there’s no shortage of places. Bella Citta, Merciel; there are too many to detail here, but they’re ostentatious enough to find.
Be cultural: Stroll along Dalmaji’s Moontan Road, past Jangsan, to scope out dozens of art galleries with a view of the ocean, such as Netherlands Art Gallery, Lee & Bae, Kim Jae-sun and Montmarte. If you’d prefer works on a bigger scale, the Busan Museum of Art is just a few stops away, and sometimes has free entry to a rotation of national and international exhibits.
Indulge in being a tourist: Aside from the continentally-famous Haeundae Beach, you can catch a taxi or bus to Haedong Yonggungsa, better known to expats as the seaside temple. Delicately built at the edge of the water, this gorgeous temple complex often ranks among visitors’ favorite temples in the country. Koreans, both fortunately and unfortunately, agree: don’t be surprised if the site is teeming with locals on a weekend.
Go to a cafe to not drink coffee: Haeundae-gu is home to loads of expensive cafes, some of which boast quirky novelties. Cases in point: the infamous Puppy Cafe in Jangsan, where you pay a sizable entrance fee but get to play with all the dogs you like, and I Make Cake Cafe near Haeundae station, where you can pay 25,000 won to personally customize your own cake with icing and sprinkles that they provide for you.