Think cherry blossom and you’ll likely first think of Japan as the best place in the world to experience it. Who hasn’t seen pictures of Japan’s most iconic landscapes decorated with the delicate pink hues of its world-famous cherry blossom trees? Often overlooked by Western travellers, across the sea neighbouring South Korea offers an equally impressive experience. Here too temple complexes come alive with the colours of spring, bridge walkways sit pretty beneath clouds of rustling leaves and the mountains become a riot of colour. It’s not just pink cherry blossoms either as this time of year also heralds the blooming of vivid yellow canola blossom, deep magenta azalea flowers & pristine white apricot flowers.
Like the Japanese, Koreans celebrate the arrival of spring with a plethora of outdoor activities that take advantage of the milder temperatures and gorgeous scenery from family picnics to music performances and festivals. In South Korea the blossom season starts on Jeju Island in mid-March and works its way north across the country until the end of April with numerous cities hosting dedicated cherry blossom festivals. There’s no end of choice as to where you can see cherry blossoms in South Korea but to help you narrow down your options, here’s our pick of the best places.
Jinhae for the Gunhangje Festival
Expected dates of bloom: First two weeks of April
Highlights: The rows of cherry blossom trees that line the famous Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge
Located in the port city of Changwon on the southeast coast, the district of Jinhae is one of the most popular places to celebrate the blooming of spring in South Korea. The usually sleepy city comes alive with colour and festivities, drawing more than 2 million visitors every year. Street stalls offer special food inspired by the season while concerts and fireworks are put on to provide further entertainment over the course of 10 days. Although much of the city is awash with a delicate pink hue, the best place to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms is at the famous ‘Romance Bridge’ on the Yeojwacheon stream. Made popular by a hit Korean TV show titled Romance, the bridge is a particular draw for couples.
Another popular spot within easy reach of Jinhae is the now disused Gyeonghwa train station. It’s nicknamed ‘Cherry Blossom Road’ for the perfectly aligned cherry trees that run parallel along both sides of the train tracks. The train station has been closed since February 2015, which means visitors can amble along the 800-metre-long tracks while soaking up the beautiful colours of spring.
Due to Jinhae’s history as a naval base, the spring festival here originally started life as a small ceremony to commemorate the Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin who was a key figure in defeating the Japanese during the 16th century Imjin War. This history is celebrated alongside the start of spring with a military parade complete with marching bands & honour guard shows.
Gyeongju for the Cherry Blossom Festival
Expected dates of bloom: Early April
Highlights: Cycling beneath the cherry blossoms from the city centre to the scenic Bomun Lake
Home to royal tombs, UNESCO-listed temples and palaces, and outstanding examples of Korean Buddhist art, the ancient Silla capital of Gyeongju already has plenty to recommend it. However, the city is especially unmissable in spring when these ancient treasures are set against a charming backdrop of cherry trees. Wolseong Park becomes a magical palette of pink hues against which stands the Cheomseongdae Observatory, the oldest of its kind in Asia. In this park you’ll also find the Anapji pond, which is surrounded by trees with Donggung Palace as its showpiece. When the colours of spring take hold, this already lovely spot becomes even more picturesque.
One of the most popular spots in town is Bomun Lake, a large yet tranquil tourist complex lined with hotels, restaurants and recreation venues. It’s particularly popular with domestic tourists and although it may lack the historical sights that Gyeongju is famous for, international visitors can still appreciate the numerous cherry trees that line the lake. There’s a small pavilion and a neat bridge that afford wonderful photo opportunities while swan-shaped pedalos provide the opportunity to enjoy the scenery from the water’s surface.
Keen runners can opt for the increasingly-popular Cherry Marathon with full, half, 10km and 5km options available. If running is your thing, what better way to do it then in a new country decorated with pretty cherry blossoms? Over 15,000 runners participated last year and it’s an event that draws in the crowds eager to cheer on the pack and even hand out free food to keep them going. The pleasant temperatures of spring provide great running conditions, and the route takes you around Bomun Lake so you can enjoy the scenery as you run. At the start and end points of the route there are music and dance performances to keep energy levels high.
Seoul for the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
Expected dates of bloom: Early April
Highlights: Walking beneath thousands of cherry blossom trees with street entertainment to keep you busy
As the country’s capital and a gleaming modern metropolis, it might come as a surprise that Seoul has pockets of stunning cherry blossom that warrant their own festivals. The most well-known of them all is the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival. Located on the Han River, the island of Yeouido is drenched in colour with over 1,800 Korean cherry trees as well as azaleas and forsythia trees. Most of these trees line Yunjung-ro street behind the National Assembly Building. During the festival this road is closed to cars so visitors can wander freely beneath the soft draping petals during the day and at night when the trees are lit. Festivities include art exhibitions, singing contests, street performances and food stalls for a lively atmosphere that perfectly suits the capital city.
Seoul’s grand palaces are another fabulous place to enjoy cherry blossom. Built for ruling kings, the grounds of a palace would not be complete without beautiful trees and plants to accompany the stately architecture. Of Seoul’s five grand palaces, only two have cherry trees planted – Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung. The remaining three have various other trees planted that also offer stunning spring colours including apricot blossom and royal azalea. You’ll also find cherry blossoms lining the walking trails around the royal tombs of Hongneung and Yureung.
Have you visited South Korea during the cherry blossom season? Let us know your favourite spots in the comments section below. If you’ve yet to have been, get in touch with our South Korea tailor-made team to put together your dream holiday itinerary.