Spring is here! It seems like everyone’s headed outside to shake off the winter blues and to celebrate the change in weather. One of the most highly anticipated events of the season has already begun – the cherry blossoms are finally here! I’m excited but so are millions of other people who flock to the streets to see the beautiful pink and white delicate flowers called 벚꽃 (beot-kkot). I have made it my personal mission to see the blossoms everywhere that they bloom! Here are my favourite sites to see the beautiful cherry blossoms, but hurry! Part of what makes these flowers so special is that only stay for a short time.
Jinhae Cherry Blossom Gunhangje (Naval Port Festival) (진해군항제)
Jinhae (진해) is Korea’s cherry blossom capital. The city’s streets and mountains are lined with approximately 340,000 flowering trees, leaving the town and its two million annual visitors… tickled pink! During full bloom, every small gust of wind makes the petals rain down and swirl in the streets like dancing snowflakes. The Yeojwacheon or Yeojwa Stream (여좌천) is a favourite location for strolling couples and it’s absolutely stunning. A boardwalk and little footbridges offset the flowering trees, their reflections doubled in the water. Just a 10-minute walk away, you’ll find the Gyeonghwa train station and cherry blossom road (경화역 벚꽃길). Watch as a train chugs along the blossom-canopied tracks and see the passengers’ awestruck faces light up from the combined beauty of the flowers and the roaring greeting of hundreds of onlookers. The hilltop Jaehwangsan Park (재황산 공원) is another must-see. You can reflect on your year as you walk up the 365 stairs to the park or you can take the monorail. Climb some more to the top of the park’s Jinhae Tower for the best views of a city in bloom! Check out the nearby festival grounds for performances, souvenirs, and tasty treats. The festival runs until April 10, 2013 and the annual natal parade will be held April 6. Official site here (Korean only) and check out Steve Miller’s detailed blog from last year here.
Seoul – Yeouido Spring Flower Festival (여의도 봄꽃축제)
I remember the first time I saw the cherry blossoms on Yeouido (여의도), it drew my breath away. I’d never seen anything like it. Over 1,500 cherry trees cover the island and the atmosphere is absolutely enchanting. The Yeouido Spring Flower Festival is exceptionally picturesque since there are so many kinds of flowers on display. By mid-April azaleas, forsythia, royal azaleas, and other spring flowers are in full bloom. Visit the National Assembly Building and walk along the cherry tree-framed Yunjung(no) Road (윤중로) to the bank of the Han River (한강). You can actually continue until you reach the Yuksam or 63 Building (육삼 빌딩 or 63 빌딩). And at night, the cherry blossoms are lit up with various colored lights and a wide range of street performances and art exhibitions take place. The flowers are predicted to bloom fully between April 12 to 15, 2013 and as of this writing, the festival is scheduled to begin on April 8th.
Seoul – Gyeongbukgung, Bukcheon Hanok Village, and Cheongwadae
(경복궁, 북촌한옥마을, and 청와대)
Another personal favourite and must-see, the beloved historic Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) will be at its most picturesque during this spring season. The beauty of the cherry blossoms set against the ornate and spacious palace backdrop will make for stunning photos. From there you can stroll through the artsy streets of Insadong (인사동) or head to the Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을). This village is home to hundreds of traditional hanok houses dating back to the Joseon Dynasty which ended in 1910. You can grab lunch or tea here and then wander about the hills, looking down over the city and the blossoms peeking out from every corner. As you climb down the narrow steps leaving the village, wind your way past the home of the President, Cheongwadae (청와대) also known as The Blue House. The president’s home looks especially lovely with that famous blue roof peering out from the surrounding hills covered in cherry blossoms.
Busan – Dalmaji Hill, Namcheon, Igidae, and Dongnae
(달맞이길, 남천, 이기대, and 동래)
I’d like to think of myself as a bit of an expert on places to see Busan’s blossoms! They’re already fully blooming in most parts of the city, so there are only a few days left to enjoy their full splendor. Haeundae’s Dalmaji Hill (해운대 달맞이길) is the top choice for seeing those pale pink buds. You can stroll and enjoy the great views of the Gwangan Diamond Bridge and Centum City and stop at one of the many cute cafés lining the street. I prefer to walk there from Haeundae Beach. Moving away from the hotels, follow the curve of the road over the train tracks and up the hill. Follow the crowds and you’ll be there in only a few minutes.
Namcheon-dong’s Samik Apartments (남천) are also surrounded by the flowery trees. Walk past the apartments and up the hill to the Hwangnyeong Ring Road, a large looping drive that will give you great views of the beach and city below. Loop back down to towards the beach, and see the cherry blossoms peeking out from between the buildings and grab a snack from one of the many vendors’ carts. I’m partial to fluffy pink cotton candy since it suits the mood of the scene! To get to any of these locations, take the metro to Geumnyeonsan Station (금련산) and leave by Exit No. 5. Walk straight until you see the Honda dealership. Turn left and continue straight for 5 minutes, crossing the intersection. Go up the small hill near the school and follow the fallen petals until you see the trees on your right.
A walk along the Igidae Coastal Promenade (이기대) allows you to enjoy the flowers as well as the beautiful shoreline. You can also visit tourist sites such as Gwangan Bridge and the Haeundae APEC Nurimaru House (누리마루 APEC 하우스). Finally, in Dongnae (동래), you can admire the blossoms near Oncheon Stream (온천), perfect for a nice walk or bike ride.
Dream Locations – Hwagae (화개장터 벚꽃축제) and Jeju Cherry Blossom Festivals (제주 왕벚꽃축제)
Although I’m a self-proclaimed blossom nut, there are still a few places on my wish list to see. I’m told that Hwagae (화개) in Gyeongnam has so many trees that it looks like a carpet of snow is on the ground due to all the falling petals! Rumors also say that if lovers hold hands and walk down the Cherry Blossom Road together that they will get married and stay together forever. The truly dedicated cherry blossom watchers could consider heading to Jeju Island (제주) to see the king cherry tree blossoms (왕벚꽃). The petals of Jeju’s king cherry tree blossoms are the largest of all the cherry blossoms.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me this month! Can’t enough of those pretty flowers? Check out WKB Maria Margareta’s guide to blossom-themed tours from last year, here. What’s your favourite site to see the cherry blossoms? I’m dying to hear from other “budding” travel enthusiasts and photographers ^^ Let me know in the comments!