Spring is one of the best times to travel to Asia, as the trees turn pink and cherry blossom leaves float through the wind.
Japan and South Korea are two of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Asia, and there are many fascinating cities waiting to be discovered.
To help you experience the wondrous cherry blossom first hand without the crowds, our experts have put together this guide on where to see cherry blossom in Asia.
Japan’s sakura season is famous worldwide, with the whole of the country blanketed in a cloak of pink as the trees burst into flower. It’s notoriously difficult to predict when and where exactly the cherry blossoms will occur, but March through April is the best time to visit Japan if you’re hoping to see the cities covered in pink. Japan’s capital Tokyo and the imperial cities of Kyoto and Osaka are two of the best places to see cherry blossom in Japan, and the country’s temples look truly magical when surrounded by it.
In Osaka, the traditional Osaka castle comes to life when surrounded by beautiful pink cherry blossom. Constructed in 1583 on the former site of Ishiyama Honganji Temple, this charming castle was the largest Japanese castle during the 16th century. Destroyed by fire several times, it has since been rebuilt in its original form and is one of the best places in the country to get an insight into Japan’s past.
In Kyoto, the cherry blossoms usually make an appearance in the last week of March and bloom until the middle of April. It’s very hard to predict exactly when the cherry blossom will appear so there’s no guarantee of seeing it, but Kyoto is filled with beautiful sights nonetheless. Grand palaces, traditional “machiya” townhouses and ornate shrines all adorn Kyoto’s charming streets. The wooden Kiyomizu-dera, Golden and Silver Pavilion and Ryoan-ji temples are all stunning sights, whether or not they are clad in cherry blossom.
On a cherry tree tour of Kyoto, travellers can explore Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites as they come alive in spring. The day begins with a peaceful and meditative two-kilometre stroll along what used to be known as Philosopher’s Path, named after the well-known Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida, who used this route for daily meditation. At the end of the walk, stop off at Nanzenji temple, the head temple of the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Sitting on a large tranquil hillside, this temple’s gardens are particularly impressive and serene when surrounded by spring foliage.
Then, travellers can continue on towards the Heian Jingu shrine – one of Kyoto’s most famous Shinto shrines. The tour comes to an end at the incredible Nijo Castle. The 16th century Momoyama architecture here is particularly interesting, with decorated sliding doors and wooden floors the main features. This castle is one of the best places in Japan to see cherry blossom – there are no less than 430 cherry trees in the grounds of this magnificent historical setting.
To escape the hustle and bustle of Kyoto, travellers can head to nearby Arashiyama. Begin your time here at the unique and quiet Otagi-Nenbutsuji Temple, famous for housing 1200 Rakan figures that were carved by worshippers to pray for the prosperity of the temple. Just past Arashiyama lies Okochi Sanso, a splendid mountain retreat set amongst beautiful grounds. During sakura season, this best kept secret is particularly beautiful and only enhanced by the fine views of the city below. An even more impressive view of cherry blossoms can be found at Arashiyama’s Tenryu-ji Temple, the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Strolling through the pond and garden or along the nearby Togetsukyo Bridge are both excellent ways of taking in some impressive sakura sights.
If you’re looking to venture even further out of the city, make your way to Nara. Just an hour away from Kyoto, Nara was once the capital of 8th century Japan and is home to a wonderful Deer Park, as well as many historical sights. Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Todaiji temple are both worth visiting, and few things beat wandering through the idyllic Nara Park when it’s filled with deer and cherry blossoms.
During sakura season, Tokyo’s bustling streets, all of which are lined with beautiful flowering trees, transform completely. On a cherry blossom tour of Tokyo, travellers can begin their day with a fitting introduction to the Japanese fine art of “Ikebana” flower arrangement. This ancient art dates back to the 7th century, and involves placing flowers in sculpture-like arrangements. Through arranging flowers in this way, ikebana aims to express emotion and bring the underlying qualities of unique flowers to the forefront.
After you’ve been introduced to this ancient art form, travellers can journey on to the Kitanomaru Koen national park – near the Imperial Palace – to see the cherry blossoms. Another hotspot for viewing cherry blossoms in Tokyo is Ueno park, featuring more than 1,000 trees. This park is great for people watching, as it can become quite crowded during the height of sakura season.
While Japan is world renowned for its cherry blossoms, South Korea is equally as incredible during its sakura season. The major cities of Seoul, Gyeongju and Busan are all filled with opportunities to discover the local culture, with a delightful backdrop of magnificent floral displays.
In capital Seoul, the best places to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms are the Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden, the Han River and the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival. Changdeokgung Palace was the second royal villa built in South Korea following the construction of the Gyeongbokgung Palace in 1405. It is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Jesoen palaces, and has a truly ethereal feel to it. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic tree that is over 300 years old, a small pond and a pavilion. With so much beautiful outdoor space, it’s a splendid environment in which to catch a glimpse of South Korea’s sakura.
Unsurprisingly, there are few better places to experience South Korea’s cherry blossoms than at the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival. This festival is held on Yeouido-ro Road in mid-April, when the azaleas, forsythia, royal azaleas and other spring flowers are in full bloom. The celebration focuses on the 1,886 Korean trees are all lit up at night in various colours. There’s also a wide range of street performances and art exhibitions taking place, so there really is something for everyone.
In the ancient capital of the Silla kingdom Gyeongju, there are countless historic temples, tombs, pagodas and statues all strewn with cherry blossom during sakura season. One such site is the ancient 8th-century Bulguksa Temple. A Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site, this stunning compound houses a number of Korea’s most revered national treasures. The stone bridges, terraces and pagodas here take on a new life when surrounded by cherry blossoms.
The perennial must see spots for beautiful cherry blossoms in Gyeongju though are Anapji Pond and Bomun Lake. Built in 675 AD, Anapji Pond is a man made slice of nature with small mountains created inside the palace walls and beautiful flowers lining the exotic gardens. Fit for royalty, the Bomun Lake is a manmade lake built on the site of an old fortress in Mount Myeonghwalsan. When spring arrives, the whole of this environment turns pink with cherry blossom. The combination of the stunning trees reflected in the waters of Bomun Lake and the trees of Bulguksa Park make Greongju one of South Korea’s most stunning sights. There are few things more magical than cherry blossom leaves falling like snowflakes to the ground as the breeze blows.
South Korea’s second most-populous city Busan is a cultural hub characterised by an infectious energy. Here, gleaming high rises fill the spaces between green mountains and beaches, while elegant bridges span across the sea. With buzzing nightlife, thronging fish markets and scenic hikes, Busan is a great place to explore the many sides of modern Korean life. For the best cherry blossom views in the city, head to the Jinhae Gunhangje cherry blossom festival in the area of Jungwon Rotary. Held in downtown Jinhae, this festival celebrates all things cherry blossom and even includes cultural performances and a military performance to showcase Korean culture.
For a colourful view of cherry blossoms, few places beat Gamcheon Cultural Village. Affectionately known as the ‘Machu Picchu’ of Busan, this village is made up of colourful houses built in a staircase fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain. Come sakura season, this vibrant town transforms into a scene that looks as though it’s been lifted straight from a postcard.