For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox has just marked the start of spring! Let’s take a look at the best cities around the world to catch spectacular cherry blossoms this season
The blossoming of cherry blossoms is one of the most incredible sights of spring. They burst their candy pink petals to tell the world that the sun is finally back, causing a beautiful blizzard a few days later, and everyone caught in them suddenly becomes a serious photographer. Cherry blossom viewing, or Hanami (literally “showing flowers”) is a huge springtime custom in Japan, where the beauty of the sakura is celebrated and the cycle of life is contemplated. Indeed, it can be a universally rewarding experience; people all over the world stop in their hectic lives just for a little while to gaze in wonder at the cherry blossom. These are the best cities in the northern hemisphere to join in.
Although the possibility of traveling to the country is still extremely limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one cannot fail to start with Japan. Nowhere in the world can compete with Kyoto’s sakura. As winter turns to spring, flowers bloom and the ancient capital is awash in a sea of pink. The monkey-filled hills surrounding the city burst open, the parks and gardens of the 1,600 temples and shrines fill with people participating in hanami, and the Philosopher’s Path turns into a blizzard of petals. It’s a magical experience in a breathtaking city.
The Japanese take hanami so seriously that their weather bureau provides predictions on when the sakura will appear. In theory, you can catch the bloom all over the country, from south to north, by taking the train with a special tourist card it’s an exceptionally good value.
Of course, Japan holds two spots on this list, and the second has to be Tokyo. Both ultra-modern and traditional, it is home to vast parks, rivers and temples where there is no shortage of hanami opportunities. Yoyogi Park, with its stunning temple and city views, is teeming with hipsters escaping the madness of Harajuku to play music and dance under the cherry blossoms. There are over 10,000 trees in Shinjuku Gyoen, many of which bloom late in the season; and Ueno Park – probably the busiest – sees the fall begin days before the others. The Meguro River has become one of the city’s most iconic spots for Instagrammers and the huge gardens of the Imperial Palace are simply amazing.
Changwon, South Korea
Gunhangje is the Korean name for cherry blossom viewing, and the best festivities take place in Jinhae, a district of Changwon. Although canceled this year due to the pandemic, in normal times some one million visitors flock to the city each spring for one of the country’s biggest celebrations. Rivers, temples and even train tracks are lined with flowers, which is still an absolute sight even without the party.
Buffalo, New York, USA
Buffalo’s Delaware Park is home to a Japanese garden filled with cherry blossoms. Each year, against a backdrop of classical architecture and lanterns, the volunteers who maintain the garden organize a Festival to celebrate the arrival of spring. It’s one of the best in North America, and there’s also all the beautiful neoclassical, beaux arts, and art deco architecture of New York State’s second city to explore.
Macon, Georgia, USA
Macon was once a sleepy town in the Deep South of the United States until a local businessman discovered the beauty of the Yoshino cherry tree. While on a business trip to Washington DC in 1952, William Fickling Sr. discovered that the city was teeming with trees similar to the one he had in his Georgia garden – the only cherry blossom in the city. He taught himself how to care for and propagate the trees, and soon enough Macon was full of them. Now the Mâcon International Cherry Blossom Festival claims to be the best in the world – although I’m not sure what a Kyotoite would think.
Vancouver, one of the most relaxing cities in the world, is surely a fantastic place to walk through blizzards of pink petals. The city one cherry blossom festival lasts three weeks and includes formal balls, massive picnics and illuminations. They also organize guided tours to explain the horticultural, historical and societal stories behind the trees.
Washington, D.C., United States
Washington DC’s cherry blossoms have become an iconic part of the city since they were planted in 1912. The Tidal Basin, in the shadow of the Martin Luther King and Thomas Jefferson memorials, is the place to go, home to 1 800 of them, with even more in East Potomac Park. A festival takes place every yearand it’s a great opportunity to soak up some history at the same time.
In 1998, 63 sakura trees were planted in Stockholm’s King’s Garden – or Kungsträdgården – and a new Swedish tradition was born. Thousands of visitors come every year to see the flowers fall. But it’s not the only place in the city-archipelago to bask in the cherry blossoms. Over 10,000 trees have been planted along the streets of the city, so if you want to avoid the crowds, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch a cotton candy blizzard.
Jerte Valley, Spain
The mountains of the Jerte Valley, near Madrid in Spain, are covered in cherry trees that come to life each spring. The best ways to enjoy it are to hike or ride a pony from the medieval town of Plasencia (which is full of Jewish, Muslim and Christian history) to the Garganta de los Infiernos nature reserve. The road is full of small traditional villages, ruins of Roman settlements and ancient monasteries. It’s not strictly a city, and it’s not really a festival, but it’s an experience like no other.
As if it needed something else to establish its romantic reputation, Paris is another city that raises with flower in spring. A trip to the Eiffel Tower and the gardens of the Champs de Mars will guarantee you a beautiful view. There are also plenty of trees in the square that surrounds Notre Dame Cathedral, and Square Gabriel-Pierné is a great, more serene spot. Parc de Sceaux to the south of the city has the most trees, and there is a hanami festival in April.
Hamburg is a beautiful industrial city of canals, bridges and sin, but also cherry blossoms. His festival has the tongue twister of a name – Kirschblutenfest, and is one of the oldest in Europe – from 1968. Japan gave the city trees and they were planted along the banks of the Alster. Every year there is a huge fireworks display to celebrate the hanami, best watched from a boat on the river.
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