Ahhhh one of my favorite things to do – seeing the cherry blossoms in Korea!
From mid-March to mid-April, while the air is still cold and most of nature still dead, these pretty, ethereal blossoms, known as 벚꽃 (bot–ggot) signal an end to Korea’s bitter winter. They represent a start to spring and all its connotations of renewal, love, and a little bit of magic.
I don’t need to tell you that winter in Korea is one of my least favorite seasons. Unless it snows, the country turns into a pretty dull world. Everyone is crowded inside, bundled up in their black blanket coats, and the days are not only shorter, the skies are gray more often than blue.
However, as soon as you start to see those white pink blossoms begin to bloom, it’s like everyone slowly begins to emerge from hibernation. The sidewalks are filled with students and workers lingering outside on their breaks and it really does feel like Mother Nature has breathed in new life into the country.
You can see this best in all the pretty music that gets released around March! The most famous is definitely “Cherry Blossom Ending” by Busker Busker and “Not Love, Not Cherry Blossoms,” by High 4 ft IU.
Anyway, if you can’t tell from me waxing on poetically like I am, I love the cherry blossom season in Korea. I specifically plan my trips around either them or the fall foliage!
Types of Cherry Blossoms in Korea
Okay, so this guide is cheating just a little. I couldn’t resist adding in some other flowers that aren’t specifically cherry blossoms, but they’re still pink-ish!
All in all, though, there are two main cherry blossom types in Korea:
Yoshino Cherry Blossoms
The Yoshino cherry trees (소메이요시노) are the most common in Korea, and they bloom first. These blossoms are a light, delicate pink color (almost white).
The name comes from the Yoshino district in Nara, Japan, and these are the most common trees you’ll find all around Korea. In case you were wondering, yes, they’re the same ones that planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington DC as well!
King Cherry Blossoms
The King Cherry Tree (왕벚 나무) originates on Jeju Island. Their flowers are distinctively pinker and bigger, though apparently some people in Korea claim they and the Yoshino trees are the same?
I don’t know, it’s a whole debate that feels a bit unnecessary. Many Korean don’t distinguish the two, so technically all cherry trees in Korea translate to 왕벚 나무. The Korean I put above is simply the Japanese name, someiyoshino, in Hangul, which is what Koreans will use only if they have to.
Anyway, the King cherry trees are much rarer than the Yoshino ones. I didn’t call know they existed differently from the Yoshino cherry trees until maybe a year or two ago, so I’ve only really enjoyed them once on the side of the road somewhere random in the countryside!
Hoping to catch more of them this year as I’ll be back in time for them! They bloom a bit later than the Yoshino ones; I’d say early to mid April and a bit later.
There are some tours you can specifically do to see the King cherry blossoms, including this one around Busan and to Gyeongju.
One of the other two I want to add in this post is the maehwa. These plum blossoms (매화) bloom the earliest, about the 2nd week or March (along with the yellow sansuyu trees)! The blossoms are even more delicate and whiter than the Yoshino ones.
The maesil tree comes from China, near the Yangtze River, and isn’t very common in Korea at all. The only festival I know of is the Gwangyang one, so let me know if you know of others!
I will say, nothing is tastier than a maesil drink at the jimjilbang if you happen to see it as an option.
Okay, I’m really stretching “pink” here, but I had to add them! There are two types of azaleas in Korea, but they both translate the same, so it can be kind of confusing.
There are the ones called 진달래 (jindalrae) and the ones called 철쭉 (cheoljjuk), and both are a purple-pink color. Sometimes cheoljjuk translates to “Royal azalea.”
I found this blog post and this article that go into the differences, but it’s all in Korean and doesn’t let me copy and paste, so I haven’t gotten around to translating it haha. The article has photos comparing the two, though, and they really don’t look too different!
I only realized there were two different types because I was trying to find the full name of the Baraebong festival in Namwon, and nothing had 진달래 in the title!
History of Cherry Blossoms in Korea
Boooooyyyy have you just opened up a can of worms! I’m not surprised, really, but the history of cherry blossoms in Korea is, of course, highly debated among those who decide cherry tree origins.
Basically, it’s a fun game of Korea claims one thing, Japan claims another, and then China swoops in and claims something completely different. If you really want to get into it, here’s my brief understanding from the few articles I read.
Many speculate the original cherry tree comes from somewhere in Eurasia, possibly the Himalayas.
From here, most believe it spread to Japan thousands of years ago during the prehistoric age. There are tons of sakura hybrids now, and there’s record of hanami, the act of enjoying the blossoms, from as far back as the 800s during the Heian Period.
Considering cherry blossom is practically synonymous with Japan today, you can imagine how entwined it has become with the history and culture.
The biggest, and frankly most likely, theory is that Japan introduced the Yoshino cherry trees to Korea. I want to say it started with Changgyeonggung Palace and spread, but I feel like they would have been introduced earlier than Japanese occupation in the early 1900s? Again, cherry blossom scholars, please let me know!
This is why places like Jinhae, where the Imperial Japanese Navy once had a base, has so many cherry trees to the point that it’s the most famous of the Korean festivals.
Meanwhile, the King Cherry tree is originally from Jeju, and the first records we have of it outside of Korean records, is from a French missionary in 1908.
Over all, the history of the cherry blossoms in Korea is debated, though the above is the most likely trajectory. Either way, enjoying the beauty of the blooms is a spring pastime in Korea just as it is in Japan, and I, for one, am glad Koreans did not chop them all down during more anti-Japanese times.
Now what I’m sure most of you care about more than the history or breaking down the types, the actual forecast!
Over all, the order of blooming goes like this:
- Maehwa (and Sansuyu)
- Azaleas (but they last longer)
- Yoshino Cherry Blossoms
- King Cherry Blossoms
They bloom earlier in the south and then begin to work their way up north, and you’ve got about a week to a week and a half to enjoy them! If you’re lucky you might get two full weeks, but if it’s a rainy spring, it could be less than a week!
That happened to us in 2017. I went to Hwagae on a Wednesday and saw the blossoms in all their glory, and then by Saturday after two rainy days, the trees were all bare again!
Cherry Blossom 2020 Forecast
Azaleas 2020 Forecast
14 Best Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Korea
I tried to organize these around the earliest to the latest, but you’ll have to keep an eye out closer to the dates to really know when what will bloom! Cherry blossoms really are as fickle as they are beautiful!
1. Gwangyang Maehwa (Plum Blossom) Festival
- Korean Name: 광양 매화마을
- Dates: 2nd – 3rd Week of March
- DIY: Check my post on Gwangyang’s Maehwa Festival, it’s complicated
- Tour: Check tour availability here
The Gwangyang Maehwa Festival one of the earliest signs of spring flowers on mainland Korea along with the Gurye Sansuyu Festival, and Koreans will visit in huge crowds to delight over all the white and pink along the Seomjin River.
The origins of the festival go back half a century when a woman named Hong Ssang Ri. She moved to Gwangyang when she married into a family there, and was interested in the maesil trees after seeing her father-in-law’s small orchard. Eventually she convinced him to focus on them over his chestnut trees, and now her “farm” holds over 10,000 trees!
2. Hwagae Cherry Blossom Festival
Hwagae is in Hadong county down in the southern Gyeongsangnam province. I’ve been here once before, so here’s a full post with details on visiting and what to expect. Just know — FOUR stunning kilometers of blossoms.
3. Jeju’s King Cherry Blossoms
I was about a week or so too early to really see the king cherry blossoms in Korea when I went down to see the canola fields in Jeju. The main festival takes place around Jeonnong-ro near the university. However, you can see them in a lot of different areas, like Hallim Park, Samseonghyeol Shrine, and Seongeup Folk Village.
The really incredible area, though, is along Noksan-ro, which is also covered with canolas. You’ll basically drive along this road and see just one long burst of yellow and pink to each side!
4. Yeosu Jungang Girl’s High School
- Korean Name: 여수중앙여자고등학교
- Dates: Early April
- DIY: Rent a car
Here’s one that’s quite a random pick! My friends, the Hedgers, discovered this fairytale road for one real reason: Stephanie used to teach here! Yup, that castle-esque entrance is simply the entrance to her old high school grounds! The road leading up to it is short, but in the spring and fall, it looks quite magical. Not the easiest to get to, as I’d obviously only recommend going on the weekend when school isn’t in session, but quite a fun, random spot if you happen to live around Yeosu!
5. Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Festival
- Korean Name: 광양 매화마을
- Dates: Early April
- DIY: Go to either Gyeongju Intercity or Express Bus Terminal, walk to nearby bus stop and take Bus 10, 11, 100-1, 150, 154, or 600 to Wolseong-dong Citizen’s Center Stop (월성동주민센타)
- Check tour availability here
Gyeongju is also a great city if you’re interested in Korean history as it’s the best place to learn about the Silla dynasty. I’ve only been in the summer, but it’s supposed to be stunning during cherry blossom season!
6. Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival
- Korean Name: 진해군항제
- Dates: Early April
- Book a tour from Seoul here or a tour from Busan here
- DIY: It’s a bit complicated, but aim for Jinhae Bus Terminal or Changwon Station.
Jinhae is by far the most famous of all the festivals. It took me so long to finally go because I just heard all these horror stories about how crowded it got on the weekends, the only times I could go as a teacher. However, I finally went this last year, and really enjoyed it! Fun fact, the festival isn’t actually a cherry blossom festival, but a naval festival celebration Korea’s navy and admiral Yi Sun Shin!
The main areas to see the blooms are actually quite spread out, so you’ll want to read my post on the Jinhae cherry blossoms for a total breakdown! It also has exact directions of getting to the festival. Spoiler, they’re not that close to each other at all!
7. Namwon Yocheon River
- Korean Name: 남원 요천강
- Dates: Early April
- DIY: Simply go to Namwon Bus Terminal or Namwon Bus Station. Taxi to the entrance of Gwanghalli and just cross the road to the river.
I feel like there’s kind of a festival for this but not officially. Anyway, all along Yocheon river in Namwon are these beautiful cherry blossom trees, and it’s one of my absolute favorite places for them. I used to take the long way between my two schools just to enjoy them, and last year I wrangled a friend into enjoying them with me one weekday morning!
My best tip is to cross the river and climb up to the pagoda looking building to get a view over the whole river! The pagoda is actually a cafe, so you can get a coffee and sit on the deck to enjoy it all!
8. Enrogel Teapot Cafe
- Korean Name: 에느로겔
- Dates: Mid April
- DIY: Do try public transport like I did the first time, just don’t.
I visited a good week+ too early to catch the cherry blossom around Enrogel Teapot Cafe, and the only other time I went was in late fall. The café takes “off the beaten path” to new levels, so you definitely want to have a car if you’re planning on visiting!
It’s buried away in the countryside, with very little surrounding it. The cherry blossom road complements the whimsical teapot architecture perfectly, so it will definitely be one of the quirkier places you’ll visit in the country.
9. Anyang Stream in Seoul
- Korean Name: 안양천
- Dates: Towards the end of the 1st Week of April
- DIY: Hallie drove, but I believe we parked somewhere near Dorimcheon Station (도림천 역), Exit 2 and walked under the bridge to the stream.
Here’s a secret lil spot that Hallie found and showed me last year! Want cherry blossoms in Seoul without bumper to bumper traffic? Go to Anyang stream! We met up with our friends, Hallie and Marie, and had fun walk along the path and taking photos of the pathways!
10. Wonmisan Azalea Festival
- Korean Name: 원미산 진달래 축제
- Dates: Starts around April 6th
- Book a tour here
- DIY: Get off at Bucheon Sports Complex Station (부천종합운동장역) Exit 2
Want a 2 for 1 deal? Wonmisan has both the jindalrae azaleas and cherry blossoms! Again, Hallie drove here after we went to Anyang, and it was amazing. Sadly it down poured by the time we got here, but it was still stunning!
11. Seokchon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival
- Korean Name: 석촌호수 벚꽃축제
- Dates: 2nd week of April
- DIY: Simply get off at Jamsil Station. The closest exits are 4, 3, 2-1, 2, and 1
I’d seen photos of Seokchon Lake during cherry blossom season, but I only visited for the first time this past year! It really is a beautiful place to see the blooms! Spend the day at Lotte World, which is right in the center of the lake, and then walk around later in the day when the brunt of the crowds have left. It really is one of the busiest places I’ve seen yet, and the crowds are basically shoulder to shoulder on the weekend during the peak. To see them from above, go to Seoul Sky Observatory!
12. Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival in Seoul
- Korean Name: 영등포 여의도 봄꽃축제
- Dates: 2nd week of April
- Included in this tour
- DIY: There are a few different subway stops that go to Yeouido:
- Dangsan (당산역), Exit 4, 20 min. walk
- National Assembly (국회의사당역), Exit 1/6, 5-minute walk
- Yeouinaru Station (여의나루역), Exit 1, 20-minute walk
If you’re only planning on staying in Seoul for your visit, then you’ll want to check out Yeouido. It’s about 1.7 km stretch of blossoms! I’ve only seen them at night when I went for my Han River cruise because I got quite sick!
13. Gyeongpo Cherry Blossom Festival
- Korean Name: 경포대 벚꽃축제
- Dates: Mid April
- DIY: Go to the either the Gangneung Intercity or Express Bus Terminal, take Bus 202 and get off at Gyeongpodae (경포대)
- Check tour availability here
This is probably the most farthest north of the festivals as it’s in Gangwon-do (the same province they held the Olympics in).
14. Baraebong Azalea Festival
- Korean Name: 지리산 바래봉 철쭉제
- Dates: Mid April to Early May
- DIY: Use this guide after you bus from Namwon to Inwol (인월 지리산 공용터미널)
I haven’t done this hiking trail yet (my friend was supposed to go with me, and he forgot), but Autumn has gone and loved it! Most people I know in Namwon have gone, and I really just have no excuse for why I haven’t… *cough* But that’ll change this year!
It’s basically a pretty moderate hiking trail up to Baraebong, the peak, where you’ll just see fields and fields of royal azaleas! They last quite a while, especially at the differing elevations, so you have until early May to do the hike.
And there you have it! Happy (Almost) Cherry Blossom Season!
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