Travelzoo Guidebook: Cherry Blossoms Around the World
Spring is celebrated around the world as a magical season of renewal and rejuvenation. As the weather warms and beautiful flowers come into bloom, it can evoke feelings of delight and optimism. It’s no surprise that those of us who love to explore new horizons are drawn to places where we can embrace that spirit of wonder and where better than destinations that turn to glorious shades of pink, under blissful cherry blossom canopies.
Japan has definitely earned its reputation as a magnificent country to enjoy cherry blossoms, or sakura as it’s known in locally. But there are also other thrilling destinations around the world where you can experience sakura fever and celebrate spring floral festivals with equally beautiful blooms and probably fewer crowds.
Japan is the world’s most famous destination for cherry blossoms and for good reason. Not only is the cherry blossom, or sakura, steeped in tradition, but it’s a significant cultural symbol. You’ll find the nation’s floral emblem depicted on coins, in fabric designs, throughout all forms of art, referenced in folk songs and restaurants serve delicious blossom-themed food. During sakura matsuri, locals love to attend the many festivals and engage in hanami, or picnic beneath the trees under clouds of pink and white petals.
Visitors, of course, flock to the festivals as well and while you’ll find floral displays across the country, we have two favourite places to experience sakura.
Hirosaki Park: Imagine seeing 2600 flowering cherry trees framing a 400-year-old castle. It’s a uniquely splendid setting and you can even rent a boat to float around the castle’s moat amid the falling petals.
Kochi Castle: This is another popular location to witness sakura, but we think it’s worth joining the crowds in the Ninomaru grounds to see the ornamental blooms and also enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the castle. Plus, about 45 minutes’ drive from Kochi castle you’ll find Nishigawa Flower Park. This is one of the few places where you can enjoy spectacular cherry blossoms, deep coloured peach blossoms and bright yellow canola flowers at the same time.
Not on the typical touring routes, we negotiated exclusive cherry blossom cruise holidays that makes stops at Kochi. From $199 a night, you will circumnavigate Japan during spring, experiencing the country as it is awash in pink.
When to visit: Cherry blossoms in Japan typically start to bloom in mid-March and are at their peak between the end of March and early April. It varies depending on winter temperatures and from south to north. The first blooms in southern Osaka often arrive up to a month earlier than Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, where full bloom is not normally until late April. The Japan Meteorological Corporation website usually releases an official forecast in January, so that no matter where you’re visiting in Japan for cherry blossom season, people will know when to anticipate the exciting event.
Travelzoo tip: Cherry blossoms are the most famous but another pretty bloom you can catch earlier in the year is ume, the Japanese plum tree. The shades of whites to pinks and reds are generally on display from mid-February to mid-March, so it’s a great way to enjoy a colourful early spring spectacle, with fewer crowds.
South Korea, Seoul & Jinhae
Much like Japan, South Korea has a plethora of places where you can enjoy the revered blossoms and it’s not just the cherry trees putting on a show. Each spring you can expect to see beautiful displays of forsythia, azalea, magnolia and canola flowers.
Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival: One of the most popular celebrations takes place in Seoul, where you can wander 1.7km along Yeouiseo-ro road under a canopy of over 1880 cherry trees that typically flower from late March to early April. It’s worth being there in the evening as well, to see the trees and blossoms magically illuminated with colourful lights.
Jinhae: On the south coast you’ll find the small, quiet city that at any other time of the year is known for its Naval Academy, but come spring it’s teeming with tourists who are eager to see the stunning cherry blossoms. It’s easy to travel from Seoul on a day trip and you’ll be rewarded with rows of trees covered in pinks and lining the railway tracks for a great photo opportunity.
When to visit: Around Seoul, the spring blooms are normally on show from late March to early April.
Thailand, Chiang Mai
Thailand is normally synonymous with sun-drenched beaches and tropical rainforests, so you might be surprised to know that the country also comes into bloom in spring. You can see blushing pink hues appearing in Bangkok’s city parks as early as January. Though for the full floral experience, our advice is to head north, where the cherry trees usually start blooming by the end of December and last through to early February - which is much earlier than other parts of Asia.
Chiang Mai: In this region you can enjoy hiking trails and mountain paths lined with Himalayan cherry trees, that show off their deeper pink shades. It’s also where the famous flower festival has been running in February for over 40 years. The 3-day event features floral art displays and is a vibrant cultural tribute to the ancient Lanna Kingdom. A highlight of the festival is the street parade with colourful floats adorned in flowers, accompanied by marching bands and dancers. To experience the spectacle, be sure to book accommodation early for 2-4 February 2024.
When to visit: Around the Gulf of Thailand region, including in Bangkok, you can see cherry blossoms starting to pop from late December. In northern Thailand the cherry trees flower during the winter months and typically reach full bloom during January and February.
Not only does Vancouver, on Canada’s West Coast, follow Japan’s lead and hold its own Cherry Blossom Festival each year, but the celebration’s roots can be traced back to the Land of the Rising Sun. You see, had the cities of Kobe and Yokohama not presented Vancouver with 500 cherry trees to plant at the Japanese cenotaph in Stanley Park in the 1930’s, then today the city might not boast over 40,000 sakura trees. In 2024, from 30 March to 21 April, the city will be awash with pastel pinks while people enjoy the Big Picnic and other multicultural celebrations, including a Sakura Days Japan Fair.
When to visit: On Canada's east coast, in cities like Toronto you can expect to see cherry blooms from late April to early May. On the west coast it's a few weeks earlier, with early blooms starting in February and reaching their peak from around the end of March for four weeks.
USA, Washington, D.C.
Another wonderful place to witness sakura in North America is in Washington, D.C. Much like Canada, the mass planting of the capital’s cherry trees stemmed from an act of friendship by Japan. In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gifted the United States 3000 cherry trees. Today that has blossomed into hundreds more and thousands of people coming to DC to see the spring blooms at famous vantage points, like the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
When to visit: The best displays are generally from late March to early April and the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC will take place from 20 March to 14 April 2024.
Dubliners have loved their cherry trees for over 70 years. In fact, according to the Irish Times and local tree specialists, town planners loved them so much in the 1950’s and 1960’s that many were planted at the time in “silly places”. In recent years the town has had to remove or replant thousands of trees in sites where their roots will do less damage, but that still hasn’t detracted from the magnificent cherry blossom spectacle across the city.
Four of the top places to enjoy the prunus blooms in Dublin are Herbert Park, historic St Stephen’s Green, Trinity College and the National Botanic Gardens. Less than an hour from Dublin, there’s also the opportunity to indulge in a very Japanese-like sakura or hanami experience. Irish National Stud’s Japanese Gardens were created in Kildare in 1916 and while a visit is worthwhile any time of the year, it’s particularly delightful in spring.
When to visit: In Ireland, generally the blossom season is the most colourful between April and early May. Though if temperatures are mild, you could see them pop as early as March.
Spain, Jerte Valley
Like many European metropolis, Spain’s city parks and street verges have been planted with ornamental cherry trees. It always brightens up the cities when they blossom, but what we love about driving 3 hours west of Madrid is the magnificent display that you’ll find across the mountains of the Jerte Valley. Here you can enjoy seeing the spectacular blossoms in a natural setting and without the crowds. It’s the ideal place to take your time and wander along trails through traditional villages, Roman ruins, ancient monasteries and nature reserves.
When to visit: In Spain's warmer climate, cherry blossom season can last only a couple of weeks. Around the Jerte Valley, this beautiful but fleeting spectacle is normally best seen at the end of March or early April.
It all started in Stockholm in 1998, when 63 cherry trees were planted in King’s Garden (Kungsträdgården). 25-years on and 10,000 trees later, you can now join the thousands of visitors who come to Stockholm to celebrate the cherry blossoms across the city from late March to early May. While there are many great places to enjoy the beautiful canopies of colour, such as Luma Park (Lumparken) and the neighbourhood of Bysistorget, it’s hard to top Kungsträdgården for the splendid pink and white displays. This is also where Stockholm’s Japanese community hold their festival each year.
When to visit: From late March to early May is rated as the best time to see the pink blossoms in Sweden. Stockholm boldly has an official Day of the Cherry Blossom on 28 April, though if Mother Nature has different ideas this can vary.
Edinburgh’s medieval architecture is a stunning backdrop to the pink blossoms and in public parks you’ll find paths lined with rows of cherry trees. The Meadows is one of the most popular parks to visit when the local #BlossomWatch signals that the flowers have appeared. But wander away from the crowds to the city’s lesser-known sights and you’ll be rewarded with hidden gems.
For starters, in Newhaven there’s Starbank Park – what this park lacks in size it makes up for with its fairy garden and cherry blossom cuteness overload. To get a photo of Edinburgh Castle framed by deep red blossoms, head to Ross Fountain in Princess Street Gardens or Princess Street itself is lined with flowering trees. Instagramers might be familiar with Chessels Court, thanks to the ivy heart on the wall, but this little spot off Royal Mile becomes even more Insta-worthy when the roses and prunus are in bloom. Another place worth stopping on Royal Mile is Cannongate Kirk, where the flowering trees look stunning in front of the grand old church with its bright red doors.
When to visit: In Britain's north, you can expect to see the beautiful blooms brightening up the streets and parks from late April and into May.
Brazil, Curitiba & Sao Paulo
Not to be left out, Brazil has sakura too, but being in the Southern Hemisphere means that you can usually enjoy the spring blossoms from July. Thanks to an influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900’s, cherry trees have been planted across the country. One of the most popular places to see the iconic flowers is Curitiba, the capital of Parana. There’s a stunning pink display at Jardim Botanico de Curitiba (Botanical Garden of Curitiba) and make sure you don’t miss the Art Nouveau-style glasshouse as well. Of course, the city’s Japanese Gardens are also a popular sakura location.
Brazil actually has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, so it’s no wonder that in cities like Sao Paulo you’ll find that the tradition of hanami is celebrated each year. 2024 will mark the 44th anniversary of Sao Paulo’s Cherry Blossom Festival, when people flock to see the Okinawa cherry trees in full bloom in Parque do Carmo in early August.
When to visit: In Brazil, you'll find cherry trees blooming at the end of their winter, which means from July and into mid-August is usually the ideal time to see the blossoms.
In India, you'll find festivals that celebrate orchids, tulips, rhododendrons and roses. Marigolds play a big part in festivals like Diwali and Navratri and are often the first flowers that we associate with vibrant Indian culture. But come spring in the country's northeast, there's a mega-event dedicated to the beautiful cherry blossoms.
The pristine hill station of Shillong is the capital of the state of Meghalaya. The region is renowned for its magnificent gardens, lakeside walks, forests and waterfalls. It's been dubbed the 'Scotland of the East', so that gives you an idea of why it's an ideal climate for cherry trees. The Shillong Cherry Blossom Festival begins with pre-festival celebrations from mid-October. Then each November, Meghalaya’s Khasi Hills celebrate the Himalayan cherry blossoms with a three-day festival. Even if the flowers don't always show up on cue - these are a particularly unpredictable bunch, often blooming weeks earlier or later than expected - hey, you could do worse than hanging around the Himalayas waiting for blossoms to appear.
When to visit: This year, the festival will be held from 17-19 November including headliners like Ronan Keating and Ne-Yo who will perform during the event.
Australia, Blue Mountains
Closer to home, in Australian cities and country towns you’ll find cherry trees blooming at their peak from around early September to early October. On the outskirts of Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges, the Botanic Garden in Olinda is a wonderful destination for a spring day trip. In Canberra, you can walk around Lake Burley Griffin to Lennox Gardens to enjoy the pink cherry blossoms and out west, S&R Orchard near Perth opens to visitors for their colourful annual festival. In Cowra, NSW, you’ll find the largest Japanese garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Each September the award-winning garden honours Sakura Matsuri and alongside the stunning cherry blossoms, it celebrates Japanese culture through a range of activities and demonstrations.
The Blue Mountains is another NSW region that has the ideal climate for the precious and fleeting blooms. Lovely shades of pink can be seen across the pretty village of Leura and many private gardens are open to visitors during the renowned spring garden festival. Katoomba is also scenic town where you can appreciate the cherry blossoms that line its streets. Wandering through the gardens under a canopy of pink petals and strolling along the main street to enjoy the quaint shops and cafes makes for a wonderful day trip from Sydney.
When to visit: In a country the size of Australia there's quite a variation in when you'll see the best floral displays, but in the regions where cherry tree plantings are most popular you'll typically see the blossoms signal the start of spring from early September.