When we think of cherry blossoms, we think of Japan, where every spring, gorgeous Sakura buds start blooming everywhere from Tokyo and Osaka, to Kyoto and Matsumae in Hokkaido. Throughout the centuries, a unique culture and appreciation has grown for these fascinating floral beauties-- and each year, as the blossom front sweeps along the length of the archipelago over the course of several months, the whole country is swept away into a festival-like atmosphere that lasts from the first flowering down in southern Okinawa to the final petal droppings in northern Hokkaido. Shops are filled with a frenzy of sakura-flavoured drinks and local folks flock in droves to the most popular hanami (flower-viewing) points. Even the blossom report becomes more important than the weather forecast during those last weeks of March and first weeks of April every year! From big cities to the smallest of rural towns, there sure isn’t any lovelier way to spend each spring. Picture having a memorable picnic party under blossoming bursts of pink and white, or taking a nice evening stroll among rows of lit up cherry trees under a clear night sky. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
Well, don’t you worry -- because though cherry blossom viewing is said to be done best at its East Asian home, there are still plenty of closer spots where you can also celebrate “hanami” amidst fantastic weather, lush landscapes, and a relaxed atmosphere. If your chances of flying off to Japan this year are slim, why not head over to one of these perfect substitutes? There are plenty of unexpected locations all across the globe where you can spot these gorgeous blooms. Eat, drink, and be merry by lying under the shade of some fully blossomed Sakuras. Have yourself a true spring awakening by visiting these hanami and yozakura heavens. Here are eight incredible places to see cherry blossoms this spring.
Where to See Cherry Blossoms
1. Stockholm, Sweden
In 1998, sixty-three Japanese cherry trees were planted in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården (King's Tree Garden), a park at city center dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. Known colloquially as Kungsan, it’s the site of numerous outdoor cafés and galleries, and plays host, in the summers, to open air-concerts. In the colder months, it even has an on-site ice skating rink! Needless to say, the urban hotspot, which is divided into four distinct squares, is one of the most popular meeting places in Stockholm.
Today, fully blossomed cherry trees continue to line the open plaza. Each spring, locals and tourists alike take full advantage of their beauty by picnicking, strolling, or simply sitting down on the soft green grass nearby to enjoy the warm sun shining off of those vibrant bursts of pinkish white blossoms.
2. Curitiba, Brazil
More than a century ago, Brazil began to see a decades long trend of Japanese immigration, which in turn, led to cherry trees being brought over and planted in numerous cities all throughout the South American country. The culturally sophisticated city of Curitiba, the capital of Paraná, featuring tall inland buildings such as the Panoramic Tower, with an observatory on top, as well as the infamous Wire Opera, a structure of tubular steel with a transparent roof, is one of Brazil’s best spots to see gorgeous pink flowers.
The Sakura blossoming period begins during the winter season, from late June to early July, and there are places all around this uniquely urbane town you can walk to in order to experiences some true Japanese culture. Scuttle on over to the Botanical Garden of Curitiba for some epic petal power. Additional trees are scattered out in spots such as Praça do Japão, Jardim Botânico, and Parque Tanguá, or Anita Garibaldi Street, Iguaçu Street, or Pasteur Street. It’s South American cherry blossom viewing at its very best.
3. Shanghai, China
Unsurprisingly, other major Asian cities in China or South Korea also play home to some of the most amazing shades of pink and white. From mid March to early April, you can witness Sakura season at one of six Shanghai spots celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival—one of the best being Gucun Forest Park, which has more than 500,000 square meters of space that are fully decorated by at least ten different varieties of cherry trees. However, since this entertaining maze of forests, pathways, lakes, and parks anticipates crowds of around twelve thousand people annually, you can also opt for some lesser known Chinese hanami spots by visiting the Shanghai Botanical Gardens, Chenshan Botanical Gardens, Lu Xun Park, Zhongshan Park, or Tongji University.
4. Brooklyn, New York
Walk around the Cherry Esplanade and Cherry Walk during the end of each April by heading on over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where over forty different varieties of just blossoming cherry trees indicate that it’s time for the Garden’s annual cherry blossom festival, Sakura Matsuri--- where traditional performances like kabuki dance, cosplay, taiko drumming, and tea ceremonies are shown to celebrate ancient and modern Japanese culture. You’ll even find some live J-Pop bands and sword demonstrations mixed in!
The kid-friendly festival, also known as New York’s rite of spring, spans across fifty-two wide acres of land that play home to the most diverse collection of Sakura buds outside of Japan. What’s more is that Cherry Esplanade is perhaps the most Instagram-worthy spot in the borough, with long walkways lined neatly with colorful flowering trees in shades of pink, purple, and white. There’s even a spot dedicated specifically in remembrance to the events of September 11, 2001, where two allées of scarlet oak trees are planted alongside two allées of Prunus ‘Kanzan’ cherry trees in the garden.
5. Hamburg, Germany
In the 1960s, Hamburg's large Japanese population began planting cherry trees along the banks of Alster Lake, instantly launching the town’s infamous annual Kirschblütenfest-- or Germany's largest hanami, which happens each year in May. The festival includes spectacular fireworks, the election of a "Cherry Blossom Princess," as well as a Japanese Culture Day, which has everything from a frenzy of food stalls, to martial arts performances and educational exhibits.
6. Washington, D.C.
In 1912, the Japanese sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship, with the first two cherry trees being planted on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin and the remaining trees around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. Today, you can still view these age-old trees in full bloom at their birth places, as well as on the grounds of the Washington Monument during the National Cherry Blossom Festival which usually runs from March to April. Held over a five week period on the National Mall, the annual celebration draws almost two million visitors each spring, and includes a parade, a kite festival, performances by Grammy Award-winning vocalists such as Regina Bell, as well as pop sensations like Aaron Carter. There’s even a way to see the blossoms from anywhere else in the U.S. via the Blossom Cam—if you can’t seem to make to Washington to see the blooms in person, that is.
7. Macon, Georgia
There’s another North American spot that’s just as cherry tree crazed if you head a bit further south. Though D.C. may have the better-known fest, the title of ‘cherry blossom capital of the U.S.’ actually goes to Macon, Georgia, with more than 300,000 trees (including many Yoshino plants, the first variety discovered there) blooming every single year. Due to the benefits of a warmer Southern climate, its cherry-blossom festival is already in full swing-- and in addition to the trees, you can even check out events ranging from Japanese flower-arranging demos and tours of the cherry trees, to performances by Fantasia and Leon Russell, as well as a mighty fine food-truck festival. Yum.
8. Vancouver, British Columbia
Over forty thousand cherry trees color the city of Vancouver with white and pink, especially during the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, Canada's only official cherry blossom festival featuring art performances, film screenings, an annual haiku competition, as well as the wonderful chance to marvel at some of North America’s most beautiful sakura blossoms. Each April, the entire city of Vancouver gets into cherry mode-- and visitors can find themselves strolling among hundreds of trees all throughout the metropolis. There’s even a handy dandy map on the festival website showing where the best blooms are concentrated.
Check out a fair at the VanDusen Botanical Garden, which in itself, is home to more than a hundred spectacular trees. Or how about celebrate Japanese heritage along with artist Stuart Ward, who illuminates the cherry blossoms at Sutcliffe Park with colorful LED lights? You can even watch the swaying beauty of these buds in one of the city’s other various parks and gardens, including Queen Elizabeth Park, the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park, Nitobe Memorial Garden, and around Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood.
9. Hirosaki City, Aomori, Japan
Of course, if you do happen to be able to jet set on over to Japan, there’s no better place to experience the brief bloom of the cherry blossom than right at home. Plus, the event symbolizes the fragility, transience, and beauty of life, the perfect way to start off your new spring season!
Each year, the Japan Weather Association tracks the peak of each bloom, and when all the trees finally flower, hanami officially begins. One of the hottest spots for picnicking under blooming branches would be at Hirosaki Castle Park, where you are able to view just-blossomed sakuras with the grand Hirosaki Castle looming in the background. It’s one of the most idyllic places to see the blooms in Japan-- where visitors can stroll through overlapping blossom tunnels, rent row boats to peddle through a petal-dotted moat, and then snap tons of photos in front of a four-hundred-year-old hirayama-style palace upon arrival. Plus, the over three hundred Yoshino cherry trees on site (which are all more than a century old!) serve as great visual reminders of bygone days, especially at night during the Yozakura events, when all 2,600 trees light up the dark sky. Be sure to walk along the castle's western moat to capture the breathtaking sights of the bright red Shunyo Bridge, the stately castle tower, and the snow-crested Mt. Iwaki, all mixed in with plenty of pale pink cherry blossoms. It’s picture perfect indeed, a truly phenomenal way to confirm that spring has finally sprung.
10. Seoul, South Korea
South Korea is also home to thousands of king cherry trees that welcome tourists every April, especially in Seoul’s “Manhattan”, Yeouido Island, which is right along Yeouiseo-ro Street behind the National Assembly building. It is hands down the best place to see flowering cherry trees, especially during the Yeouido Spring Flowers Festival where all roads are closed to car traffic in order to make way for over four million visitors hoping to enjoy the parades, art exhibits, and street performances dedicated solely to the sakura flower. What’s more is that besides finding loads of fantastic cherry blossoms, you’ll also find over 90,000 plants representing thirteen different flower species to gawk and gaze at.
11. Bonn, Germany
In the Federal City of Bonn, there are even more blooming trees to check out, especially on a street named Heerstrasse, which is now known as Cherry Blossom Avenue after photos of the street with the sky covered with pink blooming trees went viral. Each spring during April, this hip Nordstadt neighborhood’s gorgeous array of Sakuras bloom to the max, causing an explosion of pink petals everywhere. Be sure to visit Breitestrasse for some photo perfect shots—oh and don’t forget to check out the one and only Beethoven House (dedicated to the late and great composer) while you’re at it!
This article was written by Pamela Chan.