Discover the best spots for the spectacle that is sakura season.
After the bleakness of winter, seeing the first flowers popping their heads out of the ground is always a delight. But there is nothing quite like seeing the bare branches of trees burst into bloom, bending under a heavy load of pretty flowers. And if they are fluffy and pink, even better.
Cherry blossom season, usually between the end of March and the first week of April, is a special occasion around the world, made even more special by its short duration. It is best to be organized so that once the blossoms open, you know exactly where to go and enjoy them.
Here are some of the best places around the globe to walk or picnic under the cherry blossoms.
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Japan is still the world’s number one location for cherry blossoms. Cherry blossom season is taken very seriously here, with daily (often hourly) reports forecasting when the sakura (cherry blossoms) will start to bloom. Workers get a holiday to enjoy hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and families dress in their finest to picnic under the trees. In Kyoto, you can barely take a step without stumbling across endless lines of trees in full flower. The best places to see sakura are along the Lake Biwa Canal; the Shirakawa Canal; the Philosopher’s Path; the Kiage Incline; around the Yasaka Pagoda and the Kodai-ji Temple; and at night you can enjoy dinner al fresco under the trees in Maruyama Park.
Paris is, as they say, always a good idea. But visit during cherry blossom season and you’ll get a special treat. For a week or two, Paris positively explodes with color and is even prettier than normal. Visiting at any other time, you don’t quite realize how many parks are perfect for cherry blossom viewing. Some particularly good spots are Square Marie Trintignant, at the edge of the Marais; Jardin des Plantes with its ancient Mount Fuji cherry tree; the hidden garden of the Petit Palais and alongside Notre Dame Cathedral; the Coulée Verte, the Paris equivalent of the NYC High Line; and the Martin Luther King Park in Batignolles.
Washington celebrates the National Cherry Blossom Festival between March 20 to April 11, which gives a good indication of just how many trees there are in Washington bursting into blossom when the time is right. The best place to see them is in and around the Tidal Basin and along the shoreline of East Potomac Park, extending all the way to Hains Point, and around the National Mall. With the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial in the background by the Tidal Basin, these are mightily photogenic blossoms.
Château de Sceaux, France
This is a double whammy of cherry blossom viewing. Not only do you get a picturesque French château set in a garden designed by gardener extraordinaire Le Nôtre, of Versailles and Tuileries fame, but you also get an entire orchard full of blooming trees. The Garden of Sceaux is a mere 30-minute commuter train ride from the center of Paris on the RER B or C, and away from the city, you will be walking through manicured gardens around a château, or cut through dense forest, before you spot a pink hue in the distance: the cherry orchard. There are some 150 trees in close proximity and the denseness of the fluffy pink blossoms is unlike anything you will ever see elsewhere. Just bring a picnic and a bottle of rosé.
The city of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is a great place to visit on its own. There’s the sturdy castle overlooking the city, the medieval lanes, the Georgian architecture, great shopping, a fab fringe festival, and seriously good New Year’s Eve celebrations. But few know that this city, located in the northern part of Great Britain, is also great for cherry blossom viewing. The best place is the large public park called the Meadows where the walkways are lined with cherry trees, creating pink tunnels. Then there are the Princes Street Gardens, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Saint Andrew Square, Cockburn Street, Canongate Kirk, and Harrison Park.
Seattle is famous for its rain–with an average of 152 days of rain per year, the skies are grayer than in most North American cities. But that does not stop Seattle from offering a cherry blossom treat each spring to its weather-weary citizens. Especially famous is the University of Washington’s beautiful old campus, whose garden and the Liberal Arts Quadrangle (known as the Quad), are filled with cherry trees. But there are also the Seattle Japanese Gardens, Jefferson Park, the Azalea Way in the Washington Park Arboretum, and Kobe Terrace.
Germany’s former capital city is not necessarily on anybody’s must-see list when they come to the country. Apart from being the birthplace of Beethoven, the myriad museums, and its rather scenic location along the river Rhine with its countless castles, Bonn has one huge draw. Or make that two: Heerstrasse and Breite Strasse. Heerstrasse has in fact been dubbed Cherry Blossom Avenue, with cherry trees lining both sides of this residential road not far from the old center of town. The trees create a solid pink canopy that draws thousands to the street. During the pandemic, they even took the precautions to close the street to avoid crowds. Breite Strasse runs parallel to Heerstrasse and is (nearly) as picturesque but gets a little less crowded.
For hanami, most of Japan is exceptional, but Osaka offers an additional setting that makes it very photogenic indeed: Osaka Castle. The castle dates back to 1597 and the park in front of it is home to 4,000 cherry trees so that when they are in flower, you can get beautiful shots of the blossom with the castle peeking through them. Other hotspots in Osaka are Kema Sakuranomiya Park (its 5,000 trees are simply spectacular), the Expo 70 Commemorative Park, Osaka Mint Bureau, and Tsurumi Riyokushi Park.
Jerte Valley, Spain
Just when you thought that thousands of cherry trees are rather special, welcome to the Jerte Valley in central Spain, roughly a three-hour drive from the capital. This valley might be in the middle of practically nowhere, but it is very unique indeed. This is Spain’s cherry-growing region, and this particular valley is filled with—wait for it—1.5 million (!) cherry trees. They are snowy-white rather than pink, but that does not take away from the spectacle. Each year the Fiesta del Cerezo en Flor celebrates this breathtaking phenomenon from the end of March to early April with all things cherry (especially food and drink).
London is a capital city that is defined by its many parks. Spring is a great time to visit because the parks are coming back to life, but also because there are surprisingly many spots where the cherry blossom takes over. The best parks to enjoy a picnic under a pink roof are Greenwich Park, Regent’s Park, Kew Gardens, and Kyoto Park in Holland Gardens. Then you have those scenic corners where just a few trees have a big impact, like the space in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral; along Redcliffe Road in Chelsea; Blithfield Street in Kensington; Cecile Park in Crouch End; and the white trees lining the residential roads of Stradella Road and Winterbrook Road in Herne Hill.
Another northern city that you wouldn’t necessarily pick as a cherry blossom spot, the capital of Sweden is actually a haven for all sorts of blooms, including some great spots for the pink fluffy ones. Everybody will tell you that Kungsträdgården, the King’s Garden, is the best place. And with it being the oldest public garden that also hosts the annual Japanese Festival, they would be right. With 63 trees planted in the garden, the entire park bursts into pink blossoms during the season and attracts crowds.
Additionally, there are some smaller yet still cute areas, such as little Bysistorget, which is set among cafes and shops and has the distinct advantage to also have a few Bonsai trees growing nearby for that proper Japanese experience.
Vancouver holds an annual Cherry Blossom Festival, indicating that there are some decent places to spot the blossom. With not just one but several species of cherry blossom on show, Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen Botanical Gardens are good places to start and see the varieties of cherry blossoms out there. Not all are pink and fluffy, but all are gorgeous. Then there is Stanley Park, which is lovely for a large variety of spring flowers, and the unlikely-sounding Burrard SkyTrain station is a firm favorite for blossom viewing and special festivities during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Now, normally you’d visit Amsterdam in April for the tulips in Keukenhof, a mere 25 miles outside of the city. But if you come at the beginning of April, you can celebrate not only the Amsterdam Tulip Festival but also the Amsterdam Cherry Blossom Festival, guaranteeing a flower overload. The best cherry trees (400 white ones) are found in Kersenbloesempark (also called Bloesempark). More white trees can be found in Westerpark and pink ones along the Amstel canal can be spotted just outside the Japanese Okura Hotel.
Auckland, New Zealand
Last but not least (and with a little twist), there is Auckland. Just in case you missed the cherry blossom season in the northern hemisphere, there is another chance in September, when the season starts down under. Auckland’s Cornwall Park in Epsom has a group of cherry trees and is a popular spot for picnics, while Auckland Botanical Gardens has an entire Spring Blossom Valley complete with everything from daffodils to cherry blossoms.