The annual cherry blossom season, or sakura in Japanese, is a great time to travel and enjoy the arrival of spring. It’s a time honoured tradition, in fact, to travel with the sole purpose of appreciating spring’s blooms. The Japanese even have a word for it: hanami, or flower viewing, which denotes the simple pleasure of looking at a single cherry tree or group of trees in bloom. Now why doesn’t the English language have a word for such a lovely thing to do in life?
Cherry blossom travellers can participate in the cherry blossom festival in Japan or choose from more budget-friendly destinations, but if you’ve never experienced the ephemeral beauty of an entire street lined with fluffy, fragrant, petals of every shade of pink imaginable, or felt the brush against your cheek of a thousand petals floating like pink snowflakes in the wind, you’re definitely missing out!
Cherry blossoms are one of the worlds’ best reminders of the fleeting passage of time: their nuanced, subtle scent and the joy of seeing all the variations of fluffiness seem to make us feel a little happier. Trying to catch the ideal bloom time and syncing your travel plans can be tricky though, so here are a few cherry blossom destinations and blossom viewing tips to help.
Best destinations to see cherry blossoms in Canada
Although the traditional route is to travel to Japan during the blooming season, staying in Canada is a cheaper alternative, but equally lovely. Check out other popular Spring blossom festivals in Canada for more staycation inspiration while the loonie is low. Remember, you still need travel insurance if travelling within Canada. Your provincial health plan doesn’t cover everything if you have an accident or illness while away from your home province.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
I can personally attest that the cherry blossoms are already budding here in Vancouver! Spring comes early to Canada’s South West Coast, and Vancouver is also home to Canada’s only official cherry blossom festival. Vancouver’s blooming season varies every year. In 2015 it was (much later) than usual, in other years, it was over in a few weeks in early March. The good news is that this year’s forecasted Vancouver cherry blossom bloom will occur in early March 2016 (just in time for a perfect spring break spent in BC)! Look out for some great new events to witness Vancouver’s cherry blossoms in all their glory like Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra’s Cherry Blossom festival or the Cherry Blossom barge flotilla. You could also take a cue from the locals with visit these 21 best spots to see cherry blossoms in Vancouver.
Other favourite cherry blossom viewing activities and spots in Vancouver, BC:
- Bike the Blossoms is my favourite group ride of the year, and a free, family-friendly event too. Biking and walking are really the best ways to truly take in the magnificence and do your part for the planet! Follow the proposed routes on your own, join up with some friends, or make new friends during the official bike the blossom dates.
- Cambie Street: The boulevard is lined with centenarian cherry trees, again a legacy made possible by Vancouver’s early Japanese communities. Learn more about the history of Vancouver’s cherry blossom trees and planting practices, take the Cambie bus, drive or bike instead of taking the Canada Line to see them though! The underground skytrain was built around their roots (so you won’t see them if you’re a train passenger).
- YVR: Some recently planted trees make the Arthur Laing Bridge loop on and off ramps quite lovely, and a great way to welcome visitors to Vancouver (plus it’s conveniently located near the new outlet mall)
- Sakura Days Japan Fair is also popular at the VanDusen Botanical Garden.
The cherry blossom season spans the beginning of flowering plum and giant magnolia (otherwise known as “tulip trees”) blooming periods too. If you love magnolias, be sure to check out the most beautiful flowering magnolia tree at the corner of Fraser, 16th avenue and Kingsway (coincidentally next to some of my favourite Vancouver restaurants: Les Faux Bourgeois, Matchstick café and newcomer Osteria Savio Volpe).
Victoria, BC, Canada
Although Victoria doesn’t have an official cherry blossom festival, BC’s capital city has many spectacular cherry blossom treed-neighborhoods within walking distance from the tourist sites. Don’t miss the beautiful homes around Beacon Hill Park and Cook Street. Stroll along Ross Bay Cemetery and Dallas road too. James Bay is only a short walk behind the Legislature buildings near Victoria’s downtown harbour. For serious garden enthusiasts willing to pay for more bloom viewing, no visit to Victoria is complete without seeing Butchart Gardens.
Cherry blossom travel outside Canada
Osaka or Kyoto, Japan
If going the traditional, historic route is your style, planning a trip to Japan during sakura season is for the most serious of hanami travellers. Book ahead for next year’s cherry blossoms at least 6 months in advance (now is a great time to book for 2017 sakura season and take advantage of cheaper prices). Crowds will be unavoidable, but Japan’s ‘pink clouds’ will be worth it.
If you do pursue the cherry blossom season in Japan, follow these tips to make your trip planning easier.
- Weekends are busy with domestic tourists coming from other parts of the country so book midweek stays in Kyoto for quieter experience and a better chance of accommodation availability.
- Try Osaka instead of Kyoto for cheaper rates and more vacancy
- If you’re having trouble finding availability for your travel dates to Japan, try Korea for another ‘old world’ hanami experience.
Cherry blossom forecast for Japan:March 20-April 7, 2016
The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC is another option. The festival reminds visitors that the Cherry trees planted around are a symbol of enduring friendship between Americans and Japanese. The festival includes a fundraiser party, opening ceremony, 10 mile run, kite festival, parade, interpretive signs and booking resources for visitors. There’s a 5-6 day period of full bloom (don’t worry, there’s a buffer hanami period before and after, so you’ve got a good chance of seeing the cherry blossoms.)
Cherry Blossom forecast for Washington, DC: End of March into early April 2016
Other notable cherry blossom destinations (via Smithsonian Magazine)
- Korea – the Korean cherry blossom forecast is for March 24-April 12, 2016
- Jerte Valley, Spain –white flowers and two million cherry trees make the hillsides look snowy.
- Stockholm, Sweden – The Kings Tree Garden (Kungstradgarden) is another excuse to add Sweden to your bucket list.
- Curitiba, Brazil— did you know that Brazil has the largest population of Japanese people outside Japan? Makes sense that Brazil would have a spectacular cherry blossom festival too, right?
- Hamburg, Germany – Celebrate Kirschblutenflest every year in May along Alster Lake.
Have any ideas for an English equivalent of hanami, the art of cherry blossom viewing, or maybe a new word for “the act of travelling to see cherry blossoms around the world”? Share your ideas below!
Happy travels, and happy hanami!