Your Cheat Sheet to Seeing Cherry Blossoms in Busan Without the Crowds
While most of the ornamental cherry trees (beotkkot/벚꽃 in Korean) in South Korea were planted during Japan‘s rule, they have remained and cherry blossoms have become a big part of spring in Korea. I’ll make the case for viewing cherry blossoms in Busan, South Korea rather than, say, in Seoul or on Jeju Island:
- The blooming season usually arrives in late March which is among the earliest times on the mainland, yet, compared to Seoul, the wind is not as chilly and the seaside weather is mild
- There’s an excellent metro system that connects the city’s districts to one another (no car needed!)
- Plenty of international flights land at Gimhae Airport, and many more are a three-hour KTX away in Seoul (no ferry or additional flight necessary)
Korean cherry blossom season is one of the best times to visit Korea, so you’ll be far from alone. These are some of my favourite places in Busan to see them, and this is how you can avoid the worst of the crowds.
Where to see cherry blossoms in Busan and how to avoid the crowds
Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival
Jinhae is a naval town roughly an hour’s drive from Busan. However, it is one of the best places in Korea to see cherry blossoms because of the cherry blossom festival (Gunhangje/진해군항제). There are plenty of things to go with the flowers; food stalls pop up everywhere, light installations transform the Yeojwacheon stream at night and the local bakeries serve up cherry-themed pastries. I’ll admit that it’s difficult to find a peaceful moment because there are simply too many visitors. Instead, my tips will help you avoid two-hour traffic jams and the worst of the shoulder-barging.
- Avoid the first day of the festival, the weekend, the evening of the fireworks display and the day of the parade; I went on the second day and traffic was pretty smooth
- The further you walk along the Yeojwacheon, the fewer the people you meet
- Climb the stairs to Jehwangsan instead of taking the gondola
For the least stressful time, find a Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival Tour from Busan on Klook just as I did. The one that I was on offered five hours of free-and-easy time in the town. Depending on the operator you join, you’ll also see other places like Daejeo Ecological Park (see below) or Geonghwa station. At the latter, two abandoned trains stand motionlessly on sakura-lined tracks. The queues to pose with them never seem to abate; block out the crowds and the noise and the whole scene becomes even prettier.
How to get to Jinhae using public transport
According to the lastest Wikitravel information, buses run from Seobu terminal every 15 minutes. Tickets cost 5,100 won each.
After a day out, have a Korean craft beer at bars in Busan I visited
Gamcheon Culture Village
Ordinary tourists go to Gamcheon Culture Village regularly to see the public art installations and pose with them. It’s usually crowded, so go on weekdays and early in the morning, right after it opens to the public.
If you purchase a map to complete the stamp hunt, you’ll have to follow the suggested downhill route to earn your souvenir. There are colourful arrow-shaped blocks, decorated to look like fish, to guide you along.
About 500 metres after you pass the Instagrammers waiting to pose with The Little Prince, there’s a small playground inside a hairpin turn in the road. It’s sheltered by a couple of trees. Due to the steep slope, you can get very close to them. The rooftops of several galleries also offer sweeping views of the cherry blossoms in Gamcheon that swathe the hillside.
How to get to Gamcheon Culture Village
From Exit 6 of Toseong metro station, turn right and take the minibus #1, #2 or #2-2 to Gamcheon Elementary School. If you need to know where to get off, the stop is near the crest of the hill and the front of the bus should be pointing at the sky.
Daejeo Ecological Park
In the spring, Daejeo Ecological Park is best known for the blooming of canola flowers that turn the river bank bright yellow. While it’s the star attraction and is definitely worth catching, other flowers in the area are also in full bloom. The cherry blossoms line the cycling path and create a tunnel of pink for those portrait photos that you crave. You’ll also be able to see the hillside on the other side of the river awash in pink. I was there on a Monday afternoon and I had ample space. Keep an eye out for the festival opening date—unless you want to get married, that’s probably when you don’t want to be there!
How to get to Daejeo Ecological Park
Alight at Gangseo-gu Office metro station. Take Exit 3, get to the other side of the flyover using the crossing, turn left and follow the road east.
The hike to Seokbulsa is a pleasant and shaded one. While you’re unlikely to be alone, there aren’t many people. It’s a world away from the bustle of downtown Busan and in the spring, the route is lined with plenty of cherry blossoms. At the end of the uphill climb, you’ll find the shrine with a stone Buddha behind a perspex shield.
How to get to Seokbulsa
Take the metro to Mandeok metro station and alight. Take Exit 2 and follow the road in the same direction, keeping left until you hit the path in the village. Don’t go into any road tunnels. Budget 90 minutes each way.
Mandeok “Lego Village”
This place is not so well-known, even among local tour guides. To the south of Mandeok village, there is a “lego village” that comprises identical houses that have their roofs painted in different colours. It’s not easy to spot from the street level, though the walk is worth it because the cherry blossoms are dense. To appreciate the phenomenon, go when the sun is low, and get the view from the common corridor of one of the nearby high-rises. The construction site further uphill is unsightly but it’s nothing expert cropping won’t solve.
How to get to Mandeok
Alight at Mandeok metro station too but take Exit 1 instead. The apartment block cluster is in front of you; take the lift in Block 5 to a floor where there is no flat at the end of the corridor for a view of the village.
A final note
The cherry blossom season varies from year-to-year, just as it does in Japan and China, and the predictions and festival dates are announced only a few weeks ahead. Don’t be disappointed if you just miss it; there will still be plenty of other flowers, like plum, peach and magnolia. If the prices and the crowds increase when you do go, be assured that it’s worth it.