Every spring, the Japanese wait impatient for sakura (cherry blossom). The Japan Weather Association tracks the peak bloom and when the trees flower, the entire nation celebrates. Hanami, literally “flower viewing”, dates back to the Nara period in the 8th century and is a traditional cultural practice that brings families together and honours Japan’s national symbol, the cherry blossom.
One of the most famous and idyllic places for hanami is Hirosaki Park in the Aomori prefecture, where millions of Japanese people and tourists gather every year between the end of March and early April.
However, sakura happens in many other temperate areas outside Japan around the same time, with cities and parks turning white and pink. Here are the best places to enjoy hanami – and take Insta-pics – around the world:
Jerte Valley, Spain
In a corner of Spain tucked between the cities of Salamanca and Cáceres, in the region of Extremadura, lays the 70 kilometre Jerte Valley (Valle del Jerte), a growing area home to the Picot cherry. Every spring, the picturesque hills of the basin literally turn white with the blooming of more than 1.5 million trees. After a long winter, the entire region comes back to life with many activities dedicated to the natural spectacle. Visitors from all over the country and the world reach the area, which is a 3-hour drive outside Madrid, to participate in the traditional picking of the cherries – or just to take Insta-pictures.
The cherry blossom period in the Jerte Valley is between the end of March and the first two weeks of April
Washington DC, USA
Each spring, the 3.000 cherry trees located near Washington DC’s Tidal Basin and along the National Mall burst into beautiful colours. Donated to the city by Tokyo’s mayor Yukio Ozaki as a symbol of friendship in 1912, they’ve been drawing visitors since the early 20th century for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring and the ties between the two countries. First established as a small local celebration, the event is now the nation’s biggest spring celebration.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival will take place between April 8 and 12
Gangwon-do Province, South Korea
Hanami has been an observed cultural practice in South Korea for centuries, where nearly every town celebrates the coming of spring by gathering around the numerous cherry trees blossoming throughout the country. In the Gangwon mountainous region in the northeast, sakura comes a bit later than the rest of the country but it’s definitely worth the wait. Between early and mid-April, the 4.3 km path around the Gyeongpoho Lake and the Gangwon Palace is in full bloom with stunning colours. Compared to most locations in South Korea, the northern province is definitely off the beaten path and attracts less international visitors (read: less photo bombers).
The cherry trees of the Gangwon-do Province are in full bloom between early and mid-April
From the 1960s, a group of Japanese immigrants in Hamburg, Germany, started planting cherry trees along the Alster Lake to keep their culture alive. The city now hosts the country largest hanami every year, with people from all over Germany and Northern Europe gathering on the shores of the lake to honour Japan and its culture. The annual festival includes food stalls, martial art performances and of, course, many activities dedicated to celebrate spring and the beautiful cherry blossoms.
The cherry blossom in Hamburg is usually between mid and late May
Guizhou Province, China
While there are places in Beijing and Shanghai where spring manifests itself with cherry blossoms and beautiful colours – most notably the Summer Palace and Gucun park – outside China’s biggest cities, there is a stunning spring paradise: the valleys of the southwestern province of Guizhou. The region, famous for its limestone formations and the Huanggoushu Waterfall, is home to many flower farms that every year turn its hillsides into vast carpets of pink cherry blossoms. In recent years, drone pictures of the area have been attracting international tourists, placing Guizho on the Hanami map.
The cherry blossoms carpets in Guizhou can be seen from late March until mid-April
The most romantic city of the world becomes even more charming and magical in spring, when, in the Parc du Champ de Mars, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, rows of cherry trees burst into bright pink. It’s not difficult to find booming trees throughout Paris’ parks and neighbourhoods but the most photogenic one must be at the corner of Eiffel Avenue and Lecouvreur Avenue, just in the right angle to be snapped with her majesty, the tower.
Trees bloom at different times in Paris between the second half of March and mid-April
Vancouver is considered the cherry tree capital of Canada with more than 40,000 trees bursting with white and pink blooms in countless gardens and parks around the city. As the rainy season fades, residents and visitors get ready to enjoy one the most popular festivals of the year, The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. Canadians took hanami to the next level with a Japanese fair, concerts, art activities and even a poetry competition inspired by the beauty of spring.
The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival runs from April 3 to April 29