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The best places to experience cherry blossoms in Japan and Europe

The best places to experience cherry blossoms in Japan and Europe

The weather’s getting warmer, nature is slowly returning to its usual colorful self, and adventurous souls everywhere are feeling the travel fever creeping back up – spring is undeniably right around the corner!

Out of all the spring flowers, few are more iconic than the Japanese cherry blossoms (sakura). The gorgeous flowers, with their all too short blooming period, have inspired everything from artists, and other creative souls, to travelers and locals, for as long as they have been around. Their iconic blooming, and the slow, 5 cm per second rain of petals once they reach the end of their lifecycle, will give you some truly beautiful, moving views, and what would absolutely be some of the best shots in your camera roll.

The sakura are pervasive in a lot of Japanese culture and media, and whether it’s the yearly Starbucks sakura drinks with accompanying mug designs, a beautiful scene from an anime, a haiku somehow saying a whole lot with just a few words, or woodblock prints from the Edo period depicting the cherry trees in full bloom, there’s no denying the effect the short-lived flowers have had, and continue to have, on Japanese culture.

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In Japan, the blooming of the sakura is typically celebrated by having a hanami (“flower viewing”), where friends and family gather for a celebration together, under the blooming cherry blossom trees. Good food, nice drinks, in good company, with the blooming sakura as a backdrop – hanami is definitely a tradition worth participating in.

The Japan Meteorological Corporation continuously releases their Cherry Blossom Viewing Forecast, with the most recent one looking like so:

This can be used as a convenient itinerary assistant – go where the cherry blossoms are, or follow them up through the country! This forecast is updated multiple times in the lead-up to the cherry blossom season, so we highly recommend checking the most recent one, if traveling for the sakura!

Whether for having a meal and some drinks with friends, for a moment of quiet reflection, for inspiration, or simply to snap the best travel picture you’ve ever snapped, visiting a location with sakura in full bloom should be on your traveling bucket list.

Without further melodramatic rambling about the beauty and magic of cherry blossoms, here are some truly magical, off the beaten path places to experience sakura, in both Japan and Europe!

Kagoshima

At the southern tip of Kyushu, located at the foot of the active volcano Sakurajima, you find Kagoshima. With its warm climate, unique cuisine (anyone up for raw chicken sashimi?), and gorgeous nature, Kagoshima is a must-visit in Japan’s south. The ever-looming presence of the volcano Sakurajima, is guaranteed to give you some beautiful views, and some gorgeous pictures of the cherry blossoms, accompanied by the volcano in the background. And even though torisashi (raw chicken sashimi) might be a bit too adventurous of a dish for some, the city has a fantastic kitchen, among others famous for their high-quality pork dishes, and fresh seafood.

Não olhe apenas, experiencie!

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Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: 29th of March.

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Yoshino Park
  • Kotsukigawa Riverside

Kurashiki

Also known as “the Venice of Japan”, the city of Kurashiki will give you one the most unique sakura viewing experiences Japan has to offer. The city is famous for it’s canal area, which has been preserved since the Edo period. This gives the city a very unique look, and even outside of cherry blossom season, it’s an unbelievably picturesque place. So, if you want a really unique cherry blossom viewing experience, taking a gondola trip through the canals, with the sakura blooming along the banks, Kurashiki is the place to go!

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Getting there: Kurashiki is only 45 minutes from Okayama station by train, a trip that will cost you just shy of 7 EUR to make. If traveling directly from Okayama airport, the trip is slightly longer than 1 hour, and will set you back 10 EUR.

Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: 23rd of March

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Riding one of the gondolas through the canals

Niigata

Famous for their sake and heavy winter snowfall, Niigata will serve you some of the finest sakura views Japan has to offer (and, genuinely, some of their finest sake as well!). Especially the Takada Castle Park cherry blossom experience is famous, and considered one of the top 100 viewing spots for sakura in Japan (try to guess where the Tryp.com location picture for Niigata is from). Niigata furthermore has some beautiful coastlines, providing stunning views of the Sea of Japan.

If the hustle and bustle of Niigata City becomes a bit too much, you can take a ferry directly from Niigata port to beautiful Sado Island. Sado is an entire travel destination in and of itself, and a hidden gem by all definitions of the word. And it has some truly lovely cherry blossom spots, like the Sado Gold Mine area, and the almost 300 years old Cherry Tree of Hojobo.

Sailing to Sado costs 24 EUR each way, and it’s highly recommended to spend at least a night there.

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Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: 1st of April

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Takada Castle Park
  • Muramatsu Park
  • Hakusan Park Open Air Garden
  • Sado Island

Sapporo

With some of the latest blooming sakura, the capital of Hokkaido, and Japan’s 5th largest city, is the perfect place to experience the beautiful flowers in late April, and early May. Sapporo’s unique combination of being a bustling metropolis, but still having wild nature just a short walk or train ride away, makes it perfect for experiencing sakura in varying settings. Whether you experience them in Odori Park in the city center, in the gorgeous Maruyama Park just 15 minutes by metro from the city center, or in Makomanai Park on the outskirts of the city, you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful time.

And once you’ve fulfilled all your hanami needs and dreams, you will be happy to know, that you’re in one of the single greatest food cities in Japan. So why not celebrate with a bowl of butter miso ramen? Or a trip to a ‘Genghis Khan’ (lamb barbeque) restaurant? Or maybe with a rich, spicy bowl of soup curry? Or some of the abundant, fresh seafood?

In Sapporo, you have no excuse to go hungry, and after a night on the town, drinking Sapporo beer, it is recommended to partake in the local tradition of enjoying a nice “shime parfait” (night parfait), before calling it a night, and heading home.

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Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: 27th of April

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Maruyama Park
  • Odori Park
  • Makomanai Park

Kushiro

So you’re fully booked in all of March and April? Or maybe you want a destination that’s more fit for adventure traveling? Truly unbeaten paths, and untouched nature? Not to worry, either way, we’ve got you covered: In Eastern Hokkaido, you will find the beautiful, hidden gem Kushiro. Kushiro bolsters some of the latest blooming sakura, and the city is famous for the abundant, untouched nature that surrounds the city. Go hiking or trekking in the surrounding nature, explore the marshlands, and finish the day enjoying some of the city’s famous seafood. Kushiro represents some of the truly unbeaten paths of Hokkaido and Japan, and the beautiful nature is sure to instill a sense of adventure, that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

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Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: 9th of May

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Yanagimachi Park
  • Lake Harutori

Bonn, Germany

Alright, so Japan is a bit far away. Or maybe the financial investment that a trip that far away involves, is a bit too much for you right now. But you still would really love to experience the ambience of walking among blooming sakura. Fear not, we have you covered: Bonn, birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, and former capital of West Germany, has abundant quantities of cherry blossoms, and an incredible charm to the city center. Even outside of cherry blossom season, Bonn is guaranteed to charm you, with it’s old architecture, beautiful parks, and the many cuisines represented in the city’s abundant restaurant and café environment.

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Getting there: Bonn is 1 hour bus ride from Cologne/Bonn airport.

Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: Early-to-mid April.

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Heerstrasse
  • The Old Town (Altstadt)

Stockholm, Sweden

The capital of Sweden not only has one of the most beautiful cityscapes you’ll ever see – it also has beautiful cherry trees, and even a Cherry Blossom Festival. This year’s festival will be held on the 28th of April, in The King’s Garden! So if exploring one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals, enjoying some fika, and maybe finishing the day with a serving of Swedish meatballs (at a completely different level of tastiness compared to IKEA’s), then Stockholm may just be the sakura destination of your dreams!

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Forecasted cherry blossom flowering, at the time of writing: Mid-to-late April.

Recommended hanami spots:

  • Kungsträdgården (The King’s Garden)
  • Luma Park

Thank you for giving this a read - now it's time to go exploring!

And there you have it! 5 off the beaten path places to experience cherry blossoms in wonderful Japan, and 2 charming, European locations. We hope that you’re feeling inspired to go see it for yourself, because it truly is something special, and the ambience it adds to any city is just incredible. Happy traveling, and please do let us know if we missed out on some of your favorite spots!

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