Cherry Blossom Viewing in Seoul
Spring is often considered the best time to pay a visit to South Korea.
Spring flower viewing in Seoul: a trip around Yeouido.
Spring is often considered the best time to pay a visit to South Korea. The transition from the winter season is manifested by such a sudden change it is almost overwhelming to the eye. The bitter winter air has warmed, the heavy frost and ice melted away and the natural landscape has changed into a profusion of green grasses, lush foliage and impressive flowers blooming into life. A technicolor feast for the senses spreads forth as you step out one morning into a new world of colour; one which has seemly changed entirely over night from the grey sky juxtaposed with the sepia hue of dry grass that so vividly characterises the Korean winter.
In the month of April, however, the Korean spring truly takes on a life of its own. The trees, rich with blossom, line the streets of Seoul and with the slightest of breezes everything in sight becomes dusted with their small petals. No matter where you go, Sincheon to Gangnam, City Hall to Kkachisan, everywhere seems to share the same, uniform blanket of pale white-pink petals. This time of year sees a lifting of Korean spirits as people embrace the warmer weather and head out to enjoy the freshly blooming flowers. This practice of blossom viewing does not just pertain to Korea, but has a long history in East Asia, also practised in Japan, China, Taiwan and even as far south as the Philippines.
From my own personal experience, this East Asian tradition of blossom viewing is a veritable cultural practice that cannot be missed by a westerner who happens to be visiting Korea in April. The best place, without question, to visit during cherry blossom season has to be the small island of Yeouido located on the Han River in Seoul. Yeouido, more famous among Koreans as an island of tall skyscrapers, smart investment bankers and once a key setting for aviation as the location of Seoul’s first airport in the 1920s, is also home to this wonderful festival, the famous ‘Yeouido Spring Flower Festival’ that takes place annually on the island.
Along the streets of Yeouido, people flock to walk beneath the cherry trees that are brimming with life. The small island boasts of having over 1400 cherry trees lining its streets, making for an eye-catching spectacle in every corner of the island. The highpoint of a visit to Yeouido’s Spring Flower Festival has to be Yeouiseo-ro Street; located in Yunjung-no district in close proximity to the National Assembly building which also opens its grounds to the public. The street is closed off from traffic during the festivities, allowing for hoards of visitors to freely enjoy the flowers with friends and family. Despite cherry blossoms being the star attraction, many other flowers are there to be appreciated with a multitude of activities in which to partake and many cultural, musical performances are there to be enjoyed. The festival makes for a wonderful photo opportunity with friends and family, and there are many sketch artists along the streets, hand drawing incredible portraits of people surrounded by the blossom. Both day and night offer different perspectives, as come nightfall the blossoms are brightly illuminated to make the most of the photo opportunities before they have gone.
Visitors are not just restricted to Yeouiseo-ro, but also the Hangang River Park is a must see while visiting the island. An important attraction in Seoul since its renovation in 2010, the park offers great views of the river and a well-needed opportunity to stop for a rest. Also the park’s floating stage on the river hosts many concerts and dance performances throughout the year, and there are bike rental facilities and a play area for the children. Many people come to visit the park at all times of year but particularly when the sun is shining it makes for a great picnic spot.
The date of the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival changes every year, as it is totally dependent on the blooming of the flowers. The best predictions for when the blossoms will be at their best are found on Korean news and weather reports, so be sure to check TV broadcasts and online news postings as April approaches. Korean speaking readers can check out the Festival’s official website (www.ydp.go.kr) which despite currently displaying the 2012 festival date, will update information closer to blooming. The expected dates for the 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival are 12 – 18th April.
To reach the festival by public transportation, subway is the quickest way. Simply take line 5 to Yeouinaru station and come out of exit 1 or line 9 to National Assembly station, also exit 1. Tourists will have no trouble finding the attractions, as the island is small so simply follow the crowds and enjoy the sights along the way. Here are some pictures I took while visiting Yeouido at last year’s festival. Gather your friends together, keep a camera handy and enjoy the day.