The Most Beautiful Place to See Cherry Blossoms in South Korea
Spring is one of the best times to visit Korea. The changing season is ecstatically beautiful with sprouts and colorful flowers, from forsythia to canola to azalea to roses. But the jewel of the spring flowers is cherry blossoms.
If you love cherry blossoms, South Korea should be on your list. (Yes, it is not just in Japan. Korea celebrates the cherry blossom season big, too.) And the best place to go see cherry blossoms in Korea is Jinhae Gunhangje Festival (Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.)
Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival has been on my bucket list for a long time. I was finally able to make it there this year. I will share everything you need to know about this bucket-list-worthy spring festival in Korea.
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Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival 2023
Official Name: Jinhae Gunhangje Festival (진해군항제)
Date: March 25 – April 3, 2023
Location: Everywhere in Jinhae
Website: Changwon City (In Korean only)
When to See Cherry Blossoms in Korea
Typically, cherry blossoms bloom anytime between late March – late April. It ultimately depends on the weather of that year. When the previous winter is warm, you can expect them to bloom early, and vice versa.
You can check the cherry blossom forecast as the date approaches. Nevertheless, planning an international trip in time for cherry blossoms is never easy. They are fickle flowers that sweep the streets for a week, then poof, gone with the wind (actually with a spring shower).
That said, you have to be super lucky with the timing. In 2023, cherry blossoms peaked two weeks earlier than in 2022. And it screwed up the travel plans of many to Korea and Japan.
I’m deviating. But in April 2013, I traveled from Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, luckily hitting the peak blooms in each city. My friends traveled to Japan at the same time but in the opposite order. She did not see full blooms in Kyoto and got unlucky with a thunderstorm in Tokyo that swept away all the cherry blossoms. Well, you can say I was fortunate with mother nature.
Essential Items for Spring Cherry Blossoms
Umbrella: Spring in Korea is still chilly in the morning and evening, while the daytime can be warm. Always wear layers and be ready with a compact, lightweight umbrella for spring showers.
First Aid: If you have seasonal allergies, be aware that all the pollen and poor air quality can make you miserable. Bring your allergy medicine, like Benadryl or Zyrtec.
Sunscreen: There is a Korean saying. Let your daughter-in-law out in the spring sun. Let your daughter out in the autumn sun. For those who are not familiar with Korean culture, it means exposing yourself to the sun in spring can be detrimental. So don’t forget to apply sunscreen!!!
Why go to Jinhae for Cherry Blossoms?
Simply put, Jinhae is the best place in Korea to see cherry blossoms. There are more than 360,000 cherry blossom trees planted all around the city.
The official name of the cherry blossom festival is Jinhae Naval Base Festival, a.k.a. Gunhangje. Jinhae is where the Korean Navy base is. The festival started in 1952 to commemorate Admiral Yi Sun-sin, Korea’s legendary war hero. Somehow, it became a celebration of the Korean Navy, art and culture, and cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms came into the picture many decades ago, as my parents remember when my uncle was a Navy officer participating in the festival in the 70s.
You can see gorgeous cherry blossoms everywhere in Korea, from Seoul to Busan to Jeju. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds, you may enjoy these popcorn-like flowers in your neighborhood or off the random road without traveling to popular cherry blossom sites. It is super easy to spot them everywhere, seriously.
However, wait until you go to Jinhae. You will see the breathtakingly beautiful cherry blossom scenery from a fairytale. It is not just a few famous sites; the entire city is decorated with cherry blossoms. (Kyoto is the only other place I got goosebumps for cherry blossoms.)
Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Jinhae
#1. Yeojwacheon (여좌천)
Yeojwacheon is a 1.5km-long narrow stream where a popular Korean drama, “Romance,” was filmed in 2002. It is also one of the 50 most beautiful places in Korea by CNN.
There is a walking path on both sides of a stream connected with cross bridges. Cherry blossoms line up along the trail and cascade into the stream. Walking under the pink clouds, you will understand why the Romance was filmed here. For the same reason, it is a popular dating site, especially in the evening when the area is illuminated, creating a romantic atmosphere.
It can get quite crowded here. If you can visit during the weekdays, it would be best. I cannot imagine how people would walk with the weekend crowds.
There are plenty of shops nearby. We wanted to sip a coffee at the terrace cafe with the view of cherry blossoms, but all tables were taken.
Instead, we ate some food at the stall. It was overpriced and disappointing, so feel free to pass.
Insider’s Tip: You may see a line at a popular photo spot. Don’t jump in to take photos next to them. No one wants to get photobombed. Instead, get in line. A solo traveler can ask the next person in line to take photos. Koreans are usually willing to help out others.
#2. Jinhaeru (진해루)
There are better spots for cherry blossoms than Jinhaeru. However, the main stage events were taking place here during the festival. It is the place to go if you like to see any cultural performances, such as traditional dance and singing.
There are rows of booths selling eateries, local specialties and gifts. We stopped by a coffee shop above CS 24 convenience store. It looked like a Turtle Ship (Geobukseon), a battleship engineered by Admiral Yi Sun-sin. It is a cozy coffee shop with a terrace overlooking the performance stage and a clean bathroom – only open to their customers.
#3. Gyeonghwa Train Station (경화역)
Gyeonghwa Train Station is another of Korea’s 50 most beautiful places. The former train station no longer functions; it has been converted into a city park.
The old railway is 800 meters long and lined with cherry blossom trees. The parked Mugunghwa train surrounded by cherry blossoms creates a postcard-like scenery. During the season, people flock around the train to take photos. Also, there are performances at the small amphitheater from time to time.
Gyeonghwa train station is my favorite cherry blossom site in Jinhae. I felt like walking into a pink cotton cloud. The blush pink petals were falling like a feather. With the live performance of classic opera songs like “Nessun Dorma” in the background, I felt like I was dreaming. Strangely, I did not mind the crowd; I experienced inner peace among the masses in the stunning scenery.
#4. Jinhae Marine Park (진해 해양공원)
Jinhae Marine Park is an environmentally-friendly coastal park. With the ocean view, the park offers a leisurely walk along a coastal path lined with diverse trees.
The site is a bit away from the main cherry blossom sites, so it’s less crowded. It is definitely an alternative site to avoid a load of tourists.
#5. Anmin Hill (안민고개길)
Do you want to experience an endless cherry blossom tunnel? Head to Anmin Hill (also called Manaljae).
Anmin Hill is a 5.6 km-long hilly road connecting Seongsan-gu and Jinhae-gu at the foothill of Jangbok Mountain. There are many vista points to see the skyline, attracting hikers, bikers, and drivers.
During the cherry blossom season, cars are not allowed to enter. So you have to park the car and hike up the hill. That’s why this site is much less crowded. If you don’t mind climbing up the hill (on a wooden deck) and want to avoid the mass crowd, I recommend Anmin Hill.
#6. Jehwangsan Park (제황산공원)
Jehwangsan Park is close to the Yeojwacheon stream. You can climb up the colorful 365 stairs (일년계단), or take a monorail to the observatory. As I was traveling with my parents, I did not dare climb the steep stairs.
Compared to Korea or Japan, I am underwhelmed by the cherry blossoms in Taiwan. But there is a hilltop temple near Taipei I think is worthwhile to check out.
#7. Jinhae Navy Base Command (해군사령부) & Academy (해군사관학교)
Jinhae Navy Base Command and Jinhae Navy Academy are two different sites worth visiting. They are known to have beautiful cherry blossoms all over the campus.
Due to military security issues, they are open to the public ONLY on the weekend during the cherry blossom festival. You will be escorted in on a shuttle bus at the main gate. As I visited Jinhae during the weekdays to avoid the mass crowds, I wasn’t able to get in.
Where to Stay in Jinhae
Jinhae can be a day trip from Busan and even Seoul. However, you will be dead tired to travel back and forth from Seoul. Consider spending a night in Jinhae and enjoying cherry blossoms as much as possible. After all, they only last for a few days!
Jinhae Intercity Hotel: A hotel near Yeojwacheon with superb ratings
French Code Hotel: Affordable hotel near Yeojwacheon with spa and massage chair in the room
Best Louis Hamilton Hotel Changwon: A bit far from the popular cherry blossom sites but a comfortable hotel with great reviews
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How to Get to Jinhae
Jinhae is part of the city of Changwon in Gyeongsang-do. (It used to be a city, so I was initially confused. But apparently, the city of Changwon absorbed Jinhae and Masan.) Geologically, Jinhae is west of Busan in the south of the Korean peninsula.
From Busan to Jinhae
Taxi: Jinhae is super close to Busan. I took a cab from Myeongji (the western end of Busan) to Jinhae. It takes about 30-40 minutes and costs around ₩35,000 (USD 26). It will cost more if you start from central Busan.
Bus: From Busan Sasang Bus Terminal, take a bus to Jinhae. Get off at Jinhae Joongang Market and walk to Yeojwacheon. The bus runs from 6 am to 10 pm, departs every 30 minutes, and takes about 70 minutes (₩5,500).
Train: There is no direct train from Busan to Jinhae. You must take a train from Busan Train Station to Masan first, then transfer to Jinhae. The Masan-Jinhae train only operates once a year only during the cherry blossom. (Some years, it doesn’t run, so make sure to check.)
From Seoul to Jinhae
Tour: Join this day trip from Seoul. It is the easiest and most efficient way to hit all the cherry blossom spots.
Bus: From Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal, take a bus to Jinhae that takes about 4-5 hours, depending on the traffic.
Train: Take a train to Changwon Station, then take a local bus or taxi to central Jinhae.
How to Get Around Jinhae
During the cherry blossom festival, there are two recommended ways to get around Jinhae.
Changwon City Tour Bus
It is the official hop-on, hop-off bus operated by the city. Pay ₩3,000 and you will receive a wristband. You can show your wristband to hop on the bus and tour the designated spots.
During the weekdays, the bus runs between four stops: Jinhae Station – Yeojwacheon (#1), Jinhaeru (#2), Gyeonghwa Train Station (#3) and Jinhae Marine Park (#4).
During the weekend, the bus skips Jinhae Marine Park (#4) and circles around the rest three stops.
Insider’s Tip: You MUST get the ticket at Jinhae Station. You cannot start at other stops.
Complimentary Shuttle Bus
Changwon City also operates a free shuttle bus during the festival.
During the weekdays, the shuttle runs from 10 am to 6 pm every 20 minutes. It stops at Navy Base Command – Jinhae Station – Bukwon Rotary – Namwon Rotary (Navy Academy) – Navy Training Base.
On the weekend, there are four shuttle bus lines from 9 am to 9 pm every 10-15 minutes. Expect a long line.
Blue: Gongdanro – Anmin Tunnel – Gyeonghwa Train Station – Joongang Market – Bukwon Rotary
Yellow: Doosan Volvo road – Jangbok Tunnel – Gumin Center – Joongang Market – Bukwon Rotary
Red: Jangcheon Pier 2 – Bureau of Jinhae-gu – Gyeonghwa Train Station – Joongang Market – Bukwon Rotary
Purple: Changwon Central Station – Namsan Tunnel – Anmin Tunnel – Gyeonghwa Train Station – Bukwon Rotary
Insider’s Tip: I do NOT recommend driving to/around Jinhae. You will experience the worst traffic and parking nightmare during the cherry blossoms, especially on weekends.