Since I’ve been on the topic of festivals lately, I thought I’d post on this one BEFORE it happened for a change. It’s not an official festival really, but with Spring looming on the horizon, we’re just a couple of weeks away from cherry blossom season. Gyeongju, along with Jinhae further south, is one of the best places to go in Korea to frolic amongst the fairyland wonder of the blossoming cherry trees. The problem is, everyone seems to know it. If you’re coming down for a visit to check out the blossoms, I highly suggest taking the train. Folks have been known to get stuck in traffic jams for hours.
And speaking of traffic jams, most cherry blossom hunters come to Gyeongju and cruise National Road 4 going out and around Bomun Lake (보문관광단지) and back. This stretch of N.R. 4 it’s lined with cherry trees, and is quite beautiful. Unfortunately it turns into a virtual parking lot during the weekends around cherry blossom season, stretching a 30 drive into several hours. Unless you love sitting in traffic, sucking car exhaust and watching restless kids bounce around in the back of their dad’s Kia Sportage, you might consider giving the cherry blossoms of Bomun Lake a miss.
Another popular spot for cherry blossoms is the road leading up to the tomb of General Kim Yu-shin (김유신), just across the river from the Intercity (Shiwae) Bus Terminal in central Gyeongju. This stretch of road’s pretty cool in spite of the crowds and cars, though I recommend going in on foot. I especially love walking through here at night. The trees are lit up like a wonderland and the street takes on a very festive atmosphere. Last Fall they widened the road going through the cherry trees from 2 lanes to 4, though I doubt it’s going to make that much of a dent in traffic. Last year cars were back up on N.R. 4 all the way out to Geoncheon.
Still, if crowds are just not your thing, one of the better kept secrets of cherry blossom season is Banwolseong Palace (반월성). It’s ancient fortress walls are covered in cherry trees, and from the observatory it looks like a giant tidal wave of cherry blossoms coming across the park. Of course, my favorite time to check out the cherry blossoms of Banwolseong Palace is at night. The lighting on Banwolseong is gorgeous after dark. But if you take the time to walk along the fortress walls behind the cherry trees, the back-lit cherry blossoms are stunning.
Cherry blossom season starts around the last week of March and goes through first week of April. When the Cherry blossoms are at their peak of course depends on a lot of things, like the weather. If you want to find out the peak time to go blossom hunting, your best bet is to phone up Gyeongju English Tourist Info at 054-1330. I’ve also heard the cherry blooms are quite amazing out at Bulguksa Temple, though I’ve not been there myself around then. And, of course, the best way to enjoy the blossoms of Spring and cut through all the traffic is by bike.
Unlike Jinhae, Gyeongju doesn’t have an official festival per say. It does however host the yearly Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Marathon to promote friendship and harmony with Japan. This year the Marathon will be on Saturday, April the 3rd. Unfortunately the application deadline closed on the 10th, but you can view the course on the official website (sorry, Korean only).
View Cherry Blossoms in Gyeongju in a larger map