Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival

Jinhae, The Cherry Blossom City of South Korea

Spring is indeed the best time to visit Korea. The weather warms up to herald the arrival of spring and the country becomes all the more beautiful to welcome the cherry blossoms. From Seoul, to Busan to Jeju and to Jinhae, one can see cherry trees in bloom all over the country.

Then why Jinhae?

Because Jinhae simply turns exotically beautiful for that week during spring. Other places in the country too have their fair share of these cherry blossoms and turn into a shade of soft pastel pink this time of the year. But Jinhae’s cherry blossoms, simply put, are out of this world. The city seems like a page straight out of a fairytale; all painted in pink. It is a sight to behold and cherish.

Jinhae, a naval port town near Busan, has planted as many as 340,000+ cherry trees all over the city and has become a popular global destination drawing millions of visitors both domestically and internationally and making it one of the most popular cherry blossom festivals of South Korea. Jinhae also finds mention in CNN’s “Top 50 Beautiful Places to Visit in South Korea”.

History of Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival

The festival first began in 1952 at the naval port of Jinhae as a modest ceremony to honor the legendary Admiral Yu Sun-sin of the Joseon dynasty . However, over time, the beauty of the cherry blossoms brought in visitors from all around the globe, transforming it into the largest cherry blossom festival of South Korea.

The festival is also known as the Jinhae Naval Base Festival (Gunhangje). The festival showcases a marching parade by the army bands, and several cultural events, including a multimedia fireworks show and a folk crafts market.  

The Fickle Cherry Flowers

The festival usually happens around the last week of March or the first week of April. This year the festival was from March 24 to April 3, 2024. The dates have become unpredictable nowadays more so with the onset of global warming. These flowers are fickle and fragile. The cherry flowers bloom, take 2-3 days to reach their peak and then within the next couple of days they are gone! They can last for as long as a week in calm dry conditions but a shower of spring rain can make them vanish quickly.

Reaching Jinhae from Seoul

By Road: Jinhae is situated at 369 kms from Seoul and takes approximately 4 hours by a private vehicle, if the traffic is not bad. 🙂 By bus it takes around 4.5 hours.

You can also choose to do a day trip from Seoul. There are multiple tours operating this service from Seoul to Jinhae and also from Busan to Jinhae. However, spending 9 hours in a tour bus to and fro in a single day was not our idea of enjoying the cherry blossoms.

By Train: There are no direct trains from Seoul to Jinhae. However, KTX trains can take you to Busan in under 3 hours. The regular trains are cheaper than KTX but take longer.

By Air: It takes about 1 hours by air from Seoul to Busan. We booked Jeju Air last minute from Seoul to Busan to see the cherry blossoms festival. All the trains were booked out for that weekend and we did not want to drive either. Luckily, we could find seats on the flights to Busan.

What to Expect at the Cherry Blossom Festival?

Being new to the city, we had booked a local cherry blossom tour from Busan (Klook tour) to see the Jinhae festival. The tour picked us up from an exit on the Busan subway and proceeded to Jinhae in a bus with an English-speaking guide. They gave us ample of time to explore the places on our own. So basically, it was a tour which provided pick-up and drop from Busan to Jinhae.

Tip: It is advisable to book a tour from Busan. Jinhae gets overcrowded with visitors during the festival. So driving your own car and trying to find parking for it in and around Jinhae can be a huge hassle.

Our first stop at the tour was:

1) Gyeonghwa Train Station

It is a derelict train station in Jinhae that is no longer in use, but transforms into a spectacular sight during the cherry blossom season. The place gets super crowded during the festival but still the charm of the blossoms do not fade away. One can gel in with the disciplined crowds to embrace the vibes of the season. (Yes, all the tourists were extremely considerate of the others and made it a joyful experience for all)

The most popular photo-op stop at Gyeonghwa Station. I did not end up in the queue but took this shot from a distance 😉

I was in for a pleasant surprise when I saw people queuing up to take pictures with the train on the tracks. The red train engine stands magnificently against the backdrop of pastel pink everywhere and is extremely popular with all budding photographers there.

Cherry blossoms at Gyeonghwa Station
Crowds enjoying the cherry blossoms
Food vendor at Gyeonghwa station

The blossoms at this station stretch on both sides for a good distance and is a sight to behold. One can easily spend a couple of hours at this place, enjoying the scenery and also the food from the numerous stalls that are set up here. Our tour did give us two hours to explore this little station at leisure before moving on to our next destination.

2) Yeojwocheon Stream

The Yeojwo stream is just 3 kms apart from the Gyeonghwa station and is also more crowded than it. The scenery does justify the crowds though. Water always weaves magic around itself. This stream of clear water flowing down the slope is no different. With cherry trees being planted on both sides of the stream, the entire place exudes ethereal magic and charm. The excitement of the visitors is the cherry on the cake.

The Yeojwa Stream canopied with cherry blossoms all along…

No matter where you look, you will find shades of pastel pink stretching as far as your eyes can see. To that, add these alluring archways of flowers formed at every bend, man-made decorations in the stream below, and happy faces clicking vigorously to capture their precious moments. Not surprising that you are transported into a wonderland.

It is also said that some popular romance K-drama was shot at this very stream. No wonder, this place is extremely popular with visitors.

The heart says it all
Admired the patient and considerate crowds

We were given sufficient 4 hours to explore and enjoy this place and have lunch at one of the stalls/cafes here. There is a beautiful eco-park at one end of the stream. One can enter the park too (at no additional charge) and relax on one of the benches there. Sometimes, taking in so much beauty around you can also be taxing. 🙂

3) Jehwangsan Park Observatory

Our third stop for the tour was just across the street where the stream ended. We were guided through a lane lined with shops and restaurants to an open square where the military parade and festival was showcased on a giant screen. There were numerous tents set up for the convenience of the tourists. Visitor information booths and first-aid facilities were thoughtfully set up across the square. The lanes were of course filled with more food stalls and entertainment groups performing for the crowds.

Jehwangsan Observatory Tower. Monorail and steps leading to the park

We checked out the Jehwangsan monorail, in the heart of Jinhae, from the street itself. There is a park atop the observatory which offers splendid views of the city below covered in cherry blossoms. However, all the walking since morning had tired us out. Hence, we decided to skip going to the observatory and instead enjoy the military parade and festival by stretching ourselves on the lawns of the square.

That was the last stop of our tour.

Where We Stayed in Busan?

Jinhae is at just 39 kms from Busan, a bustling port town of South Korea. So we decided to make Busan our base for our weekend cherry blossom trip. We stayed in the Haeundae area of Busan, right next to the beach. The street there is filled with restaurants and cafes and has a perfect touristy vibe to it. Good to spend your evening leisurely after a hectic day at the cherry blossom festival.

We had a few vegetarian options for dinner as well in Haeundae. Namaste India, an Indian restaurant in the area, served decent Indian food. I found out that the portions served here in Busan are quite small as compared to that served in India or even in Seoul. I might be wrong. It is just an observation, but you can always order more 🙂

Weather Tips

The weather remains chilly during the day at this time of the year with temperatures hovering in the 10-15 degree celsius range. So wrap yourself in layers accordingly.

Want Only Vegetarian Food?

There are a lot of stalls serving street food at the festival site. For the vegans and vegetarians; however, there are limited food options. We binged on some potato tornadoes (very similar to potato twisters sold at Indian malls), fresh strawberry milk, boiled corn on the cob and some homemade food. Cafes and bakeries always come to our rescue at such times.

Don’t get me wrong. There are vegan cafes and restaurants in Busan and I am sure there must be few in Jinhae too, but when we were at the festival, we did not have the time and scope to explore such places. So, I would recommend the vegans and vegetarians to carry their own food here.

The cherry blossoms up close

Do check out my other blog(s) on Seoul’s food scene too. Will keep on adding to my South Korean explorations.

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