Spring has begun in Korea and that gets people excited about cherry blossoms. While they're literally popping up everywhere, there are several places in Seoul where you can go watch them and also enjoy the scenery.
If you're just after a few nice photos of cherry blossoms, just take a look around you. Trees that spring cherry blossoms have been planted almost anywhere. I have taken the following photo on my morning commute next to a very busy road.
That probably doesn't count as the pleasant experience of going to see the cherry blossoms however. In this post I will provide you with some better alternatives.
But first, some thoughts about the Yeouido Spring Flower Festival.
The Yeouido Spring Flower Festival is probably the most famous spot in Seoul to go see cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, in a city of more than ten million, that means it's also the most busy place to go see the cherry blossoms. Sure it's beautiful; they light up the blossoms with pretty lights, and there's music and whatnot, but the visitor count for this year is said to be in the millions.
So unless you don't mind feeling like a sardine in a tin can in the subway, and then when you arrive, being trapped in the subway station for at least 30 minutes because of the sheer amount of people that also want to see some flowers, and then standing in line outside again to reach the festival, don't go to Yeouido. If you're still undeterred (you'll regret it, don't say I didn't warn you), try to go during the morning or afternoon on a weekday. The next best time is a weekday evening; although busy, it's still better than the pandemonium that is the weekend.
So if not Yeouido, where to go then? Here are 5 alternative locations that are slightly less busy (again, Seoul alone has more than 10 million people, so there are bound to be people everywhere).
Seonyudo is an island on the Han river with an old water filtration plant converted into an ecological park. It has kept some elements from its past, which makes it quite a unique park. The water that runs in the park is still being purified. There's also a cafe with a terrace on the premises so you can have a coffee while enjoying the nice spring weather. Besides spring, fall is also a good time to visit because of the foliage. It's children friendly and it has an ecological water playground where they can play. In the weekend it might get a little busy if you go see the cherry blossoms, but not so busy as the Spring Flower Festival in Yeouido.
Seonyudo has cherry blossoms in abundance. There's a road with cherry blossoms on either side, and several other trees all over the park.
How to get there
Take subway line 9 and get out at Seonyudo Station (선유도역). Walk out of exit 2 and walk straight until you reach the highway. Go left before the highway and keep going until you see a metal railing. There's a path that leads to an overpass, which in its turn leads to a bridge. Cross both and you'll end up at the entrance. Click here to see a video with directions.
2. Jeongdok Public Library
The library has a lot of books and a history, but I'm not going to bore you with that. Forget the library, this is not the time to study anyway. Its garden and surroundings are with you are after. The garden is full of cherry blossoms, which makes it an amazing place to relax and walk around a bit.
Don't forget to walk up to the left side of the main building and climb the stairs, because there are some very beautiful trees to see. The steps will lead you to the side of the building and you can also explore the area behind it.
How to get there
Go to Anguk Station (안국역) on line 3 and go out at exit 1. Turn right immediately and then go right again. Keep walking straight until you encounter a fork in the road. Take the road on your right and go left at the end. You're now climbing a hill. You'll see steps across the road on your right. Cross the road and take those steps. If you are a the top of the steps turn left and at the end right again. You'll see the entrance of the library. Click here to see a video with directions.
3. Seoul National Cemetery
Going to a cemetery to go see some flowers seems a bit morbid, but although this is really a cemetery, it feels more like a park. Yes, there are soldiers, police men, and reserve forces buried here, but there also a lake and big grassy fields surrounded by trees. Besides, spring is always the time that middle school kids arrive on a school trip to see the cherry blossoms, so no need to feel awkward that you're watching flowers in a cemetery. The cemetery has some unique trees not very common anywhere else: the weeping cherry tree, with its long, willow-like branches.
How to get there
Take the subway and get out at Dongjak station (동작역). If you're coming off line 4, get out of exit 4 and if you took line 9 take exit 8. Do not get out at exit 2. Although labeled as Seoul National Cemetery, it won't get you there. It's a trap. Click here to see a video with directions.
4. Kyunghee University Campus
Although famous for its neo-classical architecture, Kyunghee University's campus is also full of cherry blossoms during spring. The campus is open to everyone, which means everyone is coming during the cherry blossom season. Although a bit crowded at some times, it doesn't feel as overwhelming as Yeouido's crowd does. It's actually quite pleasant to stroll on campus as you are surrounded with trees and there are lots of places where you can take great pictures.
How to get there
Get out at Hoegi station (회기역) at exit 1. Immediately cross the road and go left. You will encouter a crossroad, cross it and keep going straight until you encounter another one. Don't cross it, but go right. Keep on going straight until you walk up the gate. Explore from there.
5. Gwanaksan (next to Seoul National University Campus)
Gwanaksan is the mountain bordering the Seoul National University campus. No need to go up the mountain though, there are some beautiful cherry blossoms to be seen right at the start of the trail. There's a stream next to the trees, which makes taking pictures at this place even better.
How to get there.
Go to Seoul National University Station (서울대입구역) on line 2 and go out exit 3. Take bus 5511, 5513, or 5515 and get out at Seoul National University. Don't walk towards the metal gate of the university. Instead, go the opposite way. There's a pedestrian road that leads you to the start of the Gwanaksan trail. Just follow the people in climbing gear and you'll be fine (although not too far, you don't want to end up on the top of the mountain). When you encounter some dinosaurs on your right you know you're on the right path. Go a bit further and look to your left for a path down to the stream.