Spring is an exciting season as we move away from the cold and everything comes to life. In Japan and Korea, cherry blossom viewing is a tradition that celebrates this season. I have introduced a couple of places to see the blossoming in Japan, and also some of the best spots to do so in Busan; Let’s expand our territories to the outskirts and nearby cities of Busan. I am recommending Jinhae and Gyeongju. Both cities are located within an hour’s drive from Busan, and they are famous for their own unique history and character. They are great places to visit and they enhance your experience with cherry blossoms and festivities. It is possible to visit both places from Busan in a day, however, consider staying there for a day or two so that you have enough time to soak in what these cities have to offer.
I wonder if you have seen travel photos of Jinhae; if you do, you usually only see pictures in spring – and that’s how iconic cherry blossoms are to Jinhae.
I put Jinhae on my Busan itinerary for the obvious reason: Jinhae Gunhangje is now getting more and more popular. Jinhae is nicknamed a cherry blossom city because of its spring festival; the city has planted over 200,000 cherry trees, making it a frontline of cherry blossom viewing in Korea. Every year in early March, thousands of tourists flood into Jinhae for Jinhae Gunhangje. The cherry tree covered the sky with pink and white during full bloom that takes everyone’s breath away.
A day trip from Busan to Jinhae
If you are planning on a one-day trip, cover the absolute essentials:
Yeojwacheon Stream and Romance Bridge > Gyeonghwa Station > Jangboksan Sculpture Park > and finally, explore the festival in Jinhae Jungwon Rotary Intersection and Jinhae area for food and live performance
If you have two days, you have more time to cover all the city’s highlights:
Anmin Hill > Jinhae Naval Museum > Jehwangsan Park > Jinhae Tower
How to get to Jinhae
The best way to reach Jinhae is by Bus Antr. Busan’s bus terminal (www.busantr.com) is located outside Exit 5 of Sasang Station. The first bus departs at 6 am and then every 15 to 20 minutes. It was easy to buy a bus ticket at the counter or the vending machine. The bus ride takes about 1 hour and once arrived, it is only a short walk away from the hotspots. It gets really busy during the festivals and my advice – leave Busan earlier so you get the “first dip” of the amazing view of cherry blossoms.
Another option is to take a bus to the Central Bus Terminal, near Nopo Station. It is a different route which takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes, and the bus fare is higher than Bus Antr. So don’t get mixed up.
Yeojwacheon Stream and Romance Bridge
Once we got off the bus we took a map at the tourist counter and headed straight to the prime location. We walked along the main street, headed north, and arrived at the Yeojwacheon stream in about 20 minutes.
I saw the beautiful picture on travel websites and found this breathtaking stream called Yeojwacheon. The Yeojwacheon Stream’s Wooden Walkway offers a unique view of the cherry blossom on top and canola flowers at the bottom along the stream. Taking photos in the middle of the footbridge across the stream, the far end is just perfect as a vanishing point of the photo; and that’s where I headed straight away once I got off the bus in Jinhae.
This stream goes through from Park Land, one of the city’s entrances to Jinhae Girl’s high school. Along both sides of the brook, 1.5km long, arched cherry trees form virtually a huge flower tunnel in the sky. When the pink white cherry flowers get full blossom, this particular area gives a visionary snowy world to visitors. At night, lights are turned on around the place so that the fantastic view has a more spectacular look.
There were all sorts of hawkers and rickshaws along the road, and at some point, we could go down and walk along the stream for some distance. The Jangboksan Sculpture Park was a little further away from the end of Yeojwacheon, and by then we were quite far away from the bus terminal. Trying not to walk the same way in return, we saved some time by taking bus number 35 (or 37) and got back to the festival site by lunchtime.
Jinhae Gunhangje Cherry Blossom Festival
Once a year, the steaming food stalls, blooming flowers, and carnival festivities spice up this little town’s quietness and celebrate the coming of spring. Sitting down in one of the food stalls we could go to the front of the counter, and point out all the delicacies that we love to eat. Trust me, I never say no to Kimchi :). My favorite food are roasted pigs, barbecue squid with sauce, noodles, rice, stirred fried ice cream, fermented rice soup, and barbecue skewers.
After the meal, checking out the gift of fortune-telling stalls, we carried on our journey to the Jinhae Naval Museum.
It was a navy facility that turned into an exhibition site during the festivals, and there was a shuttle bus that took us from the festival to the museum. There were statues, monuments, and signs here and there, just follow the crowd and you couldn’t possibly go wrong. The festival takes about ten days and it’s just getting bigger and bigger due to its popularity. In an effort to boost tourism, performances, live shows, and so many other fun activities are added to the program.
To elevate the one-day experience, we took the shuttle bus and returned to the original site to our last stop of the day in Jinhae – the Jehwangsan Park. It was not high up on the hill, we took the three hundred steps and walked up to the peak anyway. To get there faster, visitors could take the monorail and it costs 3000 wons both ways. There was a long queue outside the elevator to the tower since there was the only one available; we waited around 30 minutes but then we had a 360-degree panoramic view of Jinhae.
Another snack that you should not miss is the famous Jinhae Bakery. It’s a time-limited snack with a refreshing taste that is good for gifts back home to your friends and dear ones.
It was a bit of a shame that we didn’t have enough time to go up the Anmin Road (on Anmin Hill) – Google it, it’s a road on the hill with cherry trees lined up along the road. If visitors don’t rent a car, it is possible to go there by taxi (but make sure you have the contacts or be able to call one on the way back). The 4 kilometers long slope in the thick forest of cherry trees and cypress is, in fact, one of the most sought getaways from Changwon to Jinhae. Along the way, numbers of convenient facilities such as park benches, and pavilions are available. The road is also one of the best places to have a hike or drive by.
You will probably need to stay in Jinhae for one more day to go up Anmin Road and have a full experience; It might save your time if you rent a car. However, this road is very popular, and traffic could get horrendous during peak hours or peak seasons. You might be stuck in traffic for a long time or not able to find a parking space. Visit there the first thing in the morning, or leave ample time so that you don’t miss the bus if you are planning to return to Busan the same day.
The site is a small train station in Gyeonghwa that has stopped servicing since 2006. Since then, it has been a cherry blossom viewing spot for travelers with lines of cherry trees on the side of the train track. To make the scene even more picturesque, the festival organizers bring in an old train on the track and stop there during the festival that serves as a perfect prop for photo-taking. This site is frequently featured in TV shows, movies, and music videos; and it is also a popular location for couples to get their wedding pictures taken. Shuttle service is available in the period of the festival and the bus runs eight times a day; the shuttle travel between Jinhae Station and Gyeonghwa Station.
Although I am pretty sure that the station has ceased functioning, there might be trains running on the track occasionally. Follow the directions of the guards and officials at the site, and look out whenever you are on the track and taking photos.
Other places of interest include Jinhae bay Eco Forest, Mount Jangboksan sculpture Park, Jinhaeru (Jinhae Pavilion), The way to Sampo Song’s Monument, Jinhae Inland Waters Ecological Environment Park, Jehwangan Park, Jehwangsan Park Monorail Car, Jinhae Marine Park, and Hwindolme Park… Also heard that there are fireworks during the festival, that’s amazing!
Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (or Shilla). In fact, Gyeongju is often regarded as Korea’s Kyoto. With a population of 350,000, it is not a commercial hub but a historic travel destination with hundreds of delightful temples, tranquil gardens and heritages, including UNESCO heritage sites the Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple. The city has a height restriction of skyscrapers, and with so many traditional buildings in the city as a backdrop, it is a wonderful place to appreciate the beauty of cherry blossoms. Furthermore, the city has a number of excellent Korean restaurants for some Gyeongju beef and seonjiguk; and there is no way that you leave Gyeongju without tasting the Hwangnam-ppang, or Gyeongju bread, a local specialty.
How to get to Gyeongju
Similar to Jinhae, Gyeongju is connected with Busan by bus. It is also possible to go there by train. Buses depart from Sasang Bus Terminal or Central Bus Terminal and they depart every hour. The express bus route takes only about an hour and so it’s very easy to go to Gyeongju on a day trip from Busan. If you don’t feel like planning because it’s a last minute plan, or if you are travelling with family, it is also possible to take a guided day tour which you could just sit back and visit from point to point. However, you may need more flexibility for cherry blossom viewing.
Getting around Gyeongju is easy as you can do so either on foot or by rental bike. The city center is compact without heavy traffic, but you may need a short bus ride to visit some attractions.
A day trip from Busan to Gyeongju
If you are planning on one-day trip, I would suggest to stay within the city center and explore the highlights on foot:
Anapji Pond > Gyeongju National Museum > Traditional Korean cuisine > visit Gyochunggyo at night > Hwangridangil Adamjeong Hanok
It might be a little bit too ambitious to cover the surrounding areas in one day, so consider staying in the city for one more day if you would like to have a more in-depth experience with Gyeongju.
Bulguksa Temple > Seokguram Grotto > Bomun Lake > Korean beef > tradition Korea cultural experience: wearing hanbok or attending a cultural activity class
Unlike Busan and Jinhae, Gyeongju may not have iconic cherry blossom viewing spots. Cherry blossom could be seen here and there in the yard or outside the historic sites in the city. Surprisingly Gyeongju is a little bit colder than Busan and Jinhae, and so the blossoming was not as vibrant and exciting as what I have seen in those cities the same week I was in Busan. Therefore, you should check the latest update once you are Busan to adjust your schedule to make sure you catch the best day to see these flowers.
Gyeongju Historic Areas
The historic area is a designated district located in Gyeongju’s town center, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a number of temples, palaces, pagodas and statuaries left by the Silla Kingdom. It is known as one of the largest outdoor museums in the world!
Banwolseong is the main attraction of Gyeongju on the Wolseong Belt. It was a Silla Palace and has become a ruin and a heritage site. Only the moat and part of the walls remained at the Palace. Gyerim and the artificial Anapji Pond were ruins of the Imhaejeon Palace, together with Cheomseongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia.
Cheomseongdae was built during the reign of Silla Queen Seondeok and is the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. The observatory is 5.17 meters in diameter and 9.4 meters in height. The bottle-shaped tower made of square granite stones stands on the square stone base. The length of the stone base is 5.35 meters. Up to the 12th layer from the bottom, this hollow tower was filled with soil and pebbles. Between the 13th and the 15th layer, there is a square opening through which an observer can ascend to the top. Cheomseongdae gives a sense of balance, harmonizing straight lines with curves.
Gyerim is a small woodland, literally meaning, rooster forest, a grove that lies near the old site of Silla Kingdom palace. Why is it important? Because it was considered a holy place for being the birthplace of Kim Alji, the founder of the Gyeongju Kim clan. He was found in a golden box accompanied by a rooster, and he was adopted by the royal family, later his descendants became the kings of Silla.
Anapji is an artificial pond and a part of the Silla Palace complex, while the palace now mostly ruins, this reflects a hint of the architectural evidence of the ancient Silla Kingdom. The pond is in an oval shape, with three islands and a small pavilion. When the pond was restored in 1974 as part of the renovation project of the historic site, almost 33,000 pieces of relics were discovered from the pond. From roof tiles, architectural materials, pottery, gilt bronze figures of Buddha, jewelry, accessories, and everyday items. These items are important to offer a glimpse of what life was like at that time, and now many of these relics are on display at the Gyeongju National Museum.
Royal Tombs in Daereungwon
The site contains more than twenty large or small tombs from the Three Kingdoms Period. Most of them have round earthen mounds, but there are double gourd-like mounds for the burial of a husband and a wife. At the center of the ancient tomb, there is the royal tomb of King Michu, the 13th king of Silla. Based on a legend, the tomb is also called “Jukhyeonneung”. King Michu is a descendant of Kim Alji, and became the first Silla king from the Kim clan.
During the excavation of Cheonmachong and Hwangnamdaechong, numerous artifacts were unearthed. The inner structure of Cheonmachong and its excavation were restored and are accessible by the public. Thus visitors can see how the excavation was undertaken. The outside of Hwangnamdaechong was also restored to the original shape.
Gyeongju National Museum
The museum deviated largely to relics and artifacts discovered from the Silla Kingdom. It is adjacent to the royal tomb complex, overlooking the historic area and a number of heritage sites that I just mentioned above.
Therefore it is really easy to just take a walk and explore these sites in one day. It is up to you to decide which one to go first. The Bell of King Seongdeok (Dharma Bell) is a highlight of the museum. A Dharma bell is one of the main Dharma sound instruments used for assembling and teaching an audience in Buddhist temples. Though they originated from Chinese bells, Korean bells have their own distinct features and are strikingly different from Chinese and Japanese bells. First, the bell connector used to hold them is not a two-headed dragon of the Chinese style, but a dragon extending its head and legs robustly. Besides the connector, there is a sound tube; and there is a band of vertically-carved patterns and four nipple cases on the bell’s surface, all of which are absent from or different from Chinese and Japanese bells; there are 36 nipples inside each nipple case. Moreover, images of apsaras and a beating spot are carved on the bell. Above all, Korean bells excel in their beautifully curved lines and heart-moving sound.
Other highlights include the Emille Bells, Silla crowns, Bangudae Petroglyphs, Ornamented Sword from Gyerim-ro, Ancient Korean jugs, and Wise Men Figurine.
The Bomun Lake scenic area is a tourist and resort area with a large tourist complex of hotels, expo parks, and theme parks. It is located in the Bomun area and it’s 6.5 kilometers away from the historic area, facing the Topham Mountain. Lots of diners, shops, restaurants, and travel facilities are located here and this is a good place to stay for the night after a long day walk in the city center.
Of course, the lake would be a wonderful location for cherry blossom viewing as cherry trees are planted all around the lake. One of the best ways to appreciate the cherry blossom is to participate in the Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Marathon run-cation. This is an event with a long history and the route takes place right along the lake when the cherry blossom is in full bloom in April. It is spectacular to run under the lines of cherry blossom and soak in the beautiful views of Bomun. For active travelers, this event is a big draw, and lots of international runners joining the race every year!
There is no way not to mention Bulguksa when we are talking about Gyeongju. It is located on Mount Toham and it is a short bus ride away right outside the Gyeongju Station. This is the most important heritage in Gyeongju being the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and showcasing six National Treasures of South Korea.
- Dabotap: known as the pagoda of many treasures built in 751.
- Seokgatap: It is a 10.75 meters tall stone pagoda within the temple complex and it was also built in 751.
- Yeonhwagyo and Chilbogyo bridges: Daeungjeon and Geungnakjeon, the prayer halls of Bulguksa Temple, can be reached in two ways – via Yeonhwagyo and Chilbogyo Bridges to the west, or via Cheongungyo and Baegungyo Bridges to the east.
- Cheongungyo and Baegungyo bridges
- Seated gilt-bronze Vairocana Buddha statue
- Seated gilt-bronze Amitabha
This site is adjacent to Bulguksa and it is a hermitage of the temple complex. It is also listed as a National Treasure of South Korea. The grotto overlooks the Sea of Japan 750 above sea level.
There are cherry trees planted along the road and in the open areas of the Seokguram Grotto, making it another great place to view the flower, together with a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the background.