featuring tandem biking chaos.
One of the absolute highlights of our Korea trip for me personally was seeing the cherry blossoms in Seoul, or more specifically, in Yeouido and Yeouinaru. There's something about the delicate flowers lining the streets that makes my brain short circuit (and not just mine, if the masses of SEE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS AT A DISCOUNT flight emails are anything to go by).
If you're naive like me and don't check out everything on Google Maps for a little while, then you'll make the mistake of thinking you can just nip out to Jinhae for the super famous massive festival and head back to Seoul in a night. You are wrong, my friend. Jinhae is right next to Busan and a stupidly long way away from Seoul, so therefore your best bet to see the cherry blossoms in bloom is in Yeouido Hangang Park or Yeouido Park which are both absolutely stunning. Keep an eye on Seoul's event calendar for the predicted cherry blossom bloom as well as for the dates of the actual festival; otherwise you'll get crazy FOMO when your hostel owner tells you she's going to all this fun shit.
Both of these parks are literally just across the road from one another, with the significantly larger Hangang Park hugging the stretch of the river and the smaller Yeouido Park chilling out with a secret romantic core. When we headed over, we actually went a couple of days right before the festival started so it was relatively quieter than they were supposed to be.
A Guide to Yeouido Park
This smaller, circular park is less crowded than Hangang where the main festivities are and it's got a much cosier lived-in feel to it. If you bounce out of the Yeouido train station and walk out of the park exit, you just have to make a beeline forwards for about five minutes and you'll hit its big white sign. All over the park, there's a number of trees and blossoms that everybody and literally their mum are taking selfies with or putting in their hair.
If you do a little walk around, you'll find a place to rent bicycles for a reasonable price an hour (it was 6000 won for a tandem bike with an 1000 additional won per hour). You do have to leave some form of ID at the counter and you'll get a receipt with what time you need to return that'll let you pick up your passport/driver's license etc, so don't lose that shit. There's an awesome bike path that takes you along and underneath the cherry blossoms ringing the park, which you can see above along with a shot of Nick gunning our tandem.
Just don't be the dick that drives the wrong way. Or, like me, don't attempt to ride front seat in a tandem if you're 5'2 and coordinationally challenged because things will end in a hot mess of spontaneous off-road biking. If you don't like cycling, wander into the centre where the basketball courts are to rent skateboards, roller blades and even scooters if you're super offbeat.
After an hour, we were pretty tired and we decided to take a wander round the little park as there are loads of side paths and hidden passages you can't take a bike through. There's an ecological park buried amidst the foliage with a wooden walkway that wouldn't look out of place in a rainforest and if you follow it along far enough, you'll come to a gorgeous little pond surrounded by cherry blossoms and benches. When we were there in the afternoon, it was almost totally deserted and we sat there in silence for a long time, just holding hands and soaking in the calm after days spent running round Myeongdong and Hongdae. Definitely head over here if you want to beat the crowds and aren't so fussed about the festivities.
How to get there Take Line 3 to Yeouido, jump out of Exit 3 and walk straight for five minutes.
Yeouido Hangang Park
So this is where the real festival buzz happens. Hangang Park is significantly bigger than Yeouido Park and it's accordingly more crowded, though it also offers the most gorgeous view of the Hangang river and metropolitan Seoul. While the park itself doesn't actually have any cherry blossom trees in it - it's more along the lines of wide open grassy space, bike paths and art installations - they ring the road running adjacent to it and they're gorgeous.
You should definitely stroll along the cherry blossom sidewalks, they're bustling with people brandishing selfie sticks, street food carts selling everything from satay sticks to cocktails (yep, there's a cocktail truck) and even the occasional performer. Eventually if you're walking away from Yeouinaru station, you'll hit a wider open space that serves as the space for the official festival shows and ceremonies which unfortunately started the day after we decided to leave Seoul. (Yeah, check your event calendars if you're super keen on catching the festivals and the cherry blossoms - we're definitely not the savviest travellers.)
Like Yeouido Park, you can rent bicycles for an hour for the same price (6000 won an hour for a tandem, 3000 for a single) and I'd highly recommend it just because Hangang Park is so massive. It splinters off into a dock, an ecological park and you can even sneak underneath the highway bridges for a really unexpectedly serene experience. I totally vibed off of Arakawa Under the Bridge the whole time our bike creaked along as the cars went roaring past overhead.
Yeah buddy, we saw loads of trees over at Gyeongbukgong Palace (above) which made it feel like something right out of the feudal era. They're scattered around Seoul as well, so for instance we saw a few in Itaewon outside the Holly's Coffee - kind of like a Korean version of Starbucks - and near the National Museum of Korea. If you're not feeling any of those areas, the awesome bloggers over at Seoulistic who've got boots on the ground have a cool list of alternative and off the beaten path cherry blossom hotspots which naturally came out the day after I left Seoul. I'm not really one for timing.