Hanami: Cherry blossom viewing

In travel as in life, timing is everything. When winter finally takes its leave, those of us tired of the soggy gloom start counting the days until spring. Spring means buds on the trees and flowers in the ground. Spring also brings the Japanese tradition of hanami or “flower viewing,” specifically cherry blossom viewing.

Cherry blossoms Brooklyn Botanic Garden hanami New York

Depending on your location, cherry blossoms are expected anywhere from March until May. If you want to catch a famous cherry blossom viewing, whether in Japan, Washington, New York, you have to hedge your bets, cross your fingers and hope that you’ve picked the right lucky dates to go looking for cherry blossoms. During my recent jaunt to New York, I had timing on my side and got to take in two lucky opportunities to enjoy hanami.

Cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The famous Brooklyn Botanic Garden is home to a gorgeous cherry tree grove and beautiful Japanese-themed cherry tree-lined pond. Brooklyn Botanic takes hanami very seriously*, with a regularly-updated CherryWatch blossom status map and weekend-long celebration at peak bloom, Sakura Matsuri. The 2016 celebration is April 30-May 1 and shouldn’t be missed.

I visited Brooklyn Botanic a few days after some lovely warm temperatures, which means I had plenty of beautiful cherry blossoms to view. I was pleasantly surprised to discover my Saturday morning visit coincided with the free admission period (10am-12noon, except during Sakura Matsuri), so my friends and I took our time enjoying a leisurely stroll around the pond, taking in the blossoms with scores of visitors and Brooklynites.

Cherry blossoms on Roosevelt Island

As beautiful as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden was, it wasn’t the only cherry blossom viewing in town. New York’s Roosevelt Island, a little sliver of land between Manhattan and Queens in the East River, was the perfect spot for a quieter look at blossoms.

We had a free afternoon on a beautiful sunny day, so we hopped on the tram in Manhattan at E 60th St and Second Ave and flew over to the Island, taking in a spectacular overhead view of the east side of Manhattan. The blossoms are easy to find, they line the path around the circumference of the island right next to the tram station, facing Manhattan.

*I also took the hanami very seriously, especially after I learned my visit would coincide with some blossoms. Needless to say, I’m grateful to my friend (and travel buddy) Melany for indulging my cherry blossom fever.

See for yourself:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
150 Eastern Parkway/455 Flatbush Avenue/990 Washington Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Adult admission $12/free admission Saturdays 10–12 noon (except during weekend of Sakura Matsuri) (As of March 2016)
Public transit: 2, 3, B, Q, 4, 5, S (Brooklyn S) trains

Roosevelt Island
Between Manhattan and Queens in the East River
Public transit: Roosevelt Island Tram (with Metro Card), F train. MTA buses from Queens

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