Where To Celebrate Budapest’s Cherry Blossom Festival
Pack a picnic – not forgetting the cherry pálinka — and enjoy Hungary’s spring blooms as the locals do
One is land-locked on the Continent, the other is a remote island in the East. One snacks on cheese-smothered doughy lángos, the other on seaweed-wrapped rice onigiri. At first glance, there are few similarities between Hungary and Japan. However, they both share a deep admiration for the cherry blossom.
Spring in Tokyo is celebrated with Hanami, a centuries-old tradition in which the city’s residents congregate for a nationwide picnic beneath the flowering cherry blossom trees. Here, the etheric beauty of the blooms, which last all of two weeks, is toasted with endless cups of sake, followed by an evening of sybaritic al fresco merriment.
The roots of Budapest’s Cherry Blossom Festival may not be as old or as established as Japan’s, but they are grounded in a similar ethos. The cherry trees in Füvészkert Botanical Gardens, which flank the prestigious Eötvös Loránd University in the Eighth District, burst into resplendent bloom come April. They last a stunning but all-too-brief fortnight, and Budapest’s Cherry Blossom Festival makes the most of the picturesque window over two weekends – the first and second of the month in 2019.
Beneath the botanical garden’s pastel pink blooms and blossoming magnolia trees, there’s a busy array of pop-up stalls, each inspired by a unique aspect of Japanese culture. A colourful origami exhibition that demonstrates an ingenious menagerie of paper-folded creatures nudges up against workshops on shuji, or calligraphy. Those with a sharp eye and Samurai-steady hand are invited to learn the art of kyudo archery. Elsewhere, a range of traditional Japanese green teas are available to sample in Kitsune café, served alongside sweet wagashi cakes stuffed with adzuki bean paste. Budapest’s Japanese Ambassador, Sato Kuni, attends as the event’s guest of honour, and is joined by throngs of locals who roll out blankets for a spring picnic beneath the flowers.
Füvészkert Botanical Gardens is not the only place to admire Budapest’s cherry blossoms. Corinthia Hotel Budapest is within a stone’s throw of some of the capital’s prettiest parks and green spaces, including the picturesque sprawl of City Park. Take a stroll around the lake to admire glassy reflections of weeping willows and blossoming fruit trees spilling out around the ornate, romantic façade of Vajdahunyad Castle. Alternatively, head across the Danube and hike up to Fisherman’s Bastion. This lofty lookout point offers unrivalled views of Budapest’s skyline, frothed with delicate puffs of pink in April. However, to really get into the spirit of Budapest’s cherry blossom season, little beats a spring toast of cherry pálinka brandy from Great Market Hall.