Readers' best cherry blossom photos
March brings an explosion of pink and white cherry blossoms around the globe. To celebrate this annual rite of spring, we've assembled your best shots, from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (above) to a palace courtyard in Seoul. Look out for icons like the Eiffel Tower and Mount Fuji framed by blossoms, plus unexpected locales like the cherry-tree-lined Main Street in Brevard, N.C.
See all 18 photos in our slide show.
Inspired to see the blossoms in person? Here are strategies for avoiding the crowds at the popular National Cherry Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. And check back soon for our roundup of the best festivals worldwide!
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Tours led by the homeless
There are many ways to tour a city—bike tours, duck tours, Segway tours (though after Segway's CEO plunged off a cliff to his death riding a Segway, I'm no longer sure that would be my first choice), self-guided auditory tours, tours led by historical figures…the list goes on. The advent of the internet and the ubiquitous smart phone apps (yes, there's an app for that), brought us the virtual tour. Virtual tours, such as the Google Art Project and interactive maps, let you tour museums, cities, and even Disney World from the comfort of your home. While I enjoy traditional tours as much as the next person, I'm always looking for a new (and cheap) way to see a city; something that allows me to view an area with a completely fresh set of eyes. So when I read about the Sock Mob Events' "Unseen Tours" and their unconventional tour guides, I was immediately intrigued. The London-based tour company offers four walking tours of the city. What sets these tours apart from other London offerings? They are led by trained homeless guides. That's right, guides who don't just know the city, but have experienced it from a completely different perspective than your average Londoner. Born from The Sock Mob, a volunteer network that seeks to engage with the homeless community and overcome stigmas associated with homelessness, Unseen Tours offers guided tours to popular London sites such as the London Bridge, and Old Street. The tours aim to provide visitors with an "unseen" look at London. Guides provide both historical information about the areas, as well as personal insights about the city gleaned from years of living on the streets. Tours cost £5 or £8, depending on your circumstances, and the majority of the proceeds is given to the guides. You can book tours in advance, or show up spontaneously—just look for the cardboard sign with the words Unseen Tours on it (very fitting). What do you think? Is this something you'd like to see in your city? Who (or what), in your opinion, makes the best tour guide? — Madeline Grimes More From Budget Travel: Naples: Ex-cons Hired to Help Tourists Confessions of a Rome Tour Guide 7 Most Dangerous Travel Jobs A DIY Project Runway Tour
10 of Our Favorite Girlfriend Getaways
The other day the topic of girlfriend getaways came up here at Budget Travel and it turns out that many of us here on staff have something fun on the horizon! Inspired by our upcoming girlfriend getaways, we decided to put together a slideshow of some of the destinations that we've either visited recently (or are planning on visiting). From Sonoma wine country to New Hampshire, join us on our girlfriend getaway photo tour. We hope our answers inspire you take a girlfriend getaway of your own or, if you already have one planned, tell us about it below. See more from Budget Travel: 11 Places You'd Rather Be Top 10 Beaches From the Movies 20 Spectacular Carnival Celebrations Around the World
The other blossoms worth celebrating
Cherry trees may take center stage in the spring (as the numerous festivals around the world demonstrate), but they're not the only woody perennials that paint the landscape with colorful, fragrant blossoms this time of year. Here are the other trees that we love when they're in bloom: Plum Blossom Trees Plum trees look surprisingly similar to cherry blossoms and, it turns out, are cause for celebration as well. According to CNN, the city of Nanjing in China started celebrating the blossoms in 1995. The celebrations continue to this day with performances by folk singers and dance troupes and are decidedly less popular (and therefore less crowded) than cherry blossom festivals. While plum trees originated in China, they're no longer unique to the country—you can find them in Japan too, which also celebrates the pink and white blossoms in the spring (check out the Kairakuen Plum Blossom Festival in Mito, Japan). These trees typically flower between late February and mid March. Apple Blossom Trees I don't know about you, but when I think about apple trees I think about, well, apples. Before that juicy red fruit appears, however, these trees come alive with a lacy filigree of small, pink flowers that slowly turn white before falling from the branches. You can appreciate these fragrant blooms from April to September. If you want to celebrate them, consider a trip to Winchester in Shenandoah Valley for their annual Apple Blossom Festival. For the past 84 years this Virginia town has been honoring their apple trees with live music, dances, parades, and a 10K race. This year's festivities take place from April 25 through May 1. Pear Blossom Trees Similar to apple blossoms, pear trees come alive with thousands of delicate, snow-white flowers in the spring. The blooms start to appear in early to mid April and can last for up to a month. A quick internet search revealed that the pear blossom receives special attention in at least one U.S. state—Oregon. On Saturday, April 9 the town of Medford, Oregon celebrates its pear trees as it has done for the past 54 years, with a Pear Blossom Festival Parade. The parade is, of course, a highlight, but the celebration also includes a series of dance competitions, food-and-wine pairings, and a street fair. Are there any other blossoms worth celebrating? Tell us below! See more from Budget Travel 18 Gorgeous Cherry Blossom Photos 26 Stunning Ireland Photos 11 Places You Want to Be Right Now
What do you collect on your travels?
Matchbooks. Maps. Seashells. Sand. Hotel-room key cards. Heck, even hotel shampoo. Some of the most collectible travel souvenirs don't cost a cent, but perfectly capture a memory of a place. When I was planning a recent trip to France to sniff out secret hotels of Paris for our February issue, I unearthed a Paris Métro map from the '90s, which I'd saved in a file folder of miscellaneous keepsakes. It may sound corny, but unfolding that map brought back such fond memories of my earliest trips to the city and that thrill of (self-)discovery that comes with exploring a new place on your own. (Speaking of sniffing, I've also always had a Proustian reaction to the scent of the Paris subway. Bizarre, I know, but at least I'm not alone in my public-transportation obsession.) What are your favorite freebies to pick up on a trip? Or does the thought of keeping stuff like this around send you into a de-cluttering frenzy? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Travelers reveal what's in their bags Airport lounge access for $17.50? American tests "tag-your-own-bag" system at Austin's airport