Updated July 9, 2020.
16 March 2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the National Cherry Blossom Festival events have been cancelled or postponed. The blossoms will come anyway, so not to worry! Drive yourself to the Tidal Basin or elsewhere in D.C., practice social distancing, bring hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes to wipe down any surfaces you may touch (such as railings, benches, door handles to restrooms, etc.), and enjoy the blossoms in the great outdoors. This will be the least crowded the Cherry Blossom Festival ever in D.C.!
Springtime is one of the most beautiful–and busiest!–times to be in D.C.! It can be kind of overwhelming: the famous cherry blossoms only bloom for a couple of weeks (and are only at peak for about three days!), the crowds can be unbelievable, and there are so many activities to choose from, how could you possibly pick?! So to help you plan and make the most of your springtime in D.C., I’ve pulled together this handy guide!
Why Are There Japanese Cherry Blossoms in D.C.?
One thing you’re probably wondering is… why? In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,020 cherry blossom trees to the City of Washington, D.C., to commemorate the friendship between the Japanese and American people. First Lady Nellie Taft and the Japanese Ambassador’s wife planted the first two alongside the Tidal Basin, and the rest were planted soon thereafter! For more, check out the history on the Arlington Tours website!
Know Before You Go
Preparation is the key to success in all things, but especially travel! Here are the essentials to know before you go:
1. All of D.C. Will Be Crowded
The most crowded areas will be the National Mall, Monuments, and especially the Tidal Basin. Nothing you can do about it; just pack your patience and be prepared for crowds!
2. Parking is Limited; Consider Taking Metro or a Rideshare
There is parking downtown, around the National Mall, and the Tidal Basin, but it is limited. Also, none of it is free! You may spend a lot of time looking for a parking spot, so if you’re able to walk, please consider taking Metro, Lyft, or Uber. Just be on the lookout for surge pricing on your ride share apps! If you do need to drive for any reason, check out this helpful article about parking from Visit Washington, D.C.
Pro Tip: Do not plan to drive the day of the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and 5K! Roads will be blocked and parking will be even more limited!
3. The “Peak Bloom Date” WILL Change
“Peak Bloom” refers to the three-day range when 90% of the trees in D.C. are blooming! But the first announced date will change. It just will. The late winter and early spring weather in D.C. can go from sunny to snowy, and temperatures can swing from teens to seventies in a matter of days! So the first announced prediction in late February or early March is rarely, if ever, correct.
The peak bloom dates can shift to be sooner or (more likely) later, so be as flexible with your dates as you can! If you can’t, no worries! There will still be blooms throughout March and April!
4. Pack Everything
Speaking of weather inconsistencies, you will want to pack for everything: heat, cold, snow, wind, and rain! I suggest a puffy coat that can be squished down to practically nothing, and layers to be pulled on and off as needed. Keep an eye on the forecast.
When is the Cherry Blossom Festival?
The dates for the Cherry Blossom Festival are usually the third weekend in March to the second weekend in April. For 2020, that’s March 20-April 12! There will be special events, activities, foods, and more throughout the whole festival.
What are the Activities?
If you’re a first-time visitor to the Cherry Blossom Festival, you may not know that there are many events across the three-week festival! So take a look at the schedule so you don’t miss a thing. Some of the most popular events open to all are:
- Lectures at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art
- The Opening Ceremony
- The Kite Festival
- Cultural Performances throughout the District
- National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
- Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival
- Cherry Blossom 10-miler and 5K
- Paddle Boats at the Tidal Basin
- And more! Check out all the events here!
Where is the Best Place for Photos of the Blossoms?
The best photographs will be anywhere… because the cherry blossoms are everywhere! Seriously, there is not a bad place for photos. But if you are looking for the iconic, uniquely D.C. spots, you’ll find them here:
- The Tidal Basin: You’ll find the best views of the Jefferson Memorial from all around the Tidal Basin. Walk all the way around to find your personal favorite spot!
- The National Mall: You will find beautiful shots of the monuments and memorials all across the National Mall. Don’t forget to turn south at the Lincoln Memorial so you don’t miss The Great War Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, FDR Memorial!
When is the Best Time to Photograph the Blossoms?
The best time will be early! As I mentioned above, D.C. will be crowded during the Cherry Blossom Festival, but if you can be there at sunrise or just after, you’ll have a good chance to see them without too many other people around. You’ll also get some of the best light for photos!
Want more about D.C.? You’ll find all my recommendations, tips, and itineraries on my Washington, D.C. Page!
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