The Only Cherry Blossom Festival Guide & Map You Need [2021]

This post covers everything you need to know about the Cherry Blossom Festival for 2021. Since most of the festival will be virtual this year, we’ve included information on how to watch it from home. You’ll also find a self guided Cherry Blossom tour, including how to get there, the best places to view the blossoms and events.

Check out our Cherry Blossom Tours for the best way to see the blooms – private tours, self guided audio tours and virtual tour options! 

 

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When is the 2021 Cherry Blossom Festival?

Many events for the 2021 Cherry Blossom Festival have been moved online and we don’t recommend you try to travel to see them, so we’ve have been creating virtual tours and 360 videos for you to enjoy from.

The festival has been moved online for 2021 with events from March 20 to April 11, 2021. Find out more below.

Cherry Blossom Photos 2020

When is peak Cherry Blossom bloom predicted? These beautiful flowers come at their own pace. For 2021, the official prediction from NPS is April 2-5, 2021 – but be warned, this can change! The Capitol Weather Gang has it a bit earlier and NBC Weather team has it a bit later! 

How long do Cherry Blossoms last? The length of blooms depends highly on the weather where a slight frost or heavy thunderstorm can cause the trees to lose their blooms overnight. There are a lot of cherry blossoms trees that bloom before and after peak bloom all over the city.

Want up to the date information? Have a peek at the NPS BloomCam. (don’t be surprised if you see bright pink flowers in the depth of Winter – they don’t turn the camera to Live until Spring so if you check too soon, you’ll just see the archived footage!)

 


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What is the history behind the Cherry Blossom Festival?

In 1912, 3,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees were given to the city of Washington, DC from the Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo as a token of lasting fellowship and peace.

Most of the original trees were planted around the Tidal Basin, a small man-made reservoir adjacent to the National Mall.

The number of trees has since grown to 3,750, and they are now of 16 varieties. Today, we celebrate that gift and the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan by celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival.

There are a few gnarly trees along Hains Point that are thought to be part of a 1910 shipment that was the original gift. Unfortunately, this shipment arrived full of disease and bugs and had to be burned.

A few were saved for study, and these 12 might be the oldest Cherry Blossom trees.

The first two trees planted from the 1912 shipment are still standing. Planted by First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador on March 27, 1912, you can see them along the water where 17th St SW ends.

There is a small plaque to mark the spot.


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How to get to the Cherry Blossom Festival?

According to National Park Service, over 1.5 million people are expected to come to DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival, which means you should expect lots of crowds and traffic around the National Mall. Parking near the Tidal Basin is extremely limited, so we suggest you travel by Metro.

The closest stations are Smithsonian (orange, silver, and blue lines) and Federal Triangle (orange, silver and blue). 

Here are some tips on traveling to the National Mall and Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Take the Metro

As parking is limited and traffic is certain to be heavy, using public transport is the best way to get to and from the National Mall. The nearest stations are Smithsonian (orange/blue) and Federal Triangle (orange/blue).

If you dread the thought of squeezing in on a crowded train, consider getting off at one of the stations that are slightly farther, but still a walkable distance, from the National Mall: Archives (yellow/green); Metro Center (red/orange/blue); Foggy Bottom (orange/blue). 

The Trip Planner feature on the WMATA website is a great way to estimate time and distance when traveling on the Metro.

Ride a bike

Capital Bikeshare offers 1 and three day passes for guests to the city.

There are many stations on and along the National Mall and Tidal Basin, making this a convenient way to travel during the busy season.

However, keep in mind that though you are allowed total access to the bikes with one of these passes, using a bike for more than 30 minutes at a time will incur additional trip fees. Check out their website for additional information.

Parking near the National Mall

Not for the feint of heart! As we’ve mentioned, parking is extremely limited, especially during the Cherry Blossom Festival. There is some parking at Hains Point, though spaces fill quickly (Note: A $1 shuttle will run from Hains Point to the Tidal Basin during the festival.

Reserve parking in advance in a garage near the tour’s starting point through SpotHero. This service enables drivers to compare prices and locations of area garages and book a guaranteed spot ahead of time.

Street parking in the area is extremely limited. It can be pretty nice knowing that a parking spot is waiting for you during such a hectic event.

Take a Taxi/Ube/Lyft

There will be an abundance of taxis available near the National Mall. If all of the above options sound too complicated or tiresome, treat yourself to a cab or hail an Uber/Lyft.


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Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms

So you want to know the best place to see the Cherry Blossoms? These hybrid trees are grown specifically for their beauty and during peak bloom, they do not disappoint.

 

 

How long do Cherry Blossoms last? That depends entirely on the weather! A chilly night or strong storm can cause the trees to lose their blooms, but we’ll tell you below all about how to time your visit.

Though the most photographed spots are along the Tidal Basin, they are not the only ones. Use our guide to find some of the best places and best times to view the Cherry Blossoms.

Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms


Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms On the National Mall/Tidal Basin

Be warned; you’ll be there with lots of other people. Sometimes, though, this makes it all the more photogenic. From engagement shoots and wedding poses, families and pets, you get to be part of some of the most memorable photos of another.

You’ll find the most people along the Tidal Basin. The Tidal Basin has a sidewalk that borders the water the nearly wraps around the edge of entire thing featuring the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, George Mason Memorial, and Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The trees here line the sidewalk along the water, and you can walk amongst them making them popular for a good reason.

Want to know what you’re seeing? Take our Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin Walking Tour!

PLEASE NOTE: Both the city of Washington DC and the National Park Service are recommending NOT going to the Tidal Basin for 2021 season. The sidewalks are narrow and it is hard to stay distanced. If you MUST see them on the Basin, we recommend weekday mornings. Be warned, the NPS has not released protocols for 2021 and they may decide to close the area.

WE HAVE A CHERRY BLOSSOM TOUR THAT IS OFF THE BASIN! Join us for a walking tour that still sees the trees and special Cherry Blossom art at the Wharf – without the crowds. 

If you want to avoid the crowds without going off the beaten path, Best Place to See the Cherry Blossomswe have two suggestions:

  • Go a little further. If you venture off the sidewalk along the water and past the George Mason Memorial along Ohio Drive and the Potomac you’ll come across a few other groves of blossoms that have just as much beauty and a few less people. If you want to do the whole thing, it is a 4.1-mile loop, but you’ll see much more variety than the Tidal Basin. Use the NPS Hains Point Loop Guide to know what you’re looking at!
  • Go in the water! You can rent a paddle boat to take out on the basin to get a different perspective – and a bit of fun! Just be careful with your camera.

Walking along the Tidal Basin leads to some beautiful photographic shots to document your visit to the blossoms.

BEST INSTAGRAM SHOTS OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS:

Best Shot 1: One of the most popular images is of low hanging branches full of blooms with the Jefferson Memorial in the distance.  The sidewalk alongside the MLK Memorial has some of the best shots of Jefferson in the distance.

 

 

Best Shot 2: A key reason to place the trees along the Tidal Basin was the reflection in the water. Though the water is filled with creatures, the occasional log, and tourists (on paddle boats) and there is a small current, the water often has great reflections. Especially if come in the morning before the paddle boats hit the water. The sidewalk between the MLK and FDR Memorials has a nice curve that allows you to catch a nice view of the reflections.

Best Shot 3: There are two ways to catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument framed by blossoms: wide angle and close up. Being the tallest structure in the city, you can see the Monument from just about everywhere. If you want a grand view of the blossoms lined up along the water with the Monument jutting out of the top – you can do that from anywhere along the Tidal Basin sidewalk! A popular spot is the bridge between the FDR and Jefferson Memorial.

 

 

…but the Tidal Basin isn’t the only place to see Cherry Blossoms. In honor of the centennial celebration, Japan gifted the city an additional 100 cherry blossoms that have been planted around the Washington Monument. They are not right at the base but close enough and in a few groves that you can get some beautiful shots of the blossoms look up at the Monument in the background.

Not a Real Shot: There are no Cherry Blossom trees by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. It’d be a lovely photo, and it is a frequent question.


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Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms Off the Beaten Path

The famed Cherry Blossom trees are the ones of the Tidal Basin. But they are not the only ones and in some views, aren’t the prettiest.

  1. Hains Point
  2. US Capitol
  3. Arlington Cemetery
  4. National Arboretum

Read our whole post about alternatives to the Tidal Basin to view Cherry Blossom…


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When to View the Cherry Blossoms:

Cherry Blossoms are fickle creatures – in some recent Decembers, trees bloomed because it had been so warm. They are greatly affected by weather for both when the bloom and for how long as there is no way to tell for sure. Even the National Park Service expert on the trees won’t predict peak blooms until March 01.

The trees usually reach peak bloom the first week in April, but in the last five years, they have come early and late. Since most people need a little more notice to plan their trip than can be guaranteed, the best we can offer is when to view the blossoms once you’re already here.

  • Too Early to see the Cherry Blossoms? – Try the Indicator Tree

There is one tree by the Jefferson Memorial that always blooms a week before the rest – this is how we “know” that it is about time. Got to DC too early – go check out this tree. At least you can see one blossom before you go! You’ll find the tree along Where to view the Cherry Blossomsthe path on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial side of the bridge over the Tidal Basin — Washington Channel. This is the bridge closer to the city. The tree is growing next to a holly tree and has a sign to indicate which tree is the indicator tree.

  • Missed the Chance to see the Cherry Blossoms?Try the Kwanzan Blossoms on Hains Points

They historically bloom two weeks after the main blossoms on the Tidal Basin but are just as pretty. If you venture off the Tidal Basin sidewalk along the water and past the George Mason Memorial along Ohio Drive and the Potomac you’ll come across a few. Try to get there in the afternoon for the best light.

  • Here for Peak Bloom but Too Many People? – Go at Sunrise

A quieter and potentially more beautiful time to view the blossoms. You’ll see plenty of photographers but you’ll get there before most of the crowds. If you’re on the basin, the Jefferson Memorial is on the eastern side if you want to place yourself for sunrise.


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Which Cherry Blossom Festival events should not be missed?

There are over 200 events and performances, but here are some of our favorites.

Many of the Cherry Blossom Festival events have been made virtual for 2021.

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Opening Ceremony – ONLINE

Date: March 20, 2021
Time:  6pm

Watch performers from DC and Japan celebrate the beginning of the festival. While it is free, you do need to reserve online – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2021-national-cherry-blossom-festival-opening-ceremony-registration-138886458135

  • Cherry Blossom Festival Kite Festival 

Date: Saturday, March 27-28, 2021
Where:
Your backyard!

While the view may not be the same as flying a kite next to the Washington Monument, you can still join in this tradition from home.

Register now for free through March 27, 2021.REGISTER HERE

The first 100 people to register will receive a 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival Collectible Lapel Pin! All participants who register will receive first access to virtual workshops and demos. Register by March 15 to add-on an official National Cherry Blossom Festival kite and limited edition Blossom Kite Fly t-shirt!

  • Art in Bloom

Date: Starting March 20

Search for 20 cherry blossom sculptures around Washington DC. Local and national artists will have artwork around the city. Find them for a change to win prizes by tagging @CherryBlossFest on Instagram and Twitter.

Don’t want to leave your house to find them – we are heading out on Saturday March 20 and Sunday March 21 to find them all – find us on Instagram @topthingstododc and Facebook to follow along.

  • Petal Porch & Parade

Date: March 20, 2021 through April! 

DC Residents will decorate their porches in the theme of Cherry Blossoms, pink and springtime. Drive around to visit them all.

Don’t want to leave your house to find them – we’ll have a virtual tour video of some of our favorites on our YouTube Channel – www.youtube.com/

On April 10 & 11, 2021 artist decorated vehicles will drive around DC to some of the most heavily decorated neighborhoods! 

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

This has been cancelled for 2021. Instead there will be a virtual celebration.

On April 9, 2021, tune in for a special virtual celebration. An hour long virtual party with singing, dancing, and a love letter to the cherry blossoms. 


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Where to stay for the Cherry Blossom Festival?

There are a number of designated Cherry Blossom Festival Hotels featured on the festival’s official website. Don’t find what you’re looking for? Check out our post on and where to stay in Washington DC.


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About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.