The annual Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival is just around the corner and DC By Foot has you covered with all the essential information about our city’s favorite festival.
Check out our Cherry Blossom Tours for the best way to see the blooms!
This year’s festival is March 20-April 15 2018 with the Parade on Saturday, April 14, 2018
When is peak Cherry Blossom bloom predicted? These beautiful flowers come at their own pace. The NPS won’t have a suggested predication date until March 01, and then it can often change based on weather.
How long do Cherry Blossoms last? The length of blooms depends highly on 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 actually turn the camera to Live until Spring so if you check too soon, you’ll just see the archived footage!)
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.
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 expects 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 WMATA website is a great way to estimate time and distance when traveling on the Metro.
Ride a bike
Capital Bikeshare offers 1 and 3 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. You can view all of the available commercial parking lots in the area and purchase a spot at one of them in advance through a website called Parking Panda. It can be pretty nice knowing that a parking spot is waiting for you during such a hectic event.
Take a Taxi/Uber
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.
So you want to know the best place to see the Cherry Blossoms? The pink and white flowering trees that you see on nearly every postcard of Washington DC are (some) of our famed Cherry Blossom trees. I, for one, was a little disappointed to discover they are not full of delicious cherries ripe for the plucking. However, 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.
In the age of Instagram selfies and the the perfect shot, however, you’ll be hard find pressed to get a photo that does not also include a hundred of your new closest friends. Let’s be honest. It gets crowded.
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.
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 good reason.
Want to know what you’re seeing? Take our Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin Walking Tour!
If you want to avoid the crowds without going off the beaten path, we have two suggestions:
Walking along the Tidal Basin leads to some beautiful photographic shots to document your visit to the blossoms.
Photograph the Best Place to See 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 allow 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.
The famed Cherry Blossom trees are the ones of the Tidal Basin – as the oldest and the most photographed. But they are not the only ones and in some views, aren’t the prettiest. Washington, DC in Spring is beautiful in part due to the number of cherry blossoms but also a variety of other flora and the pride city residents have in their individual neighborhoods.
Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms at the Capitol: The photo du jour in the Spring seems to be blossoms with a DC landmark. Nothing evokes the capital more than the Capitol! If you’ll be “on the Hill” anyways, take a stroll through Senate Park north of the Capitol Building. There is a gorgeous reflecting pool and fountain lined with Cherry Blossom trees. In fact most of the West Lawn of the Capitol also has a variety of Cherry Blossom trees so you’ll be able to get a great photo of the blooms up close surrounding the Capitol dome. This is a great thing to do before/after our Capitol Hill Tour.
Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms in Arlington National Cemetery: Besides being the hallowed ground to honor our fallen men and women, Arlington is also a level II arboretum. A fitting place for such beauty and serenity, a personal favorite is the Cherry Blossom tree along Crooks Walk, the set of stairs that connects Arlington House to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This solitary Cherry Blossom has limbs full of flowers set amongst the simple white marble headstones. It is a common bottleneck on our Arlington National Cemetery tours as folks stop for photos.
Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms in Georgetown: This historic neighborhood has had nearly 275 years to develop its beauty. Just like residents in most DC neighborhoods, Georgetown residents are responsibility not just for their yards but also the tree boxes along the sidewalk. You’ll see a variety of spring blooms, including another weeping Cherry Blossom on our Historic Georgetown tour.
Best Place to See the Cherry Blossoms in the Arboretum: The National Arboretum is here to share its flowers, trees, plants with us and it is beautiful all year round. In the Spring, you can find numerous variety of Cherry Blossom trees. They even have self guided tour booklet! It is about 3 miles so a bit lengthy for a walk, even if it is a gorgeous one. Personally, we like to do it on bike but you can drive through the Arboretum – just park in designated spots only.
Cherry Blossoms are fickle creatures – this past December 2015 the tree in my front yard 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.
There are over 200 events and performances, but here are some of our favorites.
Date: March 24, 2018
Time: 5 – 6:30 PM
Location: The Warner Theatre – 513 13th Street, NW (map)
Cost: FREE – There will be a $5 registration fee when tickets are claimed.
Note: Available to claim beginning at 10 AM on Friday, January 27
Date: Saturday April 15 2018
Location: Anacostia Park, Anacostia Drive & Good Hope Road SE (Map)
This year’s Anacostia River Festival celebrates biking. Activities include: trail rides, safety classes, quick bike tune ups and special bike activities for all ages. There will be pop-up stores and other unique programs engaging families with the river, its history and ecology.
Date: Saturday March 31, 2018
Time: 10 AM – 4:30 PM
Location: Washington Monument grounds – Constitution Avenue & 17th Street, NW (Map)
Date: Saturday, April 7, 2018
Time: 1 – 9:30 PM; Fireworks display 8:30 PM (weather permitting)
Location: The Wharf – 1100 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
Date: April 14, 2018
Time: 10 AM – Noon
Location: Constitution Avenue – From 7th to 17th Streets, NW (map)
Cost: Starting at $20 for Grandstand Seating. Standing along the Parade route from Constitution Avenue between 9th and 15th streets, NW is FREE and open to the public. Arrive early for the best views.
Tickets: Purchase Grandstand seats here.
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 affordable B&Bs in the city. and where to stay in Washington DC.