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Know Before You Go: Experiencing Cherry Blossom Season in Washington DC

Kick off springtime in the nation's capital with an abundance of blooms.

Cherry blossom season in DC
Hi, I'm Jamie!

Jamie Davis Smith is an attorney, writer, and mother of four who lives in Washington, DC. She can be reached at jamiesmithwrites@gmail.com.

Every spring, Washington DC is covered in a canopy of pink when the city’s iconic cherry trees blossom. For more than 100 years, the city has celebrated the blooming of the trees—and the events, parties, and exhibitions that ring in the season are livelier than ever. Here are our tips to make the most of visiting DC to see the cherry blossoms.

What’s the history of the cherry blossoms in Washington DC?

Visitors admire the cherry blossoms in Washington DC.
Washington's cherry blossoms originated as a gift from Japan.Foto: f11photo / Shutterstock

It’s a tale of two cities.

In Japan, the arrival of cherry blossoms each spring has been celebrated for more than a millennium. According to the Nationa Park Service, In 1909, First Lady Helen Herron Taft, who had lived in Japan, helped submit a plan to plant cherry trees in Washington DC. When Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki heard about the plan, he donated over 3,000 cherry trees to the city as a sign of friendship.

On March 12, 1912, Taft, along with Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, each planted a tree on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. And while thousands of trees have joined them since, the original two cherry blossom trees, are still standing. You can see them on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, west of the John Paul Jones Memorial, marked by a large bronze plaque commemorating the occasion.

When is cherry blossom season in Washington DC?

Cherry blossoms and the Capitol building in DC
Depending on the weather, cherry blossoms can start blooming in DC as early as March.Foto: Orhan Cam / Shutterstock

There are six weeks of flower power.

Cherry blossom season in DC typically runs from mid-March through the end of April. Some blossoms start to fall within a few days of blooming, while others may last up to two weeks. The Washington DC area also has several different varieties of cherry blossom trees that bloom at different times, some before “peak bloom” (see below) and some after. That means it’s likely you will see cherry blossoms if you visit any time from the middle of March through April.

The good news is, that first-time visitors likely won’t even notice a difference between peak bloom and the trees’ appearance a week earlier or later. That means you shouldn’t be concerned if your visit isn’t perfectly timed or if peak bloom changes unexpectedly after you book your trip. If that feels too left up to chance for you, you can always follow the National Cherry Blossom Festival's Cherry Blossom forecast for a more accurate bloom status.

Did you know? It’s illegal to touch or pick the cherry blossoms, so hands off!

When is “peak bloom?”

Young child and blooming cherry blossom tree
DC's cherry blossom "peak bloom" typically occurs in April.Foto: LightGenny / Shutterstock

It can be early April, but it varies …

It is notoriously difficult to predict “peak bloom,” aka the day when 70 percent of DC’s cherry trees are flowering. Each year the National Park Service launches ”Bloom Watch” makes a prediction about when peak bloom will occur—but the timing is largely dependent on weather conditions, so an unexpected cold snap or a couple of warm days can easily change when it happens. It’s not unusual for the prediction to be off by several days, either. The earliest recorded peak bloom occurred on March 15, 1990, and the latest peak bloom recorded was on April 18, 1958.

Did you know? The average day of peak bloom is April 4, but since this varies widely from year to year, it’s best to check when peak bloom is predicted before booking a trip.

Where are the best places to view cherry blossoms in Washington DC?

Cherry blossoms and the National Mall, Washington DC
The National Mall is one of the top spots to see the blooms but there are other noteworthy spots, too.Foto: eurobanks / Shutterstock

In short, blooms abound on the National Mall.

For stunning views of thousands of cherry blossom trees, head to the National Mall and walk the 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) loop around the Tidal Basin. Elsewhere on the Mall, there are small clusters of cherry blossoms near the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. For great photo ops, head to the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

The National Mall gets very crowded during peak cherry blossom season. Early birds who arrive around sunrise will have the best chance of avoiding crowds and taking photos without lots of people in the background. Seeing the blossoms glow in the warm light of early morning is another reward of getting there early.

Insider tip: Rent a pedal boat on the Tidal Basin for fantastic views of the cherry blossoms from a different (and less crowded) perspective.

Where can I avoid crowds and still experience the cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms in East Potomac Park, Washington DC
East Potomac Park has cherry blossoms and is generally less crowded.Foto: Irina Silayeva / Shutterstock

There are locations without the crowds.

More than 1.5 million visitors come to see the Washington DC cherry blossoms. While one of the best cherry blossom spots is the National Mall, there are several good viewing locations off the Mall for those who want to avoid the crowds. The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, the US National Arboretum, the Hains Point trail in East Potomac Park, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor are all great alternative viewing sites.

Insider tip: Take a ferry ride from National Harbor to Old Town Alexandria or Georgetown for unique views of the blossoms.

What's the best way to go to the cherry blossom sites?

Washington DC metro train, station interior
Washington DC's metro is the easiest (and least expensive) way to get around.Foto: Lux Blue / Shutterstock

The metro is a great way to go.

Parking spots around the National Mall are scarce during the peak cherry blossom bloom. Taking public transportation or using a rideshare service are the best ways to go. The closest metro stops to the National Mall are Union Station and the Smithsonian.

Insider tip: Download the SmartTrip app before you arrive to make taking public transportation easier.

Where can I eat nearby?

People picnicking in Washington DC in cherry blossom season.
Enjoying a picnic under the cherry blossom blooms is a great way to extend your experience.Foto: Kit Leong / Shutterstock

Consider a picnic lunch, or a cherry blossom tea.

There aren’t any standalone restaurants on the National Mall, which can make grabbing a bite while seeing the cherry blossoms challenging. If you want to eat on the National Mall, plan on packing a picnic (glass containers and alcohol are prohibited) or grabbing a hot dog or slice of pizza from one of the many food trucks along the perimeter. Each of the Smithsonian Museums on the Mall has a restaurant or café, and since admission to the museums is free, it’s possible to go in just for lunch.

For more choices, check out the restaurants and a food court in nearby Union Station, or walk to Downtown DC. The historic Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria offers a cherry blossom–themed tea annually, and is a great way to end a morning of cherry blossom viewing. Many other restaurants and hotels offer special cherry blossom teas, cocktails, and meals during cherry blossom season, too, so it’s worth looking into a few of these (and reserving ahead) before you go.

What is the National Cherry Blossom Festival?

National Cherry Blossom Festival sign.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival began in 1912 and is still going strong.Foto: Kit Leong / Shutterstock

Parties, family activities, and performances are all part of the fun.

Every year, Washington DC hosts a massive Cherry Blossom Festival with a combination of free and paid events that take place throughout cherry blossom season. While the events vary from year to year, there is usually a parade, a “pink tie” opening night party, a kite festival, family events, Japanese cultural performances, and more. The festival includes Artechouse’s annual immersive cherry blossom–themed exhibit, which is always spectacular. Some DC residents get into the cherry blossom spirit and decorate their porches with elaborate pink decorations, so it’s worth taking a walk around the city’s neighborhoods to take a look, too.

Where should I stay during cherry blossom season?

Waldorf Astoria DC
The Waldorf Astoria has an unbeatable location.Foto: Phil Pasquini / Shutterstock

Explore different ways to enhance your cherry blossom trip.

Many hotels offer cherry blossom packages, which may include themed rooms and cherry blossom–inspired meals. The Salamander DC, a 10-minute walk to the Tidal Basin, boasts great views of the cherry blossoms and has six cherry trees of its own on the lawn.

Meanwhile, the Waldorf Astoria is a 2-minute walk to the National Mall, with an unbeatable location for viewing the blossoms; and the Morrow Washington DC, Curio Collection by Hilton (a 10-minute ride or 30-minute walk to the National Mall) offers an annual cherry blossom package. While the options vary from year to year, past packages have included a picnic lunch curated by a Michelin-starred chef, the ability to “adopt a tree” to support cherry blossom conservation efforts, and metro passes.

Frequently asked questions

Cherry blossom trees line the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.
The cherry blossom trees are a huge draw for visitors to Washington DC in the spring.Foto: Yeon Choi / Unsplash

Everything you need to know about experiencing cherry blossom season in Washington DC.

  • How many cherry trees are in Washington DC today? There are about 3,800 cherry trees in Washington DC.
  • How many species of cherry trees are in Washington DC? There are 12 species of cherry trees in Washington DC, the most common of which is the Yoshino.
  • Is there an entrance fee to see the cherry blossoms? No, there is no fee to view the cherry blossoms. However, some events during the National Cherry Blossom Festival may have associated costs.
  • Are there guided tours available for cherry blossom viewing? Yes, there are often guided tours available, along with boat tours to see the cherry blossoms on the Potomac River that offer unique views of the blossoms.

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