Washington DC Cherry Blossoms: The Ultimate Guide To Visiting

The capital of the United States, is not only home to the highest branches of the government of the country as well as the renowned White House, but also some of the biggest tourist attractions in the country and the Washington DC cherry blossoms are perhaps one of the biggest draws of them all.

Visitors to America’s capital district during this time of the year will be treated to one of the most breathtaking sights of this city’s attractions, when beautiful pink and white blossoms fill the area around the Tidal Basin of the nation’s capital.

With over 3,000 cherry trees and over three weeks of events and special occasions to commemorate this unique and special view, visitors to the area will have plenty of opportunity to experience the magic and whimsy of the Washington DC cherry blossoms!

Washington DC cherry blossoms

Because this event is so incredibly popular, you will want to plan ahead and book your accommodations early so as not to miss out on the chance to experience this breathtaking sight for yourself.

You won’t be the only eager traveler visiting the capital to view the spectacle of the Washington DC cherry blossoms!

Washington DC Cherry Blossoms: The Ultimate Guide

Best tips for visiting during Cherry Blossom Season

  • the city is very crowded and traffic is busier than usual. Take the Metro if you can or carpool. 
  • Uber and Lyft are available if you don’t have a car and do not want to use the metro. 
  • if you want photos with no people in them, you will need to come early in the morning and aim for a day during the week. 
  • sunset cherry blossoms are best seen around the Tidal Basin
  • hotels DO sell out, so book in advance. You don’t have to stay in DC – you could stay anywhere on a Metro line for easy access, like Alexandria, Virginia (which is 10 minutes away).

History of the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms

Named after the first president of the United States, Washington DC was founded as the capital of the nation in 1791.

The land is under direct control of the United States Congress and is formed from land ceded to the government by surrounding states, making it unique in that it is not part of any state or local government and is in fact a unique and independent district formed for the purpose of acting as the seat of the three distinct branches of the federal government. 

cherry blossoms

Due in part to its political importance as well as its lengthy history as a district, Washington DC is a vibrant and cultural hub of the country.

In addition to the Washington DC cherry blossoms, there are also dozens of other important and unique sights to take advantage of during your visit, from the Lincoln Monument to the White House, the Smithsonian Museum and the Washington Monument, you will find so much packed into the mere 60 square miles of space that is the nation’s capital.

With such a wealth of things to see and do in such a small area, it should come as no surprise that over 20 million tourists visit annually!

During the three week period of the blooming of the Washington DC cherry blossoms, over one and a half million tourists flood the streets and parks of the capital to admire this breathtaking spectacle.

Starting around mid to late March and extending through the middle of April, spring in the capital brings with it the blooming of these trees, almost all of which were brought to the United States directly from Japan in 1912.

These trees were gifted on behalf of Tokyo as a gesture of good will to represent the growing alliance and good relationship between Japan and the United States during this period of the nation’s history. 

Even prior to this act of international goodwill, cherry blossoms were an important part of Washington DC’s growth and appeal.

As early as 1885, a prominent Washington DC socialite returned from a trip to Japan with the idea to fill the streets and avenues of the city with these brilliant and aromatic blooms.

After purchasing and planting a number on her own and hosting events surrounding the celebration of these beautiful blooms, the idea began to gain traction among the higher echelons of the government branches, resulting in the purchase and donation of hundreds of trees to schools and plant on personal property throughout the region as an Arbor Day celebration.

So many were enamored with this woman’s idea that she made the decision to write to the First Lady, wife of the newly elected President Taft, with a proposal to raise funds through charitable donations to plant almost one thousand trees along an area of the Tidal Basin known as the Speedway.

It was purely by chance that a friend of the Japanese consul to New York City was able to overhear this conversation and propose to those of the government in Japan the idea of donating the trees for the purpose of celebrating the goodwill and friendship between the two nations.

The donation took place shortly thereafter, but these trees are not the ones you will see if you visit the Washington DC cherry blossoms today.

The shipment of trees originally donated arrived filled with insects and disease that could pose a risk to American crops and farmers. The trees were burned, much to the chagrin of everyone involved. Hearing of the devastating news, the Japanese ambassador made a pledge to donate 3,000 more trees for the purpose.

These trees, the ones on display now, came from a grove of famous Japanese cherry blossom trees and arrived in the nation’s capital on March 26, 1912, and were planted during an official ceremony on March 27, a date which is now celebrated as the official start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. 

When to see the Cherry Blossoms

The Washington DC cherry blossoms bloom during a three to four week period that usually starts around mid March and goes through the middle of April.

Washington DC cherry blossoms

While the trees will generally begin blooming throughout the course of this time period, most travelers eager to see this magical spectacle usually try to plan their visit for the “peak bloom” period.

The peak bloom is classified as the period where at least 70% of the cherry trees are in full bloom.

A number of factors come into play when trying to calculate when the peak bloom will occur. Scientists and enthusiasts alike have over a hundred years of records and data to use when trying to determine exactly when the peak bloom will occur, but as with most natural phenomenon, it is always difficult to predict exactly when something as spectacular as the blooming of the Washington DC cherry blossoms will occur.

Given the wealth of information available, the average date of the peak bloom in the nation’s capital is April 4th, but this date is merely an average of all the dates prior and can often range from as early as the end of March to as late as the second week of April.

Because forecasting the blooming of flowers, exact expectations of when the peak will occur are nearly impossible to determine with any certainty up to about seven to ten days prior to it happening. 

Warm winters can result in an earlier bloom and harsher winters or dry conditions can lead to a later bloom, but given that the average date usually falls at or around April 4th, this can be a good date to aim for when planning your travels to see the Washington DC cherry blossoms.

The blooming period of the cherry trees is generally two weeks long, from the first few buds to the last falling petals, but regardless of where your trip falls within this period of the blossoming of the trees, the sight is sure to be a miraculous one!

Starting sometime around March 27th, usually the weekend prior to this date, the National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off with a grand ceremony that starts the three to four week long event.

Throughout this event, you will be able to take advantage of plenty of exciting things to see and do all throughout the Washington DC area. From the famous “pink tie party” fundraiser to the Blossom Kite Festival, you will find a robust and culturally inspire itinerary of things to do that celebrates the unique culture and customs of both Americans and Japanese. 

Concerts and performances occur all throughout the event, most notably at the Petalpalooza, which commemorates the event with fireworks and street fairs.

Parades travel through the streets, complete with an arsenal of floats, marching bands and large balloons, much like a springtime version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A Japanese street fair brings the cultural heritage of Japan to life in the streets of the nation’s capital, a testament to the gift given by the Japanese to the United State over a century ago. 

Initiatives to involve more of the community over the last decade has resulted in an arsenal of events and activities that span throughout the entire city, at last count boasting over 50 unique events and programs for visitors and locals of all ages.

Be sure to research the extensive itinerary ahead of time, as well as the early estimates of the peak bloom period, so that you can plan your travels to best optimize your experience with the Washington DC cherry blossoms!

Sunset around the Tidal Basin

Where to see the DC Cherry Blossoms

While the Tidal Basin cherry trees are by far the most popular and prolific of the Washington DC cherry blossoms, there are a number of options available throughout the entire capital district to view the blooms.

The Tidal Basin trees are accessible by bike or foot from a number of nearby metro and bus stations, none of which are more than a ten minute walk and located near popular and iconic attractions such as the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. 

tidal basin

Tidal Basin

Another popular option for visitors looking to view the Washington DC cherry blossoms is the National Mall, also renowned for the many famous attractions located within.

While walking the entire National Mall is a time consuming trek, bikes are easily rented from multiple kiosks and rental stations in and around the area. The metro station is located just ten minutes away at the Smithsonian Museum and bus loops travel the circumference of the National Mall, taking you to stops at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Just a few minutes walk from the National Mall is the East Potomac Park, another picturesque spot for taking in not only the breathtaking views of the capital of the United States but also the numerous vibrant cherry blossoms.

Washington DC cherry blossoms

If you would prefer to avoid the massive throngs of eager tourists crowding the most popular locations to view the Washington DC cherry blossoms, there are numerous options for less crowded enjoyment of the trees.

Stanton Park is located near Capitol Hill and while it can still be quite busy during the peak bloom season, this area provides a somewhat quieter experience as you stroll through the park and admire the many blooming cherry trees found within.

For an even more intimate and curated experience, the United States National Arboretum is located on the outskirts of the city and features over 400 acres of pristine landscaping with roughly 30 different scenic opportunities to experience the wonder of the cherry blossoms in spring.

Washington DC cherry blossoms

Given the fact that it isn’t located within the city center proper, it is much less crowded and overrun by eager tourists, making it a perfect and idyllic spot to picnic and take in the breathtaking blooms in relative peace. 

The marvel of the Washington DC cherry blossoms have been a mainstay of the spring season in America’s capital for well over a hundred years and the fanfare and excitement over this special moment has been increasing every year since its beginning.

With over one and a half million visitors annually, this breathtaking natural spectacle is beloved by travelers and locals alike, celebrated over the course of many weeks during the spring season.

With the occasion being so special and enjoyed by so many, you will want to plan ahead to ensure that you get to experience the magic of the Washington DC cherry blossoms yourself.

Washington DC cherry blossoms

While the ability to predict the peak bloom is nearly impossible ahead of time, no matter when you visit during the period between the end of March and the middle of April, you will be sure to experience the wonder of the nation’s beloved cherry blossoms.

Once you do, you will understand why so many return year after year to marvel at this natural wonderland of pink and white blooms!

 

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Washington DC Cherry Blossoms

 

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