Washington, D.C., welcomes the arrival of spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual tradition that showcases the beautiful gift of 3,000 cherry trees given to our nation's capital in 1912 by the city of Tokyo. This multi-week, city-wide festival features international cultural performances and other special events, like art exhibits to foodie gatherings. Blossoming cherry trees symbolize the arrival of spring and brighten the Tidal Basin area with vibrant pink and white flowers. It's the city's most beautiful time of the year, which, historically, makes it D.C.'s busiest tourist season, as well. If you are visiting from out of town, make hotel reservations far in advance to assure they don't sell out and utilize public transportation whenever you can to avoid parking issues.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival will take place March 20 through April 11, 2021, and will include virtual and in-person activities. Please check the event's website for up-to-date information.
Explore the Tidal Basin's Cherry Trees
People flock to the National Cherry Blossom Festival primarily to view the cherry trees located along the Tidal Basin. Experiencing the breathtaking views of the trees backdropped by the city's most iconic landmarks is a bucket list endeavor. Sharpen up your photography skills before you come, so you can post a few high-quality photos on your social media page. The best time to walk the Basin without crowds is in the early morning (this time of day also provides the best light for photos). And, the East side of the Tidal Basin (between the National Mall and the Jefferson Memorial) tends to get more congested as the day goes on.
For those who prefer to view the 2021 blossoms from home, the virtual Tidal Basin tour features a Bloom Cam.
Visit the Memorials on the Tidal Basin
Cherry blossom season is the prettiest of year to see the memorials and learn about the life and contributions of historical presidents and leaders. The Jefferson Memorial, in particular, resides at a prime spot on the Tidal Basin: Sitting on the steps, you can enjoy great views of the National Mall and the White House. Take a walk over to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial to revel in the park-like atmosphere with waterfalls and bronze statues that honor FDR, the iconic president. Next, follow the Tidal Basin to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, where you can pay tribute to the contributions of the most recognized civil rights leader in the United States. All of the memorials have National Park Service programs that provide insight into the historic sites.
Paddleboat the Tidal Basin
Rent a paddleboat for two or four passengers to enjoy spectacular views of the cherry trees and the monuments from the water. This gets you away from crowds and closer to nature, as you experience the serenity of floating on a man-made reservoir. Advanced reservations for paddleboats are recommended during the festival due to high demand, and you must be at least 16 years old to operate one without an adult. This fun family activity is a good way to entertain kids, while tiring them out at the same time.
Take a Guided Sightseeing Tour
Guided cherry blossom tours give a detailed account of what you are seeing, making your National Cherry Blossom Festival experience more holistic. However, they are popular, so it is helpful to plan ahead and book your tour in advance.
- See the capital's top sights by booking a guided city tour via trolley, Segway, bicycle, boat, or by foot. These tours, usually run by knowledgeable locals, will give you the details of every site you pass by.
- Take a free ranger-led cherry blossom walking tour with the National Park Service to learn about the history of the cherry blossom trees. Tours depart from the Tidal Basin Welcome Center, the Jefferson Memorial, and the FDR Memorial. The Park Service also offers Pups ‘n’ Petals Dog Walks and Lantern Tours.
- Enjoy spectacular views of the cherry blossoms from a boat. Cherry blossom cruises range from 40-minute sightseeing tours to a 2.5-hour dinner cruise.
Taste Cherry-Infused Food and Drink
During the National Cherry Blossom Festival, food purveyors throughout the city add cherries to many of their recipes, incorporating the fruit into everything from entrees to cocktails to desserts. Past menus have included a brie and prosciutto crostini with cherry chutney, Atlantic salmon with pistachio and dried cherry couscous, and a cherry and crispy goat cheese salad. You can also enjoy specialty cocktails like Pisco Macerado, a twist on the classic Pisco Sour with dried sour cherries.
Enjoy Japanese-Centric Presentations
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is not only a celebration of spring, but also a tribute to Japanese culture. Special events and performances feature Japanese art and history, as well as the longstanding friendship between the United States and Japan. On March 20, 2021, the virtual opening ceremony features performances from acclaimed artists with ties to both countries and will be co-hosted by Olympic Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi and co-presented by The Japan Foundation. Other virtual events include an online Japanese art tour and a film series remembering the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Attend Other Virtual Events
In addition to the opening ceremony, the festival will showcase several virtual events in 2021. Daily meditations are held virtually at lunchtime throughout the event. Family yoga and art workshops are also offered, with specific programs catered to classroom learners ages pre-K to grade eight. You can check out the Library of Congress' video series highlighting cherry blossom viewing over the centuries. Lastly, festival-goers can participate in a virtual 5K or 10-mile run. Sign up online and then complete your jaunt around your own neighborhood.