View of cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin on the National Mall
In early spring life begins to renew and green begins to emerge in the Washington D.C. metro area. Not too long after this begins to occur, the cherry blossoms in the region give signs they are about to make their appearance too. And before you know it, the blossoms begin to explode in various shades of pink and white.
This (in most years) means it is time for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival, which is held on the National Mall, with much of the activity taking place around the Tidal Basin, is a popular and highly-anticipated event for tourists and locals alike. The festival lasts approximately two to three weeks (it seems to be going longer than the traditional 16 days in recent years).
The National Cherry Blossom festival typically begins towards the end of March and runs until mid-April which tends to be the height of the season for the best viewing. Each year millions of people flock to the U.S. capital city from various regions to see these lovely blossoms and enjoy the many events designed to celebrate its occurrence. In addition to the events at the Tidal Basin, there are lots of other celebratory or commemorative events throughout the city.
Taken March 2016 during the peak - it was a windy day and it was "snowing"
History of the Festival
The annual festival celebrates and serves as a tribute and commemoration to the gift of 3,000 cherry trees given to the United States in 1912 by Mayor Yukio Ozaki from Japan. This beautiful gift was offered as a gesture to honor the ongoing good relations and friendship between the two countries. The yearly festival continues to celebrate this friendship and continued alliance.
Over the course of the festival there are many daily events, activities and performances spread out through the time frame. Highlights include an evening fireworks and a day parade. There are also many daily events, such as crafts and other fun activities for the kids. Every year the National Cherry Blossom Festival's official website puts out a calendar listing the specifically scheduled events at the festival and other ongoing events going on throughout the city. 1
Performers at the National Cherry Blossom Festival
Visitors who attend the festival can enjoy the beauty of the pink blossoms which are scattered along the Potomac River and throughout the grassy areas surrounding the National Mall in the heart of Washington. Some of the trees are very old and unique, and the thousands of blossoms are extraordinary.
As you can imagine, the appearance of the cherry blossoms is a very popular photography event. In my opinion, it is a photographer's dream. As you wander through the myriad of blossoms you'll see many photographers taking shots both near and far to try and capture the different angles of the breathtaking sights or to focus in and take some macros. Also, every year there is an artist who sets himself up in one of the grassy areas and paints what he sees, displaying his work for all to look at. It's amazing to see what types of scenes he's captured as he lays his canvases along the grass.
I usually try to get down during the week when it's a little less crowded, I find going at this time I have more opportunity to spend more time photographing the blossoms and the general area.
View of the Jefferson Memorial from across the basin
Planning Your Visit
This festival is an event that has evolved into a top tourist attraction each year and often coincides with spring break. Visitors planning a visit to Washington during the festival weeks should be prepared to expect large crowds and plan accordingly. If planning to stay in town, it is probably a good idea to do some research early and secure lodging (there are also options in nearby Arlington and other Virginia and Maryland suburbs that have easy access to a Metro station that will get you into town easily). Booking any desired regional tours early is probably also a good idea too. The museums on the National Mall are probably more crowded this time of year as well (I tend to visit the museums during off-peak times).
Every year I love to walk the full length around the Tidal Basin and see what different views can be seen. To date, 2013 was my favorite year for views, however peak views during 2015 were quite nice too.
Parking in the District can be difficult, even during off-peak times, and high traffic during the festival can be expected. If possible, try to use the Metro (also bound to be crowded! I can attest to this one) to navigate the city. If crowds are not desirable, you can try and plan to see the blossoms during the weekdays when the festival is less likely to draw the massive crowds, but since the big events take place on the weekend, you would miss out on these. To be honest I have yet to see the parade or fireworks, although one year I am just going to make plans to do it.
(Tip: Also, pay attention to what day the 10K race is happening as you cannot get to the Tidal Basin the straight-forward way. So close, yet so far! In 2015 we had to backtrack and circle back and get around the Washington Monument where the race ended in order to make our way down to the blossom festival).
If you enjoy the beauty of flowers, the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. are really something to see, if only once in your life. The splashes of pinks and whites that reach as far as the eye can see are truly stunning, especially at its peak. It should be noted, there are some years where the blossoms miss the festival by coming too early or too late, but the festival itself is still a good time. However, most years since I've been living in the area, there are blooms that do coincide with the festival.
[Related reading: 10 Places to See Outstanding Spring Blossoms]
Cherry blossom time is my favorite time of the year in the DC area.
Every year big crowds arrive to the Tidal Basin to view, photograph and sit under the pretty cherry blossoms. This photo was taken mid-day during the week (the weekends are a lot more crowded). The weather is usually gorgeous in the region this time of the year.
Most the of the official festival activity takes place down at the Tidal Basin, but you can find related cherry-blossom events throughout the District. A fun time of year!