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Cherry Blossom Festival

cherry blossoms in bloom along the potomac river

First Timer’s Guide to the DC Cherry Blossom Festival

Spring is a favorite time of year for many, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Washington DC. For our nation’s capital, spring signifies the arrival of more than just milder weather. This season marks the blooming of the magnificent cherry blossom trees, creating a vibrant spectacle of gorgeous pink flowers. If you’re planning a visit to DC in the springtime, you’ll be vacationing at just the right time to witness the beauty of the cherry blossoms and participate in the many events surrounding their arrival. 

Here is a brief history of this popular event and details about what’s in store for the 2016 National Cherry Blossom Festival.

History of the Festival

tidal basin in Washington DCHumble Beginnings, 1912

As an annual celebration, the Cherry Blossom Festival began from humble beginnings. Small ceremonies took place to commemorate the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The first ceremony, which took place on March 27, 1912, was simply the planting of the first two trees from Japan by then First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador. Each year since, the United States and Japan have exchanged gifts, including flowering dogwood trees from the US to the people of Japan in 1915.

The First Lady’s Involvement

Every year since First Lady Taft’s involvement, it has been a tradition for the First Lady to be involved in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. All First Ladies have been proponents of the festival, serving as honorary chairs, taking part in planting ceremonies and greeting guests at opening ceremonies.


DC school children re-enacted the initial planting and other activities, holding the first real festival in 1927.


DC civic groups helped to expand the festivities in 1935.


The Cherry Blossom Festival expanded to a two week event to accommodate the ever changing blooming schedule of the cherry trees.


The 100th year anniversary of the original gift from Japan was celebrated with a 5 week celebration.


Today, the Cherry Blossom Festival encompasses four weekends and draws more than 1.5 million people.

Best Places to See &
Photograph the Cherry Blossoms

Jefferson Memorial

Just across the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial provides an ideal vantage point to view and photograph the beautiful flowers.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Surrounded by some of the newest cherry blossom trees that were planted in 2011, this striking monument is not only a sight you shouldn’t miss while in DC, it’s perfect for capturing the gorgeous pink blossoms.

Japanese Lantern

An iconic lantern that was carved to honor the Third Shogun of the Tokugawa period, the Japanese Lantern is lit each year by the Cherry Blossom Princess who represents the Embassy of Japan. The lantern is a twin of the Tokyo Temple’s lantern. This is a perfect spot to photograph the blossoms and this unique site.

Tidal Basin Paddle-boats

The perfect way to enjoy the Tidal Basin and the magnificent cherry trees! Rent a two or four person paddle-boat and pedal out for panoramic views and awesome pictures.

Festival Events

washington-dc-cherry-blossomsA City in Celebration

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival takes place every year throughout the city of Washington DC. A celebration of the gift of the cherry trees and our country’s friendship with Japan, the festival features hundreds of events and activities that span two weeks and includes parades, concerts, art and much more. This year’s festival will take place from March 20 to April 17.

The Opening Ceremony

This year’s kick-off to the Cherry Blossom Festival will take place on March 26 at the Warner Theatre. World-famous performers will entertain guests from 5-6:30pm. Tickets are free and are required to attend.

Blossom Kite Festival

One of the festival’s most popular events, the Kite Festival celebrates spring and 50 years of kite flying on the National Mall. This special event takes place on the grounds of the Washington Monument from 10am – 4:30pm. It’s a great opportunity to witness the wonder and creativity of kite makers and the skill of fliers from all over the United States and other countries. There are demonstrations, contests and more. Guests are invited to bring their own kites and kids can make a kite at one of the activity stations.

The Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival

Taking place on the Southwest Waterfront, this signature event is also a favorite among visitors and locals alike. The fun begins at 1pm when performers take the stage in a variety of music and dance presentations. Outdoor family-friendly activities are a plenty, including face painting, games, hands-on activities and more. There’s food, drinks and spectacular fireworks to end the day.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

A longstanding tradition, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade is a colorful, energetic and elaborate event that people of all ages look forward to each year. This year’s parade will take place on April 16 from 10am-12pm. Helium balloons, marching bands, celebrity entertainers and performers will delight the crowds for 10 blocks along Constitution Avenue from the National Mall to the Washington Monument. Grandstand seats are $20 and viewing from Constitution Avenue between 9th and 15th Streets is free. Get there early to get the best view!

Anacostia River Festival

In its second year, this signature Cherry Blossom Festival event will take place on April 17 from 1-5pm. To celebrate connecting people to the city’s parks, the festival will include a myriad of activities that engage families with the Anacostia River. From kayaking, boating and fishing workshops to hands-on art, music, bike parades and others, this is an event for people of all ages.

Family Day

Another event to celebrate connecting people to Washington DC’s parks, Family Day will feature interactive activities to showcase how people can appreciate green spaces all over the world. Taking place on March 26 from 9am – 5pm at the National Building Museum, this event is free. Here, you will enjoy playing bocce or flying a kite, learn about Zen gardens and discover the elements of landscape architecture and design.

Cherry Blast

A celebration of Japanese culture, the annual Cherry Blast brings together sights, sounds and tastes of Japan in an evening of fun and excitement. Taking place at Carnegie Library on April 16 from 6pm – 2am, guests can partake in a range of activities from manga and gaming to creative cosplay contests and witnessing the latest Japanese fashion trends. Delicious food, sake tastings and sushi workshops, a Japanese inspired dance party and more make this an evening not to be forgotten.

Getting Around the City

trolley-welcome-centerHop Aboard Old Town Trolley

There is so much to see, do and participate in during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s a good idea to take advantage of the convenience of the Old Town Trolley. While on the trolley tour, you’ll be transported all over the city, including most of the spots where the festivities will be taking place. And because you can get off and on as often as you wish, you can relax and enjoy the events and simply catch the next trolley that comes along. The trolley tour also eliminates the need for driving around the city and trying to find parking. Book your tour in advance to secure a seat during this busy time of year.

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival brings joy and excitement to the city unlike any other event all year. For those visiting during this time period, there are many activities, parties and events to enjoy. For more information about the festival, including dates, times and ticket information, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website.


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