Think pink. Think the first sign of spring after a dreary and gray urban winter, cotton candy against concrete. That’s the color scheme of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual celebration of the thousands of awakening cherry trees that line the Capital’s Tidal Basin.
The festival’s history began in 1912, when the mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees to Washington, D.C. as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan. Groups around Washington, D.C. organized the first festivities in 1934, and the next year it became an official tradition.
Spanning multiple weeks in March and April — when the blooms are most spectacular — the National Cherry Blossom Festival consists of many different events, most of which are free. At the opening ceremony, catch performances from Japanese musical artists who combine traditional and contemporary instruments and melodies. Visit Sakura Matsuri, the Japanese Street Festival, and listen to K-Pop while you drink a draft Kirin beer and try your hand at calligraphy. And be on the lookout for Petal Porches, DC residents’ friendly cherry blossom-themed decoration competition.
Still, the best thing to do is take a stroll around the Tidal Basin, walking past the presidential memorials and under the blooms. Just try not to snap too many hundreds of photos — your phone does have a storage limit, you know.
- 1.5 million people attend the 5-week festival each year.
- Most festival events are free and open to the public, some require registration. Check out the event list here.
- Wherever you live, you can watch the cherry trees in real time at #BLOOMCAM.
- Looking for other things to do in Washington, D.C.? Check out Fifty Grande’s guides to Maryland and Virginia.
What is the closest airport to the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
Fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Or, take the Amtrak to Union Station.
What are the main events at the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
Opening Ceremony, Petapalooza, Blossom Kite Festival, Festival Parade, The Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival, Art in Bloom, Petal Porches, Japanese Rinpa Screen Exhibit at the National Museum of Asian Art.
What is the Petal Porches event?
A competition in which residents of D.C. and the surrounding metro area decorate their homes, porches, and yards with cherry-blossom themed decorations. There is online-voting and prizes for winning houses and neighborhood blocks.