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Complete Guide to Washington DC Cherry Blossoms 2023

Last Updated on 30th January 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

If there’s one destination in the world that’s famed for its beautiful blooms in the spring time, it’s the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms! Here’s your ultimate guide to enjoying the cherry blossoms in DC, as well as things to know before you go.

If you want someone in the know to show you around the cherry blossom area, then you can book a Cherry Blossom Tour like this one.

Complete Guide to Washington DC Cherry Blossoms

Hands down, one of the best times to visit Washington DC (often abbreviated to just DC for short) is during the cherry blossom season.

This is also undoubtedly the most popular time to visit the city and so be sure to book your travel well in advance if you want to secure the best accommodation and transportation rates.

DC stands for the District of Columbia and the area is situated on the east bank of the Potomac River. The US states either side of DC are Virginia and Maryland.

Some of the most famous highlights of the city include the United States Capitol building, The White House, and the Library of Congress. If you are planning on staying a few days in the city, be sure to check out our 3 days in Washington DC travel itinerary.

When do the DC cherry blossoms flower?

It’s a hard question to answer the precise moment when the cherry blossoms in DC will bloom because the exact answer changes on an annual basis depending on rainfall and other weather conditions.

With this being said, the blossoms tend to flower in the last few week of March and first few weeks of April, with peak season traditionally being the first week of April.

If you’re wondering when to book your trip and wish to plan well in advance, then booking for the first or second week of April is probably the safest option for being able to see at least some of the beautiful blooms.

It’s worth noting that the cherry blossom trees bloom at different times (depending on the variety) and there are also autumn blossoming trees so don’t be surprised if you visit Washington DC in the fall, only to find blooming sakura!

The indicator tree

There is a specific tree, situated to the East of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial that blooms a week to ten days before any other cherry blossom in the park. It’s worth noting that there is nothing particularly historic or important about the indicator tree, it just reliably blooms before the other trees in the park!

It’s party in thanks to this tree that the National Park Service horticulturalists use to make their predictions about when the peak of the cherry blossoms of DC will be.

dc cherry blossoms

How did DC become known for its cherry blossom?

The story of the DC Cherry Blossom Trees actually dates back to the 1880s. At this time, a woman named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore visited Japan for the first time thanks to her brother who was a diplomat.

She was a remarkable woman who was a world traveller, researcher, writer, and was even the first woman to sit on the board of trustees of the National Geographic Society. Scidmore was so amazed by the cherry blossom trees that she felt that DC should have its own trees.

Thus began a petition whereby Scidmore would write letter after letter for decades to ensure that DC would receive its own cherry blossom trees. In 1909 a newly installed First Lady, Helen Taft, at the White House took over office and became interested in the project.

From there, the plans took off the ground quickly. Unfortunately, the first set of trees arrived infested and so a second shipment had to be sent. Eventually, the beautiful trees arrived and were a gift from Japan in 1912 to symbolise friendship between the USA and Japan.

The first tree was planted by the First Lady along with the Japanese Ambassador’s wife. Originally, there were 3,020 trees was represented by 12 different varieties of cherry blossom tree.

At the time, the Tidal Basin was newly built and so was not very attractive to look at. The cherry blossom installation project was the first beautification project undertaken by a First Lady in Washington DC. of the original trees, only 100 or so remain.

Today, there are around 3,800 cherry blossom trees, with the Yoshino and Kwanzan being the most common types you’ll see. Up to 70% of the trees are Yoshino cherry blossoms and these are typically among the earliest trees to bloom.

A quick guide on where to find the very best cherry blossom in Dublin. Here's all the best photo spots and parks for seeing hyacinth, spring blooms, and magnolia trees in the Irish Capital, Dublin, Ireland!

The National Cherry Blossom Festival

Indeed, such is the importance of the cherry blossom trees in DC that the peak of the blooms (hanami) has since become a National Cherry Blossom Festival that has been celebrated every year over the course of four weeks since 1934.

Each year, 1.5 million people visit DC during blossom season to enjoy the flowers. The entirety of the city is covered in blooming trees and flower border gardens that are arguably equally as beautiful to look at as the trees themselves.

cherry blossoms in washington dc

Where to see cherry blossoms in Washington DC

Please note that vehicular access to the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park is reduced from the end of March to the middle of April (exact dates depend on when the blossoms are in bloom).

As such, the easiest way to get around the area is by taking local transportation, including walking and via bus. Alternatively, you can book a bike tour of the cherry blossoms like this one.

Tidal Basin cherry blossoms

The largest collection of cherry blossoms in DC is concentrated around the Tidal Basin. A circular 2.1-mile loop, the trail is fairly easy and will take walkers through the trees so as to best enjoy the tradition of hanami (cherry blossom viewing whereby the viewer enjoys the transient nature of the flowers).

The most common type of blossom surrounding the tidal blossom is the Yoshino cherry tree, interspersed with Akebono cherry trees (light pink blooms). Looking up at the trees surrounding you on the trail feels akin to strolling underneath clouds of flowers thanks to the fact that the Yoshino blossoms are white.

One of the key places of interest along the trail is located south of Independence Avenue and is a marker which indicates where the first cherry blossom tree in DC was planted (unfortunately the tree is no longer standing).

This is also where you’ll find the Japanese stone Lantern, which stands at eight and a half feet tall and weighs a staggering 2 tons. The lantern was carved in 1651 and was a gift from Japan to the US in 1954.

The lantern once stood outside of a temple in what is modern day Tokyo and its partner lantern remains in Tokyo to this day. The lantern gift was to be a symbol of their reemerging relationship with the United States after World War II and is now lit at the beginning of the Cherry Blossom Festival each year.

Tidal Basin cherry blossoms

East Potomac Park

Yet another location in DC where visitors can enjoy the cherry blossom is in East Potomac Park, which is located a stone’s throw away from the Tidal Basin. This park boasts a slightly different variety of cherry blossoms, the Kwanzan cherry trees.

The best Kwanzan trees (also known as Kanzan Cherry Trees) are located on Hains Point. It’s also worth noting that the blooms are a little further away from most of the crowded locations so might be a better spot to photograph the blossoms with fewer people. The Hains Point Loop trail is a 4.1-mile loop.

These cherry blossom trees are characterised by their double blossoms which are pink in colour. The blossoms flower around two weeks later than those around the Tidal Basin and so are a good alternative if you’re not able to visit DC at the end of March/ beginning of April and instead have to visit a week or two later.

Kwanzan cherry trees
Kwanzan cherry trees in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

One of the more urban spots in the city where visitors to DC can spy spring blooms is outside of the The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

U.S. National Arboretum

If you want to escape the crowds of central Washington DC, then the U.S. National Arboretum is a great place to enjoy the cherry blossoms. The park is set on 412-acre and boasts two dozen varieties of cherry trees!

United States National Arboretum

The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks

Yet another place that’s a little off beat to see cherry blossoms in DC is The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks. Located in the Georgetown neighbourhood, the Garden’s Cherry Hill offers visitors the chance to see 6 different cherry tree varieties.

All have different bloom times, meaning that the cherry blossom season at the Gardens is longer than at the Tidal Basin. What’s more is that the Apricot blooms as early as February and the plums flower in March!

Map for seeing the best cherry blossom in DC

Tips for enjoying the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms

The first tip that I can give you for enjoying the blossoms is that it’s impossible to plan a trip in advance for when the blossoms will bloom. As such, it’s better to plan a trip for the last week of March or first week of April as you’re almost guaranteed to see the blossoms (though they may not be at their peak).

For the best days, be sure to keep an eye on social media under the hashtag #bloomwatch. The best time of the day to visit the cherry blossoms is at sunrise. Golden hour will not only be the best time of the day for the lighting of your photos, but is also the quietest time of the day to visit the blooms.

Arguably one of the most important tips to ensure the protection of the cherry blossom trees for the future is to enjoy the trees with your eyes only. Don’t pick the flowers or touch the trees as this can harm the precious cherry trees.

What to wear for a cherry blossom photo shoot

There is no set style of dress or colour that you should specifically wear when taking your photo under a cherry blossom tree. With this being said, some colours pop more than others. Pastel hues and light clothing is always a great choice, as are floral prints. Flowing designs such as long skirts and dresses can often compliment the flowing of the flowers.

weeping cherry tree
Wearing floral prints during the cherry blossom season in Paris

Where to stay in Washington DC

Thanks to its status as one of the most important cities in the USA, there’s no shortage of places to stay to suit every taste and budget. Just note that since the cherry blossom season is incredibly popular the best places book up fast and so you should be sure to book your accommodation well in advance to avoid disappointment. Here are some of the best places to stay in DC based on web-reviews and location:

Budget: This low cost accommodation has single-sex and mixed-gender dorms with capsule beds and free Wi-Fi. Private rooms are available for an extra fee. Check prices and availability here.

Mid-range: If you’re looking for a no frills accommodation in a good location, then this may be the place for you. Amenities include an indoor pool, free Wi-Fi, and a restaurant on site. Check prices and availability here.

Luxury: Those in search of an extra luxurious accommodation can check out this five star offering. Highlights include marble bathrooms, flatscreen TVs, and an indoor pool. Check prices and availability here.

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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.

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