Updated December 2016
I’ll bet you want to see the famous cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. but need some tips so the massive crowds won’t ruin your visit. I went down last year on a lovely Sunday evening and watched thousand so frustrated people stuck in their cars in a traffic jam having a rather miserable time. Don’t be one of them! These tips will help make your time at the Cherry Blossom Festival enjoyable instead of a good idea gone awry.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a huge springtime celebration, drawing around 1.5 million visitors to Washington D.C. each year. The 2017 Cherry Blossom Festival will be held March 20-April 16. Check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival website for peak blossom dates and details on the opening ceremony, kite festival, and the festival parade.
What is the best way to enjoy the cherry blossoms? On foot! Here are my insider tips for how to celebrate spring and enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Take your kids to the National Kite Festival.
This event is so easy for families! We went down early in the morning and found street parking, but the festivities run all day. We loved getting an early start and flying our kites near the Washington Monument before the sky got crowded. As the morning wore on, the sky filled with hundreds of kites, including some pretty amazing trick kites we all loved watching.
If you go early, dress warmly. We were colder than we thought we would be at 9:00 a.m. on a spring morning. We wished we had hats and mittens.
Watch for peak bloom time carefully.
My favorite bloom watch website posts daily updates with pictures. The peak bloom time can last as few as two or three days or as long as a week. If you want to see the cherry blossoms at their peak, watch the forecast carefully. A strong rain or wind storm can pull most of the blossoms off the trees, so watch the weather.
The cherry blossoms start as white as popcorn, turning pink as they mature. Toward the end of the blossoms, you will find trees filled with pink blossoms and small, new green leaves.
These two pictures were taken exactly one week apart.
Check Out the Paddle Boats
Paddle boat rentals on the Tidal Basin are a popular way to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Find reservation information here.
Tips for Avoiding Crowds
If your goal is amazing family pictures with the cherry blossoms, you need to go EARLY. Weekends are the most crowded, but I’ve been during the day on a weekday and walked through areas so crowded it was hard to navigate my stroller. Crowds also tend to thin later in the evening, but the early morning hours are definitely the calmest. Everywhere will be packed on Saturday and Sunday, but you can still enjoy the blossoms. Just expect crowds.
Another way to avoid crowds? Go on a rainy, drizzly day. Your pictures may not be perfect, but the blossoms will be there and the people will not.
Do not drive your car to the Cherry Blossom Festival on the weekend! I cannot stress this enough. It’s just not worth it. I love to drive into Washington D.C., but unless you love walking and plan to do plenty of it, this outing is so.much.easier on the Metro. Ride to the Smithsonian station (orange/blue line) and it is a short walk to the Tidal Basin.
If you decide to drive, which I still might do if I went down early in the morning or on a weekday, head toward Ohio Dr. and follow the signs for the Cherry Blossom parking. Street parking is available along Ohio Dr. all the way to Hains Point. The walk toward the Tidal Basin along the Potomac is lined with beautiful cherry trees and is far less crowded than the Tidal Basin. Wear your walking shoes because you might walk well over a mile before you even arrive at the Tidal Basin.
I have sometimes lucked out and found a parking space quickly, and other times circled for twenty minutes before finding an open spot.
Is a Cherry Blossom Cruise worth it?
Knowing how much I love spring and the National Cherry Blossom Festival, my husband surprised me with a Groupon purchase to do a cherry blossom cruise. In theory, this is a brilliant date night. But since these cruises are popular (there are several options, and many offer deals in the spring), you need to reserve your spot early. We looked at the forecast in 2013 and booked our cruise during the peak forecasted blossom time. But as our cruise date dawned, this is what the cherry blossoms looked like:
The trees blossomed three days later than their estimated peak time in 2013, so we were out of luck.
If you do decide to try a cruise, you should know that the cruise is along the Potomac river, not inside the Tidal Basin so you won’t see the trees up close. Our cruise was crowded–not enough seats, people blocking your view, etc. I would highly recommend walking around the Tidal Basin instead of wasting money on a cruise if you truly want to enjoy the cherry blossoms.
However you choose to enjoy this celebration of spring, don’t miss the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington, which are both within a short walk or Metro ride from most popular DC attractions. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews atTripAdvisor or Booking.com.
Save money on your Washington D.C. trip! Learn more about our FREE Travel Deals Email Club HERE.