For locals and visitors alike, the annual bloom of Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms is a highly anticipated event. Not only does it mark the arrival of spring—a sign that we’re done with snowpocalypses, snowmageddons, or (as they called it when I was a kid) blizzards—it also creates a beautiful backdrop to some of the capital’s most famous landmarks. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, I always looked forward to venturing downtown to look at the springtime skyline or catch the art performances, craft sessions, or live music put on during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
This year, the annual festival will happen from March 18 to April 16, which aligns with when the trees are normally in peak bloom. Whether you plan to join in on the festivities or simply enjoy the cherry blossoms that line the District’s skyline each spring, here’s how to see Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms in 2023.
When can you see cherry blossoms in D.C.?
Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms typically bloom in late March or early April. In 2022, peak bloom was March 25, although the EPA says that rising temperatures are pushing the peak bloom date earlier: In 16 of the past 20 years, peak bloom has come before April 4 (the average bloom date over the past century).
The National Park Service makes its annual prediction about 10 days in advance of the peak, but you can expect to see flowers begin to emerge before then. Peak bloom happens when 70 percent of the flowers have opened, and “the best viewing of the cherry blossom trees typically lasts four to seven days after peak bloom begins,” says Julie Marshall of Destination DC.
Although predictions for 2023 have yet to be announced, green buds were spotted on February 23, which likely indicates a late March bloom based on previous years’ trend.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a month-long series of events meant to celebrate the beauty of the iconic flowers, as well as the long-standing friendship between Japan and the United States. It has been an annual occurrence in Washington, D.C. since 1935. Some highlights from the 2023 agenda include:
The National Cherry Blossom Festival’s opening ceremony will take place at the Warner Theatre on March 25 at 5:00 p.m, which includes the annual lighting of the Japanese stone lantern; it was given by the people of Japan in 1954 as a symbol of their reemerging relationship with the United States after World War II. This year, the ceremony will feature performances by American and Japanese artists, such as Anna Sato and Toshiyuki Sasaki, a drummer and singer duo who draw inspiration from both Western and traditional Japanese styles and who previously performed at the 2020 opening.
Art in Bloom
The festival also includes the “Art in Bloom” all-city exhibition. Visitors can hunt down 18 different cherry blossom–themed sculptures throughout the District, each painted by a different local. Some of the sculptures have become permanent fixtures around the city and some will “bloom” only during the festival.
Blossom Kite Festival
The annual kite-flying event swoops back into action on March 25 on the Mall and at satellite parks around D.C. Bring your own colorful kite or simply watch others taking advantage of the spring breezes and wide-open spaces.
The best places to see cherry blossoms in D.C.
With 3,770 trees surrounding D.C. monuments and landmarks, the National Mall and Tidal Basin are the most popular places to see cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. If you have your heart set on these sites, you can avoid some of the crowds by visiting early in the morning or around sunset. However, at other, lesser-known areas throughout the District, these blooms also put on a spectacular show.
Hains Point Loop Trail in East Potomac Park
Venture away from the crowds at Tidal Basin with a 4.1-mile loop hike on the Hains Point Loop Trail, in neighboring East Potomac Park. Along the loop, which begins and ends at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, you’ll find a variety of cherry blossom trees and scenic vistas of the Potomac River, Washington Channel, and Anacostia River.
U.S. National Arboretum
Located in Northeast Washington, D.C., the 412-acre National Arboretum is home to a large botanical collection, including more than two dozen varieties of cherry trees. Each spring, visitors are greeted with an array of pink, white, and red cherry blossoms, all of which bloom at slightly different times.
As for avoiding crowds, the National Arboretum has two things working in its favor: It’s less well known and more spread out. Drive, walk, or bike along the Arboretum’s three-mile, self-guided cherry blossom tour to catch the springtime foliage.
The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks
A beautiful (and relatively tourist-free) historic estate in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, Dumbarton Oaks offers a small, insider destination for cherry blossom spotting in the garden’s Cherry Hill.
“In addition to the Yoshino Cherry that visitors encounter at the Tidal Basin, Cherry Hill also contains five other varieties, each with nuanced hues and overlapping bloom times,” says Jonathan Kavalier, Dumbarton Oaks’s director of gardens and grounds. But true cherries aren’t the only flower on display. “Earlier visitors can see a stunning specimen of Japanese apricot in flower in February, and an allée of double-flowering plums in March.”
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
An architectural icon at any time of the year, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C. is an extra special sight when its 150 cherry trees bloom each spring. It’s also considered somewhat of a secret cherry blossom viewing spot, making it a great place for avoiding crowds (and also finding parking).
After taking in the trees, head to Busboys and Poets, a nearby café, community gathering space, and bookshop founded by activist and artist Andy Shallal in 2005. It’s one of now seven locations in the D.C. area; stop by for brunch and a dose of activism (two of D.C.’s favorite things) with its book collection heavily featuring political and activist works.
The National Harbor, which sits just outside the Southeast edge of D.C. in Maryland, has more than 200 Okame cherry trees whose vibrant pink flowers tend to bloom earlier than the Yoshinos that line the Tidal Basin. “Because our trees bloom early, we can provide visitors with a longer opportunity to view cherry blossoms in the Washington, D.C. region,” said Jackie Saunders, AVP Marketing at National Harbor.
An official participant of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the Harbor is hosting one of the Art in Bloom statues as well as a weekly series called Sakura Sunday from March 21 to April 11. Each Sakura Sunday will feature a mix of activities, such as culinary classes, painting instruction, and showcases of Japanese-inspired art.
As for flower-spotting, visitors can see them by boat on the Potomac Water Taxi, which stops at the National Harbor, Alexandria, the Wharf, and Georgetown on an hour-long (one-way) ride along the Potomac. During the festival, advance reservations are recommended.
Where to stay in Washington, D.C. during cherry blossom season
Whether you’re planning a trip for this year or next, choose a place to stay that’s close to the cherry blossoms. Navigating parking or public transportation can be a crowded mess, so consider staying within walking or biking distance of the trees.
- Book now: The Willard
Having hosted Japan’s first delegation to the United States in 1860, the Willard leans into its unique history with cherry trees that fill the grand lobby, and Japanese-inspired afternoon tea served in the elegant, cherry tree–lined Peacock Alley hallway. Or order a specialty cocktail with ingredients such as sake, yuzu, and cherry bitters from the Round Robin Bar.
- Book now: Mandarin Oriental
Overlooking the Tidal Basin, the Mandarin Oriental is the closest hotel to the most popular cherry blossom viewing site. The luxurious hotel’s courtyard has cherry trees planted by the granddaughter of Yukio Ozaki, Tokyo’s mayor who gave the original trees to the United States in 1912.
Canopy by Hilton Washington DC the Wharf
- Book now: Canopy by Hilton
The Wharf, a vibrant strip along the Potomac River with waterfront dining, shopping, and entertainment, is one mile from the Tidal Basin, the epicenter of the blooms. It’s also home to the Hilton’s first U.S. Canopy location, which gives guests a modern experience infused with local character and nautical charm.
The Graham Georgetown
- Book now: The Graham Georgetown
Although this small boutique hotel isn’t as close to the main action as others, the Graham Georgetown is near one of our favorite, lesser-known cherry blossom sites: the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks. With a retro-yet-trendy D.C. aesthetic, rooftop bar, and convenient M Street location, it also immerses guests fully in Georgetown’s historic appeal.
If you do want to visit the National Mall and Tidal Basin, it’s an easy three-mile bike ride on a bike path that hugs the Potomac and skirts past some of the District’s famous landmarks.
- Book now: Hotel Zena
Opened in October 2020 by the Viceroy Hotel Group, Hotel Zena offers 191 guest rooms in Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood, roughly one mile from the Tidal Basin. This hotel celebrates female empowerment through mischievous art installations and cheeky design details that honor cultural and historical female icons, including an extraordinary mural of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This article originally appeared online in March 2021; it was updated on February 24, 2023, to include current information.