One of Washington, DC's most popular spring festivals, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrates its 110th anniversary and a return to in-person festivities this year. 

Spring is arguably one of the best times to visit Washington, DC, to stroll the National Mall while it is transformed by a sea of pink and white cherry blossoms. The surrounding celebration takes place over four weeks with food, performances and cultural exhibitions.

When does the National Cherry Blossom Festival happen

The festival takes place every year from mid-March to mid-April, though the exact dates vary to best coincide with the peak blooming of the trees. In 2022, peak bloom is expected between March 22 and 26, with the festival itself lasting from March 20 to April 17.

Though the festival will be in person this year for the first time since 2019, COVID-19 protocols for the opening ceremony will still be in effect. All guests over 3 years of age must provide either proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within 72 hours of the event, or proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and masks are required at all times, except when actively eating and drinking.

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Dancers in hats and navy costumes dance in a parade
The Japanese Festival is one of the highlights of the Cherry Blossom Festival season © Coast-to-Coast / Getty Images

History of the National Cherry Blossom Festival

There is a long history of celebration surrounding the blooming cherry trees in Japan, which is exactly where the cherry trees at the center of this festival originated.

Sent over in the early 1900s as a symbol of friendship between the US and Japan, there were actually two sets of cherry trees sent to DC. The first batch of 2000 trees arrived in DC in early January 191o, but had to be destroyed just days later when inspectors discovered an insect infestation. Then, in 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted an additional 3020 cherry trees that were transferred from the banks of the Arakawa River.

On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin. These same trees have graced the area around Potomac Park and on the grounds of the Washington Monument for more than 100 years. 

The festival began in 1935 and by 1937 was attracting thousands of visitors to Washington, DC.  Today the festival regularly attracts millions of visitors every year, though in 2020 and 2021 all festivities were virtual due to COVID-19. 

Cherry blossom trees bloom bright pink in a row leading up to the Washington Monument
The four-week festival is when DC certainly looks its best © Zrfphoto / Getty Images

What to do at the National Cherry Blossom Festival

The opening ceremony for the festival, which takes place on March 20 at the Warner Theater, will feature performances by the Minyo Crusaders, a 10-piece band that combines Japanese folk songs with Latin and Afro-Caribbean music, Samurai Artist KAMUI, a theater ensemble that performs Japanese traditional theater and martial arts, and Japanese Taiko drummer Toshihiro Yuta, among others. 

Additional performances will take place throughout the festival at the Ana Stage in the Tidal Basin Welcome area.

Aside from the gorgeous blossoms themselves, the highlight of the National Cherry Blossom Festival is the Japanese Street Festival, one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Japanese culture. This year is the 60th anniversary of the street festival, which takes place on April 9 and 10. Kimono-clad dancers, taiko drummers, martial-arts masters and dozens of food vendors draw big crowds. 

The Blossom Kite Festival is another signature event when kites of all shapes and sizes are flown in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Some kite fliers travel from far and wide to participate in the full day of activities that include kite ballets, a kite makers’ competition, a hot tricks showdown, a show kites demo and more.

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This article was first published April 2017 and updated March 2022

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