One of the best times to visit Washington, DC is spring, when the cherry blossom trees bloom in a sea of pink and white. The grandest of Washington’s annual events, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, is going ahead this year, but festival organisers have announced plans for a series of “hybrid” events amid continued COVID-19 restrictions.

Held from mid-March to mid-April, with the beautiful blooms as a backdrop, the month-long festival usually celebrates spring’s arrival with hundreds of performances and special exhibitions, plus paddle boat rides in the Tidal Basin, evening walks by lantern light, cultural fairs, a parade and a final fireworks extravaganza. With restrictions on large gatherings in place, park service officials are calling on people to stay home this year and enjoy the cherry blossoms online through its BloomCam.

Introducing Washington, DC

This four-week event commemorates the gift of 3000 cherry trees from Tokyo’s Mayor Yukio Ozaki to the city of Washington in 1912. On the 27 March 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, famously planted the first two trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin. First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson accepted 3800 more trees in 1965. Thanks to the support of some civil groups in the city, the Cherry Blossom Festival expanded in 1935, by which time the cherry blossoms were already a trademark for the city. In normal times, more than 1.5 million people attend the festival.

According to the National Park Service, the peak bloom for the cherry blossoms is expected to take place between April 2 and 5 this year, depending on weather conditions. The peak bloom date for DC’s cherry blossoms is defined as the day on which 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are open, but visitors are urged not to descend in droves on the area given the restrictions on large gatherings.

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

Those who prefer their blossoms to rush past in a riot of pinks and whites usually sign up for the 10-mile run, 3-mile run/walk or 1km children’s run. This year, the park service is hosting an on-demand 3.3-mile virtual tour and 360-degree bike ride experience instead. There will also be 25 blossom-themed art sculptures in each of DC’s eight wards that are designed by local artists, and “petal porch parade and processions” will bring mini-versions of the traditional parade to different neighborhoods.

The popular Pink Tie Party will go virtual this year as will the Blossom Kite Festival, where kites of all shapes and sizes are usually flown on the public field in the shadow of the Washington Monument. This year, participants will fly the kites in their own backyard or neighborhood park. There will also be mediation and mindfulness and a nationally-syndicated TV show with celebrity performances that will be hosted by actress Drew Barrymore. “In keeping with the festival tradition we will unite the city and the region, engaging local businesses and restaurants and we’ll be in bloom with pink lighting and blossom decor,” said Diana Mayhew, president and CEO of the festival.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs this year from March 20 through April 11. You can see the full list of events on the National Cherry Blossom Festival website here.

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This article was first published March 2020 and updated March 2021

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