2020 organizers cancelled many National Cherry Blossom Festival events due to the Coronavirus, but you can enjoy the view via the BloomCam, which captures these trees in their glory along with DC attractions. In the meantime, as you plan a future visit to DC, these tips will help make the most of your trip!
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a premier Washington, D.C. event held in late March and early April each year. The four-week festival celebrates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo, as well as the lasting friendship between the two nations. Events focus on arts and culture, nature, and the power of the human spirit, and most are free to the public.
Washington, D.C. is easy to get around without a car. The extensive Metro system includes both buses and subway trains, easily connecting all parts of the city as well as its immediate suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. You can even buy commemorative festival Metro cards in person or online.
Walking and bicycling are also great ways to travel through town on wide, comfortable paths. Capital Bikeshare lets you pick up a bike at any of the company’s stations and drop it off at any other station for just a few dollars per ride or per day.
What to See
While you may want to focus on the festivities, don’t miss the cultural and political heart of the United States. Remarkably, public tours of government buildings such as the White House and the Capitol, as well as entry to most museums, are free.
Note that international travelers must contact their embassy in advance to arrange a White House tour. Anyone can sign up for a public tour of the Capitol building online or wait in line for same-day tickets. If you would like to visit the House or Senate Galleries, international visitors must visit the House and Senate Appointment Desk in the Capitol Visitor Center, while American citizens should contact their senator or representative in advance of their visit.
No visit to Washington, D.C. would be complete without taking in some of the vast Smithsonian Institution Museums complex. Eleven massive museums, from the National Museum of American History to the Air and Space Museum, line the National Mall. Six more, along with the National Zoo, are located nearby. Each museum could easily fill a week or more, but you can catch the highlights of approximately two museums per day. Admission to all Smithsonian properties in Washington, D.C. is free. Adjacent on the Mall is the National Gallery of Art, housed in two buildings, including one designed by I. M. Pei.
An especially fun thing to do is to see the monuments at night. A collection of eight elaborate monuments and memorialsare positioned in such a way that a full round trip is about three to four miles, depending on your access point. If you have a car, you can park near the Tidal Basin to begin your experience. If you’re traveling by subway, begin at the Smithsonian stop. It’s also fun to go by cab or Uber/Lyft, as the drivers are full of stories. Or you can take a bus tour from one of the city’s many tour companies. Of course, if you want to go inside the Washington Monument, you’ll need to return during the day.
Where to Eat
Washington, D.C. is packed with tasty restaurants at all levels, from quick service to fine dining. A true “don’t miss” is Kramerbooks & Afterwords, located inside a fascinating indie bookstore on historic Dupont Circle (just south of where the Obamas now live!). Dining options inside the Smithsonian museums are surprisingly tasty, and America’s Table (inside the National Museum of American History) is a great place to sample the country’s diverse cuisine. For the best Indian food in D.C., you can’t go wrong at the Bombay Club, Indigo, or the more reasonably priced Café of India.
When you’re on Capitol Hill, be sure to stop by the public dining room inside the Capitol building for the famous Senate Bean Soup. As the story goes, the soup wasn’t always served every day. One day in the early 1900s, a Senator arrived in the Senate Dining Room only to find it was unavailable. “Tarnation!” he exclaimed. “I had my mouth all set for Bean Soup!” It’s been on the menu every day ever since.
Tips for Travelers
- Pack light: Security is tight around the city, and many places don’t allow backpacks or large purses. Pack only the essentials in a small crossbody bag, and prepare to go through lots of metal detectors.
- Carry ID: Most government buildings require American citizens to show a valid ID and international visitors to show a passport for entry.
- Be street smart: Though the tourist areas of the city are relatively safe, use the same common sense you would anywhere. Stick to main pathways, avoid walking alone at night, and keep an eye on your drink in bars or nightclubs.
- Get a map: Whether you prefer a phone app or an old-fashioned folding map, it’s an essential piece of gear to avoid becoming lost.
- Stay near a subway stop: Though the hotels of downtown D.C. are beautiful, they’re also extremely expensive. Consider staying near a subway stop in Virginia or Maryland, and you’ll be connected to everything you want to see at a fraction of the cost.