After a harsh winter for much of the United States, you're probably more than ready for spring. And if you're looking for a way to welcome the season of flowers, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is a good place to start.
The annual Washington festival started Wednesday, the first day of spring, and runs through April 14. The peak bloom time for the cherry trees is expected in early April.
Arabella Bowen, executive editorial director for Fodor's Travel, recommends these seven ways to experience the more than 3,000 cherry trees in bloom:
Arrival of spring deserves its own parade
The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade runs along Constitution Avenue (from Seventh to 17th streets N.W.) from 10 a.m. to noon April 13. The parade will feature celebrity performances, giant helium balloons, colorful floats and marching bands from across the country. Grandstand seating can be purchased for $20, and there is no cost for viewing along the parade route.
Celebrate the culture of Japan
Also on April 13, Sakura Matsuri, a Japanese street festival, runs nearly a mile through downtown Washington and features traditional and Japanese pop musical performances, an arts and culture section, martial arts demonstrations and Japanese products, plus more than two dozen food vendors and two Kirin Ichiban beer gardens. These events make a nice addition to a day spent enjoying the blossoming trees, which were a gift from Tokyo more than 100 years ago.
Cruise the blooms
Relax and tour the cherry blossoms by boat on the Potomac River. Enjoy a lunch cruise for $57 or a dinner cruise for $107 with Spirit Cruises, or just go for a 45-minute sightseeing cruise on the Capital Elite yacht for $26.
Capture the perfect shot
Take your best shot with a cherry blossom photo safari. Washington Photo Safari offers sunrise and afternoon tours at the Tidal Basin for $69. The sunrise tours meet at 6:15 a.m., but "remember that great art is only produced through suffering," the company's website says. Washington Photo Safari also offers a photo excursion that includes a boat tour along the Washington Channel into the Potomac River for $89.
Stroll under the blossoms
Take a walking tour of your own around the Tidal Basin as signs along the way highlight facts and history of the trees. Use the Tidal Basin Cherry Tree Location Map as a guide, with names and descriptions of the tree types.
Fly a kite
The Blossom Kite Festival, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 30 on the Washington Monument grounds, showcases kite ballets and demonstrations by pros, but it also gives kids and families a chance to build and fly their own kites. Check out the Hot Tricks Showdown and the Rokkaku Battle on the competition field or learn to fly your own kite at noon on the family field.
Cherry-pick a hotel that's also in bloom
Many hotel operators have blossom-themed packages. Kimpton Hotels' "Blossoms & Bubbles" package offers blossom-inspired perks such as handcrafted cherry blossom soap, a $30 credit per day for dining or parking, and bubbles at check-in for kids. Plus, guests can sip complimentary sake at the evening wine hour from 5 to 6 p.m. The package is available at Kimpton's 11 Washington and northern Virginia hotels. Starting rates range from $135 to $185 per night.
Washington's Willard InterContinental is known for its live cherry blossom display during the festival. The Willard's Very Cherry Blossom Package for two is available through April 14, and includes valet parking, breakfast for two and two Old Town Trolley tour tickets. The package price per room starts at $409 per night, based upon availability.