3 Days in Washington DC: The Ultimate Cherry Blossom Festival Itinerary
Washington DC is one of the best destinations to visit in April largely due to the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This itinerary for 3 days in Washington DC will point you to the best blooms, world-class museums, and top-notch food and drink for a spring long weekend ideal for solo female travelers.
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When to See Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC
Cherry blossom season in Washington DC spans late March to mid-April. The exact dates of peak bloom vary a bit from year to year depending on weather. Keep an eye on the National Park Services’ forecast. If you can spend more than 3 days in Washington D.C., all the better since you’ll have time to arrive early in the season and wait for peak bloom, which can last from four to seven days. If you miss peak bloom, though, never fear — you will still get to see blossoms because there are two types of cherry trees on the Tidal Basin, one of which blooms two weeks after the first.
In 2023, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for March 20 through April 16. Peak bloom for cherry blossom season 2023 is forecast for March 22-25. Peak bloom has fallen between March 20 and March 28 for the last 3-4 years.
How to Get to Washington DC
There are several airports serving the Washington area.
Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) is the closest to the city center, but only serves domestic flights plus a couple routes to Canada, so if you are not already in North America, you’ll need another port of entry. To get from DCA to the city center, take the yellow line of the Metro to L’Enfant Plaza. It’s about a 10 minute ride. (Also tip: folks in the know just call this National Airport!)
Dulles Airport (IAD) is the largest international airport in the area and now FINALLY connected directly to the Metro Silver Line! The ride takes about an hour to Metro Center and you no longer have to do any awkward cash-only bus connections. (Halle-frickin-lujah lol)
Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI) is further out, but one of my favorite airports to use because of its ample budget flight options for international routes and the relative ease of connecting to the city center. Take the MARC suburban commuter train straight to Union Station in about 35 minutes, or take a free shuttle to BWI Marshall Amtrak station to catch a train to Union Station there. Amtrak is a little faster, clocking in at 20- to 30-minute rides, but MARC is much cheaper, costing only $7 one-way compared to Amtrak’s $15-45 prices.
An important note about all Washington DC-area airports: none of them have storage or showers, so it is best to time your arrival close to the check-in time at your accommodations, if possible.
If you are already in the US, you can also reach Washington DC by train. Union Station is served by 10 Amtrak routes with connections to Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Richmond, Raleigh, Atlanta, New Orleans, Charleston, Orlando, and Miami. Union Station is within walking distance of the Capitol building and National Mall, and is on the Red Line of the DC Metro.
Getting Around Washington DC
Washington DC has a fairly simple Metro system with six lines identified by a color code. The Orange and Silver Lines run east to west and form important connections to suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, including Arlington. The Blue Line overlaps with the Silver line until crossing the river into Virginia – it then branches off to reach Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan Airport. The Smithsonian metro stop is on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. The Yellow and Green lines cut straight through the heart of the District, running north to south through U Street, Chinatown and the National Mall. The Red line connects stops in the north and center of the District, including Georgetown, Union Station, Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.
You will need a SmarTrip card for the Metro. You can buy a SmarTrip card online or at a Metro station. For 3 days in Washington DC, you’ll want to purchase a 3 Day Unlimited Pass for $30.
Where to Stay for 3 Days in Washington DC
There are a handful of hostels in Washington DC of varying quality. Hostels haven’t caught on in the US the way they have in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Your best bet for any American hostel is one that is part of the Hostelling International chain. HI Washington DC is very highly rated and a short distance from the National Mall on K Street. Another highly rated hostel in Washington DC is Highroad Hostel DC, which is about a 15-minute walk from the National Zoo. Both cost about $40 per night for an all-female dorm.
Another budget-friendly option for accommodations in Washington DC is Airbnb. Airbnb is legal in Washington DC. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a room for about $100 a night in a convenient location.
Newer to the area is Sonder, providing apartment-style rentals with contactless check-in in a few different neighborhoods of the city. (And many other cities worldwide!) There is a Sonder with small hotel-style rooms in Dupont Circle and one with larger suites that include a full kitchen in Navy Yard. I’ve stayed in both as a solo female traveler and been completely comfortable and safe. There are also properties in Georgetown and Alexandria. Sign up for a free Sonder membership and use their app to book directly for a 15% discount on all stays. I regularly use Sonder for a place to stay in Washington DC that costs around $100-150 a night. (And then I often use my travel credit card points to make my stay totally free!)
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, The Architect is a budget-to-mid-range option about a 10-minute walk from the White House. Rooms are decent and about $150 a night. I have stayed here once but the area didn’t feel great as a solo female traveler. It wasn’t unsafe per se, but it was kind of barren being so centrally downtown. I prefer to have some bars and restaurants nearby for a little activity – that means more lighting and more potential witnesses if something happens walking by myself at night.
In my opinion, the best neighborhood to stay in Washington DC is Dupont Circle. It’s a great neighborhood for long walks on leafy residential streets and it has lots shopping, restaurants, and bars. It is very safe for solo female travelers, and it’s super LGBTQ friendly. If you love nightlife, stay near Adams Morgan and if you don’t mind being off the beaten path a bit, Navy Yard/Barracks Row has developed a ton in the last 5 years and is actually super safe for solo female travelers.
Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Washington DC
Washington DC is a large city with a lot of commuters and a lot of tourists. Stay vigilant, particularly when walking by yourself at night. Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Navy Yard, Arlington and Alexandria are all safe places to stay for solo female travelers in Washington DC. Stick close to tourist areas and exercise more caution in the northeast part of the city.
Washington DC is easy to navigate and has plenty to do. There are also restaurants and bars that are friendly to solo travelers, and it’s not too difficult to meet people in bars. Just be prepared for lots of questions, especially ones that focus on what you do for a living and where you’re from. These are common small talk items most places, but especially frequent in Washington DC.
Stay aware of major political issues in the US leading up to your trip. Big protests and marches aren’t uncommon. If tensions are riding high and there’s a major protest event planned during your trip, you might give the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court a wide berth.
Your biggest risk as a solo female traveler in Washington DC is theft. Crime rates in the District are high, but if you exercise common sense, it can still be perfectly safe to visit DC alone. I have been to DC several times throughout most of my life, oftentimes by myself, and have never had any safety issues. Keep an eye on your belongings, particularly on the Metro. I prefer carrying a cross-body anti-theft bag as a day bag.
What to Pack for 3 Days in Washington DC
For a full list of everything I travel with, read my complete packing list for solo female travelers. These are a few items I consider must-haves for Washington DC.
Trade your backpack in for a cross-body bag you can keep an eye on during crowded Metro rides.
In an expensive city like DC, every penny counts. Save on bottled water and stay hydrated with a reusable water bottle.
Sunrise is the best time to avoid crowds and get great light for photographing the cherry blossoms. Make the most of the early morning light by using a sturdy, lightweight travel tripod.
Early morning temps in April can get a little chilly. Prana brand clothes are an investment but hold up well to heavy wear and travel. (I have one pair of leggings that are as soft now as they were 15 years ago!) Try a stylish zip hoodie for spring travel.
I also like to travel with a nicer dress for going out.
Day 1: Dinner at a Wine Bar or Beer at the Ballpark
Take your time arriving, navigating the Metro and getting settled at your accommodations. Your 3 days in Washington DC start in earnest with a stroll through Chinatown and dinner at one of the city’s great wine bars. Flight is heavy on the atmosphere and very friendly to solo diners. They serve flights of wine, as the name suggests, and I highly recommend trying one that features Virginia wines. Washington DC is just an hour or two from a burgeoning wine region where you can find quality Bordeaux-style blends, dry Provencal-style roses, and full-bodied whites like Chardonnay and Viognier. If you prefer something more tried and true, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Flight’s bottle list has over 600 labels! The dinner menu has a mix of small plates and entrees, mostly American dishes with a little Mediterranean flair. Wine flights are $18 and entrees range from $12-24, so this is a splurge, but a worthwhile one.
If wine bars aren’t to your taste, and you’re lucky enough for your travel dates to line up with a home game, trade Flight in for Top of the Yard. This rooftop bar overlooks Nationals Park, the playing field of the Washington Nationals baseball team. Spring training starts February 25 and the 2023 regular season kicks off Thursday, March 30 against the Braves. The bar serves brats, burgers and classic bar appetizers. Pour a cold one and enjoy a deeply American springtime tradition.
Note: Save Top of the Yard for a future visit. The bar is still temporarily closed.
Day 1: Monuments & Memorials
Whether it’s your first time in the nation’s capital, or you’ve been countless times and want a fresh perspective, one of the best things to do in Washington DC is see the city’s monuments and memorials lit up after dark. The 3-hour Washington Under the Stars tour is a great way to fit in some classic sightseeing after an early dinner. It’s the perfect way to squeeze the sights into just 3 days. You’ll see the city’s top highlights including the Capitol building, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, the Vietnam War memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. The tour is a mix of bus travel and walking.
Day 2: View Cherry Blossoms on Tidal Basin
No need to wait any longer for the main event of your 3 days in Washington DC! There are plenty of tours available for viewing cherry blossoms, but since most of the trees form a scenic path around Tidal Basin near the National Mall, you don’t need a guide. Seeing cherry blossoms is one of the best free things to do in Washington DC. You’ll want to get there as early as you can manage to avoid the crowds. Cherry blossom season in Washington DC is one of the busiest times of year in the city, and crowds will pick up at Tidal Basin by 10am. The light just after sunrise is best for getting that classic shot of the Jefferson Memorial framed by cherry blossoms.
Be prepared to stop regularly and take pictures of your fellow travelers! If people see you taking one picture, they will practically form a line. Solo female travelers are seen as very approachable in DC and most couples, families and groups are more likely to ask solo travelers for pictures than they are to interrupt another family or group. (Side note: if you’re not a solo traveler reading this… please stop acting like your fellow family travelers’ time is more valuable than us solo gals! We want to enjoy our trips too and it’s just as much of an interruption. Just approach another family and offer to swap picture taking with each other.)
Bear in mind cherry blossoms can be very delicate so you should never climb a tree for pictures.
To get to Tidal Basin, take the Silver, Orange, or Blue Line of the Metro to the Smithsonian stop, then walk toward the Washington Monument. (That’s the big, pointy, phallic one.)
Other spots to see cherry blossoms in Washington DC include the US National Arboretum, Upper Senate Park by the Capitol building, Stanton Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and the Japanese-American Memorial on Louisiana Avenue. All of these places to view cherry blossoms are going to be much less crowded than Tidal Basin!
Day 2: Visit a Smithsonian Museum (or a Few!)
Spending 3 days in Washington DC, especially during the immensely popular cherry blossom season, can be an expensive undertaking when it comes to dining and accommodations. The wealth of free things to do in Washington DC is what will balance your budget. The Smithsonian Institution operates 20 museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoo, all with free admission.
The Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall, listed in order of location from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building, include:
- African-American History and Culture Museum
- American History Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Freer Gallery
- Sackler Gallery
- Smithsonian Castle and Gardens
- African Art Museum
- Arts and Industries Building (currently closed for renovations)
- Hirshhorn Museum
- Air and Space Museum
- American Indian Museum
The classic top three museums to visit in Washington DC are the American History Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. The American Indian Museum and the African-American History and Culture Museum are amazing recent additions telling a much more complete history of the United States. If you want to see the African-American History and Culture Museum, schedule your visit in advance and give yourself at least a few hours to explore. If you’re a read everything nerd like me you’ll honestly need a whole day just for this one museum, but it’s worth it! In fact, if you only visit one museum in Washington DC, it should be the African-American History and Culture Museum.
If you are a visual arts fan, the Hirshhorn Museum is a must-see for its modern and contemporary art collection and its excellent outdoor sculpture garden. The national Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum are also very popular, but are not directly on the National Mall — they are located at 8th and F Streets.
Pick your favorite or visit several and break for lunch from an area food truck. Some high quality spots to look out for include Dogs on the Curb, PhoWheels, Swizzler, and CapMac. Download the Food Truck Fiesta app to see a map of food truck locations in DC, updated in real time.
Day 2: Attend a National Cherry Blossom Festival Event
There are many annual events that are part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Free events include a large parade down Constitution Avenue, a kite festival at Washington Monument, and Petalpaolooza, a day-long celebration with live music and fireworks on the Capitol Riverfront. See nationalcherryblossomfestival.org for dates and ticket info.
Day 2: Have a Cherry Blossom-Infused Drink
Sadly, the epic Cherry Blossom Pop-Up Bar on 7th Street — well-known for its cherry blossom flavored drinks and incredible cherry blossom decor — has permanently closed. While the long wait for a tipple under an impeccably designed canopy of fake blooms was worth it, there are still plenty of bars in the District that add seasonal drinks to their menus. Bars that have served cherry blossom drinks in the past include St. Regis at 16th and K Streets, La Vie in the Wharf neighborhood, and Ocean Prime on G Street. Keep an eye on their menus as the season approaches.
Day 3: Eat Your Way Down U Street
Washington DC is becoming more and more of a foodie destination every year, and the city is also home to some of the nation’s most important Black history. Carpe DC’s excellent food tour of U Street is no longer in operation but there are very similar tours available with Blue Fern Travel.
U Street is a historically Black neighborhood that saw jazz greats in the 1920s and dangerous riots in the late ’60s. A good food tour won’t just take you to great eats, but will also describe the critical history of this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
Stops include Ben’s Chili Bowl (an institution since the 1950s), a traditional restaurant in Little Ethiopia, a secret speakeasy behind Capo Deli, and Calabash Tea & Tonic, a vegan bakery and tearoom on 7th Street.
Day 3: Check Out an Alternative Museum
Thanks to the Smithsonian, most of the museums in Washington DC are free, but there are a couple that charge admission.
The International Spy Museum is the perfect place to indulge your inner adolescent. Exhibits cover the history of espionage around the world, cool gadgets and tech, spies in pop culture and more with loads of engaging, interactive features. The museum recently moved from its location on F Street to a new building (twice the size!) at L’Enfant Plaza. Tickets are $25 but for one of the most unique and fun museums in the world, it’s worth every penny.
Just down the street from the Spy Museum and tucked into an odd spot, is ARTECHOUSE an all-digital immersive art museum. Frequently their spring installation is flower-themed, so you can be completely surrounded by beautiful, color-saturated floral projections to cap off your cherry blossom visit.
(Note: DC’s other most popular paid museum, The Newseum, permanently closed as of December 31, 2019.)
What to Do with More Than 3 Days in Washington DC
Tour the Capitol & Supreme Court to learn more about the US government. Tickets for the Capitol must be booked in advance.
Explore the largest library in the world. Free tours of the Library of Congress are available at select times Monday through Saturday.
Spot a different set of flowers at the United States Botanic Garden.
Grab a sweet treat on a DIY walking tour of Georgetown.
Get out on the water. The Potomac River is one of Washington DC’s defining characteristics, cutting through the urban landscape. Stroll along The Wharf, explore National Harbor, join a group of kayakers or paddle-boarders, or take a paddle boat out on Tidal Basin for a different angle on the cherry blossoms.
Pick a neighborhood and just walk. Dupont Circle is one of my faves, followed by Columbia Heights for a walk through Malcolm X Park.
Check out popular food halls like Union Market.
Dupont Underground has turned a former cable car line into street art central, but it’s only open for select events. Keep an eye on Eventbrite for opportunities to check out this unique thing to do in Washington DC.
Enjoy a tasting at the first winery in Washington DC. District Winery in Navy Yard is an urban winery, which means they ship in grapes from around the country to produce wine at their city-based location. They have great special events on Wednesdays. One series you might see is “Smarter Than the Somm” where you can try all of their wines in a blind tasting and see if you can guess what varietal they are. Currently, their Wednesday tasting event is “Sideways,” billed as a crash course in the different ways regions across America produce the same varietal grape. (So you might compare a Merlot from California to one from Virginia.) This is one of my favorite things to do as a solo female traveler in Washington DC — being alone, it’s easy to grab a last-minute seat and you’ll meet a lot of locals.
Day Trips from Washington DC
Stroll the charming 18th-century old town of Alexandria, just minutes from the city center.
Tour Mount Vernon, the private home of George Washington.
Taste Virginia wines straight from the source in Loudoun County. My favorite wineries in northern Virginia horse coutry are Breaux Vineyards, Sunset Hills Vineyard, and Boxwood Estate.
Escape to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville. This historic central Virginia town has great hiking, lots of wineries and craft breweries, and a bourgeoning art scene.
Experience a different slice of American history in Baltimore. Visit the National Aquarium, walk in Edgar Allan Poe’s footsteps, and have a crabcake at a restaurant along the harbor.
Check out my full list of day trips from Washington DC here!
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This has to be the best time to visit DC! You’ve captured how to see the best of Cherry Blossom in a weekend perfectly 🙂
I totally agree – I visit DC almost every spring!
I would absolutely love to visit Washington but even more I’d love to visit in cherry blossom season. This is a great comprehensive guide you’ve put together-stunning photography too. Love that you’ve added museums too.
Thank you! Yeah, DC is museum central and the fact that so many are free makes it the tiniest bit easier on budget travelers.
I’ve been dreaming of this for so long! Looking at trips for spring break so this is very helpful. I’d also add that the National Building Museum is one of the most underrated imo.
Thanks for the heads up! Hope you land somewhere good for spring break.