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Insider's Guide to the 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival

By Arabella Bowen
3/17/2014 11:00:19 AM

If you're looking to experience the start of spring in all its glory (as many of us are after one of the worst winters on record), the National Cherry Blossom Festival makes a great weekend getaway or day trip to kick off the season. Originally a gift from the Japanese government to the United States in 1912, the cherry trees now number nearly 4,000 and attract more than 1.5 million visitors each year.

Washington, D.C. hosts a number of special events during the festival, which runs from March 20 through April 13 this year-you'll see the blossoms at their very best during peak bloom, from April 8 to 12. One of the biggest events, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on Saturday, April 12, features celebrity performances, colorful floats, giant helium balloons, and marching bands from across the United States.

Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Flickr/Josh Berglund19)

Another top draw, the Blossom Kite Festival, held March 29 on Washington Monument grounds, showcases kite ballets and demonstrations by pros, and gives kids and families a chance to build and fly their own kites.

Make sure to check out a few other places around Washington, D.C. to get your full dose of spring. Daffodils, crocuses, forsythia, and many other flowers will be blooming at the U.S. National Arboretum's gardens. The Enid A. Haupt Garden's dramatic setting at the Smithsonian Castle makes for a great combination visit to both the gardens and the museum.

Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate overlooking the Potomac, is a 30-minute drive from D.C. The site has lovely gardens of its own-you can even get there by boat, passing the riverbank cherry trees along the way. In Virginia, right across the Potomac, Alexandria will offer an Old Town food tour with cherry-themed eats, plus scenic boat rides, riverside bike tours, and more.

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Where to Stay

When you book your trip, be sure to look for a festive hotel package with value-added perks like Metrorail passes and cherry-infused treats in breakfasts and cocktails. Here are three of this year's best packages:

1. Mandarin Oriental

The luxury, Asian-inspired Mandarin Oriental (a Fodor's Choice hotel) is centrally located downtown with some of the best views of cherry blossoms, the waterfront, and the National Mall. This year, the hotel's Cherry Blossoms Bloom package offers the perfect couple's escape. Indulge in a complimentary breakfast for two and cherry blossom-inspired treats before heading out to enjoy the day's events, and make sure to unwind with the 20 percent discount on a weekday, cherry-themed spa treatment. The package includes overnight valet parking and a suite upgrade for an additional $200.

Details: Package is available from March 14-April 13, 2014 and is subject to availability. Rates start at $355/night.

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