These things are tourist magnets, drawing tens of thousands of them to the Tidal Basin each spring. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The National Cherry Blossom Festival officially began on Wednesday, but you really haven’t missed a thing — for better or worse.

The serious challenges to enjoying the festival, or just getting around the vehicle and pedestrian congestion, are just getting started. They will continue until April 15, when the celebration wraps up with a fireworks show on the waterfront.

This guidance for visitors and locals alike should help make the next few weeks less challenging.

Key events

1) March 25. Opening ceremony, 5 to 6:30 p.m., Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. The tickets for the performance have been distributed. Nearest Metro stations: Metro Center, Federal Triangle.

2) March 31-April 3. The Nationals return home to Nationals Park for a preseason game against the Red Sox at 4:05 p.m. March 31. They play their home opener against the Marlins at 1:05 p.m. April 3.

The nearest Metro station, Navy Yard, will be especially crowded before and after the home opener. Traffic will be slow near M and South Capitol streets on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and on the 14th Street, 11th Street and Douglass bridges. Leave plenty of extra time to make first pitch.

3) April 1. Blossom Kite Festival, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Washington Monument grounds near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. The festival includes competitions, but also has open areas for flying kites. It’s highly dependent on good weather. The rain date is April 2. Nearest Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle.

4) April 2. Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run and 5K Run-Walk. The 10-mile run starts at 7:20 a.m. and the 5K at 8:40 a.m. They both launch from 15th Street NW near the Washington Monument grounds and finish in the same area. The nearest Metro stations are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle, but note that this is a Sunday, so Metrorail won’t open till 7 a.m.

5) April 8. Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, 10 a.m. to noon. The floats and marching bands proceed along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets NW. Tickets are required for the grandstands, but stand for free between Ninth and 15th streets. Nearest Metro stations: Archives and Federal Triangle.

6) April 9. Anacostia River Festival, 1 to 5 p.m., Anacostia Park, at Anacostia Drive and Good Hope Road SE. The festival offers opportunities to canoe, play lawn games and enjoy the local arts scene, but this year’s event also includes a special celebration of biking, with trail rides, safety classes and quick bike tuneups.

Nearest Metro station: Anacostia. The walk is about 10 minutes, but there also will be a free shuttle bus between the station’s Howard Road exit and the festival. Note also that weekend parking is free at the station garage.

7) April 15. Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival. The fireworks are scheduled for 8:30 p.m. over the Washington Channel. But the event begins with a music and food festival from 2 to 9:30 p.m. at the District Wharf, 600-650 Water St. SW, with more entertainment from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Titanic Memorial in the Southwest Waterfront Park. The rain date for fireworks is April 16. Nearest Metro stations: Waterfront and L’Enfant Plaza.

Travel tips

Metro. The transit crowding that occurs during cherry blossom time is most noticeable on weekends and at midday during the week — and at the Smithsonian station, which is nearest to the Tidal Basin.

This is the first, and probably the only festival to occur during Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance program. The current edition of SafeTrack, which affects service on the Blue and Yellow lines, is scheduled to continue until April 9, though the April 2-9 phase involves the Yellow Line only.

This is also the first festival without the late-night rail service on weekends. Metro now closes at midnight seven days a week. It opens at 5 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. weekends.

On the upside, visitors this year are more likely to ride on one of the new trains, which are always eight cars long. They look better and smell better than the old trains. Also, they have more signs to tell riders in crowded rail cars what the next stop will be.

Crowds are rarely distributed evenly, especially when the train is eight cars long. The last two cars of an eight-car train often are less crowded.

Tell your out-of-town guests: On the escalators, we stand to the right and walk on the left. Don’t try to hold the train doors open for others to board. They don’t bounce back like elevator doors.

It will be crowded, so whether you’re an infrequent local rider or visiting the city, buy your SmarTrip card in advance and make sure it’s with enough money for your trip to avoid long lines at the fare machines.

D.C. Circulator. The Circulator’s Mall route is a great option during the festival. This is not a tour bus, but it’s a convenient way to reach many sites. The red, silver and yellow buses pass by Union Station, the Smithsonian museums, the Mall monuments and the Tidal Basin.

The fare is $1. Although the Circulator fareboxes take exact change, it’s better to use a SmarTrip card for the free reboardings and transfers between buses within two hours after first boarding. Maps and more details are available from the Circulator website at

Driving and parking. The festival is an international tourist magnet. During the peak bloom and beyond, drivers are likely to wander in confusion and frustration seeking parking near the Tidal Basin. Visitor parking is available along Ohio Drive SW between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials, but there is nowhere near enough space to accommodate the demand. Our best advice is to avoid driving and use Metro.

Parking for people with disabilities is available along West Basin Drive at the Roosevelt Memorial and along Ohio Drive on the Washington Boundary Channel side of Hains Point, north of the intersection with Buckeye Drive.

At festival time, Ohio Drive will be one way northbound between Inlet Bridge and 23rd Street.

Walking. Even if you drive, do it in sensible shoes, because you will wind up doing a lot of walking. Parking garages are at least a few blocks from the Tidal Basin, mostly on the north side of the Mall.

Then there’s the Tidal Basin. If you visit during the peak bloom, you will not be power walking. It’s like rush hour on I-66, only you’re more likely to crash into a person. Be patient.

While Smithsonian is the closest Metro station to the Tidal Basin, it’s also jammed at blossom time. If the weather is pleasant, get off the train at L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle or Foggy Bottom. Or get bonus views by exiting the Blue Line at the Arlington Cemetery station and crossing the Potomac River on the Memorial Bridge and walking past the Lincoln Memorial to the Tidal Basin.

Central Washington, with its grid pattern of streets, is fairly easy to navigate. But if you set off without a walking plan, you will discover that it is, in fact, possible to get lost.

Consult visitor maps on downtown streets or the ones posted by the National Park Service around the Mall. Bus shelters also often display large maps. Metro stations display maps of their surroundings.

Biking. Ride your own bike or rent from one of the many Capital Bikeshare stations. You can sign up for a single trip, passes of 24 hours or three days, or memberships of a month or a year, then take a bike from any station. A pass for a single trip of up to 30 minutes costs $2; a 24-hour membership costs $8.

See more details at

While riding around the area is delightful, the bike parking is very limited at popular times. Capital Bikeshare has announced it will offer a free corral service near the Washington Monument at Jefferson Drive and 14th Street SW this weekend and this Monday through Friday.

Navigation aids

This section offers guidance for people navigating via smartphone. It’s just a sampler of the possibilities.

Twitter. The official festival feed is @CherryBlossFest. It’s good for event announcements and updates. Follow @Metrorailinfo for information on the subway and @Metrobusinfo for the buses.

The D.C. Circulator bus system sends alerts on its Twitter feed, @DCCirculator. The Capital Bikeshare feed is @bikeshare.

Getting around. As a general guide for driving, transit, biking and walking, try the Google Maps app. With your GPS enabled, it’s an easy way to quickly explore travel options and follow turn-by-turn directions. Many travelers also recommend the Waze app. It provides real-time guidance, drawn from a community of drivers, and as with Google Maps, it provides voice directions, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road.

Biking. The SpotCycle app works for cities in many nations, but for festivalgoers, it can display a tappable map of the closest Capital Bikeshare locations, their addresses and how many bikes and empty docks they have. Also try BikeArlington’s RackSpotter, a crowdsourced guide to bike parking locations throughout the D.C. region, at It displays many options near the Mall and Tidal Basin.

Transit. Since the last festival, Metro has redesigned its website for easier use with mobile screens. Go to on your mobile device and add the Metro site to your home screen.

The mobile version offers a basic guide to bus and rail travel, including Trip Planner, Next Train and Next Bus, as well as service advisories for when things aren’t going so well. Using the “Service Near Me” feature, you could tap in “Tidal Basin” and see all the transit options within walking distance. See also the “Tourist & New Riders” feature to find answers to frequently asked questions.

The easy to manage RideDC Trip Planner app can use GPS locator services to help find nearby transit, and plan a route to your destination that may involve several modes of travel.

The Post’s DC Rider app has revamped its home screen since last spring. A touch-screen map links to station names with service details. There is a trip planner feature and links to the latest stories by The Post’s transportation writers.

Parking. These websites and apps are helpful in finding parking spaces: Parking Panda, Spot­Hero and ParkWhiz. They allow motorists to find and reserve parking spaces in garages that are in the vicinity of the festival events. The app versions use your device’s GPS information to create maps and display parking availability and rates.

The Parkmobile app can do some off-street parking reservations, but it’s also a way to pay for street meters without carrying a bag of quarters.