Three-dimensional (3D) topological Dirac semimetals (TDSs) are a recently proposed state of quantum matter that have attracted increasing attention in physics and materials science. A 3D TDS is not only a bulk analogue of graphene; it also exhibits non-trivial topology in its electronic structure that shares similarities with topological insulators. Moreover, a TDS can potentially be driven into other exotic phases (such as Weyl semimetals, axion insulators and topological superconductors), making it a unique parent compound for the study of these states and the phase transitions between them. Here, by performing angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy, we directly observe a pair of 3D Dirac fermions in Cd3As2, proving that it is a model 3D TDS. Compared with other 3D TDSs, for example, β-cristobalite BiO2 (ref. 3) and Na3Bi (refs 4, 5), Cd3As2 is stable and has much higher Fermi velocities. Furthermore, by in situ doping we have been able to tune its Fermi energy, making it a flexible platform for exploring exotic physical phenomena.