Tips for Going to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa

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Each May for more than half a century, the city of Ottawa has come to life with hundreds of thousands of colorful tulips. Canada's capital celebrates the Canadian Tulip Festival for 3 weeks each year, drawing thousands of international visitors who want to see the blooms and enjoy springtime in Ottawa.

I myself was intrigued by this festival when I first read about it — a city decked out in tulips of all shapes and colors? What could possibly be better for this photography lover?

Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival

But the more I learned about the festival, the more interesting it became.

The Canadian Tulip Festival

Ottawa doesn't just plant hundreds of thousands of tulips each year for the fun of it; there's actually some fascinating history behind the tradition.

Canadian Tulip Festival

During WWII, after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Dutch royal family fled their homeland to rule in exile from elsewhere. Queen Wilhelmina took up temporary residence in the United Kingdom, while Princess Juliana (along with daughters Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene) crossed the Atlantic and eventually settled in Ottawa.

While living in exile in Ottawa, Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet in January 1943. For the birth, a wing of Ottawa Civic Hospital was actually de-territorialized so that the new princess could still remain fully Dutch.

When the war ended, Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana returned home to the Netherlands. In thanks for what Ottawa had done for her and her daughter (and in thanks to the Canadian solders who had helped liberate the Netherlands), Princess Juliana sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada's capital. The next year, she sent 20,500 more and requested that they be planted around Ottawa Civic Hospital. This annual gift of tulips continued for decades.

Canadian Tulip Festival

Princess Juliana's tulips drew new interest to Ottawa in the springtime, and in 1953 the Canadian Tulip Festival was officially born. Today, over 1 million bulbs bloom annually along the “Tulip Route,” and roughly 500,000 visitors flock to Ottawa each year to see them.

This year, I was one of those 500,000 people.

Canadian Tulip Festival
Major's Hill Park
Canadian Tulip Festival
Commissioners Park

The Canadian Tulip Festival isn't JUST about the flowers, of course. Throughout the 18-day festival, there are musical performances, races, fireworks displays, parades, and more.

But, the tulips are, of course, the main draw.

Where to see tulips in Ottawa

Want to see the best tulip displays in Ottawa? Here are the best spots in the city to see the colorful blooms:

Dows Lake and Commissioners Park

If you want to see Ottawa's best tulip displays and don't mind crowds, the dozens of tulip beds in Commissioners Park along Dows Lake are the place to go. Each year roughly 300,000 bulbs of all colors and varieties are planted in these beds alone.

Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival
Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival
Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival

Getting there: You can drive to Dows Lake from anywhere in Ottawa, but I chose instead to rent a bike downtown and ride to the lake along the Rideau Canal. There are tulips planted along the canal, too, and the ride is gorgeous on a sunny spring afternoon.

Book your own Tulip Festival bike tour here!

Major's Hill Park

This park, which overlooks the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill, is another great spot to go tulip-spotting in Ottawa. With less crowds but lots of green space, great tulip photo ops abound. And bonus — you can also get the Parliament buildings and the pretty Notre Dame Cathedral in the background of these shots.

Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip Festival

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

Canadian Tulip Festival

Getting there: Because this park is extremely central, I merely walked there from my hotel; no car or bike necessary!

Around Ottawa

There are, of course, tulips planted all over the city and not just in designated parks. You don't necessarily have to go to one of the “main” sites to see the colorful blooms. Some of my favorite tulip shots were snapped as I was just strolling around the city.

Canadian Tulip Festival
National War Memorial
Canadian Tulip Festival
National War Memorial
Canadian Tulip Festival
Parliament Hill

You can visit the Tulip Festival site to learn about more spots to spot tulips around Ottawa.

Where to stay in Ottawa

If you're headed to Ottawa for the Canadian Tulip Festival, here are some accommodation options to check out:

Ottawa Locks
The Fairmont Chateau Laurier

Canadian Tulip Festival dates

The 2018 Tulip Festival takes place from May 11-21 in Ottawa.

And check out these tours in Ottawa to make your trip even better:

Who would like to go to the Canadian Tulip Festival?

 

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Going to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa

 

*Note: My visit to Ottawa has been sponsored by Ottawa Tourism and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. As always, though, all opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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52 Comments on “Tips for Going to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa

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  1. My friend and I were there this years at the beginning of the festival, May 6-9th. It was an awesome experience, seeing all the tulips and garden designs. Some of the gardens were not in full bloom while we were there, some were dead looking from the heat of the week. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our 4 days in Ottawa, and look forward to another trip next year.

    […] of my favorite places in Canada: Toronto; the capital city of Ottawa (go for the Tulip Festival!); Banff National Park; the coastal parts, like in Nova Scotia; and the pretty city of […]

    Beautiful pictures and wonderful story.

    I have heard the tulip festival and would like to go there, but I can’t get my vacation until the week after the festival. The festival of this year is from May 9 to 19. I am wondering if I go there the following weekend, May 24, would the tulips still blooming? Thanks.

      Hmm, I’m really not sure! I know that they plant to tulips in a way that they bloom throughout the whole festival. But I’m honestly not sure how long the last blooms would last. You *might* still catch some blooming tulips the week after, but I can’t say for sure!

    Beautiful photos! I am from Ottawa (born and raised) so it’s neat to read a visitors take on our Tulip Festival. I have been to it so many times over the years, I don’t go check out the tulips as much as I should. You take for granted what’s in your own city, and often do these events and festivals when you are showing an out of towner around. But I do admire them every time I drive by the tulip route, or walk & bike the areas. The tulips are just gorgeous and colourful. Love my city in the spring! I just discovered your blog, love it already!

      You’re so right when you say that you tend to take for granted the things going on in your own backyard. I LOVED going to the Tulip Festival, though. A highlight of 2013 for me, for sure!

    My grandfather was part of the group of people who helped organize and found the Tulip Festival. He has letters in house from Queen Elizabeth and the Dutch Royal family marking the occasion. It makes me very happy to read that you enjoyed your trip to my city so much. Love the blog by the way!

      Oh how cool!! And yes, definitely enjoyed Ottawa, especially during the tulip fest!

    Gorgeous! Andy and I saw tulips at Keukenhof near Amsterdam in May, and they really are so pretty. I never knew about the Canadian connection from WWII though, really interesting!

      I never knew about that connection, either, but it was pretty cool to learn about! I really need to get to Keukenhof one day.

    Wow that looks truly amazing. You have to admire the dedication and art that goes into such a festival

      I totally agree. The care and planning that goes into it is really quite amazing. They plant bulbs at intervals, too, to try and make sure that the tulips bloom throughout the entire festival.

    Absolutely beautiful! I hadn’t been to a flower festival until the Calla Lily Festival in Taiwan. There are farms outside of Taipei where you can go see them and for a small price you can even pick some and take them home. These tulips look perfectly content not being picked though :-p Thanks for sharing!!

    Thank you for the great photos. I visited this Tulip festival many years ago as a child – I may have to go back so I can more fully appreciate it!

      I would definitely suggest another visit to refresh your memory! Plus, Ottawa in the spring is lovely.

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