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. Very cool. We were in the Netherlands this year in May and made it to Keukenhof. I have no clue how many tulips they have there, but a ton. It is the Dutch expression of that festival in Canada. So many of the same shapes and colors I remember from the place near Amsterdam. Though we had less sunny weather than you apparently did.

      I got very lucky with gorgeous weather! I would love to go to Keukenhof in the spring to see the tulips there, too, sometime.

    I love every flower festival. I didn’t know bout the one in Ottawa, Canada. Thanks for pointing it out. I hope to make it there one May.

      I honestly had never heard of this one, either, before this year. But I’m so glad I went!

    So odd to see my city in your blog! But I have to agree, Ottawa in May is beautiful! I always recommend the festival time for people to visit. I am lucky enough to have my apartment right next to Dows lake so I can see the tulips thorough the festival on a daily basis 🙂 Another fun time to visit is July first with Canada Day Celebrations!

      Lucky you! That must be a great spot in the spring and summer.

      And it was actually a toss-up between the Tulip Festival and Canada Day when I was deciding on my second trip to Ottawa. I’m glad I picked the spring, though! Beautiful weather, but not too crowded.

    Gorgeous and so colorful! I will have to plan a visit next spring. So close to Montreal too!

      Yes you definitely should try to go next year! I’m really glad I made the trip.

    Great photos!! Even though I’m from Canada, I’ve never been to Ottawa…it looks like I should go 🙂


      Definitely go! It’s well worth a visit – especially if you’re from Canada!

    I would love to go! I’m happy that these pictures give me at least a bit of springtime feeling, as the weather in Belgium is still awful.

    Love the story behind the festival. It adds so much to it!

      Aww sorry to hear spring hasn’t yet sprung in Belgium! Hopefully it will soon. Until then, enjoy the photos!

    Stunning! Beautiful photos. There’s a tulip festival here in the Wellington botanic gardens which I need to make more of an effort to see this year. Ottawa’s is on a far more grand scale though and I love the backdrops of buildings and memorials.

      I imagine any tulip festival would be worth checking out though – especially if there’s one in your backyard! (PS, love the Wellington botanic gardens!)

    beautiful photos and thank you for the back story . I always love to know the history behind places I either visit or plan to.

      Same here, Brittany! And this story is certainly a neat one.

    Amazing photos. I am not sure if you know this, but there is a huge tulip festival just north of Seattle every spring, which is one of the largest tulip exporters in the world!

    My friend and I were there this year 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.

      Really glad to hear you enjoyed your time in Ottawa, too! It’s a beautiful festival, isn’t it?

    Great photos Amanda. It took me back to when I was in Ottawa in 2002.

      Thanks, Steve! Glad I could bring back some good memories.

    Gorgeous pics! While it’s not my fave flower, I still think it’s beautiful!!!

      I definitely liked some colors better than others. But you can’t deny that they make great photo subjects!

    Beautiful photos. I had no idea the variety of colors tulips come in.

      I didn’t either – nor did I realize that they can come in so many different shapes! I had a blast photographing them all.

    Tulips are my favorite…absolutely beautiful photos, Amanda!

      Thank you, Christian! I really love tulips, too – part of the reason I really wanted to go to Ottawa for this!

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