Guide to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa
The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Canada
The Ottawa tulip festival actually named the Canadian Tulip Festival is held for three weeks every May. It is the largest festival in the world Over these three weeks, as the tulip gardens come into bloom, concerts, lectures, and other performances – both indoor and out – are held as the city celebrates the arrival of warmer weather.
The festival had its start in 1945 when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands presented Ottawa with 100,000 tulip bulbs in appreciation for the safe haven offered to exiled Dutch royalty and the role Canadian troops played in the liberation of the Netherlands.
In the years following 1945, the tulips became a symbol of international friendship as more and more events were planned around their blooming.
The 67th edition of the festival running May 10 to 20, 2019, has fun activities for the whole family including tours, entertainment, and even fireworks – and much of it is free!
More than 300,000 tulips decorate Commissioners Park, one of the festival’s key sites. Buskers, musicians and working artists add to the festivities.
Landsdowne Park is home to the International Pavilion with food stands, performances and other global offerings.
Major’s Hill Park hosts a vintage carnival and circus school where children as young as 3 can participate by learning how to juggle or tightrope walk with experts. Older kids may be interested in trying the unicycle. Rides, including a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, Scrambler and toddler train round out the fun. Tickets required.
The Heritage Pavilion will take you back to Ottawa in 1945. Hear from people – including veterans – who experienced this time period first-hand and who love sharing their stories.
The Tulip Shuttle is an inexpensive way to get around the festival sites on the weekends. The shuttle travels the Tulip Route about 10 km along scenic Queen Elizabeth Driveway, which follows the Rideau Canal from downtown Ottawa (Major’s Hill Park and the Mirror Tent) to Dow’s Lake (Commissioner’s Park). Lansdowne Park, home of the International Pavilion, is en route between Dow Lake and downtown.
Cycling is a great way to get around the tulip festival, especially given the flat, bike-friendly canal-side terrain from downtown Ottawa to Dow Lake.
Many events are free or low cost at the Ottawa Tulip Festival. Tulip viewing itself is free. Performances at the Mirror Tent are required and range in cost.
A spectacular fireworks show will take place at Dows Lake at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 19 (weather permitting). Choose your own viewing spot along the Rideau Canal or purchase a VIP ticket which provides access to a special area on the Tulip Boardwalk, including seating and a licensed bar.
For the ultimate tulip experience, purchase a ticket for a Tulip Legacy Tour. During this 30-minute guided tour, you’ll learn about horticulture as well as the festival’s history as you roam through the gardens at Commissioners Park.
Canadian Tulip Festival Fun Facts
- Every year, the Netherlands continue to give 20,000 bulbs to Ottawa.
- The largest site of the Tulip Festival is in Commissioners Park, on the banks of Dows Lake, which has over 300,000 tulips!
- The Canadian Tulip Festival attracts some 600,000 visitors making it the largest tulip festival in the world.
Tips for Visiting the Festival
- Bring the kids – the Tulip Festival is a great event for children. Consider a stroller for younger ones.
- Buy a shuttle pass for the day – this is an inexpensive, convenient, environmentally friendly way to get around the festival. The shuttle runs every 15 mins or so on weekends.
- Treat yourself to a meal or high tea at the Chateau Laurier.
Best ways to experience glorious tulips in Ottawa
- On foot – From downtown Ottawa, you can easily explore many of the beautiful, multi-colored tulip beds on foot
- By bike – Ottawa offers more than 800 kilometers (497 miles) of beautiful paths that link natural areas, parks, gardens, and national historic sites
- By bus
- By air – At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, you can book a ride in a vintage open cockpit biplane with Ottawa Biplane Adventures.
- By boat – For a unique perspective, take a relaxing ride on a Rideau Canal Cruise
Top places to photograph beautiful tulips in Ottawa
- Commissioners Park – located near Dows Lake along the Rideau Canal
- Major’s Hill Park – wander along the pathways between the Fairmont Château Laurier and the National Gallery of Canada.
- Parliament of Canada – Get up close to Centre Block and as low an angle as you can to snap a photo of the blooming tulips with the neo-gothic Peace Tower in the background
- Along the Rideau Canal
- Garden Promenade tour
Join the Kid Zone for all the FUN!
- GIANT Tulip Painting from World-Changing Kids – Every day! 12pm – 6pm on weekdays / 10am – 8pm on Weekends
- Face Painting from Fantasy Face Painting – Weekends & Holiday Monday
- Pedalheads – May 18 & 19, 2019
- Practice Kids Garden– Practice your planting skills with real soil and tulip bulbs
- The Children’s World of Tulips Art Wall. This 380 feet of Wall in the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park will feature 5,000 Children’s artworks of Tulips from primary schools in the Gatineau-Ottawa region.
Festival Dates & Hours
- The Festival takes place May 10 – 20, 2019
- Open Daily: 9am – 9pm
Boutiques & Pavilions
- Weekdays: Noon – 6pm
- Weekends: 10am – 8pm