May 11-21, 2018
Each year, the Canadian Tulip Festival celebrates the return of spring by showcasing over a million tulips across Canada’s capital region. The festival is the largest of its kind in the world and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe.
The 66th edition of the festival, running May 11 to 21, 2018, celebrates the theme “A World of Tulips” with fun activities for the whole family including tours, entertainment and even fireworks – and much of it is free! Here are the main sites and programming highlights for this year’s festival:
Commissioners Park – Tulips galore and fireworks
Commissioners Park – home to the highest concentration of tulips in Ottawa – is truly tulip heaven! Over 250,000 tulips in dozens of different varieties bloom in large flower beds along a one-kilometre long pathway. The park is located along the picturesque Dows Lake section of the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that winds its way through downtown Ottawa. Among the flower beds, look out for this year’s official tulip: yellow Darwin Hybrids World Friendship Tulips.
During the festival, Commissioners Park is also home to special programming, walking and biking tours, artists, a tulip boutique, as well as the Tulip Legacy Plaza which recounts the festival’s fascinating history.
Walk along the nearby Dows Lake Pavilion Tulip Boardwalk and relax among tulips in special seating areas. And don’t miss the spectacular Victoria Day fireworks show on the evening of Sunday, May 20! Watch from the public areas or buy a VIP ticket to the viewing party which includes a cocktail.
To maximize your tulip enjoyment, follow the Tulip Trail between Commissioners Park and Lansdowne. This 20-minute stroll takes you by beautiful residential and city gardens, with interpretation markers, animation and entertainment along the way.
Lansdowne – Tulip art and culture
Situated between downtown Ottawa and Commissioners Park, Lansdowne is where you’ll find tulip-inspired indoor and outdoor spaces highlighting the flower as an international symbol of friendship and peace.
The historic Aberdeen Pavilion is transformed into a Tulip Gallery with tulip art exhibits, photography, displays, a market, artist workshops, children’s activities and entertainment on the Tulip Stage.
Programming highlights include a vintage automobile display, a giant Turkish Tulip carpet, five-foot-tall hand painted tulips in the United Nations Friendship Tulip Garden, a swing dance night with live big band music and a Mother’s Day Charity Brunch.
ByWard Market – Urban tulip world
An urban tulip experience awaits in the bustling ByWard Market neighbourhood. Tiptoe throughout this historic area to immerse yourself in tulip art created by artist Monique Martin. Join a culinary tour with C’est Bon Cooking to taste local flavours (including edible tulip petals and bulbs!), or explore the many boutiques, restaurants and cafés on your own. Take a seat on a patio, order a local craft beer and enjoy special menus at participating restaurants. This neighbourhood is the perfect place to people watch!
Adjacent to the ByWard Market and behind the Fairmont Château Laurier is picturesque Major’s Hill Park. Though not an official festival site, this green space features large flower beds with lovely background views of the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill and the National Gallery of Canada.
Garden Promenade – Parks and gardens across the city
If admiring over a million tulips leaves you wanting more, don’t worry – there are many more horticultural gems to explore! Visit 40 stunning gardens and parks along Ottawa’s Garden Promenade using the self-guided itinerary or join a guided bus, bike or walking tour. Sites include Rideau Hall (home of the Governor General of Canada), Major’s Hill Park, the Central Experimental Farm, Parliament Hill, as well as gardens in Gatineau, Quebec. Enjoy photo opportunities along the way, as well as festival events like yoga in the tulips.
Zibi – Culinary long weekend
After delighting your eyes with tulip blooms, why not titillate your taste buds? From May 17 to 21, the annual Rendez-vous des saveurs is holding their delectable culinary event at the Zibi development site near the Portage Bridge overlooking the Ottawa River. Enjoy gourmet dishes prepared by top chefs that showcase local and seasonal products blended with international flavours. The event includes a variety of wines as well.
Ottawa’s city centre is compact and easy to navigate. You can easily access festival sites on foot, by bike or by bus. For more on those handy transportation options, visit our page: Different ways to experience the beautiful Tulip Festival in Ottawa.
On weekends, the most convenient option is to take advantage of the free hop-on, hop-off Tulip Shuttle provided by Grayline/Lady Dive. It takes you between four main festival sites: the ByWard Market, Lord Elgin Hotel, Lansdowne and Commissioners Park. Tulip Shuttle stops are clearly indicated on Canadian Tulip Festival signs and buses run on a regular 30-minute schedule within this schedule: Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Sundays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Victoria Day (Monday, May 21), 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Free shuttle bus transportation is encouraged since official sites are extremely popular and vehicle parking is limited. To ease shuttle bus circulation, Queen Elizabeth Drive is closed to traffic during the following times: Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Monday, May 21 (Victoria Day), 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Deep historical roots
Ottawa’s connection to tulips dates back to World War II. Following the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands took refuge in Ottawa along with her two young daughters, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene. While in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana gave birth to her third daughter, Princess Margriet. At the time of the baby’s birth, part of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared Dutch soil, to allow the new princess to hold Dutch nationality exclusively. Ottawa also helped to celebrate the princess’ birth by flying the Dutch flag at the top of the iconic Peace Tower and playing Dutch music on the tower’s carillon. Ottawa was home to these Dutch royal family members until they could finally return to a liberated Netherlands in 1945. (Canadian troops played a pivotal role in the liberation as well.)
Upon returning to the Netherlands, Princess Juliana sought to thank Ottawa and the Canadian people with several gifts, including 100,000 tulip bulbs. Since then, the Dutch royal family has sent tulip bulbs to Canada’s Capital each year – a lasting gift known as the “Tulip Legacy”. The Canadian Tulip Festival was established in 1953 as a way of celebrating this gift. The tulip is Ottawa’s official flower.
The first Canadian Tulip Festival was led by the Ottawa Board of Trade, at the suggestion of world renowned photographer Malak Karsh. Karsh is considered the founder of the Festival and his photographs have immortalized the tulip.
For complete festival programming and to purchase tickets to ticketed events, visit the official Canadian Tulip Festival.
And explore our website for Different ways to experience the beautiful Tulip Festival in Ottawa and to see our Top places to photograph during the Canadian Tulip Festival. And don’t forget to share your favourite tulip moments with us by using the hashtag #MyOttawa!