If you’ve never been to Ottawa for the annual Canadian Tulip Festival, make sure to add it to your bucket list May 11 to 21, 2018! This popular springtime festival – the largest of its kind in the world – features over a million blooming tulips as well as tulip-themed programming and entertainment throughout the city. Here are some of the best ways to get the most out of your tulip time in Canada’s Capital!
From downtown Ottawa, you can easily explore many of the beautiful, multi-coloured tulip beds on foot. Major’s Hill Park, located behind the Fairmont Château Laurier, is home to several impressive flower beds with scenic views of the Ottawa River. This is a great spot to take photos of tulips with landmarks in the background like Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada or the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.
Head into the historic ByWard Market neighbourhood, adjacent to Major’s Hill Park. During the festival, the area becomes a colourful urban tulip garden filled with animations, art installations and more. Take some time to browse the many shops and sit on a patio to sip on a local craft beer and watch the world go by in this vibrant yet relaxed district.
Next, wander over to the Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – and stroll along its scenic banks which are lined with flower beds. If you’re fond of walking, you can follow the paved pathways along the water as far as you like!
Stop at Lansdowne in the Glebe neighbourhood to explore floral art and exhibitions, international vendors, entertainment and children’s activities. From here, embark on the Tulip Trail, a 20-minute walk on the Rideau Canal pathway between Lansdowne and Commissioners Park that takes you along beautiful residential and city gardens. On the way, you’ll find markers, animation and entertainment.
Once at Commissioners Park near Dows Lake, you’ll be surrounded by many large flower beds filled with more than 250,000 tulips in bloom – all within a one kilometre path. Dozens of different varieties of tulips are planted each year! While exploring this magical spot, you might catch some live musical entertainment and see artists at work among the tulips. Stop by the Tulip Legacy Plaza to learn about the festival’s fascinating history, and don’t miss the yellow Darwin Hybrids World Friendship Tulips – the official tulip of the 2018 Festival.
Cycling around Ottawa is one of the best ways to explore the sites mentioned above and much more. Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals offers bike rentals and tours from their permanent location at 65 Sparks Street, and from Commissioner’s Park, the ByWard Market and Lansdowne during the festival. Each location also offers Bike Valets for easy bicycle parking!
Follow the flat and picturesque route along the Rideau Canal to access Lansdowne and to see the tulips in Commissioners Park. But there’s much more to explore beyond tulips! Ottawa offers more than 600 kilometres (373 miles) of beautiful paths that link natural areas, parks, gardens and national historic sites.
If the weather looks questionable, you’d rather not bike or walk, or you need fully accessible transportation, the bus is a great option.
To travel with ease between official Tulip Festival sites and to see more of the city and get easy access to many attractions, consider Lady Dive’s Hop-on Hop-off bus tours. These fully accessible tours feature guided commentary in several different languages and a few buses have sunny, open top decks for even better viewing.
For a unique perspective, take a relaxing ride on a Rideau Canal Cruise. The electric boats are quiet and they ride smoothly on the calm waters of the canal. The trips run between the dock near the Westin Ottawa to Dows Lake. As you glide along, you’ll hear live commentary with anecdotes about the history of the Rideau Canal and the region.
For a truly special Tulip Festival experience, why not see the multitude of beautiful tulips from the air? At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, located just 10 minutes from Ottawa’s downtown core, you can book a ride in a vintage open cockpit biplane with Ottawa Biplane Adventures or in a bubble canopy helicopter with Héli-Tremblant Helicopter Tours.
Hear the roar of the biplane’s engine and feel the wind blow through your hair, as downtown Ottawa passes by below you. And as long as your camera has a strap, snap great aerial shots as you go! For an experience that is more shielded from the wind, opt for a ride in a Robinson 44 single-engine helicopter. Both the biplane and the helicopter offer flights that vary in length. The biplane can accommodate two passengers and the helicopter can take three.
During the day, the tulips are one of Ottawa’s main attractions. At night, these delicate flowers close up to protect themselves from the cooler temperatures. But the rest of the city livens up!
Various Canadian Tulip Festival events take place throughout the festival, including a swing dance night on May 11, the Rendez-vous des saveurs culinary event May 17-21, a Mother’s Day charity brunch on May 13, and a spectacular Victoria Day fireworks show at Dows Lake on the evening of Sunday, May 20 at 9:00 p.m. (weather permitting)! Consult the festival schedule to see additional programming during your visit.
There are also many entertainment options outside of the festival. Check out the National Arts Centre schedule to choose from a large variety of theatre, dance and music shows for all ages. For a stellar meal, head to the bustling ByWard Market area or other neighbourhoods near downtown. Or for gaming, entertainment and more, head to the Casino du Lac-Leamy or the Rideau Carleton Raceway Casino. For even more ideas, consult Ottawa’s Tourism’s online Event Calendar.
Can’t get enough of tulips, flowers and other horticulture magic? Follow the Garden Promenade on a self-guided tour or on a guided tour to explore 40 of the region’s most beautiful, must-visit gardens.
For more details about Canadian Tulip Festival programming and the festival’s history, check out our main Canadian Tulip Festival page. And for complete festival programming and to purchase tickets to ticketed events, visit the official Canadian Tulip Festival.
Got a great pic from this year’s festival? Enter our Ottawa in Bloom photo contest and win one of four great prizes!