The Ottawa tulip festival, actually named the Canadian Tulip Festival is held for three weeks every May. 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 Ottawa tulip festival, officially named the Canadian Tulip Festival, is the largest festival in the world, and in 2009 was expanded to every day of the three week period instead of just on the weekends.
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.
Highlights & Festival Locations
Aside from the tulips, highlights include
- Performances at the Mirror Tent, including by the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, musical acts and guest speakers,
- 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 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. See RentABike for bike rentals.
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.
The circus school and vintage carnival require tickets. Admission to the International Pavilion at Lansdowne Park is free as are the outdoor performances at Commissioner's Park.
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. Breakfast, for example, is reasonably priced and delicious. The buffet includes coffee and juice and is free for children 5 and under and half price for kids 6 - 12.
- Check out more ideas for visiting Canada in Spring
High tea is another delicious treat. Smaller "princess" or "prince" teas are available (our girls shared).
Ottawa Weather during the Festival
Weather during the Tulip Festival is unpredictable. Pack prepared for chilly, warm and wet weather. Other things to bring include comfortable walking shoes, umbrella, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
Choose from a luxury hotel like the Chateau Laurier or for fun, stay at the Ottawa Jail Hostel.
In between a palace and a jail, the Holiday Inn Hotel Suites Downtown Ottawa is centrally located in a quiet, residential neighborhood and offers nice, clean, unfussy accommodation close to Ottawa's major attractions.
The Business Inn is central - about a 10/15 minute walk to The ByWard Market / Parliament Hill or the Rideau Canal and other Ottawa attractions. The hotel used to be an apartment building so each room is equipped with a kitchen and eating area. The Business Inn has few frills but is especially convenient and affordable for families.
See a full lineup of Ottawa hotels.