Guide to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa

The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Canada

Thousands turn out to view the flower beds at the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa.

Don MacKinnon / Stringer / Getty Images

Held in Ottawa, the Canadian Tulip Festival takes place every May over ten days. This year, the festival will run from May 8 to 18, 2020 at Commissioners Park. During these weeks, as the colorful tulip fields come into bloom and the city celebrates warmer weather, visitors can look forward to concerts, lectures, live performances, and lots of colorful tulips.

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Tulips on Parliament Hill during Ottawa Tulip Festival. The Parliament buildings were built between 1859 and 1866, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Rolf Hicker / All Canada Photos / Getty Images

The Canadian Tulip Festival claims to be the largest in the world with events scheduled for each and every day of the festival. The tradition began 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 and the Netherlands keeps the tradition alive by sending 20,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa every year.

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Notable Features and Events

Tulip Festival

 Dennis McColeman / Getty Images

Entertainment lineups vary from year to year, but visitors can expect to have a good time exploring the festival's different areas. In addition to the tulips on display, you'll find historical presentations, activities for children, and artists finding inspiration. Note that some events, like walking tours, you may need to sign up for in advance online.

  • Heritage Pavilion: Here, you can learn about the World War II history that inspired the festival and hear stories from the Canadian soldiers who were fighting overseas. There will also be antique and craft shopping stalls and an outdoor patio with food trucks.
  • Tulip Pavilion: This is where you'll find the majority of the tulips, as well as an educational display from the Embassy of the Netherlands, a Garden Workshop Area, and a virtual reality installation that will let you experience what it's like to walk through the Netherlands' famous tulip fields.
  • Kid Zone: In the festival's Kid Zone, you'll find fun activities like face painting, learn-to-bike classes, and gardening sessions at Manderley Turf.
  • Tulip Legacy Walking Tour: Sign up online for a guided experience of the gardens, where you can learn more about the different tulip variations and the festival's history.
  • Art in the Tulips: On Preston Square, you can watch skilled artists capture the tulip fields in real time.
  • Music & Tulips: Live music performances will be scheduled over the weekends throughout the duration of the festival.
  • Victoria Day: A fun day to visit the festival, don't miss the holiday fireworks show this year that will take place on Monday, May 18, 2020.
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Tulips at Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa

Dennis McColeman / Getty Images

Attending the festival at Commissioners Park and at the various pavilions is free, however, visitors should have cash on hand if they plan on eating lunch at one of the festival's food trucks or perusing the shops and craft stands. The guided walking tour is extra, but tickets are inexpensive and there are discounts for seniors and students. If you'd like to watch the Victoria Day fireworks from the boardwalk, make sure to purchase your VIP tickets ahead of time. They will sell out sooner than you think.

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Tips for Visiting the Festival

Chateau Laurier

 Michele Falzone / Getty Images

Before you set your dates and make your plans to visit the festival, there are a few things you should keep in mind, like deciding whether or not you should bring your pet and figuring out where you'll eat the day of the festival.

  • Dogs are allowed in the park during the festival, but they must be kept on the leash.
  • Consider taking a break from the festival and treat yourself to a meal or high tea at the Chateau Laurier. The buffet is reasonably priced and free for children under 5.
  • Weather in Ottawa during the Tulip Festival is unpredictable, so you should be prepared for chilly, warm, or wet weather. Other things to bring include comfortable walking shoes, umbrella, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat.
  • If you're coming from out of town, you'll have many accommodation options from the luxury Chateau Laurier to the budget-friendly and quirky Ottawa Jail Hostel or the more affordable Holiday Inn or Business Inn, which are also nearby.
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