Your guide to the Ottawa tulip festival
Do you have a mother’s day tradition? In my family, my mom LOVES to go to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. This annual festival runs for almost 2 weeks in May and showcases more than 100 plus varieties of tulips. The festival is not only flowers, there are musical performances, races, fireworks, parades, and more. The Ottawa Tulip Festival is the perfect mother’s day activity!
The history behind the festival
When you think of tulips, you are probably thinking of Holland and the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens. But in fact, tulips are native of the Middle East but the Dutch made them their iconic flower during their golden age of commerce around the mid-16th century. Read more about tulips history here.
So why is there a tulip festival in the national capital? Well, we need to backtrack to the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. To escape, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands took refuge in Ottawa along with her two young daughters. While being in exile, the princess got pregnant and the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared Dutch soil so that the princess could give birth in Dutch territory. In 1943, the third princess, Princess Margriet was born. In 1945, when the Netherlands was liberated, the Dutch royal family members went back to their kingdom.
Upon her return, to show her gratitude to Ottawa and the Canadian people, Princess Juliana sent several gifts, including a million tulip bulbs. Since then, the tradition has been carried over decades and the Dutch royal family still sends tulips every year, also known as the “Tulip Legacy”. The Canadian Tulip Festival was established in 1953 as a way of celebrating this gift. Ottawa even made the tulip its official flower.
Where to see the tulips in Ottawa
During the festivities, the city is full of tulips everywhere. However, here are THE places to go see them:
COMMISSIONERS PARK - DOW'S LAKE
The best place to see the tulips is at Dows Lake and the Commissioners Park. The park goes along the Rideau Canal, one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Site in Canada, and is the most popular spot since it has the highest concentration of tulips in the federal capital. The downside is that this is where crowds are concentrated as well; thankfully the park is huge so there is more than enough space for everyone.
The park has plenty of picnic areas and food vendors. We do our mother's day picnic in this area.
Are you a bike lover? If so, I highly recommend doing this part of the festival by bike, it will enhance your experience.
This park mixes art, photography and floral installations. The park is also the stage for international performances, you can find more about the programming here.
The promenade is between Ottawa & Gatineau (neighbour city in the Quebec province) and has plenty of activities such as the culinary event, Les Rendez-vous de Saveurs. This is also a great spot to bike and to admire the tulips at the same time.
Downtown Ottawa, this is the urban part of the festival, you can spend the afternoon in boutiques, restaurants and cafés, plus there are tons of tulip art.
Getting around Ottawa
If you are visiting Ottawa by car, I will highly suggest leaving the car in a parking lot and doing the festival by foot or by bike. The festival attracts a huge number of crowds and navigating the city by car and finding a parking spot can be a little complicated.
Sometimes the places of the tulips spots change from year to year. So it might be a good idea to plan your trip before going.
The weather in May is unpredictable, to say the least. Sometimes, there are super warm years, and others where I was doing the trail with my winter jacket on. Since the booming of the flowers are weather depended, you should check when is the most optimal day for your visit.
Go the website of Canadian Tulip Festival for more information.
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