Spring is upon us and so are preparations for Ottawa’s multi-awarding winning Tulip Festival. The largest of it’s kind in the world.
This outdoor festival which takes place from May 11 to 21, 2018 has been drawing thousands of visitors since its founding in 1953 and symbolizes the lasting relationship Ottawa shares with the Netherlands. The tulip first made it’s way to Canada after the Second World War when after taking refuge in Ottawa with her family, Princess Juliana was finally able to return home. As a thank you she honored Ottawa and Canada with a gift of 100,000 tulips. That gift is known as the “Tulip Legacy” and those tulips have now increased to more than one million. Still to this day the Netherlands continue to give 20,000 bulbs to Ottawa each year.
Here is an itinerary to help you plan an ultimate Tulip Celebration getaway to Ottawa.
After checking into your hotel why not take a stroll this evening through Ottawa’s bustling Byward Market neighbourhood. A massive indoor market and one of Ottawa’s top tourist attractions with more than 260 stalls most of which are local artisans and farmers. This year in celebration of the Tulip festival pop artist Bex, creator of the festivals flag, will have a tulip inspired art installation on the City parkade and an interactive art workshop. The Byward market BIA, in collaboration with the artist, will have animation throughout the streets and courtyards as well as merchant promotions throughout the neighbourhood. Finish the evening by enjoying a gourmet dinner in one of the many local restaurants. If you are visiting on a Friday or Saturday you may want to stay to enjoy some live music at Aulde Dubliner & Pour House Irish Pub.
Feeling rested after a good sleep, time to enjoy the Tulips. Depending on where you are staying and if you enjoy walking you may like to follow the pathways along the river that lead to Dow’s lake and Commissioners Park. If you are driving, paid parking is available across from the Dows Lake Pavilion, at the corner of Preston Street and Queen Elizabeth Drive. During busy weekends, like Tulip Festival weekends, expect the lot to be almost full. It is better to use hop‐on hop‐off bus tours.
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Here you will find an explosion of flower beds filled with more than 3000,000 tulips along a 1 kilometer route of show-stopping, commemorative tulip beds and learn their history or stroll the tulip boardwalk.
If you would like to learn about the Canadian Tulip Heritage and Tulip Legacy Story, Ottawa Walking Tours is offering 30 minute walks which can be booked for ~ $5/per person. For the kids you will find family-friendly live entertainment, activities and face painting. Buskers and live performances will be held daily at the Liberation Cafe.
Now that you’ve enjoyed all the beautiful tulip beds, take a stroll to Lansdowne Park (see the map below), the dedicated hub for this years tulip festival. Lansdowne Park is about 30 minutes walk along Rideau Canal Western Pathway from Central Experimental Farm.
Here you can enjoy floral exhibits and installations, international friendship activities, entertainment, art celebrations, photo exhibits and much more for the whole family. Food vendors will be onsite as well as a Tulip Cafe where you can try a tulip cookie or tulip julip. The friendship stage and village will be hosting music and entertainment throughout the day for all ages. At the Aberdeen Tulip Pavilion kids can stay to see Doo Doo the clown and participate in other fun educational programs. Tickets for required for Lansdowne park.
If you are visiting on the Victoria day weekend, on May 2oth, the Tulip festival will join the rest of Canada to celebrate with a special Tulipmania event beginning at 6:30pm and concluding with musical fireworks at dusk in Lansdowne Park.
Consider ending your day with a relaxing boat cruise along the Rideau Canal (or go on the cruise on the first day of your visit). A 202km chain of lakes, rivers and canals beginning in Kingston and ending in Ottawa. Learn about the history of the canal which dates back to 1812 while you enjoy the beautiful views along the banks. Optional dinner cruises are also available.
Today, conclude your weekend in Ottawa with a visit to Major Hills Park where you can enjoy a scenic view of the Ottawa river and the iconic Parliament buildings as well as several beautiful flower beds. No visit to Ottawa would be complete without a visit to Parliament Hill, the political and cultural heart of the city. Free guided tours are offered daily and last about 45 minutes. Make sure to save time to head up the Peace Tower for a breathtaking view over the city. Free tickets can be picked up at 90 Wellington St. across from Parliament Hill. Make sure you are at the ticket centre when the counter opens! On busy weekends, the tours sell out quickly, or you may get only late afternoon tours.
Alternatively, you can walk or bike and see our Nation’s must see museums like Canadian Museum of History crossing the iconic Alexandra Bridge.
Consider renting a bike to explore on your own at a more leisurely pace. At 65 Sparks st. just across from the National Arts Centre, you can find Escape Bicycle. Ottawa is a very bike friendly city with more than 600 km of bike paths linking parks, gardens and historical sites. Rentals include a self-guided map, helmet and water bottle. Alternatively, if you would like a guided tour, Escape Bicycle Tours will be offering a 2 hour special tulip tour daily at 10:00am and 1:30pm.
Want to see Tulips from the air? Why not visit Canadian Aviation Museum and enjoy a vintage Biplane Flight! It holds up to two passengers per flight and takes off from the Museum daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May through October. For around $90, enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Parliament Hill and downtown Ottawa. Take home a thrilling memory of seeing multitudes of Tulips from up above!
Tulip information centres will be available at all official festival sites where you can pick up maps and gain more information about the celebrations, activities and tours. As well, event information and tickets sales can be found on the festival website.