One would think that the world’s largest tulip festival would be in the Netherlands, but it is in fact in Ottawa, Canada. The Canadian Tulip Festival attracts people from around the world to view the more than one million tulips on display around the city for two weeks each May. Ottawa is filled with blooming marvels decorating its national historic sites, museums, parliament buildings, and parks.
About the Canadian Tulip Festival
How did Canada become home to the world’s largest tulip festival? The Canadian Tulip Festival began during World War II after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Princess Juliana of the Dutch royal family fled to Canada during that time and lived in Ottawa until the end of the war.
During her time in Canada, she gave birth to Princess Margriet on Canadian soil. To ensure that Princess Margriet could be a legitimate royal, the Canadian government temporarily declared her Ottawa hospital room, a part of Dutch soil. They even put some dirt from Holland under the hospital bed so that Princess Margriet could be born on her native soil.
Princess Margriet at Canadian Tulip Festival in 2022
The royal family stayed here until the end of the war when they were finally liberated in 1945. Princess Juliana never forgot Canada’s kindness and upon her return, she sent the Canadian people a history royal gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. The Royal House of the Netherlands has been sending Canada 20,000 tulip bulbs each year ever since. The Tulip Legacy celebrates the lasting international friendship between the two nations.
In 2022 Princess Margriet returned to Ottawa for the Canadian Tulip Festival to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Netherlands’ liberation during the Second World War. (it was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed). We were honoured to have the opportunity to see here in person.
How to Enjoy the Canadian Tulip Festival
The Canadian Tulip Festival Takes Place in Ottawa from May 12 – 22 in 2023 at Commissioners Park and other areas around Ottawa. For more information visit the Canadian Tulip Festival website.
You can travel to Ottawa during the tulip festival and do nothing else, but see the tulips. Tulips are on display in so many places, that admiring the tulip beds can take up an entire weekend. The National Capital Commission, Canada’s official gardener, does an amazing job each year decorating the city with tulips and you can seek them out in all the different parts of town.
Best Places to Photograph Tulips at the Canadian Tulip Festival
With more than 1 million tulips on display throughout the Canadian Tulip Festival, there are plenty of places to capture beautiful photos of the Tulip Festival in Ottawa. We spent the weekend searching them out to help you make the most of your time in this cool city.
1. Commissioners Park
Commissioners Park is the official location for the Canadian Tulip Festival and there are plenty of places to see colourful tulips in bloom. Flower beds are arranged all along the waterfront at Dow’s Lake where they wind through the parks shaded with trees. Make sure to look up and frame your tulips using one of the trees as a backdrop.
There are food trucks, interactive displays, and movies running throughout the event showcasing the history of the Canadian Tulip Festival, Canada’s ties with the Netherlands, and the Second World War. Make sure to visit Commissioners Park in the evening as well.
Where is Commissioners Park
Commissioners Park is located at Dows Lake at the corner of Queen Elizabeth Drive and Carling Avenue. It is 5km (3.1 miles) from downtown Ottawa. The park is easily accessible by car, bus, or bicycle, and there are several parking options available nearby. One of the best ways to get around during the Canadian tulip festival is by bicycle, and there is a scenic bike path along the Rideau Canal that connects the downtown area to Commissioners Park.
2. Major’s Hill Park
Major’s Hill Park is an excellent spot in downtown Ottawa to photograph tulips at the Canadian Tulip Festival. Located between the Fairmont Chateau Laurier and the National Gallery of Canada, there are tulip beds waiting to be photographed with these two iconic Ottawa landmarks in the background.
You can also frame Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral with tulips. The possibilities in Major’s Hill Park are endless.
Take a walk to Mackenzie Avenue for Tulip beds weaving through the park and capture the classic Tulip Festival shot of the National Gallery, Notre Dame Cathedral or the Fairmont Chateau Laurier framed with flowers. Many people do their fashion photo shoots here as well as the tulip beds are so plentiful throughout the park.
3. Canadian Museum of History
Crowds can be huge during the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, but if you make your way across the Ottawa River to Gatineau to the Canadian Museum of History, you’ll have one of the best photography destinations all to yourself. Walk down to the Voyageurs Pathway overlooking the Ottawa River and the Ottawa Skyline and you’ll find a bed of tulips just waiting to be photographed with Parliament standing front and centre.
4. Alexandra Bridge
You can take an Uber to the Canadian Museum of History, but Ubers do not operate in Gatineau, so you will need to hail a taxi back. However, there are other ways to cross into Gatineau. Our favourite is to walk across the The Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge that connects the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. It offers beautiful views of both cities.
You can also grab a water taxi to get over to the Canadian Museum of History from the Parliament Buildings.
5. National War Memorial
The National War Memorial is always open and is free to enter. The Cenotaph stands in the center of Elgin and Wellington Streets and during the Canadian Tulip Festival there are tulips in bloom in the large plant stands around the memorial. This is a beautiful area to pay your respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and to all who served Canada and sacrificed their lives preserving freedom.
6. Parliament Buildings
Another gorgeous spot to photograph Ottawa landmarks with tulips is facing the Parliament Buildings. There are beds of Tulips arranged on the grounds of Parliament Hill where you can get a picture-perfect shot of our nation’s capital buildings in bloom.
7. Wellington Street
Another place to photograph Parliament is from Wellington Street where flower pots line the road. It’s a beautiful scene simply taking a photograph of the long row of flowers in the large rectangular plant stands.
You can also frame tulips in front of the Parliament Buildings looking one way and then in the opposite direction toward the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.
8. Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal runs through the city of Ottawa and there are plenty of tulips to photograph along the 7.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) route. Even if you aren’t looking to take photographs of tulips, you must take a walk or go cycling along the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a feat of engineering and a beautiful waterway that cuts through Ottawa to Dow’s Lake.
9. ByWard Market
Chances are if you are visiting Ottawa, you are going to go to ByWard Market at least once. It is here you’ll find the iconic Ottawa Sign and there are some tulips in pots around the market. If you use some creative framing, you’ll be able to find some interesting photographs of tulips.
You’ll also want to have dinner in ByWard Market and we suggest going into the Courtyard Restaurant area where you’ll find several restaurants around the outdoor setting for outdoor dining. We also ate on the patio at Starling Restaurant on York Street for fine Italian food.
10. Green Corners Farms
If you are looking for something different during the Tulip Festival and want to venture outside the city, a visit to Green Corner Farms is a must. Plus, you can pick your own Tulips there starting at just $17. For beautiful Instagram-worthy photographs of tulips lined in perfect colourful rows, this is the place you’ll want to visit. See their website for more details.
11. Pick Your Own Tulips at Green Corners Farms
Green Corners Farm is the official floral supplier for the Canadian Tulip Festival and you can visit them throughout the summer to see other flowers in bloom such as their ever-popular sunflower fields. See their website for hours and up-to-date information.
12. Guided Tours at Commissioners Park
For just $10 per person, you can book the Tulip Legacy Walking Tour at Commissioners Park which takes you through the tulip beds starting at the Man with Two Hats. You’ll follow your guide as he or she tells you about the Canadian Tulip Festival history, the best places to see tulips, and the royal family. You can ask all the questions you like.
To get tickets you can book them online and the check-in area is at the Dow’s Lake Pavilion parking lot where there is a booth set up for tours and information.
There are many events taking place at Commissioners Park during the tulip festival, so you will want to give yourself the afternoon. Besides the tulip displays, you’ll find live music, plenty of food trucks and vendors, and a multimedia display.
13. Black Light Boardwalk
A new addition to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa is the Black Light Boardwalk which happens after dark at Commissioners Park. When the sun goes down, the black lights go on lighting up different displays along the boardwalk at the Dow’s Lake Pavillion. Take a stroll along the path to enjoy the lit garden beds and displays.
The waterfront is a great place to hang out with bars and eateries at the pavilion plus there is a multimedia display in Commissioners Park. You can grab dinner in Little Italy which is a lively area in Ottawa where you’ll find some of the best Italian dining in town. A great place for lunch is at Farinella Pizza where you can order a slice to eat on the patio followed by authentic Italian gelato.
14. Movies and Tulips
At Commissioners Park there is an interactive display in partnership with the National Film Board that shows movies and newsreels from World War II and some beautiful displays of Tulips in the Netherlands and Canada. Make sure to stop here to relax under the shade. There are food trucks nearby where you can grab a snack and cold drink.
15. Garden Promenade Tour
The Canadian Tulip Festival attracts celebrities and diplomats. Besides royalty, we ran into Jeopardy Champion, Amy Schneider who visited Ottawa for the Tulip Festival. There are so many things to do in Ottawa, you must spend more than a weekend in the city.
But, if you still haven’t had enough tulips, you can follow the Garden Promenade. Download this self-guided tour to explore Ottawa’s public gardens. You’ll be taken to places like the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian War Museum. Two of our favourite attractions in Ottawa. Plus, you can visit an indoor greenhouse as well.
Take Home Memories from the Tulip Boutique
Make sure to stop at the Tulip Boutique to get your memories of the Canadian Tulip Festival. The Tulip Boutique has a wide selection of tulip-themed merchandise and souvenirs. Visitors to the festival can purchase items such as tulip t-shirts, hats, scarves, jewelry, and other tulip-inspired items.
The Tulip Boutique is typically located within the festival grounds at Commissioners Park and is open throughout the festival’s duration.
Map of Canadian Tulip Festival Stops
Canadian Tulip Legacy
The Canadian Tulip Festival is run by the Canadian Tulip Legacy which is a charity that commemorates the Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands. My grandfather was a part of that liberation so this is very dear to my heart. The legacy also was formed to celebrate Princess Margriet’s birth on Canadian soil and the historic royal gift that the Netherlands gave to Canada.
The Canadian Tulip Legacy is not just a story of the past, but a living legacy that continues to inspire friendship and diplomacy between Canada and the Netherlands. The Canadian Tulip Festival serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made during the Second World War and the enduring spirit of peace and international friendship that binds our two countries together.
Where to Stay During the Canadian Tulip Festival
We have stayed at nearly every major hotel in Ottawa and you can’t go wrong with any of the staples like the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Westin, or Lord Elgin. However, for this year’s festival, we stayed at the newest property in town, reStays overlooking Sparks Street.
reStays is an excellent apartment-style boutique hotel that has the best views of Parliament Hill that we’ve ever seen. It is located in an excellent area just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Parliament buildings and it overlooks Sparks Street – Ottawa’s pedestrian-only street.
When staying at reStays you are in the heart of the city walking distance to the Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, Sparks Street and ByWard Market. There is a movie theatre that guests can book for free to have a movie night, there is a lounge on the 12th floor where that beautiful view of parliament can be seen and there is a gym with saunas.
Each room has a complete kitchen (great for saving money with families) and laundry. (excellent for long term stays). For reservations and availability visit the reStays website
How to Get Around During the Canadian Tulip Festival
Trolley – The Tulip Festival Shuttle costs $10 one way and can be booked in advance online. Shuttle stops include: The Lord Elgin Hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, The National Art Gallery of Canada, the Westin Ottawa, and go to the Canadian Tulip Festival at Commissioners Park, Dow’s Lake Pavilion.
Escape Bicycle Tours – Escape Bicycle Tours not only offers amazing tours around Ottawa, they also rent bicycles and e-bikes. Ottawa is a bike friendly city that is super easy to navigate with dedicated bike lanes and cycling along the Rideau Canal. We highly recommend getting around Ottawa this way. They are located on Sparks Street. Details here.
Uber – Ubers and Lyft operate in Ottawa and are much more reasonable than taxis. Our taxi from the Airport was $12 more than our Uber back to the airport.
Hop on Hop off Bus Tour – Ottawa also offers hop on hop off bus tours which is a super way to see the Ottawa and Gatineau. It is operated by Grayline Ottawa and you can get prices and more information on their website.
Quick Tips for Photographing Tulips
Try different times of day – We found early morning the best to avoid the harsh sunlight and the clouds. Early mornings give tulips depth as they have dew drops and in the mornings wind is usually less. It picks up in the afternoon. Plus the crowds are less in the morning so you won’t have to worry about having so many people in your shots.
Look for different angles – Get close and look for different angles. Don’t forget to look up and go low under the flowers. I sit on the grass, lie down and look for angles of light. Look for where the suns rays are hitting the tulips and utilize that knowledge to help the light pop.
Use a Long Lens – A long lens is great for isolating tulips and keeping people out of the shot. The shallow depth of field adds a different dynamic to your tulip photography.
Embrace bad weather – I found tulips to be easier to photograph when the sun was blocked. Tulips are easier to photograph on cloudy days away from the harsh shadows of the sun. And the colors stand out more on a grey day. When there has been rain, fresh drops on tulips can make for beautiful photos.
Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds
The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa runs until May 22, 2023. Even if you are not visiting Ottawa during the Tulip Festival, The National Capital Commission continues to display beautiful gardens throughout the Spring, summer, and fall. It is after all Canada’s official Gardiner.
For more information on visiting Ottawa, go to the Ottawa Tourism Website for more information on attractions and events. You can also find more information on the Canadian Tulip Festival on their website here.
The Canadian Tulip Legacy is a story of friendship, international diplomacy, and the enduring symbol of the tulip. After the Dutch royal family sent 100,00- tulip bulbs to Canada, the tulips have bloomed in Ottawa ever since. Today, the Canadian Tulip Festival is the largest tulip festival in the world and we highly recommend visiting during this time. Ottawa is not only in bloom with colours, it is alive with energy and excitement.
Ottawa Travel Tips
To read more about travel to Ottawa check our in-depth guides and articles
- 33 Things to Do in Ottawa – A Complete Guide to the City
- Ottawa Attractions – 20 Winter Activities to Embrace the Snow
- Places to Visit in Ottawa this Autumn
- 15 Awesome Ottawa Museums – What Not to Miss and Why
- Nordik Spa-Nature – A Guide to Ottawa’s Luxury Spa Escape
- Winterlude Itinerary – The Ultimate Guide to Ottawa
- Cruise The Rideau Canal to Ottawa – Complete 7-Day Itinerary