Visiting Ottawa in May means the glorious sight of colourful tulips and other spring flowers blooming throughout the city. The annual Canadian Tulip Festival – the largest of its kind in the world – presents hundreds of thousands of tulips as well as special programming at Commissioners Park along the Rideau Canal. In addition, you can also admire tulips at other locations within the city and in the countryside.
Due to limited parking options and periodic road closures near the popular festival site, alternative transportation is strongly recommended. Here are some of the best ways to access the beautiful tulips and maximize your time in Canada’s capital.
You can easily explore many of the multi-coloured tulip beds on foot in Ottawa’s downtown core. Major’s Hill Park, located behind the Fairmont Château Laurier, is home to several impressive flower beds with scenic views of the Ottawa River. This is a great spot to take photos of tulips with landmarks in the background such as Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada and the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. (Note: Construction may be taking place in some areas of the park.)
The nearby National War Memorial, located across from the National Arts Centre on Elgin Street near Parliament Hill, is a meaningful site. The large monument is surrounded by flower beds filled with tulips in May.
Stroll along the Rideau Canal Promenade, a 7.8-kilometre (3.6-mile) section of Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with outdoor exhibits that highlight the waterway’s historic, symbolic and cultural importance, you’ll find beautiful flower beds and greenspaces.
Commissioners Park, which is home to the Canadian Tulip Festival and the largest concentration of tulips in the city, is just over 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) south from Parliament Hill. Once on site (see below for transportation options), you’ll be wowed by large flower beds filled with over 300,000 tulips in bloom—all within a one-kilometre walking path! Stroll along and admire the dozens of different varieties of tulips that are planted each year in new patterns and themes. While there, consider some of the festival’s offerings such as guided tours, workshops, bingo, outdoor movies and the Tulip Boutique.
Note that all of these outdoor sites are accessible and mostly flat, therefore relatively convenient for those with physical limitations. At Commissioners Park, a limited number of rentable wheelchairs and several portable washrooms are accessible.
Cycling around Ottawa is one of the best ways to explore the city’s sites, and also see tulips. You can rent bikes (regular and electric) as well as accessories at RentABike (located at canal level across from the Fairmont Château Laurier) and Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals (main location on Sparks Street near Parliament Hill). Escape also offers e-scooters.
If you’d like a guided cycling experience, join one of Escape’s three-hour tulip tours. You’ll visit some of Ottawa’s most dazzling tulip gardens, including Commissioners Park, as well as some of the city’s main attractions along the way.
Whether you’re renting a bike or have your own, you can easily follow the flat and picturesque pathway along the Rideau Canal to Commissioners Park, and to many other places where you can photograph beautiful tulips in the city. And beyond tulips, Ottawa is a top cycling destination which offers more than 800 kilometres (497 miles) of pathways that link natural areas, parks, gardens and national historic sites!
If you’re staying in the downtown core and want a convenient way to get to the Canadian Tulip Festival, consider the festival shuttle service offered by Gray Line Ottawa. Buses pick up and drop off passengers at these stops: Westin Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Fairmont Château Laurier, Lord Elgin Hotel, and Dows Lake (Commissioners Park). Service is scheduled hourly on weekdays and roughly every half-hour on weekends (times may vary). The cost per person, per day is $20 round-trip ($10 one-way).
If you’d also like transportation to many of the city’s main attractions such as national museums and historic sites, choose Gray Line’s Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. You can get on and off at over 15 locations—including the Canadian Tulip Festival—and enjoy guided commentary in different languages along the way. If it’s a nice day, you may luck out and score one of the buses that have sunny, open top decks!
For a truly special experience, why not see the glorious gardens and attractions from the air? At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, located just 10 minutes from Ottawa’s downtown core, you can book a ride in a vintage open cockpit biplane with Ottawa Aviation Adventures (formerly Ottawa Biplane Adventures) (fits two passengers) or in a helicopter with Héli-Tremblant Helicopter Tours (fits three passengers).
Hear the roar of the biplane’s engine and feel the wind blow through your hair, as downtown Ottawa passes by below you. And as long as your camera has a strap, snap great aerial shots as you go! Or opt for a ride in a bubble canopy helicopter which offers views from every angle. Both the biplane and the helicopter offer flights that vary in length.
For a unique perspective, take a relaxing ride on a Rideau Canal Cruise. The eco-friendly electric boats are quiet and ride smoothly on the calm waters of the canal. The trips run between the dock near the Westin Ottawa to Dows Lake and back. As you glide along, you’ll hear live commentary with anecdotes about the history of the Rideau Canal and the region.