If you’ve never been to Ottawa for the annual Canadian Tulip Festival in May, make sure to add it to your bucket list! This popular springtime festival – the largest of its kind in the world – features over a million blooming tulips throughout the city as well as tulip-themed programming at Commissioners Park, the festival’s main site. Here are some of the best ways to get the most out of your tulip time in Canada’s capital!
From downtown Ottawa, you can easily explore many of the beautiful, multi-coloured tulip beds on foot. 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 like Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada or the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.
Wander over to the Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – and stroll along its scenic banks which are lined with flower beds. The Canadian Tulip Festival’s main site, Commissioners Park, is a large green space located along the Rideau Canal. However, it’s over 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) away from downtown Ottawa along the canal pathways. You may prefer to bike or bus to get there (see details below).
Once at Commissioners Park, you’ll be surrounded by many large flower beds filled with over 300,000 tulips in bloom – all within a one-kilometre path! Dozens of different varieties of tulips are planted each year. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy festival programming including guided tours, music, art and merchandise.
Cycling around Ottawa is one of the best ways explore the city’s sites, and also see tulips. Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals offers guided cycling tours as well as bike rentals from their permanent location at 65 Sparks Street.
During the three-hour bike tour, a guide takes you to some of Ottawa’s most dazzling tulip gardens, including Commissioners Park. You’ll also see some of the city’s main attractions along the way.
If you’re renting a bike or have your own, follow the flat and picturesque pathway along the Rideau Canal to Commissioners Park, and make sure to explore the many other places to photograph beautiful tulips in the city! But there’s much more to see beyond tulips! Ottawa offers more than 800 kilometres (497 miles) of beautiful paths that link natural areas, parks, gardens and national historic sites.
For fully accessible transportation, or to maximize access to most of the Ottawa’s main attractions – including national museums, historic sites and Commissioners Park at Dows Lake, hope on a bus tour.
Gray Line’s Discover the Capital Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour is fully accessible and features guided commentary in several different languages. If it’s a nice day, you may luck out and score one of the buses that have sunny, open top decks!
The city’s public transportation system, OC Transpo, is an easy and affordable way to get around town. For instance, bus number 85 westbound takes you from downtown Ottawa to the intersection of Preston Street and Carling Avenue (at the corner of Commissioners Park) in approximately 15-20 minutes.
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 Biplane Adventures or in a bubble canopy helicopter with Héli-Tremblant Helicopter Tours.
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! For an experience that is more shielded from the wind, opt for a ride in a Robinson 44 single-engine helicopter. Both the biplane and the helicopter offer flights that vary in length. The biplane can accommodate two passengers and the helicopter can take three.
For a unique perspective, take a relaxing ride on a Rideau Canal Cruise. The 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.
For more details about Canadian Tulip Festival programming, consult our Canadian Tulip Festival page.
Got a great pic from this year’s Canadian Tulip festival? Enter our Ottawa in Bloom photo contest and win one of four great Ottawa prizes!