Every spring in May, the City of Ottawa holds its Canadian Tulip Festival, one of the largest in the world, where one million bulbs are in bloom at several locations throughout the Capital. This spring celebration is filled with activities and entertainment and, weather permitting, kicks off the terrace season in the city.
Major's Hill Park
Downtown Ottawa is the perfect place to admire the many flower beds on foot. Overlooking the Ottawa River near the National Gallery of Canada and Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, Major's Hill Park offers a magnificent view of Parliament and city of Gatineau. It can be reached on foot from downtown Gatineau via the pedestrian section of the Alexandria Bridge. The large park is bustling with activity and is within walking distance of the ByWard Market, where you will find, among other things, the terraces of restaurants and brasseries.
This sector is particularly interesting for photos of iconic buildings in the background.
Still on foot, the banks of the Rideau Canal, particularly along Queen Elizabeth Driveway, are lined with colorful flowerbeds. From Major's Hill Park, you can easily reach the Rideau Canal on the Chateau Laurier side and walk down to the locks. From there, you can walk up the pathway, under the Wellington Street overpass, and out past the National Arts Centre (NAC). The trail continues for several kilometers to Dows Lake, but you'll probably want to get on your bike to go further.
Commissioners Park, the Ottawa Tulip Festival's main site, is located at Dows Lake on the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, more than six kilometers from downtown. You'll want to drive, bus or bike to Commissioners Park rather than walk. However, on site, this large green space offers a 1-km trail and more than 300,000 different varieties of tulips in bloom. You can also admire the spring flowering of a variety of fruit trees. The festival program includes animation, guided tours, artwork and product booths.
The Queen Elizabeth Driveway ends at Dow's Lake near Little Italy (Preston Street). The park offers a pavilion with a few restaurants with terraces and a rental centre for boats such as kayaks, pedal boats and paddle boards.
Rideau Canal Pathways And Trans Canada Trail
Cycling is undeniably a great way to discover both the festival's flowery sites and the city of Ottawa. Numerous bike paths offer a variety of easy and intermediate routes, ranging from a short hike of a few kilometers to a day trip.
Easy route to the festival sites: From Major's Park, take Mackenzie Avenue and cross Wellington Street. Mackenzie Avenue becomes Colonel By Drive, which runs along the Rideau Canal on the east side and has a bicycle path. Take the bike path immediately and continue to the pedestrian bridge over the canal, then cross over to the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. Continue on the bike path along Queen Elizabeth Driveway to Commissioners Park at Dows Lake.
For the return journey, the easy way would be to take the opposite route.
Intermediate route back to Par Major: If you feel like extending the ride and exploring more beautiful scenery, take the Trillium Trail across the parking lot from Dow's Lake, then continue to the Trans Canada Trail along Sir-John-A.-Macdonald Drive. Turn right and continue to Portage Bridge. Along the way, you can admire the stunning architecture of the War Museum, and enjoy magnificent views of downtown Ottawa. I then recommend that you take the Portage Bridge towards Gatineau and then the Route verte 1 bike path eastbound. This bike path will give you stunning views of Parliament on your right and the Canadian History Museum on your left. Take the Alexandria Bridge to return to Major's Hill Park.
A fun and relaxing way to visit the Tulip Festival is by boat cruise on the Rideau Canal. Many of the boats are now electric and sail quietly, taking you from downtown to Dow's Lake and back in a peaceful environment.
Where To Park
Major's Hill Park:
On the Gatineau side, at the Maison du citoyen, indoor parking is free in the evenings and on weekends. Otherwise, there is paid parking on adjacent streets (beware of time limits). From there, you can cross into Ottawa via the Alexandria Bridge, which is a 20-minute walk to the park.
Near Major's Hill Park, the ByWard Market offers paid public parking as well as paid street parking. To find free parking on the streets, you must go east on King Edward Street, which is a 20-minute walk to the park.
Queen Elizabeth Driveway:
Free parking on the streets of the Glebe; not always easy to find and many areas reserved for Glebe residents. Beware of time limits.
Paid parking at TD Place
Paid parking right next to the restaurant pavilion. Beware, it fills up quickly during the Festival, especially on sunny days.
Free parking spaces in the streets of Little Italy. Beware of time limits.