My 8 year old daughter and I went to Ottawa for the Canadian Tulip Festival and discovered that the city is a great place for a weekend getaway.
This year the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Ontario celebrated its 60th Anniversary (in 2012). Tulips were originally gifted to Canada by the Netherlands as a thank you for providing a safe haven to the Dutch Royal Family during World War II and as a symbol of the special friendship between the two countries.
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Canadian Tulip Festival Background
During the war, Canada provided refuge to Princess Juliana and her two young daughters in the nation’s capital and, when a third daughter was about to be born on Canadian soil, a room at the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared to be part of the Netherlands so that Princess Margriet could be born a Dutch citizen.
After the war had ended, Princess Juliana and the people of the Netherlands sent Canada a gift in perpetuity of 100 000 tulip bulbs in gratitude for the safe haven that had been provided to the princess and her family as well as Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands. The tulips were so popular in Ottawa that, in 1953, the Board of Trade decided to establish a tulip festival to occur annually around the time that the tulips bloomed. The festival continued to expand over the years and is now the largest tulip festival in the world as it runs for 18 days in May and showcases over 1 million tulips in Canada’s Capital Region.
I have wanted to visit Ottawa during the festival for quite some time but have never made it for various reasons. This year we had decided that we would take a family road trip to Ottawa for our Victoria Day long weekend which marks the final weekend of the festival. Of course, things came up at the last minute and a choice had to be made. Either Emma and I could travel to Ottawa by ourselves for the weekend or we could all stay home and miss the tulips again. Emma was keen to go so she and I decided that we would take the train from Toronto and spend three nights in Ottawa to attend the festival, visit some museums and generally have a great mom/daughter getaway weekend.
We arrived in Ottawa mid-afternoon and settled into our hotel room before heading out for a walk to search for tulips. We saw a few near the National War Memorial and then headed directly to Parliament Hill expecting to see many more there. We soon discovered though that many of the tulips were at the tail end of their blooming season and well past their peak.
Our first tulip sighting near Parliament Hill
Major’s Hill Park
We had dinner in Byward Market and our waiter suggested that we walk through Major’s Hill Park to see tulips. We did find a few beds with pretty flowers and Emma decided at this point that her strategy was to take photos of individual blooms because if she did that then the dead flowers in the beds weren’t visible. I was feeling a few twinges of disappointment by this time because we had been so excited about seeing the tulips. I was worried that Emma was going to feel let down but, fortunately, she just rolled with it.
Tulip beds in Major’s Hill Park
Commissioners Park, Dow’s Lake
Not being completely satisfied with our tulip viewing thus far, we decided the next day that we would visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization and then catch a cab to Commissioners Park, Dow’s Lake to see the tulip displays there. The highest concentration of blooms can be found in this park as 300 000 of the 1 million bulbs are planted here. En route, our cab driver confirmed my worst fear – the tulips had bloomed early this year due to the mild spring and they were pretty much finished. Nonetheless, Emma and I were determined to get some pretty pictures so we circled the park in the scorching heat and humidity and snapped photos wherever we thought they looked okay. The tulips weren’t at their best but it was easy to imagine just how beautiful the beds would have looked a few days earlier.
Looking for tulips in Commissioners Park
Enjoying the tulip viewing in Commissioners Park
Emma took quite a few photos of individual tulips and I promised her that I would share some of them so here’s a collage of some of the prettiest blooms we saw.
If someone had asked me ahead of time how I would feel if we had traveled to Ottawa to see tulips only to find them all but finished then I would have predicted that I would have been very disappointed. That wasn’t the case though. Ottawa is a beautiful city, the weather was perfect, and Emma and I had a fabulous time exploring and visiting the many attractions in the city. A long weekend wasn’t enough time for us to see and do everything that we wanted so we are already scheming about how we can get back to Ottawa for a few more days.
Looking for a hotel in Ottawa during the Tulip Festival? Check reviews and current rates on TripAdvisor.
Ottawa with Kids: Fun in Canada’s Capital Region
National Arts Centre – Oscar Peterson Sculpture
A Stroll Around Parliament Hill In Ottawa
Piccolo Grande – Gelato In Ottawa
The Canadian Museum of Civilization
The National Gallery of Canada
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I’ve always wanted to have a large garden of tulips. When grown in quantity, they have a beautiful appeal. Nice job Emma!
I grew up in Ottawa and always loved the tulip time. I think the fact that it’s been made into a festival is a wonderful idea.
I always feel a real connection to the tulips. My mother grew up in Ottawa and went to school during the war with one of Queen Juliana’s daughters.
What a lovely post! It was fun to revisit via your pics my own stops on Ottawa’s tulip trail. Everything bloomed early this year but you seem to have still found plenty of tulips to snap. I especially like the little mosaic of individual tulip portraits by Emma.
The World of Deej
What a fun day…tulips are one of my favorite flowers, but sadly we don’t see them much here in Florida…
That looks gorgeous! Even though the tulips came out early they still look pretty. Sounds like a great weekend with Mother/Daughter out and about 🙂
Mary @ The World Is A Book
It looks like a wonderful mother/daughter weekend with great weather. Beautiful pictures! I wish I paid more attention to the tulips the last time we were in Ottawa a few years ago. It was the end of May so maybe they were gone by then.
Tulips are one of my favourite flowers so I love to see gardens full of them as well. Emma will be happy to know that you liked her tulip photos!
So glad you made it to Byward Market and Major’s Hill. Love the Tulip Festival — a sure sign that winter is ending.
I’ve been in Ottawa many times, but didn’t know about the tulips. Haven’t been there in the right season, I suppose. This looks beautiful, just like the Netherlands.
Nice story of how the tulips came to Canada. They are such beautiful flowers — in any color! What a nice mom/daughter you had.
Oh how disappointing! I know you were really looking forward to this. Glad you guys could make the best of it though and still have fun. And like you said, just an excuse to go back!
What an amazing experience for your mother to go to school with a real princess! I love Ottawa – it’s such a beautiful city that it must have been a wonderful place to grow up.
Thanks, Lesley!! We did find some tulips, it just wasn’t the blanket of blooms that I was expecting. We had a wonderful time though!
It’s too bad that there aren’t more tulips in Florida – tulips mean spring to me so I’m always happy to see them popping out of the ground!
If you were there at the end of May then you were probably too late for the tulips. I believe the Tulip Festival was March 4th – 21st this year and they were pretty much finished when we arrived on the 18th. You are just going to have to make a return visit – I’ll meet you there!! 🙂
Emma and I loved Byward Market – I just wish we would have had more time to explore it thoroughly. We had exceptionally warm weather over that weekend so there was no doubt that winter was long gone!!
There seems to be about a 2-3 week window when you will see the tulips. I would love to visit the Netherlands during the springtime some year to see the tulips blooming there – I imagine that they are magnificent!!
Thanks, Cathy! Having a special weekend away with just Emma and I was the best part! 🙂
We did have a great time, Keryn – I was only disappointed for about 5 minutes and then forgot about it – it was such a great weekend! Will definitely have to go back another year!
Thanks, Lisa! Ottawa is a beautiful city and Emma and I had a wonderful weekend!!
Hmmm…I was born at Ontario Civic Hospital. I wish I’d known there was an option to have my birthing room declared a separate country. I’d probably be a native of the Bahamas now.
It doesn’t matter what the tulips do, your pictures are always bright and cheery because Emma is in them!
what gorgeous photos! i kind of have a thing for tulips 🙂 i think they are just stunning and make any piece of land or park beautiful! i didnt realize the netherlands gifted them to canada though 🙂 have a great weekend!
Love tulips and tulip festivals. Interesting to know more about the history, I didn’t realize that was the reason that tulips were a gift from Holland.
What a fun way to spend a long weekend! And what beautiful photos…the flowers and your little girl!
Sounds like it was a wonderful trip – I enjoyed following it on Facebook too!
Thanks for linking up this week – have a wonderful weekend!!
The photos are great. It’s so difficult to plan a trip around blooming seasons! I’ve tried to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC and haven’t had much luck. Nonetheless, I’ll continue to make plans around nature because I know it will be well worth the effort!
I’ve always wanted to see one of the tulip festivals. It looks like you found some beautiful tulips, though it would have been amazing to see more of them.
Tulips are my favorite flowers- love them. I think they are even more special that they only last a few weeks. Beautiful find!
Tell your daughter that she’s blooming more beautifully in every photo that even the finest tulips! I’m sure that seeing her smile on a weekend alone with you relieved your every disappointment!
If only it were that simple – it’s amazing what can be done when there’s a princess involved! I will pass on the compliment to Emma – she will be quite pleased! 🙂
Thanks, Megan! Tulips are one of my favourites too – they mean spring to me! I only recently learned the whole story about the gift of the tulips from the Netherlands – very interesting!
Andi at The Particular Traveler
It looks like you were able to find some great blooming areas even though the season was coming to an end. I can only imagine what it would have looked like in full bloom. Emma looks like a total sweetie, and I love the photos of individual blooms she took!
I didn’t know much of the history of the Tulip Festival either until last year when I started reading up on it in anticipation of visiting then. It seems to me that it’s such a great story that kids in school should really be learning about it in their Canadian History classes.
Thank you – we had a wonderful weekend! It’s the first time that the two of us have gone off without Katie and my husband and it was a lot of fun. And much easier to just coordinate what 2 people wanted to do instead of 4.
Thanks, Becca – it was fun and I think we’ll have to do it again!
The cherry blossoms in Washington are on my wish list too – someday I’m going to make it there when they are blooming!
I had been wanting to go to a tulip festival for a long time too! It had never occurred to me that the tulips might be past their prime before the end of the festival. I should have realized because ours at home had bloomed early as well. At least we were able to find some for photos and we had a wonderful weekend in Ottawa regardless.
Tulips top my list too – when they start to bloom it’s a sign that winter is over and that’s my happiest time of the year! 🙂
Thanks, Sonja – very sweet of you to say – Emma was very pleased with your compliment! We had a great time just hanging out for the weekend!
I am definitely going to get back someday to see them in full bloom because now I can imagine just how beautiful they will be! Emma is very pleased that you liked her tulip photos! 🙂
This must have been so fun. I love tulips and any chance to see plants and be outdoors.
It was a lot of fun – it was a teensy bit warm for all the walking outdoors we did (above 30 Celsius and humid) but we had a great time!
The flowers look beautiful. Reminds me of the world peace rose garden on the State capitol grounds here in Sacramento. I would love to check out Ottawa. Lots of great cities in Canada that I haven’t visited!
I knew the history behind the tulips, but didn’t know about Ottawa’s festival. What a pretty time to visit; lovely shots.
Lots of great places everywhere and not enough time to see them all! There are lots of places that I would love to visit in the U.S. too and we never seem to make it. You would love Ottawa – it is truly a beautiful city and everyone is active and outdoors both summer and winter – it’s a lot of fun!
Thanks, Nancie – it is a very pretty time to visit – the weather was perfect all weekend and we had a lovely time!
Love the story behind the tulips. A part of the hospital was declared as part of the Netherlands? I wonder if they had to reverse it right after the birth. Fun pics. I enjoyed Emma’s as well 🙂
Thanks, Sabrina! Yes, the birthing room was just temporarily declared to be part of the Netherlands. If the Canadian government hadn’t done that then the princess would not have been a Dutch citizen and would have lost her eligibility to ascend to the throne. Emma would be happy to know that you liked her pics! She had a lot of fun taking them – in fact, I had to wrestle my camera away from her a number of times! 🙂
Jessica @ Green Global Travel
I loved reading this post! I’m glad that you two were able to see some tulips, even if there weren’t as many as you were expecting. I love the collage of Emma’s tulip photos– they look beautiful!