Dog Friendly Ottawa Tulip Festival Walking Tour!
Every year, at the end of May, Ottawa goes crazy with thousands (and I do mean thousands!) of tulips. If it’s May in Ottawa, it has to be the Tulip Festival.
The full story of the Tulip Festival is a wonderful story of friendship. The quick synopsis goes like this:
During World War II, Canada provided safe haven to the Dutch royal family, sheltering them from the three year Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. During their time in Canada, the Dutch princess (who later became Queen Juliana) gave birth to a daughter. In order that the new princess would inherit only Dutch citizenship – and thus be in succession for the crown – the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was declared to be international territory at the time of Princess Margriet’s birth.
When the Dutch family returned to the Netherlands in 1945, they sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in thanks and promised to send 10,000 more bulbs each year in perpetuity. And thus began Ottawa’s love affair with tulips and the annual Tulip Festival. (I hear that next year, a huge statue of the Queen with the baby Princess sitting on a massive tulip will be unveiled during the Tulip Festival at the War Museum!)
The most impressive tulip beds are found at Commissioners Park, where the National Capital Commission (NCC) plants 300,000 bulbs of 60 different varieties in 30 different beds. What a riot of colour and beauty that is every year!
Sadly, like most events in Ottawa and through much of North America, the official site of the Tulip Festival is not pet friendly. (Can I get a boo hiss from everyone?) This means that I have not been able to see the splendor of the biggest tulip beds at Commissioners Park. It is truly unfortunate. I fail to understand why the NCC doesn’t simply implement rules of restraint for dogs rather than a boycott. But … but … all is not lost!
I went out and did my own research, Dear Reader, to provide you with a Dog Friendly Tulip Festival Walking Tour! You are welcome! *tail wag*
The tour is a loop, so you can start at any point and loop back. For the convenience of this post, I will start with the location closest to my dog park. But feel free to start and end anywhere along the way! This walking tour will take 2 to 3 hours depending on how much time you spend taking pictures and whether or not you walk or bike. Of course, add a little more time if you stop for a picnic.
Here is the loop on a map. Please forgive my pawmanship.
Bring water, poop bags, treats … and wear comfy shoes! You may want to bring sunscreen as well.
Stop 1 – Jacques Cartier Park: This large park on the Gatineau side of the National Capital Area (NCA) hosts many events including Winterlude and Canada Day festivities. The tulips are easy to find, even if the park is spread out. The tulips are at the main entrance, right across the street from a Best Western. The massive bronze statue of famous hockey player Maurice Richard(a.k.a. The Rocket) at the front of the park is a landmark that is tough to miss! The first tulip beds on our walk are found here as a backdrop to The Rocket and the provincial flags.
Keep walking into the park and there you will see two huge beds of tulips on each side of large steps. Stop and enjoy the view of the river, the small Hull Marina, the Alexandra Bridge, and the flowers.
Stop 2 – Museum of Civilization (Canadian Museum of History): Walk down the steps from Stop 1 and make your way to the paved path at the river’s edge. Follow this section of the Trans Canada Pathway under the Alexandra Bridge and to the rear of the Museum of Civilization. If a biped needs a bathroom break, this is your chance! You can also stop at the coffee shop and get a little snack or drink. Dogs are welcome on the patio (but not inside), which is shaded by cherry trees almost in bloom. When you’re ready to resume walking, keep going just past the museum’s main building and soon you will come across a lovely flower bed with a cherry tree. It’s amazingly photogenic because Parliament Hill is just across the river. You can have fun trying to frame your shot! Do keep an eye out for the Canada Geese that often start nesting in the area. They can be a little aggressive.
Stop 3 – Portage Bridge: Keep following the Trans Canada Pathway you picked up at Stop 2. It really is a nice walk. You will be leaving the museum behind you. If you are lucky, you might spot the local beaver that has set up residence near the tiny wooden bridge you’ll cross. From there, you will go up a slight hill and then find yourself at a split in the pathway. Take a left.
Under a very large tree just before the big Portage Bridge is your next bed of tulips! This one tends to be in pastel colours – or at least that’s what we’ve found in each of the last four years we’ve visited. Enjoy the visual treat and calming view! Oh, and there is a large groundhog that lives under the tree. You may see it if you get lucky!
When you’re ready to move on, cross the massive bridge. What is nice is that the bicycles have their own path at this point. You will pass Victoria Island (feel free to detour) and then you will see the Trans Canada Pathway on your left. Here you have a choice. You can stay on the sidewalk and take the “lights” to cross the crazy busy intersection – OR – you can do what we prefer and take the pathway and follow it UNDER the road! When you get on the other side of the underpass, turn right and you will see an often overlooked tulip bed under a collection of provincial flags!
In a way, the Portage Bridge is bookended by two large tulip beds!
Stop 4 – Garden of the Provinces and Territories: Stay on the sidewalk and walk toward the downtown core to see the next set of tulips. This is a spectacular display! These tulip beds are more “official” and have markers to tell you the species of tulip and some of the history. I find this spot to be particularly photogenic. The two old churches certainly add a lot of cache. Take a moment to go up into the stone area and see the large trees, fountain and the ceramic Provincial and Territorial coat of arms.
Leave these gardens behind and cross the street (Wellington) to the Canada Library and Archives building. You will know the building by the famous statue, The Secret Bench of Knowledge, by Lea Vivot. A funny side note here: In the winter, it has happened that someone will knit the pair of individuals sitting on the statue bench a scarf or mitts. Sometimes, the statues will even be found wearing hockey jerseys! The entrance to the building with this delightful statue is a beautiful spot. And there are often tulips here too, if only to act as a backdrop to the “lovers.”
Stop 5 – Between Canada Archives and Supreme Court: There is no formal name for the little park you will find between two of Ottawa’s most important buildings. As you walk away from the Canada Library and Archives building you will find a small space on your left with trees and a massive flower bed. This year, the tulips in this bed were a wonderful shade of orange and yellow. Just ahead of this tulip bed, you will see the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s being renovated right now, but still, we found a bench flanked by two containers full of red tulips. People were enjoying this as they waited for their bus on Wellington Street. The Supreme Court is a majestic and intimidating building and is open to visitors. It isn’t pet friendly so I have yet to visit. *sigh*
Stop 6 – Parliament Hill: What can I say? Easily Ottawa’s most visited site, and of course the seat of our government (Senate and House of Commons). Parliament Hill’s park area is pet friendly and surprisingly accessible to all. Feel free to go see the long and narrow red and white tulips found there every year. We like to stop, sit in the grass, and have some water and a treat. This would be a wonderful spot for a picnic. The eternal flame also burns here and makes for rather amazing photos. I often bump into other dogs here. Walk around to the back behind the buildings for some breathtaking views of the river.
Once you are done, make your way towards the castle-like building: The Chateau Laurier – a pet friendly Fairmont hotel! Once you have the Canal locks on your left, just before the hotel, you will see stairs going down. Take them to the long terrace and go back up 3-4 steps for your final stop.
Stop 7 – Major’s Hill Park: Last but not least on the circuit is the crowning glory of the walk. You will find several tulip beds in Major’s Hill Park. One very long tulip bed is always found leading up to the statue of Lieutenant Colonel John By, his bronze likeness forever overlooking the famous Rideau Canal he engineered. From there, you will see the two tall towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and the imposing glass dome of the National Art Gallery (NAG). They act as a rather spectacular backdrop to three huge tulip beds!
But here is a hint … if you put the Cathedral to your back, you might – just might – manage a shot of the tulips with Parliament in the background! Good luck!
Enjoy this park; it has a lot to offer. From the park, you can enjoy a view of the Canal, Parliament, the back of the Chateau Laurier, an older building that now houses Revenue Canada, the Cathedral, the NAG, and of course the NAG’s famous “Maman,” the huge spider statue. During Tulip Fest, the park often has one or two food stalls too. This year, there was popcorn and cotton candy to be found.
If you have energy and time, go to the park behind the NAG for more art, and then up the hill to the bronze statue of famous explorer Samuel de Champlain. There’s a spectacular view of the river from the statue and a great opportunity to take some photographs of the area.
After all this walking, we cross the Alexandra Bridge back to Jacques Cartier Park and home. It was a gorgeous day when we did the walk this year, a wonderful experience filled with tulips, dogs, and some spectacular views. Of course, I am partial to this route because it is almost exactly what I do on my weekend walks with the bipeds when we don’t go hiking in the Gatineau Hills. But this route is undoubtedly extra special during the tulip festival.
Note: Updated and refreshed based on an earlier 2014 post.