Can you imagine receiving 20,000 tulip bulbs from a foreign dignitary? How about receiving that number of tulip bulbs each year for over 65 years? That’s what happened in the capital city of Ottawa Canada. Because of the support of the Canadian government during WWII, and their willingness to house the royal Dutch family, the Netherlands sends 20,000 tulip bulbs to the country each year. These are planted all over the city of Ottawa, leading to a burst of color in the early spring (late April to mid-May). Each year, the city hosts “The Canadian Tulip Festival”, the largest tulip festival in the world (according to their website—you can also check on their website for the current year’s festival dates). These blooms are well worth seeing if my experience in Ottawa last weekend is any indication. I didn’t go to Commissioner’s Park where the best displays were, and the blooms were definitely on their last legs, but it was still gorgeous! I’d love to go back another year and see it at its best!
We decided to go to Major’s Hill Park because it had tulip beds, it was near Parliament Hill, and there was free parking nearby (supposedly). However, all the parking in that area, free or not, was full, so we ended up parking in the one free place we could find—a small parking area overlooking the Ottawa River in Rockcliffe Park. This required a 3.5 kilometer (2.1 mile) walk to get to Major’s Park. Granted, there were some nice attractions on the way, including the Prime Minister’s Residence, Rideau Falls, and several embassies, but you might want to find closer parking, especially if you don’t mind paying for it. To get to the place where we parked, if you’re coming from the east, from the Trans-Canada Highway (417), take Exit 113B toward Promenade Aviation Parkway. Keep straight onto Aviation Parkway twice—once when you exit the highway, and once when it becomes a divided road. Drive for almost 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) until the road crosses Rockcliffe Parkway. You don’t want to enter the Rockcliffe Airport, or go to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Turn left onto Rockcliffe Parkway. Drive for 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles) to a concrete pavilion-like structure built on the edge of the cliff overlooking the river. There should a sign for a restaurant here, as well as a small parking area. Park in the parking area in front of the pavilion.
If you’re coming from the west, take Exit 118 towards Avenue Lees (as well as several other streets), keeping right onto Lees Avenue/Ottawa Road 66. Then turn right onto Lees Avenue/Ottawa Road 66. Then turn right onto Main Street/Ottawa Road 72. These turns are all in quick succession, as is the next “turn”, where you’re keeping right onto Colonel By Drive. Drive 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) and then continue right on Sussex Drive/Ottawa Road 93 (the road signs have the names of the streets not the numbers). Drive up this for 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles). At the roundabout (traffic circle, as they’re called in the US), keep going straight to stay on Sussex Drive. Drive another 300 meters (about 300 yards) to the next roundabout (traffic circle), taking the second exit onto Rockcliffe Parkway. Drive for just over a kilometer (0.6 miles) to a concrete pavilion right on the cliff edge on the left side of the road. A sign here marks a restaurant, which I think is closed. Park in the small parking area provided.
The pavilion next to the parking area offers a great view of the Ottawa River and into Quebec on the other side. As my sister said to me, “It’s wild to sit here and think, ‘The people over there speak a different language’.” We’re so used to everyone speaking English that we have to think twice when we’re seeing someplace that speaks another language…so close by! The signs in the pavilion talk about the history of the area, and how Rockcliffe Park used to be a favorite place to go for the Ottawa city folk on Sunday afternoons, in both the winter and the summer. If the Sunday afternoon I visited was any indication, I’d say it still a popular place to be! The pavilion parking area was a revolving door of cars coming and going. At times the parking area was full, at other times, it was nearly empty. Moral to the story: if you want to park here, but can’t find a parking space, just wait a few minutes. One will open up soon.
To get to Major’s Hill Park from the pavilion, you’ll have to walk about 3.5 kilometers (2.1 miles) along a sidewalk and a bike path. It’s not a bad hike, but be prepared to get out of the way of bicycles both on the bike path and on the sidewalks. From the parking area, cross the road (look carefully—there was a lot of traffic on a Sunday afternoon in mid-May) and then turn right and walk on the grass to the next intersection. Cross the side street, and then walk along the bike path that parallels Rockcliffe Parkway. Close to this intersection is a sign for Rockcliffe Park; if you want restrooms, walk up the hill. There are also restrooms in Major’s Hill Park, but these were closed when I visited, while the Rockcliffe Park ones were open. Go figure. Anyway, keep walking along Rockcliffe Parkway to the first traffic circle. Don’t go into the circle itself; instead, cross the now-two-lane road to the right, then turn left to continue around the traffic circle. You will now be on a sidewalk along Sussex Drive. Keep walking along this to the next traffic circle. Along this next stretch of Sussex Drive, you will pass the Prime Minister’s Residence—sort of like the White House in the US (except with much less security!) Also, as you’re walking along, you’ll see signs for the Parliament buildings or Parliament Hill—follow these signs if my directions are a little confusing!
Before you cross the next bridge, you will come to a round relief map in the middle of the sidewalk. If you want to see Rideau Falls (which I’ll talk about in another post), turn right here through the nearby gateway. Otherwise, keep walking straight across the two bridges along Sussex Drive. After crossing a few more streets, you will pass the Royal Canadian Mint as well as the National Gallery of Canada. As you’re walking, keep an eye out across the street for all the foreign Embassies that are along Sussex Drive; there are quite a few of them! After you pass the National Gallery of Canada, head right towards a huge statue that looks like a spider (it’s not, but it certainly looks like one). Go to the nearest crosswalk in this direction and cross the road. You will now be in Major’s Hill Park, where you’ll get a real taste for the tulips in Ottawa.
The tulip displays change each year. However, the ones I saw were located: two beds, one on each side of the grassy area just after you enter the park, and some more beds/flowers after you’d gone up to the high path along the Rideau Canal near some statues near the parking garage. The restrooms are located on the edge of the park—as soon as you’ve cross the street, head right along the sidewalk and you’ll see them. Admire the tulips in the section of the park you’ve just entered, then head up the hill. Continue heading towards the huge clock tower you can see, until you reach a fence at the edge of a paved path. Turn left and follow this path as it goes across the top of the hill, past a statue. Here I found some more tulip flowers, and even more by turning left next to the statue and walking back towards Sussex Drive. This park; in fact, almost the entire hike, is wheelchair accessible.
Return by the way you came, or head over towards the parliament buildings—which I’ll talk about in another post. Major’s Hill Park is another favorite place for families to hang out on weekend afternoons, and you might even be treated to some street musicians. One was playing a cool hand drum on a park bench when we were there.
Round Trip Trail Length: 7 kilometers (4 miles) if you follow my directions; shorter if you park closer to the park.
Facilities: None where we parked; both Rockcliffe Park and Major’s Hill Park have restrooms.
Fees: None, unless you have to pay for parking
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
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