Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Festival City: Ottawa’s urban festivals

Read more articles by

Named “Best Festival City“, Ottawa is a city which uses its various urban spaces each year to host an array of concerts, culinary events, and sporting competitions, showcasing its cultural and festive spirit throughout all four seasons. Thanks to its many natural and built urban features, outdoor venues – whether green or gray, wet or dry, hard or softscape – can be found throughout the National’s Capital, with a large and far reaching number of locations being used annually.

Kicking off the festival calendar each spring, the Canadian Tulip Festival brings locals and tourists alike to the banks of Dow’s Lake and along the winding paths of Commissioner’s Park, with cool areas of shade provided by the park’s large trees. Yet as the tulips begin to wilt, Ottawa shifts its focus from the lush surroundings of soil beds to the pounding of pavement as Ottawa Race Weekend brings runners on course routes throughout Ottawa and Gatineau, with a carnival-like atmosphere at the festival’s home site of Marion Dewar Plaza, on the grounds of City Hall.


Next the city returns to the water as the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival takes over Mooney’s Bay Beach and Park, with a weekends worth of competition and concerts from the waters edge, all the way to the top of the hill. The beach, which is busy enough on any given sunny day, is once again flooded with urban dwellers come mid-July with the return of the Hope Volleyball tournament. Yet if surf and sand is not your venue of choice, downtown keeps pace with its own set of events and entertainment, from RibFest to the Busker Festival, which both inhabit the paved path through the urban canyon of the Spark Street pedestrian mall.

But the city really comes alive for music lovers, with monthly festivals in various locations throughout the city. From the Ottawa Jazz Festival, which has venues centred around Confederations Park, to Canada Day concerts on Parliament Hill and in other parks downtown, it is Bluesfest that turns the usually under utilized LeBreton Flats into the hottest part of town for two weeks running. The summer is then capped with the quickly growing in acclaim Folk Festival, which returns this September to the picturesque Hog’s Back Park, famed for its waterfall.


And of course there is Winterlude, held centrally in Confederation Park, Jacques Cartier Park, and along the Rideau Canal Skateway, it is the festival that gets us through the long cold days until we can once again return to a city of green grass, tulips, and festivals of a warmer nature.

So if you want to see Ottawa for what it really is, all you need to do is find the next festival, bring a lawn chair, and enjoy the sites and sounds of this beautiful city.

For a complete list of Ottawa festivals, dates, and locations, please visit Ottawa Festivals.

First Image: Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, Mooney’s Bay, Paddlinggeek, via Flickr
Second Image: Ottawa Busker Festival, Sparks Street, jocci_pi, via Flickr
Third Image: Ottawa BluesFest, LeBreton Flats, ActiveSteve, via Flickr