Have you been to the Albany Tulip Festival before? Photos courtesy of Discover Albany
April showers bring May flowers, and in Albany that means tens of thousands of tulips as part of the city’s annual festival.
Since the late 1940s, the city has set aside a weekend for the Tulip Festival, a joyous celebration of its Dutch heritage featuring live music, craft vendors, beloved traditions, and of course, tulips!
The Hudson Valley has deep, Dutch roots—the entire region was once part of the New Netherland colony that stretched from the northernmost border all the way down to Delaware. Although New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) became the seat of the territory in 1626, the first trading post that the Dutch West India Company established was Fort Orange in Beverwyck, or present-day Albany.
The city’s first tulip festival occurred over three centuries later. In May 1948, then-mayor Erastus Corning II declared that the tulip—Holland’s national bloom—would be named Albany’s official flower. He then sent a request to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to name a specific variety as Albany’s tulip—she designated the “Orange Wonder” breed as the city’s flower. A celebration of America’s oldest Dutch settlement was held that year—and in 1949, Corning proclaimed the Tulip Festival an annual event, complete with street scrubbing, the crowning of a Tulip King and Queen, and flowers planted in gardens throughout the city.
Preparation for this year’s festival began last November, when city landscapers started planting bulbs in designated spots across the 81-acre Washington Park. In late April to early May, over 140,000 colorful tulips in more than 150 varieties (like yellow Double Earlies, red Darwin Hybrids, and pink Fancy Frilled Fringed tulips) begin to bloom, just in time for the fete. At the end of May, the Washington Park Conservancy will host an annual dig and sale event, where avid gardeners are welcome to purchase used tulip bulbs that can be replanted in their own backyards in the fall.
Save the Date
In the Netherlands, it’s customary to clean the streets before a celebration. In a similar fashion, the festival kicks off with the scrubbing of State and Lodge streets the Friday afternoon before the weekend (May 13–14). After a proclamation by the mayor, a procession of the Dutch Settlers Society—dressed in traditional garb and armed with scrub brushes and soapy water—clean the streets along with the Tulip Queen finalists.
Every year, Albany women ages 18–24 are nominated to be an ambassador of the city for a year (crowning a king ended in the ’50s). The queen and court receive scholarships and spend the following year participating in volunteer projects. On May 13, the Tulip Queen is crowned at Washington Park’s Lakehouse Stage. (A queen is chosen by a committee comprised of former court members, local businesspeople, and Tulip Festival volunteers.)
Musical groups—from blues to Latin to folk—take the Main stage or the 518 stage over the weekend. A dedicated KidZone stage hosts family-friendly acts of music, magic, and more. Nearly 100 makers selling handmade goods and food vendors are set up across the park as well. (For a list of vendors and music lineups, visit albanyevents.org.)
The Tulip Festival is free of charge and routinely attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Parking and complimentary shuttle service to Washington Park is available at designated lots. If you can’t make it out to see tulips that weekend, don’t worry: the flowers will be in bloom throughout May in the park and gardens near Empire State Plaza.