Popular with tourists all year round, nowhere quite embodies the culture and diversity of this country like its capital – Ottawa. Look no further for an authentic Canadian experience.
Standing proudly on the south bank of the Ottawa River, the city is a buzzing metropolis offering countless things to see and do. With so much going on, our guide to Ottawa offers the perfect introduction for first-time visitors on holiday in Canada.
As any seasoned traveller knows, there’s no greater way to soak up the atmosphere of a new destination than by assuming the role of the intrepid explorer – immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of your chosen holiday spot. Should you need a little encouragement to spur your adventure on, Ottawa’s own blogging community have scoured every nook and cranny, bringing you the best advice about the capital.
Ottawa natives and travel experts in their own right, Vanessa and Ryan of TurnipSeed Travel provide plenty of inspiration for visitors making that first voyage to Canada’s capital. From guides suggesting how to spend a day at Ottawa’s National Gallery to enjoying a girls’ retreat in the city, you can’t go far wrong with the insider globe-trotting musings of this pair.
Alternatively, you could take a helpful lead from historical favourite – Bytown Museum, whose own tagline explains: “Ottawa begins here”!
Enlightening the capital’s newcomers for nearly a century, the museum charts Ottawa’s origins in the 1800s when it was originally named ‘Bytown’.
Bytown Museum hosts multiple temporary exhibitions throughout the year, exploring the historic events that have helped to shape Canadian history. Find out what’s on in the museum’s calendar.
Any adventure abroad requires some serious pavement pounding as visitors explore all the destination has to offer. Ottawa’s status as the fourth largest city in Canada can make it a challenge for anyone to navigate while visiting. Fortunately, car hire in Canada offers relief for your inquisitive feet and can help tourists traverse the stunning landscapes framing Ottawa on the outskirts too.
In the city itself, visitors can take advantage of OC Transpo – Ottawa’s affordable public transit network. It includes park and ride buses and the light rail O-Train transporting passengers to five of the more popular stops in the city.
For first-timers, a guided tour is a fantastic way to explore while making your way around Ottawa. Lady Dive’s Amphibus may just be the perfect way to see the city from land and sea, as this bus quickly becomes a boat sailing down Ottawa’s river. Providing bilingual tours for those visiting Ottawa city and Gatineau, Lady Dive allows guests to visit the capital at their own pace with its hop-on, hop-off one- or three-day passes.
Things to see and do
Visit Parliament, the centre stage of Canadian democracy!
Perhaps the most iconic sight in Ottawa is Parliament Hill, where the grand Parliament buildings sit looking out over the capital of Canada. It is here that visitors will be able to connect with Ottawa’s – and indeed Canada’s – rich heritage.
Guided tours take you inside the iconic Centre Block to learn more about the history, functions and art of Canada’s national legislature. You can also experience Parliament in action by watching live debates or get a bird’s-eye view of the national capital from the top of the Peace Tower. The buildings are free to enter and savvy travellers can plan a visit to Parliament ahead of their trip.
Like any capital around the world, Ottawa houses tributes to Canada’s excellence and visitors can discover feats in art, science and aviation for themselves at the city’s many museums.
The National Gallery of Canada is a must for seeing how art in this part of the world has progressed throughout its history. Likewise, the Canadian Museum of Nature observes the important natural legacy of the country and is renowned amongst the scientific community for its break-through research. Dedicated to the story of human flight, the permanent exhibitions at Canada Aviation and Space Museum take guests on a journey that’s out of this world! Have fun learning about The International Space Station as well as Canada’s own aerospace icon, the Canadarm at this museum.
If you’re looking to see the city on foot, it’s well worth stopping to explore the Rideau Canal, one of Ottawa’s oldest landmarks. This pretty spot in the city welcomes kayaking in the summer months and ice skating in the winter.
With Ottawa’s strong European roots, dining in the city is an exciting culinary experience that borrows from menus around the globe.
An established chef in the city, Michael Blackie has worked his way up from cooking at the Brookstreet Hotel and the National Arts Centre and today oversees his own restaurant, the stylish NeXT restaurant. Michael believes the capital’s dining scene is defined by three distinctive food neighbourhoods – Westboro, the Market and the Glebe.
NeXT’s own sharing style menu philosophy is inspired by dishes around the world, Michael explains:
“NeXT is my own place and is about redefining the borders of dining locations in Ottawa. It showcases my best memories from traveling and working on 3 continents. We are what you would call destination dining, I myself am a British expat who came over in 1966 from Cosby in England.
“I’m a very interactive chef who is on the floor in my dining room and one thing I can say is that I do see a lot of tourists making their way out to NeXT to see what we’re all about.”
“Try new things always” says Deek Labelle of the family-run Chateau Lafayette, affectionately known as The Laff.
A legendary watering hole dating back to 1849, The Laff has recently undergone a transformation opening a new side and kitchen, but it remains a favourite among live musicians as Ottawa’s oldest tavern. Offering an unrivalled range of draught and bottled beer, The Laff also serves traditional bar snacks for guests to enjoy as they relax and listen to the music.
In terms of local tips for travellers, Deek suggests: “Come hungry, wear good walking shoes, and don’t be afraid to explore the hidden parts of town. Especially in the Market, there are tons of locally owned shops that feature Canadian-made goods: clothing, food, accessories – you name it!
“And the food around town is to die for – ranging from local, Canadian cuisine to the most eclectic menus you’ll see around the world!”
For further foodie inspiration, visitors can swot up on Ottawa’s sought-after eateries on Caroline Dumont’s popular blog Careful Indulgence.
The blog captures only the best dining experiences in the capital, choosing to publish only positive reviews to filter through the bad and help visitors find the good in Ottawa’s restaurant scene. Careful Indulgence proves to be a useful resource for hungry travellers and Caroline suggests a few of her favourite culinary hotspots based on cuisine type, adding “Ottawa has some great food trucks in the summer months as well. Streat Gourmet and Angry Dragonz are very popular”.
• For seafood: The Whalesbone on Bank Street
• For sandwiches: Dirienzos on Beach, Gooneys on Laurier, Art Is In Bakery on City Centre Ave
• For local/sustainable: Gezellig on Richmond Rd., Fraser Café in Beechwood, Supply and Demand on Wellington St.
• For breakfast or brunch: Baker Street Café on Richmond Rd, the Manx Pub on Elgin St.
• For best coffee & treat: Cacao 70 at Lansdowne
• For best vegetarian: Pure Kitchen on Richmond Rd
• For best cocktails: Moscow Tea Room on Sussex
Boasting the country’s top attractions for history, culture and monuments, however you decide to explore Ottawa, Canada’s capital is guaranteed to showcase the ambition and distinction of the nation.
Image Credit: Library of Parliament (lop.park.gc.ca), NeXT (nextfood.ca), Tony Webster (wikimedia.org)