Tucked somewhere in-between the business culture of Toronto and the trendy beat of Montreal, is Ottawa, Canada’s (cute) capital city.
Subjected to ridicule by home grown Canadians and tourists alike, this forgotten gem continues to be overlooked and is, more often than not, skipped over by most folk with limited time to tour the best of Canada. My first instinct is to nod in agreement when people say they are skipping over Ottawa as they plan a whirlwind trip to T.O or Montreal, followed by an over the border crossing to NYC. Sure, Ottawa doesn’t have the skyscrapers lighting up Toronto’s downtown core, and no, it doesn’t offer the same historical appeal as Vieux-Montreal. Yet, Ottawa, as small and as quaint as it may seem to the excitable traveler, remains wholly underestimated in it’s ability to entertain. Here are a few reasons why Ottawa should make the top ten on your Canadian hit-list:
From Cactus size strawberry daiquiris topped with Bailey’s at the Blue Cactus, to fresh croissants baked every morning at Moulin de Provence, Byward Market is a great place to enjoy a romantic dinner out, a cafe on a terrace with your favourite read, or a beer with friends in one of the many bars found downtown. The cookies pictured on the right are the famous Obama Cookies, featured at the Moulin de Provence following a visit by the President himself!
Byward Market is found directly across the street from the Rideau Centre, downtown Ottawa’s #1 shopping hub. Inside the mall you’ll find all your favourite stores including a Moevenpick that offers half off baked goods after 5:30pm. Travelers note! Keeping the mall in mind for a rainy day, head outside and enjoy some fresh fruits and vegetables sold by local farmers in the summer, and Native American artwork and maple syrup products offered during winter months! Use the market as your centre, and put on your walking shoes. Lining the sidewalks left and right, you will find an array of small shops offering everything from arts, crafts and souvenirs to high end fashion and local couture. Give your tired feet a rest at one of the many bars, restaurants, nightclubs found downtown.
My personal favourites include:
Milestones – this restaurant/bar offers great bellinis and is located right across the street from the historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel.
Fat Tuesdays – this New Orleans themed bar offers live piano every Thursday and is a wicked place to gather for a drink … although I doubt you’ll be able to leave after just one.
The Chateau Laurier – high tea at this castle-like hotel, built in 1912, is an experience you’re sure to remember for years to come. As you sip your way through a delightful selection of teas and nibble on mouth watering platter of mini-sandwiches, sweets and scones with fresh cream, take a moment to breath in the architecture and significance of this historic landmark.
Heart and Crown – the best pub in Ottawa, with live music, great beer, and a huge venue suited both for those who like to hover in booths and those who like to rock out like a true Canuck!
Mambo – Tapas. Sangria. Need I say more?
Sasha’s Chip Truck (Poutine) – whatever you do, do not forego this french delight simply because it looks like something that came out of a monkey’s rump. After one bite into the deliciousness that is gravy drenched french fries and cheese curdles, you will be dancing around with wooden spoons and begging for more. While you can order poutine just about anywhere, Sasha’s Chip Truck is a landmark for bar goers seeking a late night snack.
Beaver Tails: Beaver Tails are famous in Ottawa. Don’t worry, we love animals, they’re not real Beavers. Known for being the snack-of-choice for skaters enjoying the Rideau Canal mid-winter, when Canadian temperatures reach their lowest, a Beaver Tail is a scrumptious crepe like snack, deep fried and slathered in cinnamon and sugar (or your preferred topping of choice). Couple it with a hot chocolate and you’re ready to face the Canadian winter, head on.
Small town feel, big town fun
Be it summer, winter, spring or fall, there is always something happening in the “WA“. As spring turns into summer, the Tulip Festival welcomes visitors with open doors to enjoy arts and crafts from around the world, international food stands and tulips of course!
Over the summer months, tourists and locals can groove to their favourite artists at the Bluesfest or the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Wind down after a long day of touring the city by throwing down a blanket and watching in amazement as beautiful flashes of light tell a story of Canada’s past at the Mosaika: Sound and Light Show takes over on Parliament Hill. Come July, get those elbows up as thousands of people take to the street in celebration of Canada Day! Surrounded by people sporting maple leaf tattoos proudly wearing everything Roots (a popular Canadian retail company that specializes in attire for the excitedly patriotic), it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself, Canadian or otherwise. And when the leaves finally start to change and winter rears it’s ugly head, you can join in the fun skating the length of the Rideau Canal or judge monumental ice sculptures at Winterlude, an event recognized by the Canadian Tourism Commission as one of the remarkable tourist experiences!
Keep up to date with what’s happening here at Ottawa Festivals.ca!
One of the neatest things about being in Ottawa is the diversity of the people who will cross your path. Being the country’s diplomatic hub, the city boasts representatives from every corner of the globe. As a result, you’ll find a large network of open minded people and a delicious array of ethnic cuisine, like Blue Nile (Ethiopian) right downtown. From international heads of government flying in for talks with the Prime Minister to well known Canadian heroes like Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, Ottawa is like the Notting Hill of Canada for lovers of international and foreign affairs.
Note – watch out for cars running around with red license plates. They are diplomatic vehicles and have the right to run just about anybody off the road!
Moreover, being so close in proximity to Gatineau, Quebec, you can hop over the border and indulge in French-Canadian cuisine or visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization. If you’re staying in the city for a couple of days, take a time-out and indulge in one of the most relaxing getaways Ontario has to offer at Le Nordik Spa located in Gatineau Park just on the other side of the St.Lawrence, a short drive from downtown Ottawa.
If you’re a museum buff who prefers to spend your time visiting old airplanes over eating your way through Obama cookies, foreign cuisine and Bailey’s infused daiquiris, Ottawa’s got you covered. Steeped in history, Ottawa has plenty to offer in terms of culture, history, art and museums.
Visit the National Gallery of Canada for a spectacular collection that includes Canadian, indigenous and international artwork (and a great view of the St.Lawrence from Champlain point). Take a tour of the Peace Tower, named in honour of the men and women who sacrificed their lives during the first World War. While you’re there, why not stay to witness a changing of the guard? At 10:00am sharp every morning between June and late August, come witness the guards as they make their way up Cartier Square Drill Hall just south of Parliament Hill and up Elgin Street, marching to the sound of the regimental band and bagpipes that play throughout the ceremony. Once you’ve had your fill of parliament, prepare yourself for an afternoon of museum hopping starting with the Canadian War Museum, unless, of course, Space and Aviation is more your thing? Don’t forget to visit the visit the Canadian Mint, followed by some real mint, covered with chocolate and deep frozen, at one of the many ice cream parlors decorating the downtown core.
Insiders tip! Visit the cats of parliament hill, a shelter for stray cats started by one man since the 1970s located just to the left the peace tower, next to the statue of the Famous Five, honouring five outstanding women who fought for women to be considered persons in all legislature and thereby eligible to be named to the Senate.
If you’re still on the hunt for things to do, visit Ottawa Tourism for more attractions, events and things taking place in this happening city!