Canada is filled with many charms. Its capital city, is not just inspiring but a complete feast to the eyes. If you’re a first timer in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, here’s a quick read on what you should not miss out on your trip here. Mark your checklist with some of the most popular Ottawa attractions and experiences.
BY NAMITA GUPTA
A lot of Ottawa’s major sites are accessible by walking. You can also rent a bike or hire an Uber ride. Major attractions of Ottawa can be explored on a six-days trip. With scenic mountains, sandy beaches, rivers, national forests, gardens, wildlife and adventure activities, all at an easy-to-drive distance, Ottawa is clearly one must-do city in southeastern Ontario.
A visit to the Parliament Hill, home of Canada’s national government and the setting for national celebrations all year round has to be at the top of the list for every traveller. Although it might sound cliched and typical touristy to see Parliament buildings, but these government buildings are not just beautiful but simply a class apart.
I was lucky to visit Ottawa in August, which is a summer month here, when you can watch the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony in the front lawn of Parliament Hill every morning. Don’t miss to come back again to the Parliament Hill in the evening, to witness the awe-inspiring Sound and Light show. Its lighting effects and stunning giant images projected on the Parliament Buildings set to words and music is simply spectacular. In winter, it is bathed in brilliant colours of Christmas Lights Across Canada.
National Cultural Attractions
Ottawa cultural attractions, museums and galleries attracts tourists for good reasons. Its national museums tell the country’s story in art, history, nature, at war, in aviation and space, agriculture and food, science and technology, plus attractions that focus on Canada’s Aboriginals. There are so many well kept interesting museums that Ottawa can be called the Museum city of Canada. The Canadian Museum of History is one of Canada’s oldest public institutions and a respected centre of museological excellence, sharing its expertise in history, archaeology, ethnology and cultural studies both within Canada and abroad.
The Canadian Children’s Museum is developed around a central theme — The Great Adventure — and gives younger visitors an opportunity to travel the world and build intercultural understanding. The Canadian History Hall traces the history of Canada and its people from the dawn of human habitation to the present — a span of some 15,000 years. Each gallery focuses on a separate chronological era in Canadian history. Don’t forget to take in some gorgeous views of the Ottawa Skyline and the Alexandra Bridge lit up at night from the museum premises.
A bustling place by day with pop up food stalls stocked with varied cuisines from around the world and by night there are many shops, restaurants and boutiques to browse through. For nearly two centuries, this boisterous public market has hosted artisans, farmers and craftsmen. A quick short walk from Parliament Hill, this downtown market also houses numerous cafés and some of the city’s best pubs and restaurants. You can try some Obama Cookies, that are basically maple leaf shaped shortbread cookies, created by bakery owner Claude Bonnet at Le Moulin De Provence at the Byward Market. By dusk, when the streetlights turn on, the market becomes one of the hotspots in Ottawa to grab a late night drink and also catch some live music. It also houses one of Ottawa’s Oldest Tavern Est. 1849 called Chateau Lafayette. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, one of the largest and oldest Roman Catholic churches in Ottawa is also at walking distance. The Ottawa sign installation here is a perfect Instagram spot, where every tourist stops by for a click, be it dawn or dusk.
A historic waterway filled with boaters spring through fall and the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink in winter – the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, winds through downtown Ottawa before connecting with the Ottawa River through stepped locks right next to Parliament Hill. It’s a beautiful place for cycling or a stroll, no matter the season.
Outdoor & Adventure
Ottawa is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination, with an extensive network of scenic recreational biking paths, hiking trails and a significant number of golf courses close to downtown. If you’re slightly more adventurous then the best way to experience Ottawa river is by whitewater rafting and kayaking on the rapids. I signed up with Wilderness Tours for my tryst with whitewater rafting where I went across the river, slowing down at times to admire its unparalleled beauty on all sides. We were told how to drive and steer the raft and then we went on your way, but at every step, our experienced kayak guide helped point us in the right direction. There was a point where we could also take the plunge into the river from atop a cliff. Wilderness Tours are clearly one of the continent’s finest.
The culinary scene in Ottawa has come alive in recent years, with a thriving community of Ottawa chefs and Ottawa restaurants creating a niche and a name for themselves. From fine dining to casual pubs and a diverse selection of cuisine choices, Ottawa’s food scene offers something for everyone. As one of Ontario’s designated culinary tourism destinations, the city, its restaurants and its local food producers are all working together to bring locally-grown and prepared foods to tables across the region through an initiative called Savour Ottawa. I tried some of the tastiest dishes cooked with some of the freshest veggies that the country produces, besides some exciting and flavourful fish and chicken dishes. Do try the coffee and croissant at the Byward Cafe. Also try some irresistibly delicious, artisanal piping-hot, hand-stretched whole-wheat Canadian pastry at BeaverTails, which is also at the Byward Market.
The Capital’s premier performing arts venue, the National Arts Centre, presents a full lineup of music, dance and theatre, plus popular touring acts and shows. Ottawa also has a thriving local theatre scene, including the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa Little Theatre, and The Gladstone.
If you’re falling short of time, then just fold up your map, put it in your backpack, and relax as you give into the hands of one of the city’s experts to show you around. I decided to go the touristy way and tried one of the numerous tours and sightseeing options in the capital, the hop-on hop-off way. You can try the bird’s eye view and see-the-whole-city type of tour. There’s also a choice of picking your mode of transportation — bus, boat, plane, helicopter, bicycle or feet. I tried the safest way out – the bus hop-on hop-off tour for one day and I wasn’t disappointed. I particularly loved Sussex Drive, which is one of the city’s major ceremonial and institutional routes, running roughly parallel to the Ottawa River. It is home to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive and home to the Governor General’s residence at 1 Sussex Drive. Also located on Sussex are a number of prominent embassies such as those of France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and more. The residence of the embassy of the United States overlooking the Ottawa river is massive with a picturesque view.
Neighbourhoods & Shopping
Charming Ottawa neighbourhoods offer distinctive shopping, dining and nightlife experiences across the Capital city. From Little Italy’s enticing bars and restaurants, to the glorious new archway over Chinatown, there is plenty to experience in Ottawa’s varied neighbourhoods. Each of them offer a unique ambience and character.
Hotels you’ll fall in love with
Imagine living close to your favourite cafe or to an organic farmer’s market, both at strolling distance from your door. A place from where you could escape into a lush green park or walk around a popular market a hop and a skip away. A stay in Ottawa is incomplete without a coffee or tea at the iconic Fairmont Château Laurier. You can’t help but soak in the splendour of its magnificent architecture. La Terrasse is located inside the Chateau Laurier, overlooking the locks of the Rideau Canal and offers a stunning view of the Parliament Buildings, the canal and Ottawa River. You can can get the best sunset view from this terrace. Another strategically and centrally located hotel is The Westin Ottawa. Bang on the Colonel By Drive in the heart of the city, it has direct access to many of the city’s attractions. The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site provides a romantic setting for leisurely strolls just outside the doors of the hotel. Enjoy breathtaking views of Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, and the Gatineau Hills from one of the 492 heavenly guest rooms and suites. You can also gaze at the famed fireworks show at the Parliament Hill from the window of your room at The Westin.
Major Festivals to watch out for
Ottawa is a city of celebrations, offering visitors a year around calendar of parties, festivals and special events. On July 1st, the city celebrates the biggest party in the country, Canada Day. There are also a host of music celebrations, including the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ottawa Chamberfest, and Bluesfest, which welcome some of the world’s biggest acts. In winter, Canada celebrates Winterlude during the first three weekends in February, and takes to the ice on the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal. You will also love the Magic of Lights, a dazzling 2-kilometre drive-through holiday lights show, from November 21 till January 4. Lansdowne is home to the Ottawa Christmas Market, from November 29 to December 22, where you can see the magic of the season come to life through the twinkle of the lights. Winterlude, a unique winter festival featuring snow and ice sculpture competitions, snow playgrounds, and skating and sporting events transform Ottawa into a winter wonderland from January 31 to February 17. At Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival, the teams use ice-sticks to propel dragon boats outfitted with skates across the frozen Rideau Canal on February 7 and 8. The Canadian Tulip Festival is an annual world-famous festival from May 8 to 18, that reflects Ottawa’s love affair with the tulip. You can see a million tulips blooming in public areas, including 250,000 blooms in Commissioners Park near Dows Lake. There cannot be a better time to plan your trip to Ottawa.