If you have family or friends visiting Ottawa, there’s no need to be stressed about how to entertain them! As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is home to many national museums, interesting attractions and scenic locales that are sure to delight visitors at any time of the year. From national historic sites, to special exhibits, to outdoor activities, to great shops and restaurants, you won’t run out of things to do. And if you follow our suggestions, you’ll look like a professional Ottawa Tourism guide. Even your in-laws are sure to be impressed!
When you’re with any visitor, Ottawa’s busy downtown core is a good place to start. Get everyone together and head off to Parliament Hill –one of the city’s must see historic sites. Home to Canada’s federal government, Parliament Hill is where you’ll find the ornate neo-Gothic and Gothic Parliament Buildings, built between 1859 and 1927.
Stop to admire the ever-burning Centennial Flame before making your way up to “the Hill’s” most impressive building, Centre Block, which is home to the 92.2-metre (302-foot) Peace Tower. Guided tours of Centre Block are free and are offered daily, usually at half-hour intervals on a first-come, first-served basis. This is a great way to see some of the building’s most treasured assets such as the House of Commons and the beautifully carved Library of Parliament! The beloved, fairytale-like library is actually the only part of Parliament Hill that is original, as it was the only building to survive a disastrous fire in 1916, thanks to a set of sturdy iron doors. Alternatively, you and your guests can decide to skip the guided tour, but ask to take the elevator to the top of the Peace Tower. Here, you can enjoy a dramatic, 360-degree view of the capital!
From Parliament Hill, take a short walk over the quaint Bytown Museum, which is housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building. Located on the banks of the Rideau Canal –a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this three floor museum traces the history of Ottawa’s early years from the construction of the famous canal to the city’s emergence as the capital of Canada. The Bytown Museum is a great place to visit if you want to do something cultural, but you’re running short on time.
From either Parliament Hill or the museum, you can head into the ByWard Market neighbourhood. This is a great place to get something to eat at any time of day and to shop for souvenirs! The open-air ByWard Market is the oldest and largest farmers’ market in Canada, as well as the name of the eclectic neighbourhood that surrounds it.
If the weather is nice, peruse the outdoor stalls where local retailers offer fresh produce, Canadian maple products as well as various arts and crafts. This market is open year-round. But in the height of the summer, it is home to about 175 stalls! Also take the time to visit some of the area’s staple food shops such as Saslove’s Meat Market, House of Cheese and Lapointe Fish, which have been around since the earlier beginnings of the market area. And if you’re wondering where to stop for lunch, you might want to consider Lowertown Brewery.
Located on York Street, Lowertown opened just this summer offering craft beer, fresh, made-from-scratch pub fair, as well as uniquely Canadian-themed items such as maple candied peanut bacon. Lowertown’s second floor is home to the brand new Sens House –a restaurant dedicated to hometown hockey heroes, the Ottawa Senators. And be sure to mention this unique Sens House feature; its rooftop deck has a retractable roof, which is the first of its kind in Canada!
And no visit to Ottawa or to the ByWard Market is complete without a BeaverTails pastry, so make sure to visit the original BeaverTails stand on George Street. Ottawa is where this delicious, deep-fried pastry was born in 1978. These whole wheat pastries, which come in flavours such as Cinnamon and Sugar, Choco Banana and Oreo, are enjoyed in the market year-round. But there is nothing more Canadian than enjoying one on skates on the frozen Rideau Canal in the winter. And if your guests are from the United States, you’ll want to take them to French bakery Moulin de Provence for a staple “Obama” cookie.
Located in the historic ByWard Market Square building, Moulin de Provence offers a red and white maple leaf-shaped cookie that is great as a dessert or as a souvenir. During his visit to Ottawa in February 2009, President Barack Obama made an impromptu stop at the bakery for one of these Canadian cookies, which became an instant hit. Take one to eat on the go or bring one home in a commemorative Ottawa tin box!
And if you’re not quite familiar with the ByWard Market neighbourhood, there’s no need to worry. Just book a culinary walking tour with C’est Bon Epicurean Adventures. Locally-owned C’est Bon offers three-hour walking tours of Ottawa’s trendy gourmet neighbourhoods, including the ByWard Market year-round. These culinary tours are based on the belief that one of the best ways to understand a people and its culture is to explore local food markets, experience local specialties and meet with local chefs. And the best part? Samples of local delicacies are provided all along the way. Just let the experienced C’est Bon guide show you and your guests around.
In the afternoon, head out to explore a few of Ottawa’s national, award-winning museums! Located either in or near the downtown core is the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Nature. See the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles at the Museum of History or view Canadian and Inuit art at the Gallery. All of Ottawa’s national museums are world-class, offering interesting artifacts and special exhibits that can entertain visitors of all ages for the better part of a day. Or if you’ve done enough sightseeing and your group just wants to relax, consider stopping by Zoé’s Lounge at the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel for afternoon tea. Zoé’s was named one of the best bars in Canada by enRoute magazine and offers a Canadian tea service, which features delicious maple tea and delicacies from across the country. This afternoon tea service is also family-friendly, offering a bubble gum flavoured tea for younger visitors.
If your guests are more active and enjoy being outdoors, Gatineau Park is where you’ll want to take them. Just a short drive from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park offers 361 square kilometres (90,000 acres) of wilderness and more than seven different picturesque hiking trails. The park offers free admission and year-round activities, as popular hiking trails give way to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails once the snow arrives. And during the colder months (roughly December to February), encourage everyone to bundle up and go skating on the canal. Once frozen, the Rideau Canal becomes the world’s largest skating rink –as designated by Guiness World Records. This is a winter activity that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. It will not disappoint. Skate and sleigh rentals are even available on the ice!
Finally, the Haunted Walk of Ottawa offers evening walking tours of the city year-round. This is a great group activity. Walk together and follow a dark cloaked guide with a lantern, who will lead you to Ottawa’s haunted locations and recount stories of the city’s darker past.
Ottawa is a charming, beautiful city in any season. And if you based your tour guide skills on this list, your guests are guaranteed to have a good time. But for more activity suggestions, visit Ottawa Tourism’s website at www.ottawatourism.ca