I grew up close to Ottawa so I’m quite familiar with the city and all that it has to offer. My husband is from New Zealand and one of the first trips we made when he moved to Canada was a weekend in the Nation’s Capital so he could learn more about our country. Now that our kids are 10 and 12, we felt it was time to introduce them to the heritage and culture of Ottawa.
Since we only had a weekend to explore, we decided to concentrate on three main things: the Canadian Tulip Festival, Parliament Hill and its surrounding area and a cruise on the Ottawa River.
Canadian Tulip Festival:
We choose the May long weekend to visit Ottawa so we could enjoy the beautiful and iconic Tulip Festival. There is a rich history around this festival as Princess Juliana of the Netherlands graciously gave Ottawa 100,000 tulip bulbs as thanks for giving her family safe haven during the Second World War. Princess Juliana spent five years living in Ottawa and even gave birth to her daughter, Princess Margriet, at the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
Today, more than a million tulips bloom each spring. They come in a wide range of colours and varieties and offer a spectacular vision along the Tulip Route, which begins in Commissioners Park at Dow’s Lake, runs along the historic Rideau Canal and up through Parliament Hill.
The Tulip Festival runs for two weeks every May and includes live entertainment, vendors, artists, food, and several spectacular nights of fireworks. There are tons of fun kids’ activities and of course millions of tulips to admire and photograph. My 10-year-old son asked to borrow my camera during the Festival and I didn’t get it back from him until the end of the day. He became fascinated trying to capture the beauty of these delicate and colourful flowers!
Dow’s Lake is a man-made lake in Ottawa along the Rideau Canal. It is a recreational delight as you often see families enjoying picnics in the parkland and you can rent paddle boats, canoes or kayaks. Dow’s Lake Pavillion includes three restaurants with fabulous lake-side views.
National War Memorial:
One of our first stops in Ottawa was to visit the National War Memorial. It was unveiled by King George VI in 1939 to honour the Canadians who served in the First World War and has been re-dedicated several times since to include those who died in the Second World War (1939-1945) as well as the Korean War (1950-1953). It is a magnificent bronze statue of Canadians on their way overseas to fight for freedom. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the monument holds significant importance to our family, as the soldier was exhumed from Vimy Ridge in France and brought home to Canada to represent all those who lost their lives. My daughter has the honour of going to Vimy Ridge to celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 2017, so she was particularly touched to see and learn more about the tomb before her historical journey in a few years.
Ottawa Locks on the Rideau Canal:
One of the things that I think makes Ottawa so incredibly unique and special is the historic Rideau Canal, which runs through the city. It is fascinating to watch boats travel through the eight separate locks just beside Parliament Hill. Parks Canada staff still hand crank the gates to open each lock as water pours through to the next level with a total lift of 24 metres, which takes about an hour and a half to go through.
World Famous Paul’s Boat Line:
My husband and I had particularly fond memories of our cruise down the Rideau Canal on Paul’s Boat Lines years ago. Sadly, they are no longer able to offer that cruise but they still operate a cruise on the Ottawa River that is definitely worth doing. It’s an hour and a half cruise starting from the base of the Ottawa Locks just off Wellington Street.
- Sites along the cruise: From the Paula D double decker cruise boat, you get a fantastic view of Parliament Hill, the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, the bridges that connect the two provinces of Ontario and Quebec, Rideau Falls, the National Gallery of Canada and so much more. There is an extremely informative running commentary in both English and French about all the sites.
- Rideau Falls: I’ve been to Ottawa countless times in my life, but I never even knew about Rideau Falls until we went on our Ottawa River cruise. It was a fantastic surprise to be right beside these beautiful twin waterfalls. Did you know that the word “le rideau” in French means “curtain”? Seeing this wide stretching waterfall certainly makes you think of a curtain, which is most likely why French explorer Samuel de Champlain gave it its name. The falls, which are almost nine metres high, is where the Rideau River meets the Ottawa River.
FREE guided tours are available for anyone who would like to see inside the Parliament Buildings, however, there are a limited number of tickets available so make sure you go early and pick yours up. Unfortunately since we were there during the first long weekend of summer, it was particularly busy and we couldn’t get tickets. We did enjoy a long walk around the grounds though and admired the Centennial Flame, the Victoria Tower Bell, enjoyed the Peace Tower carillon bells, were humbled by the Police Memorial and got a glimpse of the Supreme Court of Canada building. There are so many incredible statues and monuments around Parliament Hill that I’m sure you could spend an entire day just admiring and studying them all.
- Library of Parliament: I think the Library of Parliament is one of the most beautiful buildings in Ottawa. It has such a vibrant and important history since it is the only original surviving building on Parliament Hill. It was built in 1876 in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones separated from the Centre Block by a corridor. This corridor was its saving grace when a horrible fire broke out in 1916. The iron door to the library was quickly closed and kept the fire and its damage at bay. The rest of Parliament was destroyed and had to be rebuilt over the years. You can take a virtual tour of the library on YouTube in this video.
BeaverTails in the ByWard Market:
We finished our site-filled weekend with a trip to one of the most popular Ottawa attractions of all… BeaverTails! Their very first permanent location opened in 1980 in the popular ByWard Market just beside Parliament Hill and they make the absolute best fried pastries ever!
The whole-wheat dough is hand shaped to look like a beaver’s tail, fried and then dipped or spread with various scrumptious toppings. We enjoyed the traditional cinnamon sugar BeaverTail… fresh and hot and oh so yummy! You can’t visit Ottawa without trying one of these Canadian delicacies! There are now numerous BeaverTails locations now throughout Canada.
This was our family’s first trip to Ottawa but it most definitely will not be our last, since there is so much to do and see in this fabulous city. We’re already thinking that Winterlude may be our next adventure to Ottawa.