Whether you’re new to Canada’s East or West coast, Ottawa is a getaway you’ll want to add to your ‘To Do’ list!
Nestled on the luscious and scenic banks of the ancient Ottawa River, Canada’s beautiful capital city straddles the provincial, cliff-lined border of Ontario and Quebec. This bilingual city – both English and French are spoken – is a place of culture and vibrant celebration, where many of Canada’s best treasures are found. If you really want to get to know Canada, Ottawa is THE place to start. And you can visit in any season, as most of Ottawa’s attractions are available year-round.
If you’re spending a few days in the city, you’ll want to make the most of your precious time. We’ve come up with things for you to see and do to get acquainted with Canada in Ottawa. It’s easier than you might think!
Upon your morning arrival, check into your hotel and head out to explore the city on foot. Ottawa has a walkable downtown core, with most major attractions being at a 20-minute stroll from most downtown area hotels. Once you’ve settled in, head west on Laurier Street to the iconic Parliament Hill. If you’ve never been to Ottawa or to Canada before, this is the best place to start getting acquainted with our friendly country.
Set on a tree-covered promontory overlooking the Ottawa River, the intricately carved Parliament Buildings were built between 1859 and 1927, and are home to Canada’s federal government. This is where Canada’s most important political decisions are made. Parliament Hill’s beautiful front lawn is also where a large-scale Citizenship Ceremony takes place each July 1, on Canada’s birthday.
While you’re here, take a free guided tour of Centre Block, which is home to the famous House of Commons, the 92.2-metre (302-foot) Peace Tower and the beautiful wooden Library of Parliament; the only part of the original parliamentary structures to survive a disastrous fire in 1916.
Also while on Parliament Hill, take in the ever-burning Centennial Flame. Powered by natural gas, this popular monument commemorates the hundredth anniversary of Canada as a Confederation. Erected in 1967, all of the country’s provinces are represented except for Nunavut, as it only became a province in 1999.
After your visit of Parliament, opt to either walk or take a short taxi ride to the Canadian Museum of History.
Sprawling over more than one million square feet, inside this beautiful building is where you’ll learn about Canada’s history; from its earliest Indigenous inhabitants to the modern era. Make sure to take in the museum’s Grand Hall, which is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. The Grand Hall also offers spectacular views of Parliament Hill, so make sure to bring a camera! This museum is worth visiting at any time!
Now, if you’re hungry after all of that exploring, head back towards Parliament Hill and stop in the ByWard Market neighbourhood for a bite to eat.
This area is home to one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada – established by Lieutenant Colonel John By, builder of the Rideau Canal in 1826 – but it is also home to Ottawa’s bustling entertainment district. Here, you’ll find a myriad of clubs, restaurants, bistros and coffee shops, as well as a few uniquely Canadian treats.
If you’ve had a meal and still have room for dessert or if you just want a sweet treat, head to the BeaverTails stand at 69 George Street.
Now a beloved, Canada-wide delicacy, Ottawa is where this delicious, deep fried, beaver tail-shaped pastry was born in 1978. Opt for the traditional cinnamon and sugar flavour or be adventurous with Choco Banana or the Triple Trip which consists of a chocolate hazelnut spread topped with Reese’s Pieces and peanut butter. There are many flavours to choose from and you won’t be disappointed.
The ByWard Market is also a great place to find maple products in every delicious form, be it syrup, butter, sugar or candy. Maple syrup is a Canadian product that dates back to the country’s earliest days, as it was first discovered and made by Canada’s Indigenous inhabitants. In the winter months, maple syrup is heated and then cooled over snow, turning into a delicious sticky taffy. But no matter the form or the time of year, this uniquely Canadian treat is adored by residents and visitors young and old.
On your second day in Canada’s Capital, start by learning about the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Head to the Bytown Museum to learn about how the canal was dug out by hand through the harsh Canadian wilderness. Housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building – used for storage during the canal’s actual construction – you’ll find tools, anecdotes, clothing and other items at the museum, which recounts Ottawa’s earliest days.
If you’re visiting Ottawa during the warmer weather months, opt to see the famous Rideau Canal on a guided boat tour. But during the winter months, there’s no need for a boat. Just lace up a pair of skates and glide on the canal, as it freezes and turns into the world’s largest skating rink. There’s nothing more Canadian than enjoying a BeaverTails pastry on the ice!
Now, how you spend the rest of your time in the capital is up to you. Ottawa is home to seven national museums that store some of the country’s most priceless artifacts. See the world’s most comprehensive collection of Canadian art, including Inuit art at the National Gallery of Canada or learn about the country’s military history at the Canadian War Museum. Just a short drive east of the downtown core, you’ll also find Rideau Hall – the home of Canada’s Governor General – and Beechwood Cemetery, Canada’s National Military Cemetery.
Thinking of coming to Ottawa? If you’re a new Canadian citizen consider taking the train, as VIA Rail offers a Cultural Access Pass. Sold at a 50 per cent discount, this one-time pass encourages new Canadians to explore the country. And you can bet that after a few days in the capital, you’ll be well-versed in all things ‘Canadiana!’