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Ottawa Attractions

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What to Do in Ottawa: A Brief Travel Guide

Introducing Ottawa

Canada’s national capital with its government buildings and host of museums may seem like a staid city. But Ottawa is anything but staid. Vibrant, bilingual, cosmopolitan, young, clean, kid-friendly, laid-back and outdoorsy are the words that locals and tourists alike use to describe it.

Once it was the center of politics. But tourists are quickly becoming aware of its numerous boutique hotels, highly successful art shows and fresh produce made available by its 1200 plus farms.

When the city beat Montreal and Toronto to become the nation’s capital back in 1857, the then Governor General was afraid that Ottawa was too isolated, perched as it was on the Ottawa River and surrounded by a few lumber mills, to be anything more than an ‘exile’.

But since then, the capital has continued to grow and is currently the fourth largest city in Canada. It is also one of the most culturally diverse of Canada’s metropolitan areas with several vibrant suburban districts around downtown.

What does this mean for travelers to the city? Tourists can expect a good healthy dose of world class museums that are architectural highlights in themselves, excellent world cuisine, a varied nightlife and plenty of outdoor summer and winter recreation in Ottawa’s canals.


What to do in Ottawa



Plan Your Trip: Getting In and Around

Getting in

By car: There are several ways you can enter the city from other parts of Canada or North America. You can drive in from Toronto in 4.5 hours or from Montreal in 2 hours.

By plane: Ottawa’s main airport is the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. It hosts regular flights to most of the major Canadian cities and some North American cities as well. There are also some daily flights to London and Frankfurt. From the airport, you can reach downtown via taxi or bus.

By train: VIA Rail runs a daily passenger train service to Montreal and Toronto from Ottawa Station. The city’s second station, Fallowfield Station, is located in the suburb of Barrhaven to the west.

By bus: If you’re coming from Montreal, Toronto or some North American cities, you can also take the Greyhound/Voyageur bus service, which has a terminal located conveniently in downtown.

Getting Around Town

Taxis are easy to find and plentiful. There is also plenty of parking space available at the major attractions, so you can drive in without worry. The city’s public transit run by OC Transpo includes the O-Train light rail and the Transitway bus rapid transit systems.

Downtown is also very compact, so it’s easy to walk around in. Streets are pedestrian friendly and most attractions are located close to one another. You can also rent a bicycle and ride along the city’s over 170 km bicycle-friendly paths. The O-Train and the buses also allow you to carry your bicycle onboard.

Orientate Yourself

Parliament Hill is where it all began. The rolling emerald lawns of Parliament Hill are open and free to visit. This is a good place to acquaint yourself with the neo-Gothic federal government building and the House of Commons. You can also to ride 300 feet up the elevator to the top of the Peace Tower for a view of the downtown below, the confluence of three rivers on the other side and Quebec beyond it with its Gatineau Hills.

Ottawa’s Museums and Architecture

Ottawa is home to several state-of-the-art museums with stunning architecture, which are some of the city’s biggest tourist-draws.

Parliament Hill’s ornate Gothic turrets and sleek granite government buildings are the biggest attractions. The grounds of the area are unfenced, a tour of the House of Commons is free and the Changing of the Guards is a spectacle that many tourists spend a morning on.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization in riverside Gatineau provides a look at the human history of Canada and its multicultural population. Exhibits include permanent galleries housing prehistoric tools, textiles and weapons of 16th century Ottawa as well as prominent Canadian public figures from its long history. It also hosts several special exhibitions from time to time.

Other museums that are worth a visit include the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian Agricultural Museum and the Diefenbunker or Canada’s Cold War Museum.

Visitors can take one of several guided walking tours available in the city for a closer and more personal look at the major attractions and some off-beat sights known to locals alone.


Things to do in Ottawa



Outdoor Attractions

Visitors who love the outdoors can visit Gatineau Park across the river for a stroll, some rollerblading or a bicycle ride. The Rideau Canal offers tourists boat rides with guided commentaries on the city’s sights and history. A paved bicycle trail runs along the canal for more than 100 miles. Tourists can also enjoy the outdoors in winter.

The canal becomes the world’s longest skating rink when it freezes over. During this time, locals and recreational skaters use the canal as a transit way.

Dining and Shopping

Ottawa’s multicultural population is evident in its dining options. Little Italy and Chinatown have existed for a long time. Newer additions to the local dining scene include flavors from France, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and native Aboroginal. The areas with the biggest concentration of restaurants include the ByWard Market, Little Italy and Chinatown.

Besides world cuisine, foodies often come to Ottawa for its local specialties as well as coffee houses which are located at almost all intersections. An Ottawa specialty that is usually available by the canal in winter is the Beaver Tail, a deep-fried doughy pastry topped with savory and sweet toppings.

One of the major shopping and dining attractions in the city is the ByWard Market in downtown. On summer mornings the market sells flowers and fresh produce which give way to pubs, restaurants and street performers in the night. The market is also open, though in a limited capacity, in winter. This is also the only market in the city which offers Beaver Tail in summer.

Other shopping districts include Sparks Street where tourists can purchase postcards and antiques, Westboro Village for several outdoor equipment shops and restaurants, and Bank Street Promenade for its specialty shops and chain stores.

Ottawa Nightlife

Ottawa’s National Arts Centre hosts some of the world’s best known theater, ballet and orchestral performances. The ByWard Market is also home to several live alternative music venues, pubs and wine bars which offer an exciting nightlife in the city.

Getting Out for Day Trips

Ottawa’s restaurants are supplied with fresh produce from the farms within the edges of the city. These farms can make for a refreshing and rustic day trip and weekend lunch in the midst of tall grasses and lush green trees. Tourists can also make day trips to Quebec’s charming artist town of Wakefield and participate in the several adventure activities that are available at Gatineau Park.



Post by Angella Grey, the marketing manager at The Vacation Rentals Experts – an online and offline digital marketing strategy that creates marketing solutions for vacation rentals, holiday homes and brands.

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