When it comes to visiting a city with such rich history as Ottawa, planning ahead is essential. To simply show up to the capital of Canada without a general strategy on when to explore all the momentous landmarks or where to immerse yourself within the culture would principally be doing your holiday experience a disservice. Sure, Ottawa has it's immaculate countryside and wonderful natural scenery, but this isn't your ordinary Canadian city. Ottawa is the epicentre of the origin of the wonderful country it resides in, and visitors should be fully aware of all the extraordinary activities and attractions they can take advantage of here.
Honestly, when you look at all the intriguing places of interest this city has to offer, it can be difficult to narrow down all the things you should visit. Of course you need to take a stroll through Parliament Hill or cruise through the Rideau Canal, but surely there has to be more than meets the eye in Ottawa, right? To break it all down, we've assembled a list that highlights all the essential attractions you need to visit firsthand, as well as some other specific adventures you may pursue that will only add to an enthralling Ottawa holiday experience. Worst case scenario, you'll just have to come back for a second escapade.
As expressed earlier, Ottawa features a wide variety of notable landmarks, iconic indicators and must-see locations that first-time visitors need to behold so they can check it off their bucket list. Even those who know Ottawa like the back of their hand can't help but marvel at some of these quintessential sights.
Parlay with Parliament
Known to the locals as merely, "The Hill," Parliament Hill is not only the home to the Parliament of Canada, but it's ground zero for some of the most well-noted moments in Ottawa history. Attracting around 3 million visitors every year, the gothic castle-looking mansion rests right on the Ottawa River in downtown, and free-guided tours are available daily to enlighten you on everything from the development of Canada's government to what caused the infamous fire of 1916 that essentially burned the original structure to the ground. From witnessing the Changing of the Guard Ceremony to staring down 18th century gargoyles, a trip to The Hill is nearly mandatory while visiting Ottawa.
Channel the Canal
Since its inception in 1832, the Rideau Canal (Wikipedia article) has provided water transportation for everyone from the legendary Duke of Wellington to millions of visitors today. Originally opened as a strategic passageway in case war broke out with the U.S., today it serves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with lively boaters in the summer and fall until becoming the world's largest natural frozen skating rink in the wintertime. In addition to being the oldest operating canal system in North America, the waterway is an excellent source for renting a boat and seeing all the sights of downtown Ottawa while remembering all the incredible history, effort and sacrifice that went into the construction of the Rideau Canal.
Mosey Through Museums
For the true history buffs in your holiday party, they won't be disappointed by the impressive lineup of museums Ottawa has to offer. If you're planning on making a day of museum hopping, start out at the National Gallery of Canada, arguably the most prestigious art gallery in all of Canada. Since 1880, this gallery has been the forefront for showcasing the world's most celebrated artworks, with everyone from Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol having their work proudly hanging on display.
Next, quench your thirst for knowledge at both the Canadian Museum of Nature as well as the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Museum of Nature is where the questions of life are answered, with exhibits elaborating on inquiries such as how do deep sea creatures keep their bodies illuminated in the dark abyss as well as what the future may hold for the Arctic wolf. As for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, visitors can learn everything from what board games to astronauts prefer to play in space to how to operate an authentic World War II fighter jet.
Master the Market
If you're ever plotting out a picnic by the Ottawa River or in the gorgeous lawns of Gatineau Park, you'll need to hit up the ByWard Market first. For almost two centuries, the ByWard Market has been the place to go for Ottawans to not only explore a wide range of shoppes and vendors, but to experience the best fine dining or live music in all of Ottawa. Stop at Canada in a Basket, where one purchase will provide you with the ultimate picnic food items, such as authentic Ottawa maple syrups, lobster pot pie and smoked sockeye salmon. You can also browse through the outdoor farmer's market, where you can find all the essentials you need for a superb cookout in the park.
After you've gotten all the vital landmarks and attractions out of the way, you should spend some time taking in all the unique and peculiar options Ottawa can provide. For those who like to stray off the beaten path, here are some distinctive activities to pursue that will make your stay all the more memorable:
For an extravagant photo opportunity, head over by the National Gallery of Canada to marvel at a 10 metre tall spider sculpture towering over visitors. The creation was crafted by famous French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, who was famous for her spider-themed artwork, earning her the nickname "Spiderwoman."
The CFS Carp, also known as Diefenbunker Museum, is Canada's Cold War Museum. In addition to the building allowing guests to tour everything from Canadian war rooms to the Prime Minister's secret hideout, attendees are also encouraged to check out an authentic and massive underground bunker that was specifically designed for government officials in the event of nuclear war. This bunker is appears so haunting and genuine, that it's also been used on a few major motion pictures, including "The Sum of all Fears."
Embark on a Quest
If you're trying to kill two birds with one stone by seeing all the sights of Ottawa while engaging in an activity that's anything but the norm, consider embarking on a tourist journey with UrbanQuest. This Ottawa invention aims to provide customers with the ultimate scavenger hunt in the city, in accordance to whatever you desire your quest to entail. Whether you wish to find gather clues while exploring the grounds of Parliament Hall, search for the ultimate desserts in ByWard Market or even attempt to solve mysteries of Ottawan folklore, UrbanQuest allows users to find their inner detective while obtaining a better understanding of all the local attractions. Best of all, each quest ends by leading you to a mystery restaurant, where an epic feasts awaits you.
Best of all, there are plenty of ideal renting opportunities you can take advantage to truly accommodate your holiday needs. From condos that overlook the Ottawa River to log cabins in the countryside, make your stay even more outstanding by booking a stay at the rental house of your dreams.
While the overall goal of a holiday is to experience all the wonderful places the city has to offer, it's inevitable that budget constraints can try their best to hinder the fun. Luckily for those staying in Ottawa, there are plenty of free activities and attractions that will provide priceless memories without having to break the bank.
No matter when you arrive in Ottawa, you can rest assured that there's probably a free festival taking place within the city. If you're traveling during the winter in February, you'll need to check out Winterlude, spreading from the Rideau Canal Skateway to other popular sections of the downtown area. From gazing at illuminated ice sculptures to conquering the playground amenities of Snowflake Kingdom, you can take in all the free activities that an estimated 600,000 visitors engage in every winter.
For a more visually appealing festival, the Canadian Tulip Festival in May is not just the largest tulip festival in the world, but serves the public with 10 days of more than 300,000 blooming tulips beautifying the downtown walkways. In addition to the gorgeousness, there are plenty of arts and craft stands for the kids, as well as delicious food vendors offering up the latest extraordinary local dishes.
Of course, the pinnacle of festivities takes place during Canada Day, July 1st. Once the bells from Peace Tower have signaled the dawn of the ceremonies, the whole city transforms into one festive and congenial gathering in remembrance of the day the country was separated from the British Empire. You can expect plenty of free live music, food and a wide variety of entertainment during what many consider to be the party of the year.
In addition to all the festivals, there are other free ventures one can take to make your trip more economically appeasing. Every evening in the summer features the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill, where the majestic building becomes illuminated with a breathtaking array of lasers and projections that will leave your pupils stunned in awe.
Nature lovers will enjoy spending an afternoon roaming the grounds of the Central Experimental Farm, featuring 400 hectares of the latest advancements in agriculture research as well as hundreds of rare plant species. And if you want to explore the museums but are strapped for cash, take advantage of the Thursday night free admission evenings at the National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Nature and the Canadian War Museum.
You'll wake up to the aroma of pure euphoria when you dine for brunch at Murray Street restaurant. Your tastebuds will almost be overwhelmed by the sheer ecstasy of digging into a barbecue-cheddar pulled pork shoulder sandwich topped with an egg. If not that, try the local favourite The Potaco, featuring pulled pork, baked beans, cheddar and sour cream, all wrapped in a potato pancake shell.
While you're on the go seeing all the sights, grab quick, yet scrumptious lunch at a Relish food truck, typically spotted near the University of Ottawa campus. You won't regret this decision the second you chomp on a Relish chicken curry sandwich, loaded with chopped apples, walnuts, red onions, cucumbers and mixed greens.
Dinner is served at Brothers Beer Bistro, an elegant pub in the heart of the ByWard Market that features an extensive list of the finest locally crafted brews in Ottawa. Start your meal off by sipping on a Barley Days Brewery Sacred Mule Sparkling Ale, brewed in Ontario and a preferred seasonal on tap at the bistro. Then, feast your eyes and eventually your appetite on a dish of marinated flank steak, topped with crispy togarashi onions and accompanied by a side of sauteed frites.
For those on the prowl for a stimulating evening of cocktails and salsa dancing, look no further than heading over to Club Caliente, a couples staple in the ByWard Market area. Never tried the salsa before? Check out the club on Friday night, where they host free dancing lessons between 8 and 10 p.m. After the salsa, the dance floor opens up to the place to be to hear all the hottest local DJs in the area.
If you're trying to catch a concert in Ottawa, you'll definitely have no trouble downtown. The Daily Grind is the venue to go for a more rocking time at a smaller and intimate setting, while the Babylon Nightclub in the neighbourhood of Centretown is where more youthful and trendy acts ranging from hip-hop to indie rock are known to take the stage. Maverick's Bar is another staple for the Ottawa music scene, featuring a wide range of lesser known to well-established bands that can appease lovers of all genres.
Whenever you and your travelling party are simply looking for a place to relax, unwind and grab a pint, make sure to take a pit stop at The Black Thorn. Located in the ByWard Market, this laid back ambiance is created due to the 19th century interior architectural design, including enchanting fireplaces and ideal lounge to sprawl out and relax.
As you can see, Ottawa is a city that strives to cater to all sorts of demographics. Best of all, there are plenty of ideal renting opportunities you can take advantage to truly accommodate your holiday needs. From condos that overlook the Ottawa River to log cabins in the countryside, make your stay even more outstanding by booking a stay at the rental house of your dreams.