Ottawa for First Time Visitors
Canada’s capital Ottawa has a host of unique destinations of tourist interest from “the Hill,” seat of Canada’s federal government, to the largest skating rink in the world over the frozen Rideau Canal. It is also home to world-class museums like Museum of Civilization and Museum of Nature; all are architecturally inspiring homes to a variety of intriguing collections.
How to Reach
Ottawa is a year-round tourist destination and is easily accessible by air, land or train for visitors. The Ottawa Airport has flights which are accessible to and from most major cities in Canada and Eastern US, while also offering seasonal flights from overseas. If you are driving, the major highway to reach Ottawa is the 417, also known as the Queensway. Be aware of multiple one-way lanes, as well as various names for individual streets. By train, visitors can take the Via Rail, which makes stops in a variety of cities including Toronto, Montreal and Kingston. A round trip from Toronto costs between $143-$260; depending on the type of seating you prefer. Ottawa’s central station is located just a few minutes east of downtown, and the train is one of the most comfortable and easiest ways to reach the city.
When to Go
Ottawa is absolutely stunning in the winter seasons. While tours of some of the oldest buildings are still offered, you can also skate on the canal and take in the views in a more active way. Christmas Lights across Canada is a light show that illuminates Parliament Hill and is fun for the whole family, and acres of powder are ready for skiing, snow shoeing and a plethora of outdoor activities.
If you’re going to visit during warmer months, the week of July 1st is quite a site to see as the city puts on grand shows on Parliament Hill for Canada Day. Join in on the fun celebrating the country, listening to musical guests, taking part in cultural entertainment and amazing fireworks.
Ottawa hosts a number of the world famous festivals like Ottawa Jazz Festival, Bluesfestand, Folk Festival, Winterlude and Canadian Tulip Festival, you could also plan your visit during one of such events.
What to Do
No visit to Ottawa is complete without a visit to Parliament Hill, the most well-known building in the city. As the centerpiece of Ottawa’s downtown, Parliament Hill is a cultural and political goldmine, and you can learn a lot about the history of Ottawa by taking one of their free guided tours any day of the week. You can also enjoy gorgeous views of the Ottawa River, and a view of the entire city from the peace tower.
Another of Ottawa’s historic sites winds its way through the city. The Rideau Canal, stretching 202km in length, is a must-see for visitors. You can rent kayaks for a leisurely trip in the summer, skate along it in the winter, or just sit back in a park and enjoy the constant stream of boats floating in and out of the canal. Opened in 1832, this beautiful setting is a great place to check out on your visit.
With a plethora of museums to explore in Ottawa, make sure you stop by Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum. Travel four stories underground, where you can explore the underground bunker that was built to protect government and military officials of the Cold War. Other museums worth visiting are the Canadian Museum of Nature located inside a historic castle, and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
Where to Eat
After a busy day exploring Ottawa, you’re sure to work up an appetite for exquisite food and a glass of great wine. Luxe Steakhouse and Restaurant (47 York Street) is a great option to treat yourself to mouth-watering dishes and an extremely impressive wine list. Located downtown, Luxe is close to the busy nightlife, with tons of cafes and pubs nearby for a delicious night cap.
For a relaxed pub experience, visit the Atomic Rooster (303 Bank Street), one of the highest rated pubs by visitors on Urbanspoon. The pub boasts fair prices, live bands and colorful artwork all over its walls. Stop in for half price wings, a delicious brunch menu and extensive beer list.
Craving sushi? Kiko Sushi Bar (349B Preston Street) knows just what you need. With excellent reviews and a tantalizing menu of over 140 items, Kiko has moderate pricing, high quality sushi and an inviting ambience. Bring in groups or order delivery for a night in, or feel free to stop by with your own wine for a small corking fee. Mouth-watering meals and a fantastic ambiance make Kiko a great sushi stop on your Ottawa trip.
Where to Stay
The Westin Ottawa Hotel (11 Colonel By Drive) offers a high-end stay during your trip, while also offering close proximity to all of the delights Ottawa has to offer. Close by is the beautiful Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada and much more. Enjoy the included fitness center, salt-pool, fine dining, spacious rooms and a Kids Club for the little ones.
Looking for a more private experience in Ottawa? Try out the Avalon Bed and Breakfast, located a few blocks east of the downtown core, and surrounded by great parks and paths. With four rooms to choose from, the Inn offers free parking and Wi-Fi, a full continental breakfast and a pleasant atmosphere for guests to wind down after a busy day. Choose The Ashwood room for a full private floor and three beds if the family is joining.
Where to Shop
Located one block east of Parliament Hill, the Rideau Centre (50 Rideau Street) is home to over 150 local and international retailers. A popular tourist destination, the Centre has ample parking, a full food court and a Value Savings Directory for visitors with over 50 special offers from various retailers. Stop by this great shopping mall for everything you need right in the heart of the city.
If you’re shopping for something a little more unique, visit the ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. Located near Parliament Hill, the market is open every day from morning to night, with buzzing cafes, specialty stores, live music, galleries and much more. Find fresh produce from farmers, clothing and jewelry from independent boutiques, art and crafts from artisans and cozy places to stop and watch the whole thing unfold. Be sure to visit this market on your trip.