The tidy and laconic capital of Canada may never eclipse Montreal for culture and cuisine, the urban wallop and wealth of Toronto or the epic vistas of Vancouver but Ottawa is good with that. The city of 1.1 million people cajoles ample kudos from the usual global livability index gurus and makes up for a patent lack of a wild and crazy side with excellent museums, parks and festivals.
Ottawa is easy to essay for first-time visitors too, with a compact bunch of superb points of interest all within close distance of each other. The obvious place to start is Parliament Hill. The heart of the federal government of Canada lures more than 3 million visitors a year. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, in genuine Canadian style, turns into the most prodigious ice rink on the planet when the mercury plummets. The ByWard Market and iconic Château Laurier frame a collection of magnificent museums, from the National Gallery of Canada to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, while in the distance, Gatineau Park beckons. To top it off, annual events in Ottawa like Winterlude, Bluesfest, Canada Day and the Canadian Tulip Festival lure hundreds of thousands to the eminent city.
Ottawa’s Top 10
10. Canadian Museum of Nature has a first-rate collection from the Geological Survey of Canada and cool heritage digs.
5. ByWard Market is an historic farmers’ market and commercial district.
9. Canada Science & Technology Museum is a fun place to nerd out with a thoroughly Canuck context.
4. Parliament Hill is the elegant seat of Canada’s federal government.
8. Canada Aviation & Space Museum chronicles the country’s significant contributions to aeronautics and the space program.
3. Canadian Museum of Civilization is the most visited museum in Canada.
7. The Royal Canadian Mint conducts comprehensive tours and operates a remarkable boutique.
2. The National Gallery of Canada, designed by Moshe Safdie, is a world class art museum.
6. The Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, is a National Historic Site named for former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.
1. Rideau Canal is one of only six cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada.
- Parliament Hill – This is one of Ottawa’s main attractions overlooking the Ottawa River and built in the gothic style.
- Supreme Court of Canada – The country’s highest court and best sample of art deco architecture.
- Rideau Hall – The official home of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Governor General of Canada.
- Rideau Canal – The oldest continuously operated canal system in the continent and on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Laurier House National Historic Site – This victorian home with a copper roof was built in 1878 and home to two prime ministers.
Ottawa Art & Culture
- Museum of Civilization – This site recounts the story of the people of Canada.
- Canadian War Museum – Tells the history of Canada’s involvement in armed conflicts worldwide through the ages.
- Canadian Museum of Nature – Home to galleries and exhibits of mammals, birds, fossils and geology.
- Diefenbunker (Canada's Cold War Museum) – Once a secret bunker to protect the government from nuclear attack and now a National Historic Site of Canada.
- Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival – This summer festival in Ottawa is the largest of its kind in the world.
- ByWard Market – The most well-known shopping area is found in the heart of Ottawa.
- Sparks Street – A wonderful walking street and place to see the sights as you shop.
- Bank Street – A unique area with a one of a kind shopping area, stores and eateries.
- Downtown Rideau – This shopping area in downtown Ottawa has something for everyone.
- Westboro Village – A trendy area with shops, boutiques and restaurants in a charming area of town.
Gay & Lesbian Ottawa
- Flamingo – A great restaurant and nightclub in Ottawa.
- Swizzles Bar and Grill – Features great music, karaoke and lounge.
- Sizzle – This bar offers live music and lots of fun.
- Edge Club and Lounge – A popular downtown dance club.
- Lookout Bar – A cosy place to hang out and meet new people.
- Wakefield – A picturesque town, rich in culture and lovely natural surroundings.
- Aventure Laflèche – Great outdoor activities with lovely nature trails, historical caves and an aerial park.
- Eco-Odyssée – Great place for nature lovers and includes a water maze that gives a peek into the local marsh environment.
- Tulip Festival – Held each year in the spring and includes well-known concerts and popular music groups.
- Aboriginal Village – This amazing recreation offers a peek into the first inhabitants of Ottawa and the area.
- The Ottawa Senators hockey team plays in the Scotiabank Place.
- To see a game of the Ottawa Harlequins rugby team, stop by the Twin Elm Rugby Park.
- Ottawa offers some great ice skating on the Rideau Canal, the largest outdoor skating rink in the world.
- The Canadian Football League offers Canadian football games.
- For great basketball games, check out the Carleton Ravens at the Frank Clair Stadium.
The Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League play at Scotiabank Place in the suburb of Kanata.
Bluesfest is one of Canada’s top outdoor music festivals and takes place every July on the grounds of the Canadian War Museum.
The Canadian Tulip Festival celebrates the end of winter and is arguably the largest flower fest on the planet, with annual attendance well over the half million mark.
The Rideau Canal transforms into the world’s biggest ice rink every winter. The Skateway runs for 4.35 mi (7 km), from downtown to the National Arts Centre. Skate rental sites, change huts and snack bars span the canal.
Winterlude is another way to warm up in Canada’s capital. The premier winter bash takes place over three weekends in February.
Canada Day on Parliament Hill is a must for anyone in or close to Ottawa on July 1. Over 100,000 people gather to celebrate the foremost national holiday with concerts and fireworks.
Ottawa Jazz Festival takes place over ten days in late June and early July.
The National Arts Centre is a premier showcase of the arts. The house orchestra has a world class conductor in Pinchas Zukerman.
Gatineau Park is massive. The de facto national park covers 89,000 acres (361 square kilometres) of wilderness, nature trails, forest, lakes and lookouts.
When To Go
Like much of the rest of urban Canada, Ottawa enjoys a four seasons humid continental climate. Quite predictably, the divergence between July and January in the city is chasmic.
The winter season, from December to March, sees temperatures dip between 4.5°F (-15°C) and 36°F (2°C) and heavy blankets of snow.
Summer, on the other hand, from June to September, generates temperatures as high as 80°F (26.5°C) and often well beyond, as well as 12 days of rain per month on average.
Ottawa is 124 mi (200 km) from Montreal, 280 mi (450 km) from Toronto and 447 mi (720 km) from New York City. Coach bus fleets and Via Rail inter-city trains serve the city well.
Macdonald-Cartier International Airport is usually the first place a foreign dignitary sees when he or she lands in the capital. Outside of Canada from Newfoundland to B.C., the hub serves the likes of Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Frankfurt and London.
Within metropolitan Ottawa, visitors can rely on a very good light rail and bus system, in addition to taxis. Thankfully, the compact core of the city is remarkably easy to navigate on foot.
Canada's neat and compact capital city may never compete with Montreal for culture, Toronto for sheer size or Vancouver for scenery but then again, Ottawa need not even try. The city with a metro population over 1.1 million can stand alone, content in the knowledge that as the capital city of the Great White North, it contains a slew of fine attractions.
The Parliament and seat of the federal government of Canada for one, home to monuments galore and over the course of a year, more than 3 million visitors. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that turns into the most famous ice rink on the planet in the cold winter months. As a national capital, museums abound in Ottawa, from the exquisite National Gallery of Canada to the superb Canadian Museum of Civilization. With the grand Château Laurier as a backdrop, the city has a lively nightlife and many fine restaurants from which to choose.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurant & Nightlife
Ottawa has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and short, hot summers.
- Winter (November to March) -16-4°C
- Spring (April to May) -1-19°C
- Summer (June to August) 12-27°C
- Fall (September to October) 3-20°C
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