Courtesy of Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Photo by Facto Photo/Shutterstock
Peace Tower at Parliament Hill is a national icon.
Visit the landmarks and local marvels that make Ottawa a stand-out capital city.
When you visit Canada’s capital, you get two cities for the price of one, connected by five short bridges across the Ottawa River. With a population of just over one million, Ottawa, Ontario, is home to Parliament Hill and most of the twinned cities’ national museums. Smaller Gatineau gives you a taste of Quebec’s French-speaking culture and access to glorious Gatineau Park. Together, they offer everything from stately architecture to craft brewery tours--more than enough amusements for a weekend. Here’s where to go.
Luxury: Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Book now: Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Occupying perhaps the best piece of real estate in Ottawa—right next door to Parliament Hill, directly across the Rideau Canal—is this 426-room castle-like hotel, which has been an Ottawa landmark since it opened in 1912. Since then, it has played host to everyone from the Rolling Stones to Queen Elizabeth II.
Wallet-friendly: Rideau Inn
Book now: Rideau Inn
Located on a downtown residential street near the Rideau Canal, the Rideau Inn is a converted Edwardian mansion that has half a dozen guest rooms on the upper floors and a two-bedroom suite with a fireplace in the basement. Each room is simple but different; some feature flourishes such as a four-poster bed or a cozy wing chair.
Distilled maple sap? Check. Gourmet ice cream? Check. A tasting menu that takes four hours to eat? Come to Ottawa and you can check that off your life list, too.
At Moo Shu Ice Cream and Kitchen in Centretown, the menu of small-batch dairy delights changes monthly. It might include honeyed lavender and Earl Grey ice cream one day and Vietnamese coffee ice cream sandwiches the next. These are not your dad’s 31 flavors.
Play Food & Wine, housed in a heritage stone building in the ByWard Market, offers the ideal ambiance for a get-together with friends—the music just the right volume, the small plates just the right size. The farm-to-table menu changes based on what’s in season at local farms and usually includes charcuterie, pasta, seafood, and vegetarian choices. The crowd-pleasing soy-marinated hanger steak is rarely absent.
If money is no object, book one of the sought-after tables at the tiny Atelier in Little Italy—a table for two with wine will set you back, on average, about $500. There, chef Marc Lepine whips up 44-course blind tasting menus (yes, you read that right, 44 courses) that you can pair with wines and cocktails.
The craft beer scene in Ottawa has exploded in the last few years, with dozens of brewers across the region vying for attention. These days, you can accompany jerk chicken egg rolls with a Mexican Chocolate Cake Imperial Stout at Beyond the Pale Brewing Company, a raucous two-level spot in a former industrial warehouse. Alternatively, you can pair a dry-hopped sour ale with berbere duck pupusas at Flora Hall Brewing, housed in a former 1920s garage.
Are other drinks more your style? Gin is the most familiar drink concocted by engineer-turned-distiller Adam Brierley at Ogham Craft Spirits, but he also makes eau-de-vie from local maple sap. To sample international wines chosen by one of the world’s top sommeliers, book a dinner table or sign up for a tasting at Véronique Rivest’s Soif wine bar in Gatineau.
Whether you’d rather be delving into history or skating along the world’s largest outdoor rink, you can do that—and much more—in Canada’s capital.
As Canada’s capital city, Ottawa is stuffed with nationally significant sites. Foremost among these is Parliament Hill. The Centre Block, where the House of Commons and the Senate normally meet, is currently closed for a massive, decade-long renovation scheduled to last until at least 2030. However, you can tour each body’s temporary digs; the House of Commons holds its debates in a glass-roofed former courtyard, and the Senate meets in a one-time Beaux-Arts train station.
At the National Gallery of Canada, the Indigenous and Canadian Galleries help visitors draw parallels between the works of leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists by juxtaposing almost 800 works from both traditions. In all, the gallery houses more than 75,000 items.
Directly across the Ottawa River from the gallery at the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian History Hall touches on everything from Ice Age hunting and 17th-century European exploration to bilingualism, hockey, and Medicare.
Other national museums well worth a visit include the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, where you can see vintage farming implements, learn where food comes from, and visit barnyard animals.
The Rideau Canal is basically the reason Ottawa exists. British military and civilian workers arrived here in 1826 to begin building this 126-mile route between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario. Now a National Historic Site, it’s best known for the Rideau Canal Skateway, a 4.8-mile stretch of the waterway that’s carefully groomed each winter to become the world’s largest skating rink.
The ByWard Market, a historic district just east of Parliament Hill, is the city’s oldest commercial and nightlife hub, and you can easily spend a day wandering into the shops and restaurants that still line its narrow streets. Nearby, the CF Rideau Centre is the city’s largest and, arguably, glitziest shopping mall.
For a true taste of Ottawa, move beyond the Market to explore some other central neighborhoods. In Old Ottawa South, you can nosh on pierogi while playing pinball or enjoying a concert at the hard-to-classify House of Targ. Across the street, the independent Mayfair Theatre has been screening movies since 1932. Over in Wellington West/Hintonburg, don’t-miss stops include Maker House, where you can shop for products crafted by scores of Canadian artisans, and the Great Canadian Theatre Company, which stages cutting-edge plays.
Ottawa-Gatineau is home to the world’s only interprovincial zip line. From spring through fall, you can whiz along a 1,200-foot cable stretched across the Ottawa River from Ontario to Quebec—enjoying a spectacular view of Parliament Hill in the process—on Interzip Rogers.
To see the city from another unique angle, clamber into the open passenger cockpit of a 1930s biplane for a sightseeing tour with Ottawa Aviation Adventures. Flights take off from the Rockcliffe Airport, near the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
It’s amazing, but true: A 10-mile drive from Parliament Hill brings you to the main visitor center for a 140-square-mile preserve teeming with wildlife. Bear and wolf sightings are actually quite rare, but you have a good chance of spotting raccoons, turtles, beavers, deer, and all sorts of birds. The southern reaches of Gatineau Park are webbed with hiking trails, cycling routes, scenic lookouts, and lakeside beaches. The further north you go, the more remote the park becomes.
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