Canada’s capital, Ottawa, is emerging from the long shadow cast by its neighbors, Montreal to the east and Toronto to the southwest. Primarily known for its arts and culture attractions (Ottawa is home to all of Canada’s national museums and galleries), the city now also prides itself on a standout food scene, affordable local attractions, and easy access to the surrounding countryside.
We spoke to Jantine van Kregten, a long-time resident of the city and Director of Communications for Ottawa Tourism, about the best ways to see the city, her favorite neighborhood spots, and some off-the-beaten-path places to visit. Here are some of her recommendations…
Discover the city:
Thanks to its compact layout, downtown Ottawa is easy to explore on foot or by bus. For a narrated experience, take a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, which visits the city’s top landmarks via a London-style double decker bus ($29, all rates listed in approximate US$). Or, consider the public bike share program, BIXI, a convenient and cheap way to get from A to B. You’ll pay $6.30 for 24-hour access, and for each trip you take, the first 30 minutes are free. You can also rent a bike for the day ($27) and discover some of the city’s 185 miles of recreational pathways. If you’re there on a Sunday, you’ll love the Sunday Bikedays (May to September), when over 30 miles of roads are closed for the exclusive use by bikers, walkers, and inline skaters.
Get the best view:
Make your way to Nepean Point, behind the National Gallery of Canada, for panoramic views of Parliament Hill, the National Library, the castle-like Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the first eight locks of the iconic Rideau Canal. Or, for a smart splurge ($54 per person), Jantine recommends catching an open cockpit biplane flight from the Aviation and Space Museum (a short cab ride from downtown) to get a bird’s-eye-view of the city.
Eat well, and often:
Ottawa has markets that offer everything from fresh produce, to maple syrup, to arts and crafts, to souvenirs. The best known is ByWard Market, which is in fact a four-by-four block area downtown. Besides the market, which is open 363 days a year, there are a variety of restaurants and bars to explore. Jantine recommends Murray Street Kitchen for their house-made charcuterie. Another great choice in Centretown, also in Downtown, is The Whalesbone Oyster House, which is known for their sustainably sourced seafood. For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, head to Parkdale Market in up-and-coming Wellington West (also known as Hintonburg), located west of downtown. Visit the market April-October, or discover other local favorites, such as Hintonburger (offering very affordable burgers made from local beef), Absinthe (a bistro known for its Monday night Fondue Party), Pascale’s (all natural-made) Ice Cream, Beyond The Pale craft brewery, or Art Is in Bakery – Jantine’s favorite place for bread.
Take a day trip:
Beau’s Brewing Company, an award-winning microbrewery located about an hour outside of the city, offers free tours as well as special events packages with round-trip bus transportation from Ottawa throughout the year. (Check out their “feBREWary” winter celebration and watch out for their annual Oktoberfest.) Or, head to Fulton’s (about 45 minutes’ drive west of the city) for a real Canadian maple experience. This family-run farm dates back to the 1840s and offers self-guided trail tours, hikes on the property, and maple-inspired dishes and products, such as spa lotions, cooking spices, and more. Jantine recommends visiting in February or March for prime maple syrup season, but a visit is worth it anytime of the year.