Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, is a charming place with historical architecture and a modern way of life. Although the metropolitan area is not as huge as in Toronto and Montreal, Ottawa is still a bustling city that is easy to navigate. There are many cool things to do in Ottawa and they all offer visitors quintessential experience that represents the culture, history and political climate of Canada.
If you have the opportunity to visit Ottawa, make sure you check out the top six things here. Some experiences will be once-in-a-lifetime, and will make you say, “I want to come back again next year.”
Canadian Museum of History
The exhibition in the Canadian Museum of History concentrates on the first people and several special features (for instance, Napoleon and Paris until January 8, 2017). The theme of the museum is not as diverse as other galleries I have been to; I am absolutely piqued by how the Napoleon era shaped the history of France and the scale of the exhibitions. The museum features 3D documentaries to show you the evolvement of the world; the visual and sound effects are unbeatable. Not to mention, you can have an incredible view of Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec.
Rideau Canal is a popular place for picnicking, people watching, paddling, and fishing.
On a scorching summer day in July, I found myself standing on the grassy lawns of the canal and enjoying a soft pre-dawn breeze. Looking down the river, I spotted boats traveling uphill and downhill on the river.
When winter descends on Ottawa, residents strap on their skates and turn the frozen canal into the Guinness Record of the world’s largest naturally frozen rink, as known as Rideau Canal Skateway. Here, you can skate while taking in all of the beautiful sites of the nation’s capital.
Ottawa on Canada Day
One of my favorite things to do in Ottawa is to celebrate Canada Day. It is a unique experience, as travelers and Canadians come together in the capital to show their national pride. You can walk around in red and white (the color of the Canadian flag), and explore the Parliament Hill and its vicinity for ceremonial events, street performance, the Snow Birds Demonstration, and the air show of the military craft.
My favorite part of the celebration is the outdoor concert at Parliament Hill with a stellar line up of Canadian music talent like Alex Cuba, Metric, Indian City, and Celion Dion. The celebration ends with giant fireworks highly visible from any vintage point of the capital region.
Byward Market is Canada’s largest and oldest public market, lining with museums, cafes, food stores, street vendors, restaurants, pubs, and all-day street performances. It is an easy place to explore, walk, shop, and eat out.
I had eggs florentine at Cacao 70 for brunch, and my friend ordered sweet crepes. Pair that with a cup of hot chocolate in the winter and you will restore your energy for a half-day outdoor adventure. For budget meals, visit Pub 101 with food and alcoholic beverage for $5.01 each. I paid around $20 in total for a glass of red wine, Cajun wings, a grilled chicken and avocado burger (with a salad), and a basket of fries (shared with my travel partner).
Parliament Hill is the nation’s political and cultural hub, and it has become a focal point of the nation’s biggest events, including the Canada Day celebration, the Changing of Guards ceremony, Christmas Lights Across Canada, the Sound and Light show, and the 2016 North America Leaders Summit.
If you are interested in the history and the art of this iconic building, you can take part in the Centre Block Guided Tours and East Block Guided Tours. Visitors are also permitted to watch the proceedings of the Senate and the House of Commons when they are in session. The Peace Tower, as a part of Parliament Hill, offers an incredible view of the capital region. A visit to Memorial Chamber is included in the guided tour. E and the House of Commons whenever they are in session
Ottawa’s inclement weather can be a bane of winter travels. Regardless, dress yourself from head to toe and take part in the annual Winterlude Festival. From ice carving competitions at Crystal Garden, skating performances at the Rink of Dreams, a kick-off party at the Confederation Park, and a snowflake garden at Jacques-Cartier Park, there is always something for everyone. You will also find several stalls in the city selling BeaverTails, a flat pastry resembling flaky pancake. After entertaining yourself outdoors under negative 30 degrees Celsius, warm yourself up by having some stew at the Byward Market.
If you are unsure where to go, just walk around the downtown area and you will find some interesting things to do. You will get the most out of Canadian politics, history, and culture through a trip to the capital city of Canada.
Tips for visiting Ottawa:
- Ottawa is almost five hours away from Toronto by public transportation. VIA Rail Canada and Greyhound buses have regular service among Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and other cities in North America.
- In the event of Canada Day and Winterlude Festival, I strongly recommend booking your travels at least two months in advance. Train tickets sell out quickly and so does accommodation. There will be a huge inflation on the train fare (traveling with Greyhound is not recommended because of a collection of bad reviews and incidents) a few weeks before the festivities until there are no tickets left.
- Ottawa is a city bordering Quebec. Day trips to Gatineau and Wakefield are easy and recommended for arts and nature lovers.
- If you are flexible with time, take a tour around the Ottawa Jail Hostel, where all rooms are refurbished from the old jail cells. The Haunted Walk of Ottawa offers nightly tours to this notorious prison once known as the Carleton County Gaol. Guests have an opportunity to take a look at the unrestored parts of this notorious prison and appreciate the benefits of freedom.
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