The capital city of Canada, Ottawa sits on the Ottawa River near the place where it intersects with the Rideau River in a lush, green area surrounded by forests and hills.
The imposing Victorian neo-gothic Parliament buildings look down on the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill, making it the city's most characteristic view. But, along with its serious political face, Ottawa is also a city with a sociable, fun-loving heart.
Just over the river, Gatineau offers miles of hiking trails along with the Canadian Children's Museum and even more nightlife options. From outdoor adventures to sophisticated fine dining and everything in between, you'll never be bored in Ottawa.
The impressive Victorian buildings that make up Canada's Parliament are stunning and provide a backdrop to the Changing of the Guard ceremony and a spectacular Sound and Light show on a daily basis, along with seasonal events and displays like the stunning fireworks show on Canada Day (July 1).
Ottawa is home to many world-class collections and museums, including the National Gallery of Canada, which houses a noteworthy collection of indigenous art. Others in the area include the Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of History, Canada Science and Technology Museum, and more.
The Rideau Canal runs through the city, connecting the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario, and spanning about 125 miles. The historic UNESCO-recognized waterway was built in 1832 and is a hub of activity.
There are over 110 miles of paths and parks for hiking, jogging, or running. If you're there during the winter, there is great skiing in the area, and at least one skate down the Rideau Canal is a must.
Year-round, you'll find lots to do and take in, including performances in premiere arts venues like the National Arts Centre. Ottawa is also a city that loves festivals, and it's worthwhile to check the calendar for the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ottawa Chamberfest, RBC Bluesfest, and other events that might be taking place during your visit.
Known as The Hill, this part of Ottawa is named for the immense, gothic Parliament Building, home to Canada's legislature. The territory officially belongs to the Monarch, and the entire area is truly regal. Iconic buildings flank the public square, with the Peace Tower, emblem of the nation, at its center. The National War Memorial stands across the way, an epic arch of granite in commemoration of Canadian veterans. Don't miss a walk through the surrounding neighborhoods either.
This 125-mile long waterway snakes through the city towards Lake Ontario in the south. Seasonal activities like canoeing and ice skating are favorite pastimes of locals and tourists alike. The historic Château Laurier Hotel stands out above the water in classical French style, towering beside the delightful Major's Hill Park. Further down the canal, you'll come upon Pretoria Bridge, a 20th-century landmark, still used as drawbridge for passing boats.
One of the country's foremost art museums, the new National Gallery lives up to its reputation. The contemporary building of granite and glass offers sweeping views over the iconic Parliament buildings, in a comprehensive celebration of Canadian pride. The world-famous collection focuses on Canadian artists, while boasting some of the most famous works of modern and contemporary art from around the globe. The more old-school Notre-Dame Basilica is across the street.
The historical French-Canadian heart of Ottawa is logically the oldest neighborhood of the city. Now a melting pot of cultures and languages, the area is rapidly developing in a combination of old and new. Combine a walk through the old streets and parks with a trip to Byward Market to the north, the thriving shopping district of the Capital.
This comprehensive museum covers Canada's military past, a history not often taught internationally but one worth exploring. From conflicts occurring on Canadian soil, to issues calling for the nation's involvement worldwide, all details are chronicled here. The new building has made the exhibitions all the more immersive, with details engrained in the architecture every step of the way. Don't miss the Diefenbunkers, the Emergency Government Headquarters built during the Cold War.
Cold weather and snow makes Ottawa a less popular destination during the winter months between December and February, but it's the best time to find travel bargains. Winter sports are popular in the area, which means it's never off the tourist map. Spring and summer are the most popular times for tourists, coinciding with numerous outdoor festivals and events that take advantage of the scenic landscape.
The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW) handles international flights from all destinations, including North America and Europe. It is located only five and a half miles from downtown Ottawa, which makes a taxi ride affordable at about C$25 to C$35 depending on exactly where you're going. OC Transpo bus route 97 makes frequent trips between the city and the airport along a dedicated, traffic-free route for the regular price of C$3.40. It also connects to the O-Train line and several bus stations.
Ottawa Station is located centrally at 200 Tremblay Road, with cross-country train service through Canada available from Via Rail. Intercity trains connect to Toronto to the west and Montreal to the east, with further connections all the way to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Ottawa is about a four-hour drive east from Toronto along provincial highway 401 and TransCanada Highway, then provincial highway 118. Highway 417 approaches from Montreal, only about two hours away to the west. It is also possible to drive to the Ottawa area from Vermont and New York state.
Ottawa Central Station is located downtown on Catherine Street, and is a hub for intercity travel to Montreal, Toronto, and Sudbury to the north, with connections available as far as New York City, Philadelphia, and the West Coast. Bus companies include Greyhound Canada, Thom Transport, and Ontario Northland.
The Fairmont Château Laurier is one of the city's premiere hotels, built in an opulent style that reflects Ottawa's iconic Parliament buildings. ARC The Hotel offers modern luxury and minimalist design. Along with reliable national and international brands, you'll find many B&Bs all over the city, and long-stay accommodations like Les Suites apartment hotel.
ByWard Market - this historic, centrally located neighborhood is full of eclectic shops like L.A. Pai Gallery for sculpture and jewelry, and Oxxo Silk and Gift, and funky restaurants. It is also where you'll find the gorgeous Notre-Dame Basilica, the city's oldest Catholic church.
Little Italy - this area is centered around Preston Street, also called Corso Italia. You'll enjoy strolling along the broad sidewalks of this renovated neighborhood, along with sampling Italian and other specialties at the area's many restaurants, including a sidewalk cafe scene to savor in the summer.
Chinatown - this area is packed with shops and restaurants where you can sample the goods and cuisine of the world. You'll find a concentration of Asian goods and restaurants from China, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, along with the Philippines, India, the Mediterranean region, and the Middle East.
There is an extensive network of public transit run by OC Transpo. The system includes bus and O-Train light rail service that integrate to cover both the city and the region. A fare is C$3.40 for adults. A day pass is available at a cost of C$10.25. On weekends and holidays, a family of two adults and children can ride the system all day for C$10.25.
There are several cab companies operating in Ottawa. Rates run to about C$17.35 for five miles. If you venture to the Quebec side, there are separate cab companies that are only allowed to operate on their side of the provincial border.
A car rental isn't essential if you are staying within the city, but can come in handy to explore the surrounding area. Compact car rentals available from companies like Enterprise and Hertz start at C$16 per day. Street parking may be limited in the downtown area. There are several private and public parking lots. Municipal lots start at C$2.00 for 30 minutes with a C$15.00 daily maximum up to 6 pm. Evenings are generally less expensive.
You'll find many opportunities to shop 'til you drop in Ottawa, from the high-end boutiques of the CF Rideau Centre, a downtown mall, or the huge outlet and outdoor stores outside the downtown area such as Bayshore Shopping Centre in the west end of town, or Place d'Orléans in the east. Bank Street, a refurbished area of downtown, is lined with shops like Octopus Books, Reza, and other unique jewelry and clothing boutiques.
Sobey's and Loblaws are large national grocery store chains at mid-level prices. One quart of milk costs about C$2.35 and a dozen eggs C$3.80. Jacobsons Gourmet Concepts in the upscale Rockcliffe Park neighborhood is where to find a wide range of specialty and gourmet items.
The Aulde Dubliner & Pour House is one of many bar-restaurants that takes its inspiration from the city's Irish heritage. The menu offers classic pub fare and Irish specialties like Guinness beef stew starting at C$13. For high-end dining in a chic contemporary lounge setting, there's Mezzanotte Bistro Italiano, with mains that start at C$20. Beckta is another fine-dining option, with three-course prix fixe menus that start at C$60 per person. If you just can't decide, there are more than 50 restaurants at every price point in the ByWard Market area of town.