Ottawa is one of the most historic cities in Canada and is home to the federal government. Not only is it the capital, but the mix of old-world buildings and modern arts makes it a tourist dream. Get lost along cobblestone streets in Byward Market or check out Parliament Hill which houses some of Canada's most stunning buildings.
What to do
As Canada's capital, it should come as no surprise that it has many of Canada's Federal Government buildings. Parliament Hill is made up of a variety of buildings the oldest dating back to the 1800s, including the senate, house of commons, Supreme Court, and dozens of other halls. Parliament Hill is pretty much in the centre of town so no matter where you are it won't be tough to get to. You are able to explore parts of the buildings on tours, but make sure to pre-book your time. Unfortunately, the staple of Parliament Hill, the Centre Block, and the Peace Tower, are under restoration right now and are not able to be toured.
The Byward Market is more like a city within a city than a normal farmers market. Taking up several blocks of old Ottawa, the market of 600 stalls has everything you can imagine. Both indoor and outdoor sections of the market give it the city within a city feel. The Byward Market was first started almost 200 years ago and has been a centre of commerce since it first opened its doors! During the summer open patios draw in over 50,000 people each weekend while a holiday market is in full swing during December. For more information about events during your visit click here.
One of Canada's greatest feats of 19th-century engineering was the completion of the Rideau Canal. Connecting two of Canada's busiest waterways, the canal was completed in 1836 and is over 200 KM long. After widening rivers allowing bigger vessels and the addition of several sets of locks allow large boats to ply an area that was once a major shipping bottleneck. Originally built as a safety measure against war with the US, the canal is still in active use today, making it the oldest in North America!
The capital of Canada wouldn't be complete without its numerous museums and galleries that tell the history of our great nation. Spread out across the city you can find the Canadian War Museum, the Diefenbaker Museum, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, as well as the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Each one showcases a special part of Canadian history and culture! Finally, the National Gallery of Canada cannot be missed. As Canada's "national" art gallery, it houses one of the best collections of pieces ranging from pre-Columbus times to modern artists.
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
For a little bit of Europe in the heart of Ottawa, look no further than Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. The oldest and largest cathedral in Ottawa, the neo-gothic building is reminiscent of many built in Europe during the same time period. Though it is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop, it is still an active church that holds services in both English and French.
Covid Conscious Activities
With Covid-19 being such a huge factor in daily life, it is important to take steps towards a safer holiday like trying to limit your daily contact with others. Keep up to date with the latest local advisories and information.
Ottawa and the surrounding areas are amazing places to enjoy when it becomes safe to travel again. Dozens of rivers, lakes, and parks including massive ones like Gatineau Park offer endless hiking and water adventures. Even within Ottawa itself, massive river walks keep you at a distance from others while enjoying your time. Try taking a self-guided cycling tour or audio tour to learn more about the city while staying socially distant.
Where to Stay
With hundreds of years of history as one of Canada's major cities, it should come as no surprise that it has some top-notch historic hotels. None stand out more than the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Positioned between Parliament Hill and the Byward Market, the century-old hotel has one of the best locations in town. If the Fairmont isn't in your cards, don't fret as there are many other well-located hotels. The last time we were in Ottawa we stayed at the Holiday Inn Ottawa Downtown and found it to be in a great location. Our room even overlooked the western side of Parliament Hill!
How to get there and around
Ottawa is easily connected to the rest of Canada and the world through a large international airport, a large rail station, and numerous highways. From Ottawa, Montreal is only a two-hour drive or train away while Toronto is about 5 hours. You can even drive or train down to New York City or Boston within a half days journey! The Ottawa International Airport is just 20 minutes from Parliament Hill and is very efficient if you are arriving or departing the city by plane. Ottawa's main bus system is connected to the airport allowing for easy access to all parts of the city.
Once in the city, you can get around to most of the major sights by just walking as long as you have some nice walking shoes. Parliament Hill, The National Art Gallery, and Byward Market are within a few KMs of each other making a convenient place to explore without renting a car. Day trips are tough to do without a car though as the local bus system sticks to city limits.
Gatineau Park and Carbide Ruins
Just 4 kms from central Ottawa is a whole other world. Spread over almost 100,000 acres, the massive park is a perfect spot to get some fresh air. There are dozens of trails that take you through everything from marshy areas to scenic overlooks with views towards Ottawa and the Gatineau River. Lastly, something that cannot be missed is the 4.3 Km trail to the Carbide Wilson Ruins. This old factory once had an entire hydro dam built to supply its electricity. Now that the factory is long gone, the dam has fallen into disrepair and much of the building has collapsed. The hike in and flowing river make the trail a must-do!
Small town charm
Outside of Ottawa are dozens of small towns waiting to be explored. Each town is unique with something to offer every traveller. Chelsea is just across the border in Quebec and is a great spot to stop before exploring Gatineau Park. Chelsea also has a Nordik Spa which is a must if you are wanting a relaxing spa session after a hike! You also have towns like Merrickville and Wakefield which are full of independent shops selling all sorts of local goods!
Montreal or Quebec in general
While it shouldn't be truly classified as a day trip, Montreal is just 2 hours away and a perfect spot to go to before or after Ottawa. One of the major centres of French Canada, Montreal has centuries of history and an old-world charm like few other places in North America. It should really be given several days to explore properly, but if a day is all you have, you can always stop at Mount Royal and Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal to get at least a bit of the Montreal experience.