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Ottawa Travel Guide
Get Your Bearings in OttawaWhere to Stay
Most of Ottawa’s best hotels are located in its compact downtown core, within easy walking distance to the city’s most popular shopping and attractions. Those seeking history should stay in the grand old Fairmont Chateau Laurier or Lord Elgin hotel. Families in Ottawa to visit Parliament Hill and enjoy Ottawa’s beautiful outdoor spaces will appreciate the various all-suite hotels located throughout the city.
Avoid: Booking a hotel outside the downtown core. While you'll find good chain hotels near the airport or in suburban Kanata where the Ottawa Senators NHL club plays, these places aren't near Ottawa's most interesting sites.
What to Eat
Ottawa’s dining scene has evolved rapidly over the past decade. While many of the city’s best restaurants are located downtown in the historic Byward Market district, nearby neighbourhoods including Centretown and the Glebe are home to innovative bistros and satisfying casual dining spots. For a relatively small city, Ottawa is rich in culinary culture with great Chinese, Italian, French and fusion options.
Caution: There are several trendy dining options near the river along scenic Sussex Drive. The food is good, but you'll pay an arm and a leg for your meal.
Be Sure to Sample: Beavertails: a flat, fried dough treat topped with a variety of different toppings. The donut-like pastry originated in Ottawa, and although you can find franchises in many Canadian cities, enjoying a Beavertail while skating along the Rideau Canal is a rite of passage in the city.
Things to See
Canada’s capital city offers a variety of great attractions. You can’t leave Ottawa without first touring the Parliament buildings. The impressive Gothic style buildings located downtown along the banks of the Ottawa River aren't just the seat of government, but also the city’s most popular gathering spot and one of Canada’s most visited tourist attractions, with more than 3 million visitors each year. While downtown, check out the National Gallery of Canada, a massive glass structure designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. Inside, you’ll find works from notable artists including Matisse, Van Gogh, Rodin and Warhol.
Take It or Leave It: Ottawa has a vast array of museums. If you're planning on visiting a number of them, consider the Canada's Capital Museums Passport. It's available for purchase at any of the city's major museums, and offers entry into nine different museums over a seven-day span at a low admission rate.
Places to Party
Canada’s capital city is home to two large universities, so there are plenty of great nightlife options. In the Byward Market downtown, you’ll find everything from authentic Irish pubs to multi-level nightclubs where you can dance the night away. Also downtown is the National Arts Centre, where the nightly schedule features a mix of live theatre, dance, classical music and folk-rock concerts. If blues is your thing, pay a visit to the Rainbow Bistro. The Byward Market restaurant and live music venue has been drawing great local and international talent for almost 30 years.
Hot Tips: Lovers of live music festivals should plan a visit to Ottawa around the city's annual Bluesfest. Since launching in 1994, the ten-day event has grown into one of the world's leading outdoor music festivals, drawing the likes of James Brown, Bob Dylan and Arcade Fire.
Where to Shop
If you’re looking for Ottawa’s best shopping, the downtown Byward Market should be your first stop. The area spans just a few blocks, but you’ll find boutique clothing stores, unique furnishings, art, jewelry and so much more. The Glebe neighbourhood south of downtown along Bank Street is also home to great independent retailers. Westboro, a neighbourhood just west of the Parliament buildings, features many trendy clothing and home stores.
Best Local Souvenir: Visit the Parliamentary Boutique in Centre Block of Canada's Parliament Buildings. You'll find an array of books, mugs, jewelry and other items commemorating the home of Canada's national government.
Ready for Your Dream Vacation?
One of the most beautiful capitals in the world, Ottawa is about an hour's drive from the US border and about two hours from francophone Montréal. The city is a leading center for the arts, government and medicine; the presence of some 800 high-tech companies has earned it the moniker "Silicon Valley of the North." Although it's the fourth largest metropolitan area in Canada, Ottawa retains the charm of a small town. An abundance of things to see and do make this a popular tourist city. Along with more than 35 public festivals annually, visitors can enjoy some two dozen museums, guided walking tours, and beautiful historic sites such as the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the Billings Estate and the Supreme Court building. Shopping enthusiasts can find all sorts of unique mementoes at the sprawling ByWard Market and in the city's one-of-a-kind boutiques. Surrounded by three rivers and enclosed by 42,000 acres of farmlands and wetlands, Ottawa is a feast for the eyes and a rejuvenator for the soul with lush, rolling hills and pristine lakes. Check out some of the local parks, such as Dow's Lake, Major's Hill and Gatineau for fine views and fresh air. Outdoor pursuits in the vicinity range from skiing and hiking to horseback riding and fishing.