Things to do in Ottawa, ON

Get Your Bearings in Ottawa

By Neil Faba
Ottawa Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where 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.

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