Ottawa gets a bit of a bad rap. Sure, the city is Canada’s government nucleus. And yes, it competes with Astana, Kazakhstan, and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for the undesirable title of “the world’s coldest capital city.” Yet Ottawa is also home to a plethora of exciting tourist attractions, a thriving culinary scene, and a bustling nightlife.
Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Canada’s capital city.
What to do?
Not surprisingly, what you do in Ottawa will depend greatly on the time of your visit. Those in the Canadian capital are, after all, at the mercy of its stark seasons. That being said, Ottawa is home to fun all year round.
In the summer months, for example, turn your attention to the city’s many bike paths and boat rentals, or to its immensely popular Bluesfest, which has hosted everyone from Kanye West, to Bob Dylan, to Lady Gaga, to Iron Maiden in the past. In the fall, a quick drive north will put you in the heart of the Gatineau hills, where the leaves turn reds and oranges so fiery that they seem to singe the sky. In the winter, Ottawa’s crown jewel is the Rideau Canal, which freezes over to transform into the world’s longest skating rink. And finally, in the spring, head over to picturesque Dow’s Lake to take in the colours of the city’s world-famous Tulip Festival.
Where to eat?
Ottawa is home to hundreds of inspired restaurants—far more than you can take in on a single visit. If you’re staying downtown, try Play Food and Wine on York Street or town. on Elgin. If your visit takes you through Centretown or Little Italy, try Fauna on Bank Street, or Black Cat Bistro on Preston. And then, of course, there is the shawarma—a true staple of the Ottawa diet. Find the middle eastern treat in dozens of locations throughout the city, including Shawarma Station on Bank Street and, the consensus best-in-the-city, Shawarma Palace on Rideau Street.
Where to drink?
As the home of two universities worth of students and thousands of downtrodden civil servants, Ottawa is very much a drinker’s city. For wine and cocktails, try Taylor’s Genuine Food and Wine Bar on Bank Street. For beer, try Pub Italia in Little Italy, which boasts a beer menu hundreds of items long, or The Old Mill at Ashton, which brews some of Ottawa’s finest local beer. For a livelier scene, try Lieutenant’s Pump on Elgin, or one of the city’s two Heart and Crown locations. And finally, for something you’re unlikely to get anywhere else, try House of TARG: Ottawa’s only—well, probably the world’s only—pinball and perogie bar.
Where to shop?
If you’re hoping to get some shopping done in Ottawa, try the Rideau Centre or Bayshore Shopping Centre, both of which house all of your favourite mall outlets. For a more boutique shopping experience, try the ByWard Market and Hintonburg, two charming Ottawa nooks that are packed to the edges with independent clothing retailers.
Where to stay?
The place to stay in Ottawa is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a luxurious but old-timey hotel that towers over the northern end of the Rideau Canal. Other choice accommodations exist in the Westin Ottawa, which also overlooks the canal, and the Marriot, which you’ll find in the heart of the ByWard Market.