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A city guide to Ottawa – heritage, culture and the great outdoors

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Ottawa is that rare find among major cities: a place that’s grand to visit and where you can happily imagine sticking around. A true city of neighborhoods, Ottawa’s vibrant communities are largely linked by bike paths and dotted with inviting shops and fine restaurants. Getting around is a breeze, which is a good thing, since world-class art museums, major national landmarks, green spaces, and first-class shopping vie for visitors’ attention from all corners of the capital.

Frank Bella

My Destination local expert on

Ottawa (Ontario)

Heritage and History

 

Parliament Hill is an undisputed must-see and a magnificent backdrop for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Rideau Hall, the official residence of every governor general since 1867 is another heritage site that’s open to public touring. Though The Supreme Court of Canada draws smaller crowds, it offers another window into Canadian government, letting visitors sit in on appeal hearings and tour the landmark building. Historical museums such as the Canadian War Museum or Bytown Museum teach about Canada and her capital city.

 

Festivals and Events

 

Whatever time of year you visit, there’s a good likelihood of coinciding with one of the city’s major festivals and annual events. May brings the Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest of its kind in the world, and in July, BluesFest attracts internationally renowned musicians. In autumn, the hockey season begins, letting you catch an Ottawa Senators hockey team’s home game. November brings the European Union Film Festival and in the dark middle of winter comes the biggest bash of the season: Winterlude, an embrace of cold-weather sport and festivity.

 

Arts and Culture

 

Ottawa is a city of museums, including many places to see masterworks of the modern era or antiquity. The National Gallery of Canada is the world’s most eminent collection of Canadian art. The performing arts are well-represented by the National Arts Centre and by numerous smaller companies, such as the long-running Ottawa Little Theatre. The National Arts Centre is also home to the Opera Lyra Ottawa. The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra is the largest ensemble in the city, regularly performing works by Canadian composers as well as international greats.

 

Green Spaces and the Outdoors

 

The Rideau Canal brings a ribbon of green (or blue, or white) right through Ottawa. Cruises offer leisurely tours of the city throughout the warmer months. Once the canal freezes over, it really comes to life, transforming each winter into the longest skateway in the world. Bike paths criss-cross the city, making cycling a feasible way to get around. Within a short drive of downtown Ottawa, the Ottawa River is ideal for white water rafting, and in winter, you can easily find scenic spots for cross-country skiing.

 

Diverse Neighborhoods

 

Downtown Ottawa offers a host of major cultural attractions. Just outside the core, though, are myriad neighborhoods, each with distinct characters. After wandering the shops of historic ByWard Market, check out the lively restaurant and shopping scene of the surrounding district. For a change of pace, head to Chinatown or Preston Street/Little Italy for an authentic meal. Admire historic homes and window-shop in the laid-back Glebe neighbourhood or explore the hot dining scene and arts scene in Wellington West.