Hey guys, today I am super excited to finally be bringing you another city guide! Today’s city guide will be all about Ottawa. After living here for the past year, I’ve learned the ins and outs of our nation’s capital and am happy to finally be sharing some of them with you!
Ottawa is an incredibly diverse city; it has a little something for everyone! Whether you’re an adventure traveller, a luxury traveller, a history buff, an aspiring politician, or a student travelling on a budget, Ottawa has something for you! The city boasts an incredible historic profile and is home to the Canadian government. But don’t worry, Ottawa is not a boring city filled with grumpy and aging politician; in fact, with a handful of universities and colleges in the area, more than half of the population is under 35, making it the perfect travel destination for students and young professionals.
Today’s guide will walk you through every step of to having an amazing time in Ottawa, from when you land at the airport to where to sleep, eat, and sightsee!
Capital of Canada
Population: 870, 250
Home to the Rideau Canal; the largest outdoor skating rink at 7.8km
When to visit
There is no bad time to visit Ottawa! Regardless of the season there is always something happening. In the summer you can experience the tulip festivals and enjoy the warm weather while strolling through the Byward Market. In the winter you can experience a true Canadian winter with temperatures dropping as low as minus forty degrees Celsius; perfect weather for skating along the Rideau Canal. However, one of the most famous winter festivals occurs in Ottawa during the Winter; Winterlude! It’s one of Ottawa’s biggest tourist attractions with events occurring along the canal daily and various activities occurring throughout the city such as ice sculpture competition and sled races.
Prior to Arrival (what to pack)
Summer weather in Ottawa is much like anywhere else and Canada doesn’t have any strict dress policies. Short shorts and shoulder bearing won’t be an issue here, so don’t fret too much about your clothing! Now for winter…you may want to pack a few extra layers. Like I said above, the temperatures can drop well below freezing so you’re going to want to bundle up! Check out my article here on how to pack for winter travel for some tips on what to bring along with you.
Since Ottawa’s airport isn’t as big as some other major Canadian cities, a lot of International flights will require a connection through Toronto before landing at the Ottawa airport. Once you land in Ottawa it’s only a twenty minute drive into downtown. A taxi to downtown will cost you between $30-$45 or you can Uber for around $15-$20. Being a university town, Ottawa is very, very Uber friendly. I had never used an Uber before moving to Ottawa and now I swear by it. The fares are significantly cheaper and you have the added bonus of having your drivers contact information in the event you forget something after you’re dropped off.
If arriving from another Canadian city through the VIA Rail train, you’ll only be out a short 7-10 minute drive from downtown. Again, you can choose to take a taxi or Uber to your destination.
Where to stay
This is my favourite hotel in Ottawa. Not only is it a stunning castle like building with an authentic French château feel, but it is located literally right next door to the Parliament buildings. The hotel is always bustling with the valet service out front seeming to never get a break; you may even run into a few celebrities here as this is where they usually stay in downtown.
The Westin hotel is also located neatly downtown, just minutes away from the Parliament buildings; it is actually attached to the Rideau Centre mall making a shopping spree that much easier!
This hotel is located a little bit further away from downtown, but houses some of the biggest hotel suites I’ve ever seen! This is definitely a top choice for those who prefer more spacious living quarters or if you’re travelling with a few guests. The hotel also offers a variety of different tourist sightseeing packages available to guests for purchase.
For those on a budget, or just simply looking for a more unique lodging experience, you have to check out the jail hostel in Ottawa. This hostel is a former jail building; completely made of stone and brick, even the jail cells have remained to this day. This hostel is located right in the heart of downtown and offers free breakfast as well as tours of the jail.
Where to Eat
For my favourite vegan spots in the city, be sure to check out my post on the top vegan eats in Ottawa. Here are a few more dining options I’ve come across since I published that post!
El Furniture Warehouse
Okay seriously, where the heck has the restaurant been all my life?! Everything on the menu is $5. Yes. Seriously. The veggie burger was pretty delicious and you also have the option to add on an extra $5 to your bill to buy the workers a beer or for the restaurant to use towards making a meal for a local shelter. I thought this inititave was a neat way to make a difference in the city! Warehouse also has an excellent patio for summer patio drinks, but it does get busy, so be prepared to wait!
Okay, yes I did already mention this place in my Ottawa vegan eats post, but it is worth mentioning twice! It is arguably the best pizza place in the entire city. Vegans and non-vegans alike will enjoy the endless customization options and the cute, intimate dining experience they’ll get at Fiazza.
You can’t come to Ottawa and not have poutine. It’s a Canadian delicacy and Ottawa is home to some of the most mouth-watering, delicious poutine you will ever taste. There are a ton of places all over the city that sell it, however I think the best ones come from the street vendors or the food trucks you’ll encounter downtown. Keep an eye out for the various poutine fests that happen in the Byward Market, on Sparks street, or even on the University of Ottawa campus. Here is where you’ll find crazy poutine creations like lobster poutine, popcorn chicken poutine, nacho poutine, and tons more!
Another beloved Canadian dish are Beavertails. These fried dough pastries and stretched into the shape of a beaver tail and topped with whatever toppings you can imagine! Some popular flavours include chocolate banana, apple cinnamon, and maple! If you’re visiting during the winter you’ll find Beavertail stands scattered along the Rideau canals for skaters who get hungry during the long skate.
Open 24 hours, all day breakfast, and the best milkshakes in town. That’s all I really have to say about Zaks. The diner looks like something straight out of the 80’s with the authentic interior and exterior design and at 2am the place really gets crazy after everyone departs their bars and nightclubs to indulge in some drunken milkshakes.
Things to do
For my favourite things to do in Ottawa check out my Top 10 Ottawa post here.
Here are some more activities to enjoy that didn’t make the top ten, but are also a fun idea to include in your itinerary.
Visit Westboro Beach
This beach isn’t huge and it certainly isn’t a well-known tourist destination, making it the perfect spot to check out for those of you looking for a more “off the beaten path” approach to the city. The beach is relatively small, so there isn’t a lot of room to tan or play volleyball, but it also isn’t very busy often. For a really secluded and unique experience, try visiting in the evening. You’ll be one of few on the beach and you’ll get to really embrace the quiet and focus solely on the sounds of the waves coming in.
Test Your Luck at Casino du Lac-Leamy
Technically this casino is located in Gatineau as it is on the other side of the river, but it’s only a short ten minute drive away from downtown. This casino is very popular among Ottawa and Gatineau locals. It features 64 gaming tables and 1800 slot machines, plus a wide array of bars, dining options, and entertainment.
See a Show at the Shaw Centre
The Shaw centre hosts a variety of conferences and shows throughout the year and with one of the best views of the city, you’ll really be getting a bang for your buck! The food and service and the Shaw Centre are also nothing short of excellent.
Go Rafting on the Ottawa River
If you’re looking for some more active adventures why not hit up the Ottawa River? You can go kayaking and white water rafting along the river throughout the summer months. Wilderness Tours in Ottawa runs a variety of promotions for outdoor adventures throughout the city including rafting and kayaking the river.
Photos you can’t leave without
This spot will give you the best leverage for photos of nearly all of the downtown core. You’ll be able to capture stunning views of the Ottawa River, the National Gallery of Canada, and a unique view of the Parliament buildings from the back.
The National Gallery of Canada
Tourists and locals both love to view and photograph the incredible Maman sculpture outside the National Gallery of Canada. The bronze, stainless steel and marble sculpture was created by the artist Louise Bourgeois and is one of the world’s largest sculptures depicting a spider.
The Rideau Canal
And of course you can’t leave without the necessary shot of the Rideau Canal. You can capture the canal from nearly any vantage point downtown whether you’re simply walking along it on skating right on it, you’ll get a beautiful shot. I personally love the look of the canal lit up by the city lights at night in the winter.
That’s all for my Ottawa City Guide! I really hope you guys enjoyed this and find it useful when booking your next trip to Ottawa. Stay tuned for more pos