It’s fitting that Ottawa’s skyline is still dominated by Parliament Hill’s Peace Tower. Many other trappings of federal and international government are prominent in the home of my alma mater — Go Ravens! — such as the Royal Canadian Mint, the Prime Minister’s official residence, and the Governor General’s estate. Combine all this history and ceremony with the country’s densest collection of world-class museums, and Ottawa succeeds in making Canadians proud — and visitors a little bit jealous.
Don’t leave without...
...climbing the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. Free elevator trips to the observation deck below the four 15-foot-wide clock faces resume July 2, and provide glorious panoramic views of the region from 200 feet up. Guided tours of the Hill’s Centre Block, meanwhile, allow visitors to explore the neo-Gothic Senate and House of Commons, as well as the ornate Library of Parliament and stirring Memorial Chamber.
...visiting the National Gallery of Canada. A short walk from Parliament, this soaring architectural masterpiece is home to six expansive gallery spaces, including a Canadian collection featuring iconic works by the Group of Seven, and a European gallery filled with paintings by geniuses like Van Gogh, Cezanne and Rembrandt. There’s a lot of artistic glory to take in, so it’s a good thing the place is so comfortable, with a pair of peaceful landscaped courtyards, a relaxing cafeteria and intimate bookstore tucked behind the skyscraping glass windows of the Great Hall.
...strolling or skating along the Rideau Canal. Before it spills into the city’s namesake river via a spectacular flight of eight locks, this 190-km-long engineering marvel and World Heritage Site is lined with cycle paths, restaurants and pubs, parks and gardens, all of which provide ideal vantage points for admiring many of the landmarks on this list.
What we overlook
The aspects of Ottawa that aren’t all about Canada tend to fall by the wayside. Just across the river in Quebec, for instance, leafy Gatineau Park is a hiker’s, cyclist’s and skier’s dream, while the Casino du Lac Leamy is an adults-only playground with gaming galore, top-notch dining, decadent spas and a 1,100-seat theatre. In the city itself, the diversions that get plenty of attention from locals — the beaches and volleyball courts of Mooney's Bay Park, for instance, or the recently revamped Lansdowne recreation complex — tend to get skipped by visitors.
Waterfront holiday homes abound just outside of Ottawa, but you don’t need to own recreational real estate to get in on the action. Gatineau Park is home to dozens of sandy beaches, and you can take a relaxing dip in “The Pond,” a secret swimming hole tucked into the ritzy Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood off the aptly named Pond Street. Then there's the Capital Pathway network, one of the largest multi-use trails in North America with more than 600 kilometres of car-free goodness connecting many of the attractions on this list.
Why cross the Atlantic to get a taste of royalty when you can sample its trappings at Rideau Hall, the official residence and workplace of Canada’s Governor General? The Queen’s representative in Canada has some pretty sweet digs: The opulent public rooms and multi-million-dollar art collection will impress grown-ups, while the expansive outdoor grounds, complete with cricket pitch, skating rink and Alice in Wonderland-style Rose Garden, will enthral youngsters. Children will also get a kick out of the changing of the guard — and the towering headgear worn by the guardsmen.
Convenience and charm collide in the Byward Market, a 26-block shopping district sandwiched between Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River and the multi-storey Rideau Centre shopping mall. It’s home to one of the oldest agricultural markets in Canada, but don’t expect just farmers and fishmongers here. Depending on the season, the market building itself often overflows with stands selling everything from wild blackberries to hand-made bracelets. The surrounding streets, meanwhile, are lined with boutiques, restaurants, clubs and taverns, which spill into a series of open-air courtyards that will be rocking on July 1.
Bank Street, one of Ottawa’s main thoroughfares, is also the principal artery running through the Glebe neighbourhood south of downtown. Boutiques, pubs and restaurants line the streetscape here, with the multi-purpose Lansdowne Park — home to the CFL’s Grey Cup Champion Redblacks — bordering the Glebe to the south and the picturesque, park-lined Rideau Canal marking its eastern border.
The stark modern design of the Canadian War Museum evokes a bunker, the grass-covered roof a battlefield, and small windows on a towering rooftop fin spell out "Lest we forget" in Morse Code. Inside, the permanent galleries display items including one of Adolph Hitler’s Mercedes limousines, while covering conflicts ranging from First Nations battles and the War of 1812 to the Cold War and Afghanistan. The highlight, however, is the Memorial Hall, a space for remembrance and contemplation containing a single artifact: the headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier from the First World War.
Read the rest of the story in International Traveller magazine
WHERE TO STAY
The Courtyard Ottawa Downtown, located in the heart of the Byward Market, features an on-site Bistro where you can turn a Marriott Rewards dining card into the most patriotic of Canadian beverage. (Hint: It’s beer.)