Canada’s can’t-miss capital: how to spend 24 hours in Ottawa
One of the most beautiful capital cities in the world, Ottawa is as well-known for its architecture, parks and food as it is for its politics. A relatively large city by Canadian standards, Ottawa manages to maintain a small-town feel and the major tourist attractions can easily be reached on foot – ideal considering the beautiful views along the way. While you’ll probably end up spending more time in Canada’s capital, you can still get the full Ottawa experience on this 24-hour itinerary.
Start your morning at the Boulangerie Moulin de Provence, made famous by US President Barack Obama’s visit in 2009, but which should be better known for producing some of the best pastries and baked goods in the city. Munch on an ‘Obama Cookie’ (a shortbread cookie in the shape of the maple leaf) while checking out the shops at the ByWard Market. With a wide selection of clothing, books and souvenirs, it is easy to spend the whole day in what locals simply call ‘the Market’.
After you’ve had your fill of shopping, look west for Canada’s iconic flag flying atop Parliament’s Peace Tower, the 55-metre tall bell and clock tower which is Canada’s answer to London’s Big Ben. On the way, take time to appreciate the National War Memorial, a 70-feet tall monument originally built for those who fought in the World War I, and then rededicated to the Canadians who died in World War II, the Korean War and the wars in Afghanistan. It’s a quick stroll then to Parliament Hill, the home of Canada’s legislature. Centre Block is currently undergoing major renovations, but you can still witness the changing of the guard on the front lawns at 10am and participate in mass yoga on Wednesdays at noon. Learn about the history of the House of Commons at the newly restored West Block, or explore the Senate of Canada Building. The tours are free and it’s best to book in advance to avoid a long wait in line.
From here, carry on past Parliament to the Canadian War Museum, one of the top attractions in Ottawa, outlining not only Canada’s contributions in 20th century wars, but also wars fought on Canadian soil prior to independence. The thought-provoking and fascinating exhibitions are a perfect way to finish off your morning. Check out their Highland Warriors exhibit going on this summer into January 2020.
Next, take a short walk down to Centretown, away from Ottawa River and into the hub of Ottawa’s business district. For lunch, head to The Whalesbone to soothe your seafood cravings. The Elgin St location sports rustic decor and offers up fresh faves such as oysters, lobster and scallops ceviche on small plates. You can also find local craft beer on tap.
Close by is the Canadian Museum of Nature, a baronial building with a vast natural history collection. Children will love the full skeleton of a blue whale and the many interactive exhibits, such as the summer 2019 exhibit Pterosaur: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs. Once you’re all clued up on Canadian creatures, head outside and walk to the nearby Rideau Canal. Best-known as the world’s largest skating rink in winter, it is also a beautiful walkway in summer with runners, cyclists and tourists traversing the paths that lead you from Dows Lake back to the ByWard Market area. You can also explore the Rideau Canal by bike, canoe, kayak or cruise.
No visit to Ottawa is complete without a visit to the National Gallery of Canada, which holds the most comprehensive collection of Canadian art in the world. The building, with its glass arcs resembling Parliament, is as striking as the vast collection and is a must-visit to really get a feel for the country’s artistic contribution.
The National Gallery is located just north of the ByWard Market, which has a hunger-inducing selection of restaurants to choose for dinner. One of the top places is Metropolitain Brasserie, whose reasonably priced French fare and oyster bar will tickle almost every foodie’s fancy. Try to get there for ‘Hill Hour’ (3pm to 7pm every day) for food specials, but also to join in with local politicos discussing the day’s hot topics.
To finish off your day in Ottawa, visit the Chateau Lafayette, the oldest bar in the city and lovingly referred to as ‘the Laff’. It relishes its reputation as a ‘dive bar’ and features live music and open-mic nights on most nights. In fact the Laff is the ideal place to end your stay in Ottawa as it really does sum up the city – packed with history but never stuffy; full of local tales and always ready to welcome anyone that visits.