Image credits: Ottawa Tourism
Nikki Bayley finds beauty and substance in Canada’s capital city
Canada’s capital city rests on the south bank of the Ottawa River opposite the French-speaking city of Gatineau in western Quebec.
With many of Canada’s cultural treasures based in the capital, from the National Gallery – with Louise Bourgeois’ huge spider sculpture guarding the doors – to the incredibly kid-friendly Canadian Museum of History, there are plenty of sights to see.
It’s also a city of festivals; from the snowy Winterlude, where you can skate down the Rideau Canal, to dancing under blazing blue skies at the country’s biggest Canada Day celebration.
Thanks to a compact downtown core, visitors can make a decent dent in the city in just a weekend – and with a major marketing campaign from the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership, the Canadian Tourism Commission and Ottawa Tourism launching in the UK this month, consumer interest is set to peak.
09.30: There’s no better place to start your trip than by delving into Canada’s past, which is wonderfully explained in the recently-renamed Museum of History (it used to be the Museum of Civilisation), just on the north bank of the river in Ile-de-Hull.
The excellent kids’ facilities shine, from a mini theatre where they can dress up and perform plays to taking a trip around the world and learning about different cultures through fun activities.
There is plenty to entertain grown-ups too. The Aboriginal People in Canada exhibits – from totem poles to musical instruments – are particularly interesting.
12.00: Full of culture, it’s time to fuel up on lunch. There is a cafe in the museum, but if you want a treat, Le Tartuffe is just around the corner and does a very good value prix fixe lunch of local products.
13.30: Time to leave French-Canada and return to the English-speaking side. Take a scenic walk across the Alexandra Bridge on the boardwalk – you’ll be able to take some great photos here of the parliament buildings and the river.
14.00: You could get lost for hours in Canada’s National Gallery, where the vast collection spans three floors and hundreds of years. The diversity is wide, with works by Canada’s indigenous peoples and modern video installations. Take one of the many tours on offer or just go for a wander.
16.00: So much culture usually needs to be nicely balanced with a decent wedge of cake, so wander along Sussex Drive (the Canadian equivalent of Downing Street) for a decadent afternoon tea at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier’s Zoe Lounge. Do a spot of culinary sightseeing and have the Canadian Tea with ice wine-marinated strawberries and Atlantic smoked salmon sandwiches.
17.00: Walk off all those cakes, scones and sandwiches with a self-guided tour around the Fairmont. Download the free app from iTunes and stroll around this historic hotel to learn its secrets. It has a fascinating past entwined with the Titanic and its famous previous guests include Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Marlene Dietrich.
19.00: After a rest and freshen up, it’s time to hit the bustling ByWard Market district for drinks and dinner. Start at Play, where the focus is on small plates and wines by the glass. Let the knowledgeable staff take you through a journey of Canadian wine – yes, they have wine in Canada and you’ll find plenty from the nearby Niagara Peninsula on offer here.
Ask for some of the delicious Cave Spring late-harvest Riesling, which is especially delicious, and pair wines with the house-made charcuterie tapas-style menu and creamy cheeses from Quebec.
21.30: If well-mixed drinks and small-batch Bourbon rock your boat head for Hooch. A couple of their craft cocktail creations could leave you craving some late-night eats, but don’t worry – they have it covered.
The southern-style chicken and waffles or their unique take on poutine (a fantastically moreish Canadian invention of chips, gravy and curd cheese) will keep even the most enthusiastic hangover at bay.
09.00: Get an early start to tick off seeing the Parliament of Canada buildings; it’s free of charge to enter and tours are also free on a first-come, first-served basis. The Peace Tower and incredibly moving Memorial Chamber, which commemorates Canada’s war dead, give panoramic views over the river and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.
10.30: After an emotional few hours, it’s time to blow the cobwebs away. Book a gentle two-hour guided cycle tour along the Rideau Canal with Rentabike, or go self-guided and stop off at Dow’s Lake to try a spot of paddling in a kayak or canoe. Take a camera; the photo opportunities along the canal in summer with all the flowers in bloom are spectacular.
13.00: Make your way back to ByWard, where the streets are packed with people enjoying the traditional farmers’ market. Look out for products with the ‘Savour Ottawa’ logo to shop local. To experience the market at its best, book one of C’est Bon Cooking’s tours.
As well as the general Tastes of the Market tours, there’s a Chocolate Lover’s Tour, which visits the ByWard’s finest chocolate shops.
15.00: Take advantage of the strength of the pound against the weak Canadian dollar and go shopping. Start with the more unique offerings of the historic Spark Street district; in summertime the pedestrian streets are packed with pavement cafes, and this is where you’ll find fun events such as RibFest, a barbecue festival in June, and the Busker Festival in August, where street musicians compete.
For brand-friendly shops, with Canadian names such as Lululemon and all the usual American labels from Gap to Banana Republic, head to the downtown mall at the Rideau Centre, which is open until late.
19.30: After resting tired feet in the hotel it’s time to head out on the town. In the Wellington Street neighbourhood, Supply and Demand is one of the city’s best restaurants. Slurp fresh-shucked East Coast oysters at the bar or take a seat on the padded leather benches running around the room.
The seafood is wonderful; flavours are bright and perfectly-balanced. Give the craft cocktails a try and ask for a local brew to match with your meal.
22.00: Don’t want to call it a night? Take a stroll a block down to Absinthe. After a full dinner it’d be ambitious to fit in one of their house specials, fondue, but there’s definitely space to try three different kinds of Absinthe, or perhaps one of their Absinthe-based cocktails.
WHERE TO STAY
Save: Lord Elgin Hotel
Handily located near the Rideau Canal and parliament buildings, the 357-room Lord Elgin has a floral theme with tulip-inspired artwork and Biedermeier-style furnishings. Relax after a day pounding the pavements in the whirlpool and sauna, or make the most of the new 42in flatscreen TVs and Wi-Fi, now available in all rooms.
Book it: Signature by Thomas Cook offers three nights’ room-only with United Airlines flights from London from £999.
Splurge: Fairmont Chateau Laurier
A national historic site and built to match the adjacent parliament buildings, for a while in the 1930s, Canada’s prime minister actually lived in a suite in this ultra-luxe hotel. There are 429 rooms, including 33 suites. The Health Club has an art deco pool, Zoe’s Lounge offers afternoon tea, and the view from La Terrasse over the city is spectacular.
Book it: 1st Class Holidays offers a three-night package with room-only accommodation and a city tour from £349. Add Air Canada flights from London and the price is £1,117.
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