Just like those two cities, Ottawa sometimes gets a bad rap for having too many dull politicians and not enough personality. Give it a chance, though, and the Canadian seat of power might just surprise you.
GETTING YOUR BEARINGS
Sitting on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, Ottawa isn’t overly large, and most of its interesting sights are easily accessible on foot – if you base yourself somewhere downtown, getting around will be a walk in the park. Just across the water in Québec is Gatineau, or Hull as it is still known – its name was changed on January 1, 2002, but everyone outside the tourist office still refers to it by the old name, as do all the street signs. Here is an opportunity to experience a more French-influenced Canada than you’ll find on the south side.
SCOFFING AND QUAFFING
Ottawa has a surprisingly satisfying eating and drinking culture. Centered on the ByWard Market area, expect a healthy dose of Irish pubs, as well as some local options. Pick up a copy of the free weekly entertainment mag XPress to find out if there’s anything special going on. ByWard is also where you’ll find the lion’s share of the restaurants, serving everything from sushi to spaghetti. Those suffering from a hangover should head straight to Zak’s Diner – their massive all-day breakfasts will sort you out.
WORTH A LOOK
Oh joy. Politics. Well, even if you don’t ‘do’ politics, surely you can appreciate a nice looking building? Canada’s Gothic-style federal parliament buildings, with their green-hued copper roofs and towering sandstone walls, really are picturesque. If you’re keen, you can take a free tour or sit in on question time when parliament’s in session, but if you’re just in it for the scenery, head for the Peace Tower – you can go up to the observation deck for some top views over the city and river.
The Ottawa Locks
This system of locks marks the end of the Rideau Canal, which runs 198km from Kingston. When town founder Colonel By built the canal it was intended to serve some military purpose or other, but it never fulfilled that destiny. These days the locks, and indeed the whole Rideau Canal, are a heritage park beloved by Ottawans as a place to stroll or go boating on in summer. In winter, you can take to the frozen water with ice skates.
This is Canada’s most impressive collection of artwork. While the emphasis is on Canadian artists, there are also plenty of well-known European artists represented. Make a beeline for the chronologically and regionally arranged display of painting and sculpture for a sense of how local art has developed over time, and head to the Inuit gallery for some impressive native works. Entry is C$6.
Canadian Museum of Civilization
The most frequented museum in the country, the striking curved buildings of the Canadian Museum of Civilization are home to a raft of top-notch exhibits dedicated to the history of Canada and its people. Learn about the Vikings, the British, French and Basque settlers, as well as the aboriginal people. Come on Sundays for half-price entry (normally C$10) or on a Thursday night to enjoy a few hours of exploration gratis.