Even though I’ve lived outside of Ottawa for years now, I was born and raised there. I wasn’t always fond of it in the past, but every time I go back to visit, I make it my personal mission to find something new and exciting that reignites my love of the city. Over the years, I’ve seen such progress as it takes on an evolution towards morphing itself into a kick-ass major Canadian city. And it seems to be working, highlighted by signs of change around every corner – from the revamping of the city centre for Canada 150, to the light rail, to even the feeling of a shift in certain neighbourhoods. Ottawa really is the place to be these days (and trust me, I never thought I would ever say that).
Whether you’re living there already, are planning a visit for the first time or returning, or are just wanting to add something different to your travel list this summer, Ottawa has a lot to offer. Here are a few of our favourite where-to’s on our Nation’s Capital, to help guide your adventures and explorations this summer. And not just the typical or obvious things – we wanted to give you some real insiders info too!
WHERE TO STAY
While location is certainly key when it comes to staying in the right hotel, I truly believe that finding an inspiring space is just as important – and this place has both. Although you may not spend much time in your hotel while you’re out exploring the city, the time you do spend there should be something that makes you feel quite special. That’s where a hotel like Andaz comes in to play. With a focus on local culture, good food, Canadian art and stunning decor, this is hands down one of my favourite hotels, ever. I know that’s a huge statement to make, but I’m in love with their space, the staff and the way they integrate the city itself into ever aspect of the property.
At any point during your stay, you can ask a staff member about what’s happening in the city or what you should check out based on whatever your interests are, and they’re encouraged to tell you all about what they love to do and what’s happening all around the city. Each floor also has a theme based on the provinces and territories of Canada (not in a cheesy way, trust me) and it shines through with the art that has been specially curated for each area of the hotel. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I freakin’ love this place – but you’ve just gotta experience it for yourself in order to truly understand.
WHERE TO EAT
I’ve never had a meal I didn’t enjoy at this cute, but trendy little downtown restaurant. With modern, small-plates, they serve full appetizer-sized portions of market-driven cuisine. Everything is prepared from scratch in an open-concept kitchen, with local, sustainable and seasonal products where possible. I’m absolutely in love with their diverse selection of specially curated wines and cheese. The best part about having the smaller plates, is sharing and not having too much food envy of eating anyone else’s plate! They even have a lunch special every now and then which allows you to experience more dishes for less coin – bonus!
On the last Sunday of every month, one of the signature restaurants at the Andaz Ottawa, the Copper Spirits and Sights hosts Rooftop Beats + Brunch. You can join in on the afternoon party featuring Chef Stephen La Salle’s take on bite-sized brunch favourites. It’s encouraged that you to dress to impress while enjoying the fancy brunch buffet, canapés, live DJ and some of the best views in the city. Oh and let’s not forget, one of the best parts of brunching there is that you can also enjoy a 100 km DIY Walter Craft Caesar Bar made with spirits of your choice from Top Shelf Distillers.
The word ‘ahora’ means ‘now’ and that’s about the timing of when I always want to eat at this spot. This tiny little restaurant down some steps on Dalhousie Street is one of my favourite places to grab a bit to eat in Ottawa. It’s authentic Mexican cuisine done well, without being too flashy or cheesy (but yes there is still actual cheese). I also love how casual they are – you order at the counter and then grab yourself a seat. It can get a little busy in their colourfully decorated cozy space, but it’s so worth it if you’re in the mood for fresh, healthy Mexican food at an affordable price. Oh and did I mention that they also serve cocktails? Yep.
Yes, I’ve included an eat-in or take-out pizza place on our list. But honestly, this is such an Ottawa staple. Anytime Daniel and I head back for a visit, we’ll make a quick stop in on one of the nights or order in (heads up, it’s even better the next day). I want to say it’s probably the nostalgia that makes it so great, but I’ve recommended this pizza joint to people from outside of Ottawa and they’ve raved about it just as much as we have – so I think they’re really on to something here. Also, just a quick tip: some of their locations are open for breakfast and it’s tasty, super quick and fantastic on the wallet.
WHERE TO HANG OUT
If you live in Ottawa, you might be throwing me a bit of an eye-roll with this one because it’s definitely one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in town. But, I do love the character it has on offer, with the one-of-a-kind boutique shops, the tree-lined streets, the cute little cafes and restaurants, and their artsy outdoor spaces. It’s worth a stroll up and down the streets of this unique part of town! Plus, you can pop over to Westboro Beach for some added natural beauty.
Growing up, this was the place to be, but only during special events or football games, really. Now, this 18-acre area has been developed into an accessible green space full of amenities – featuring everything from relaxation to recreation. With shops, restaurants and entertainment, it’s a great place to spend the day or to kill some time before or after an Ottawa Redblacks game. On top of all of this, they offer year-round Ottawa Farmers’ Markets, events, shows, festivals and a family-friendly park.
Likely one of the most visited areas in Ottawa, but for good reason. There’s a lot happening here in the Summer. With shopping, dining, arts, markets, entertainment and professional services, this area averages 50,000 visitors per weekend in the Summer months. The market area itself is home to both a local farmers’ market and artisans with over 260 stands, as well as over 600 businesses. One of my favourite things to do is have a walk around the market areas, stop to grab some lunch on the patio at Lowertown Brewery, and then head up the steps at Sussex to Parliament Hill to check out the scenery there (and walk off all of the food and beer, really).
The Rideau Canal
Now, most of you might recognize this as a major attraction in the winter months, as the best place to go skating. But if you pay a visit to this area in the Summer, you’ll see that it’s such a beautiful place to walk, run, bike or explore. At 202km in length, it’s part of the Rideau Waterway and connects Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River at Kingston, Ontario. For a full (and quite comprehensive) list of some great activities to do along this world-famous waterway, be sure to click here!
WHERE TO LEARN FOR FREE
Free Museum Thursdays
If you’re into checking out some of the local museums, here’s a tip that a lot of locals use. On Thursdays, some museums open their doors and let in guests for free. Some of these include: the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum are free from 4 pm to 8 pm; Canadian Museum of Natureand the National Gallery of Canada are free from 5 pm to 8 pm; and the Aviation and Space Museum is free daily from 4 pm to 5 pm. Not free on a Thursday? These are all still worth a visit!
Northern Lights is an awesome 30-minute multimedia show with the Parliament Hills as the backdrop. Wait until the sun goes down and then grab a spot on the lawn to watch an unforgettable experience of light and sound through Canada’s history and highlights the country’s important milestones. It’s free, bilingual, and presented nightly in Canada’s Capital from July 9 to September 3, 2018! Be sure to check the website for showtimes, as they may vary throughout the season.
Although this is generally something that a lot of people who work downtown Ottawa get stuck into during their lunch hours, this is definitely a welcomed and healthy break for those who are traveling through the city as well. Every Wednesday at 12pm, Lululemon hosts a free yoga class on the lawn on front of Parliament Hill. Just bring your own mat and water, and snag a spot with the hundreds of other motivated like-minded humans!
WHERE TO EXPLORE
This has always been one of my favourite places to visit, since I can remember. Covering 361 square kms, this conservation park lies within an area where the Canadian Shield meets the St. Lawrence Lowlands, and where the Gatineau River meets the Ottawa River. This National Park is beautiful in every season and has many unique and diversified ecosystems as well as heritage features, like the Mackenzie King Estate. It’s worth spending at least a couple of hours exploring – but bring those hiking shoes!
This might be one of the biggest events to happen in Ottawa every year. This festival attracts over 650,000 visitors from around the world, all coming to celebrate the return of spring and take in the showcase of tulips across Ottawa and its national capital region. Millions of tulips set the stage for a celebration of authentic art, cultural, historic, culinary and family tulip experiences. This year, their theme is “A World of Tulips”, where the celebration takes place from May 11th to May 21st, highlighting the yellow World Friendship Tulip.
This event is definitely something I miss attending every year that I’m away from Ottawa. This popular neighbourhood garage sale is always the fourth Saturday in May – meaning this year it takes place on Saturday May 27th and runs from 8am to 3pm. Rain or shine, it’s always recommended to come earlier in order to maximize your shopping and exploring potential. From food, to vintage fashion, to odds and ends – this garage sale is a whole heck of a lot of fun!
Have fun in Ottawa this summer!
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Catherine Sugrue, CNP
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