As capital cities go, Ottawa is arguably the most visitor-friendly capital in the world. Small enough that everything worth seeing is within a brisk walk or an inexpensive cab ride, the city is also large enough to have something to offer nearly every taste whether it be cultural, culinary, athletic or historic.
As Ottawa has grown, so has its cultural diversity. There are many theater companies including the
While Ottawa's downtown core is home to many of the city's major attractions including
One can also find many fine restaurants in the downtown core including
For a taste of Ottawa's nightlife, be sure to visit some of the nightclubs and restaurants along Elgin Street including
South of the Queensway running along both sides of Bank Street, is the Glebe. As a trendy arts and specialty shop district, the Glebe, attracts many suburban transplants looking for a little downtown living.
Sandy Hill and the Byward Market
Across from the downtown core on the eastern bank of the Rideau Canal is the University of Ottawa, which borders the stately Sandy Hill district where a majority of the city's embassies are located. Across Rideau Street to the north of Sandy Hill is the Byward Market where every sense can be satisfied.
The "Market" is a tourist Mecca attracting both vacationers and locals to its many special shops and restaurants during the day, while in the evenings the streets are filled with late night revelers touring the area's many bars and nightclubs including
Situated to the west of the downtown area is Somerset Heights, which was previously known as Chinatown before the age of political correctness and an influx of Vietnamese immigrants in the late 1970s. If it's Asian food you're interested in, then the Heights is the place to come. Along Somerset Street one can find some of the finest Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in the city including the
About a 10-minute walk west down Rue Somerset from the Heights is Preston Street, the cultural center of Ottawa's Italian community. Every year during the last weekend in June the street overflows with people returning to their roots to celebrate
Running north and south along the eastern edge of the downtown core is the
Further east from Sandy Hill is Vanier. This small neighborhood is the last bastion of the francophone community in Ottawa and they maintain their heritage with immense pride.
To the north of Vanier is Rockcliffe Park where one can find some of the most expensive real estate in Canada including the multi-million dollar home of Corel founder Michael Cowpland. Rockcliffe is also the home of
Across the river from
Further to the west of the downtown core are the suburban neighborhoods of Bells Corners, Barrhaven and Kanata. While Barrhaven and Bells Corners are mostly bedroom communities with a smattering of restaurants and hotels, Kanata is the high tech center of Ottawa and home to many high tech giants such as Nortel, Mitel, Alcatel, Mosaid and Entrust. In Kanata, you can also find the
Ottawa gets its identity from two major sources—its geographic location at the confluence of the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, and the fact that it is the seat of power for the entire nation. For centuries the area that overlooks the two rivers was the meeting grounds for the First Nations tribe the Algonquin Indians, who were indigenous to this part of central Canada.
The first European to set eyes on the area was Samuel de Champlain in 1613. In fact, a statue commemorating his discovery sits atop Nepean Point overlooking the Ottawa River. For the next 200 years the area remained a meeting place where natives met with French fur traders, who took valuable beaver pelts further downstream to Montreal and Quebec City. In 1800, a United Empire Loyalist named Philemon Wright left Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War and settled across the Ottawa River from the heights, in what is now Hull. Originally named Wrightsville, the small community grew into a burgeoning lumber town that helped to fuel Britain's desire for sturdy wood with which to build its navy.
In 1826 construction began on Ottawa's second most identifiable landmark besides Parliament Hill. Lieutenant Colonel John By was commissioned to build a canal that ran from the Ottawa River in the north to Kingston in the south—a distance of 200 kilometers. Construction on the Rideau Canal was completed by 1832. During the building of the canal, development began to take place on the Ottawa side of the Ottawa River, in and around what is now known as Lowertown, which is the site of Byward Market. By the time the canal was completed, the new settlement was called Bytown after the canal's chief builder.
The new waterway made the shipment of lumber to markets south of the border much easier. As a result, several American lumber barons came to the area bringing with them a wave of immigration from Poland, Scotland and Ireland, all looking for work in the forests around the fledgling city.
By the late 1850s Ottawa had finally come into its own, although it still possessed a reputation as a remote and rather uncivilized place. In 1860 something completely unexpected and remarkable happened. While looking at a map of the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, Queen Victoria decided to pick Ottawa as the new capital over both York, which is now Toronto and Montreal. The decision was very controversial, but appeased Lower Canada (mainly French) and Upper Canada (mainly English. Also, because of its proximity to the American border, the choice would change Ottawa's destiny forever.
Immediately after Queen Victoria had selected Ottawa as the colony's new capital, construction began on the neo-gothic Parliament Hill. In 1867 the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec (Lower Canada) and Ontario (Upper Canada) decided to form a confederation and the Dominion of Canada was born, with Ottawa designated as the fledgling nation's capital.
Completed that same year, the Parliament buildings were dubbed the "Westminster in the Wilderness." A bizarre study in contrasts, the stately center block of Parliament Hill, with its Peace Tower, towered over the haphazardly planned bustle of industrial Ottawa.
Rideau Hall was also completed the same year and became the palatial residence of the Queen's representative in Canada. All of Canada's Governors General have lived there since its construction.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian government concluded that if Ottawa were to be a worthy capital some planning was in order. A wholesale restructuring of the city ensued with the creation of several scenic boulevards, an extensive park system beginning with Major's Hill Park.
In 1936, Prime Minister Mackenzie King commissioned French civil architect Jacques Gréber to provide a blueprint for a broad park and green space system that would encircle the city. Today Greber's creation is called the Greenbelt, which contains several natural trails as well as a number of working farms.
For most of the 20th century, Ottawa grew up as a government town—and an extremely conservative one at that. Small influxes of immigrants after both World Wars helped spice things up as a large number of people from Italy, Lebanon and China decided to call Ottawa home. Each immigrant community established neighbourhoods with names like Little Italy, where the annual Italian Week is celebrated in June, and Chinatown, both of which still exist today.
It was not until the 1970s and the birth of the high-tech sector that Ottawa began to slowly transform from a government town into something much greater. Ironically, the transformation was lead by a small cabal of former government computer scientists who started companies such as Digital, Mitel and Northern Telecom. Soon Ottawa was being called by another name—"Silicon Valley North"—and highly skilled workers from all over the world began to flock to the area. Today, Ottawa is one of the leading computer telecommunications centers of the world, with most of the industry located in the city's western suburb of Kanata.
Once a sleepy government town, urban renewal and a drive to become a greater tourist destination have changed Ottawa considerably in the past decade. The city now has a vibrancy that makes it a world-class destination. No matter what your interests, Canada's national capital is bound to offer something that appeals to everyone.
Visual Arts Ottawa's internationally renowned galleries and museums play host to Canada's finest collections, as well as some of the world's most impressive traveling exhibits. Second only to Parliament Hill as a daytime tourist attraction, the National Gallery of Canada offers free admission to its permanent collection, which includes the best of traditional and modern Canadian art and a respected selection of Renaissance and Impressionist pieces including works by Gustav Klimt, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet and Degas. Recent traveling exhibits that have made an appearance at the gallery include works by Van Gogh, Monet, and most recently, a retrospective of the works of Gustav Klimt.
The importance of art in the capital can be seen everywhere from museums like the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and the Ottawa Art Gallery to over a dozen local galleries including the Carmel Art Gallery.
History Notably, for a city barely two centuries old, Ottawa is obsessed with its own architectural and political history. From the Canadian War Museum to the Bytown Museum, which chronicles the building of the Rideau Canal and the early history of the city itself, the Ottawa story has been preserved, studied and presented. For history with a personal touch, take part in one of numerous walking tours, or grab a guidebook and go for a stroll on your own.
Children Ottawa offers a host of attractions and activities for children, including the Canadian Children's Museum , located within the stunning Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull. The Canadian Museum of Nature, located at the south end of Metcalfe Street, is also a sure hit with the young ones.
Performing Arts When it comes to the performing arts, the National Arts Centre operates as the city's epicentre, featuring world-class opera and dance performances, English and French theatre productions and several symphony concerts.
Quality theatre productions are presented on an ongoing basis by a number of smaller, local theatre companies such as Ottawa Little Theatre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Or opt for lighter fare with the capital's own brand of humour at the Yuk Yuk's comedy club.
Nightlife Ottawa has a lively nightlife that is divided between two locations: Elgin Street, where the popular dance clubs Griffin's, Maxwell's Bistro and The Bulldog Pub. While the Bulldog caters to a mainly twentysomething crowd, the clientele at Griffin's and Maxwell's is more the over 30 set. For the slighty older crowd there is always Hartwells located in the Westin hotel.
Places to both see and be seen in the Byward Market include the Celtic Pub, the Heart and Crown, which features live music every night and the Empire Grill with its popular martini bar. Blues lovers venturing in the Byward Market can check out the Rainbow Bistro. For the younger generation there is always On Tap on York Street whre they can dance the night away. But by far the best way to experience the "Market" by night is to simply explore and let your ears be your guide.
Visitors will find bars, nightclubs and restaurants throughout the city geared to the gay and lesbian community as well. Among them are the Lookout Bar and Bistro and the Rock Bottom Grill in the Byward Market. The city's Capital Xtra magazine's the place to start a search for the LGBT scene.
Live Music The live music possibilities in this cultural hotspot know no limits. The annual summer concert series on the lawn of the Governor General's residence at Rideau Hall features some of Canada's most talented musicians, while Barrymore's Music Hall, the largest of the city's many live music bars offers weekly live music acts of the rock and roll variety.
Fans of the blues normally head straight the Rainbow Bistro in the Byward Mmarket where live acts are featured every night.
Festivals and Events Annual festivals draw crowds from around the city and the world. The most famous of the lot are the Canadian Tulip Festival, with its thousands of bulbs colouring the city in spring, and Winterlude, which transforms the Rideau Canal into the world's longest skating rink.
During the summer there is at least one major event every week, including the country's largest Canada Day celebration, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, an ever-expanding Bluesfest and the lesbian and gay Pride Week Festival. The celebratory season is rounded out with August's 112-year-old Central Canada Exhibition, which takes place smack dab in the middle of the city at Lansdowne Park.
Other festivals celebrating the region's ethnic and musical diversity include Italian Week. festivities along Preston Street in late July and the magnificent Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival in September.
Film The film-going experience is particularly prized in Ottawa and fans of old-fashioned theatres and independent films will feel very at home here. In addition to the mainstream theatres sprinkled throughout Ottawa's many neighbourhoods, the Bytowne Theatre features international films, while the Glebe's old-fashioned Mayfair Theatre, plays classics as well as independent flicks. For those interested in the bigger picture, an IMAX theatre is located in the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull.
As Canada's capital, Ottawa prides itself on being accommodating to all peoples. Whether you are visiting on business or for pleasure, you will be sure to find accommodations that meet your comfort and price preference. It is also comforting to know that Ottawa is a very centralized city with many attractions within easy walking distance of most downtown hotels.
Top hotels in downtown Ottawa are the Chateau Laurier and the Westin Hotel. While decades apart in age, they are simply located across Rideau Street from one another. Both hotels are within easy walking distance of attractions along Sussex Drive, Parliament Hill, the Sparks Street Mall and the Byward Market.
If it's history and ambience your after, than the century old, neo-gothic Chateau Laurier is the place to go. But the Westin has the added advantage of being connected via elevated walkways to the Rideau Shopping Centre and the Ottawa Congress Centre. High season room rates for both hotels are expensive, but not staggeringly so.
Elsewhere downtown, somewhat less expensive accommodations can be found at the Quality Hotel, Novotel Hotel behind the Rideau Centre, the Ramada Hotel & Suites and the Delta Hotel. All are moderately priced and within easy walking ditance of many downtown attractions.
Other chain hotels located downtown include the Ottawa Marriott at Kent and Queen Streets, the towering Crowne Plaza Hotel on Rue Lyon and the Sheraton on Slater Avenue near O'Connor Street. All are moderate to expensively priced depending on the season.
Still less expensive but centrally located are the Econo Lodge Parkway Motel and the Downtown Days Inn both can be found on Rideau Street and are moderate to inexpensively priced.
While most of the more expensive and well-known hotels are located downtown, there are a plethora of more affordable lodgings at either end of the Queensway, the city's main east-west artery.
Home to Silicon Valley North, Kanata is somewhat lacking in the accommodation department, although several new hotels have begun to fill the void. Chief among these is the Holiday Inn Select just off the Queensway near Terry Fox Drive. There is also a Days Inn on Katimavik Drive near Eagleson Road that offers all the amenities that one has come to expect from the popular budget hotel.
The West End
Fifteen minutes from downtown Ottawa is Bells Corners, which has several affordable hotels that are both comfortable and convenient for travellers visiting the area by car. Situated on the main thoroughfare in Bells Corners, the moderately priced Best Western Baron's Motel offers all the amenities visitors have come to expect from the famous chain. Slightly less expensive is the Days Inn Ottawa West on Moodie Drive.
The East End Affordability is also the name of the game in the eastern part of the nation's capital, where one can find such budget choices as the WelcomInns and the Chimo Hotel grouped together near the St. Laurent Boulevard exit from the Queensway, about 10 minutes from downtown.
Hull Located across the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec are several excellent hotels, all within a short taxi ride of downtown Ottawa. The two most popular are the Holiday Inn Plaza La Chaudiere on the corner of Rue Montcalm and Taché Boulevard and the Ramada Plaza Hotel, located on Victoria Street across from the Museum of Civilization.
Bed and Breakfasts A bevy of B&B's have also sprouted up in Ottawa in recent years. Most present an excellent alternative to hotel accommodations. Among them are the Albert House Inn on Albert Street and Bronson Avenue, Haydon House on the Driveway near the Rideau Canal, the Rainbow Bed-and-Breakfast on York Street and the Canal View Bed-and-Breakfast. Once again, all are within easy walking distances of most of the major downtown attractions.