Why should we visit your town/city?
Though lesser-known than Canadian metropolises Toronto and Montreal, Ottawa is an up-and-coming travel hotspot—not to mention our nation’s capital—that is worth a visit. Since the crowds poured in in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the city has experienced a tourism renaissance, with new spots to dine, drink, and shop popping up constantly. With the rolling green hills of Gatineau to the north, arts and culture attractions peppered throughout the city, and a downtown core that is both quaint and just-big-enough, Ottawa has something to offer every type of traveller.
Where should we stay?
For a modern experience, stay at Le Germain, a boutique hotel in the heart of the city that is artfully designed with contemporary furnishings and eye-catching paintings. Alternatively, for old-world charm, book a suite at the Château Laurier, an ultra-luxe, castle-like hotel. If you’d like to escape the buzz of the city and enjoy the region’s renowned nature, visit Le Nordik, a spa retreat nestled in the woods of Chelsea, just across the border in the province of Quebec. Book overnight accommodations at one of their cottages, or just stay for the day and head back to your hotel in the city at night. It’s particularly breathtaking when it turns into a winter wonderland during the colder months. The warm outdoor pools are surrounded by ice-tipped trees and the grounds are blanketed in fluffy white snow. And of course for a more wallet-friendly option, be sure to check out the apartments and rooms available on Airbnb. Each neighborhood in Ottawa has its own unique personality, so you’ll be sure to find accommodations that match the experience you are looking for.
Where should we eat?
For a delicious Mediterranean meal, head to Mati, a trendy restaurant in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighborhood. Their “Peaches Be Crazy” cocktail (a yummy mimosa-meets-aperol spritz with peach cordial) and breakfast panino made with prosciutto and provolone in a buttery croissant make the perfect brunch pairing. It’s also a great spot for dinner and drinks in the evening—the burrata with pesto, pine nuts, and caramelized figs is a delicious shareable, or if you want to splurge, try their wagyu filet and frites as a main.
Due to its countless shawarma joints, Ottawa boasts the title of Shawarma Capital of the World (according to some people, anyway). My go-to is Shawarma Palace, a casual eatery that offers heaping platters of marinated chicken, beef, or falafel, served with pickled turnips, fresh tabouli, garlic potatoes, and rice. Alternatively, Pure Kitchen, a vegetarian food and juice bar, is the perfect spot for a hearty salad or grain bowl. A trip to Ottawa also wouldn’t be complete without indulging in a big plate of poutine, a classic French-Canadian dish comprising cheese curds and hot gravy over a bed of fries. For my personal favorite, try Elgin Street Diner’s take on the dish, topped with caramelized onions and bacon strips.
If you’re meeting friends for drinks, take in the stunning views of the Parliament Buildings, the Supreme Court of Canada Building, the Ottawa River, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and more at the at Tavern on the Hill, a seasonal outdoor canteen at the north end of Major’s Hill Park that serves beer (and gourmet hot dogs, in case you get hungry again). For another impressive view, this time a bird’s-eye look at the downtown core, check out Copper Spirits and Sights, a trendy new rooftop bar on the sixteenth floor of the Andaz hotel in the ByWard Market.
Which coffeehouses are the best and why (for coffee, for atmosphere, for both)?
For an Instagram-worthy coffee shop experience, head to Jackson, a café located inside the new Ottawa Art Gallery. Another personal favorite is The Thirsty Maiden, a funky café tucked in an industrial complex in the suburb of Kanata. The comfy couches, locally sourced baked treats, coffee by Brown Bag Coffee Roasters, and friendly owner are all perks of this hidden gem.
And if you’re looking for a spot for a pot of tea, shot of espresso, or hot apple cider in a place that also serves excellent dessert, head to Stella Luna Gelato Café, the best spot in Canada for gelato. I’m not just saying that because one of my best friends’ family owns the place; owner and master gelato chef Tammy Giuliani wowed the judges at the Gelato World Tour and was trained in Bologna by the best of the best. The original location in Old Ottawa South is cozy and classic, but I also love the design of the newer Hintonburg location—with its white and robin's-egg blue accents, it feels like you’re sitting inside a Tiffany’s box.
What sites should we see?
For a taste of arts and culture, visit the National Gallery of Canada on Sussex Drive. An architectural feat in itself, with its prism-like dome and long hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows, this museum is a must-see. It features one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Inuit works and a gallery featuring famous Group of Seven paintings, in addition to works by the great European masters like Monet and Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. And while you’re there, be sure to peek into the Notre Dame Cathedral across the road, the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa—and arguably, the most beautiful, with its stained glass windows, artwork, and Gothic-style architecture.
While you’re downtown, take a stroll through the ByWard Market, and peruse the stalls of fresh straight-from-the-farm fruits and veggies and artisanal goods. Make sure you pick up a handful of Canada's iconic maple syrup candies, and treat yourself to a BeaverTail—a deep-fried pastry covered in toppings like lemon, brown sugar, and cinnamon. During the summer, the Rideau Canal (a 202 km waterway, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, that connects Ottawa to Lake Ontario) is a picturesque route to bike along. In the winter, a 7.8 km stretch of the canal becomes the world’s largest natural skating rink. (Plus, rumor has it that this winter a new bar in the shape of an igloo will be unveiled there.) If you’re here between January 31 and February 17, make a day of attending Winterlude, a unique festival of wintry activities. Browse the displays of incredible ice sculptures, and zip down the mammoth-sized ice slides.
Visit Parliament Hill, the seat of the Canadian government, and take a tour of the gothic revival style government buildings. Be sure to check out the panoramic view of the city from the observation deck at the peak of the Peace Tower, watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and fulfill your When Calls the Heart fantasy by catching a glimpse of a Mountie in their scarlet jacket and riding boots. For another historic experience, visit Billings Estate Museum, and get a feel for nineteenth-century life in Canada. If you’re here during the summer, stay for afternoon tea on the lawn. And, finally, stop by the Canadian Museum of History to take a walk through our nation’s history, from its Indigenous roots, through periods of French and British colonization, to its present-day state as a center of multiculturalism.
Lastly, enjoy the natural beauty of Canada by hiking in the neighboring Gatineau Park. Walk one of the many different trails through the woods and lakes, stop by Mackenzie King Estate to see the grounds and cottage where Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, spent 50 years of his life, and don’t miss Champlain Lookout, one of the most popular viewpoints of the region. To visit a similarly beautiful natural oasis without having to leave the city, stop by Mud Lake, a fairytale-worthy, 60-hectare (that’s nearly 150 acres, for you American readers!) area of woods, ponds, and wildlife.