Ottawa

Destination Location

Ottawa

Overview

Situated in southeastern Ontario, just a stone's throw away from Quebec, you'll find Ottawa, Canada's capital city.

On the south bank of the Ottawa River, nestled between the Rideau Canal and the mouth of the Rideau River is the oldest region of Ottawa, known as Lower Town or Bytown. It's here that the celebrated Byward Market is located. Filled with unique shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and nighttime hot spots, the market remains largely unchanged from when it was first built in 1826.

Across the canal lies Centretown, the city's financial and commercial hub. Today, this region is simply referred to as downtown. Here, you'll find Parliament Hill and the many government buildings and landmarks visited by tourists from around the world. From the hill, you'll see the Peace Tower (whose bell still tolls every quarter hour) and to the east, opposite the canal, you'll see the stunning Chateau Laurier ̵ one of Canada's original grand railway hotels.

In the winter when the Rideau Canal freezes, join locals and don your skates while taking in the sights of the 7.8-kilometre meandering path of ice. You'll see Christmas lights and exciting winter festivals like Winterlude, as well as kiosks selling Beaver Tails ̵ a delicious fried-dough pastry hand stretched to resemble the tail of a beaver. In the spring, summer and fall, the pathways running alongside the canal offer another great way to see the city.

Ottawa also has a vibrant nightlife scene with numerous places to catch local theatre performances (check out the National Arts Centre or Ottawa Little Theatre) or dance the night away to live music.

Ottawa is a fantastic destination for:

  • culture and history
  • nightlife
  • golf

Airport served by: Ottawa, ON (YOW)

Destination basics

Ottawa has distinct seasons with a broad range of temperatures perfect for whitewater rafting and outdoor activities in the summer and skating on the frozen Rideau Canal in the winter. It's a good idea to check the forecast before you pack. Be sure to take seasonal items such as coats, boots and mittens in the winter months and your bathing suit in the summer.

Summers here are warm and humid with temperatures often reaching as high as 30 C in the midday heat. With the humidex, summer days may feel even hotter ̵ but it’s nothing a quick dip in the pool can't fix.

Spring and fall temperatures in Ottawa vary by year but often see warm temperatures like the summer and cool temperatures much like the winter. It's definitely a good idea to have a peak at the forecast when travelling in these variable seasons.

In the winter, snow is commonplace in Ottawa. Outside, children can often be seen building snow forts and ̵with average annual snowfalls of 235 centimetres̵they certainly have plenty to work with! Average January temperatures here hover around -10 C, but with strong wind chills it can often feel cooler.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Ottawa

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 Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Little Theatre, which operate in the city. Ottawa is also home to the National Gallery of Canada and the National Arts Centre, not to mention the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization which is located across the Ottawa River in Hull.

Downtown
While Ottawa's downtown core is home to many of the city's major attractions including Parliament Hill and the National Gallery of Canada, it is a vibrant community unto itself with a large residential element and several shopping centers including the pedestrian Sparks Street Mall and the Rideau Shopping Centre.

One can also find many fine restaurants in the downtown core including Suisha Gardens and Mamma Teresa Ristorante. The core itself runs from Wellington Street in the north to the Queensway in the south, and the Rideau Canal in the east to Bronson Avenue in the west.

For a taste of Ottawa's nightlife, be sure to visit some of the nightclubs and restaurants along Elgin Street including Griffin's, Big Daddy's Crab Shack and Oyster Bar and The Bulldog Pub.

The Glebe
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 the Heart and Crown and the Rainbow Bistro blues club.

Somerset Heights
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 Mekong Restaurant and Yangtze.

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 Italian Week.

Running north and south along the eastern edge of the downtown core is the Rideau Canal where one can either walk, jog, inline skate or just sit on a bench and people-watch.

Vanier
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.

Rockcliffe Park
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 24 Sussex Drive and Rideau Hall, the homes of the Prime Minister and the Governor General respectively.

Hull
Across the river from Parliament Hill is Ottawa's twin city of Hull. Located in the French-speaking province of Quebec, Hull has grown up struggling to find an identity under the shadow of the nation's capital. Besides having many fine French restaurants, Hull is also the gateway to Gatineau Park, a wonderfully bucolic getaway run by the National Capital Commission. The Park itself has many fine bike paths, picturesque lakes and points of interest including the Mackenzie King Estate and Meech Lake.

Western Suburbs
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 Scotiabank Place, for some world-class hockey, do some shopping at the 60 shops in the Kanata Centrum and catch a movie at the adjoining AMC Kanata 24.

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 the capital city of Canada, Ottawa has been a magnet for immigrants looking for a better way of life and the hope of a brighter future. Besides enriching the city's cultural heritage, the waves of Italian, East Indian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, and other new arrivals, have brought with them a culinary smorgasbord that is reflected in the many fine restaurants which can be enjoyed throughout the city.

Italian For Italian fare one should go no further than Mamma Teresa Ristorante on Somerset Street in the downtown core. Though slightly on the expensive side, a trip to Mamma Teresa's is worth every penny. For years Ottawa's political movers and shakers have met and dined on the restaurant's succulent veal entrees in any one of a number of semi-private alcoves.

Other Italian eateries that can be depended on for excellent food and fine service in the downtown core include Fratelli on Bank Street in the Glebe. Meanwhile, in the Byward Market there is the always consistent Mangia.

Of course, if it's Italian food you're after, you can always take a short cab ride to Little Italy, located along Preston Street, and sample from the menus at either Allegro Ristorante or Leonardo's.

But perhaps the most romantic Italian eatery is the Canal Ritz, located along the side of the Rideau Canal where you can either dine indoors or al fresco on the restaurant's expansive patio.

Further a field there is Capone's in the west end of the city and The March House located in Kanata.

French Stradling the Ottawa River and the Ontario/Quebec border, as Ottawa does, the city is also home to many fine French restaurants. Chief among these is the Cafe Henry Burger, which is actually located on Laval Street in Hull across from the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The menu at the Henry Burger is impeccable and the service is second to none. But be forewarned, it is also one of the more expensive restaurants in the city.

Back in Ottawa, Le Cafe, located on the main level of the National Arts Centre, adjacent to the Rideau Canal, is another not to be missed dining experiencem, although a night out for two can cost between CAD 80-100.

Indian For some reason Ottawa has a wealth of fine, reasonably priced Indian restaurants mostly located in the Glebe, just south of the downtown core along Bank Street, and in the Byward Market.

Most notably among these is the smallish, but always excellent Light of India on Bank Street. Also located on Bank Street is the New Delhi, while Cafe Shafali can be found in the Byward Market.

Chinese and Vietnamese While there are many fine Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Ottawa, the best among them are located along Somerset Street in Somerset Heights, about a five-minute cab ride from many downtown hotels.

Whether you choose the Yangtze, the Mekong Restaurant or the Shanghai Restaurant you cannot go wrong. But for a real treat, that is both a culinary delight and light on the pocketbook, check out the unassuming Ben Ben Restaurant located across the street from the Yangtze. Ben Ben has been a popular mainstay of the local Asian community for over 15 years.

Mexican Lovers of Mexican food also have quite a few eateries to choose from to please the palate including, Las Palmas and the Blue Cactus, both located in the Byward Market. Traditionalists will love the authentic Mexican fare served up at Feleena's in the Glebe, while for the best of the bunch for the money is Pancho Villa located on Elgin Street.

Seafood Seafood afficiandos can have their appetites satisfied at any one of three recommended restaurants, each in a different part of downtown. In the Glebe, seafood lovers have made Flippers a mainstay, while The Fish Market Restaurant in the Byward Market is known for its fresh product and succulent lobsters. More centrally located is Nick & Jerry's Simply Seafood on Albert Street.

Alternative fare For the more adventurous gastronomic travellers Ottawa has much to offer in the likes of the Savana Café which serves up rather eclectic Carribean fare on Somerset Street in the downtown core and the popular Big Daddy's Crab Shack and Oyster Bar which offers up wonderfully diverse Cajun fare including grilled alligator.

Owned by restauranteur Dave Smith, Nate's is the premiere deli in the city. And if you have the time, why not check out Moe's World Famous Newport Restaurant which doubles as the headquarters of the Elvis Presley Sighting Society and is filled with tons of Elvis memorabilia.

Ottawa

Province:Ontario

Country: Canada

Ottawa by the Numbers
Population: 934,200 (city); 1,323,800 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 70 meters / 230 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 86 centimeters / 34 inches
Average Annual Snowfall: 224 centimeters / 88 inches
Average January Temperature: -10°C / 14°F 
Average July Temperature: 22°C / 72°F

Quick Facts

Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz, AC

Time Zone: GMT-5; Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Country Dialing Code: 1 

Area Code: 613 & 343

Did You Know?

Queen Victoria designated Ottawa as Canada's capital in 1857.

Once known as "Bytown" this lively city is now home to events such as the annual Tulip Festival.

Orientation

Ottawa is one of Canada's largest cities and lies between the Ottawa River, the Rideau River, and the Rideau Canal. Convenient to major USA and Canadian urban centers, Ottawa is located 208 kilometers (129 miles) from Montreal, 475 kilometers (295 miles) from Toronto, and 665 kilometers (413 miles) from New York City.

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.

Ottawa is a sightseer and history buff's dream. Downtown you'll find the Canadian Parliament Buildings, Peace Tower and Rideau Hall, which has been home to Canada's Governor General since 1867. You can also explore Canada's past at the Museum of Civilization and Canadian War Museum, which offer a unique insight into Canada's rich history and culture.

Nearby, the National Gallery of Canada delights art fans with works from many periods and styles, including one of the largest collections of Group of Seven and Tom Thomson paintings.

Take a tour of the region on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train and admire the beauty of Canada's capital. The five-hour trip takes you around the Gatineau River to the town of Wakefield. On board the train, tour guides share stories about the region while musicians play. When the train turns around in Wakefield, you'll have the opportunity to take a guided tour of the village or have a look inside the conductor's cab.

Ottawa also offers many modern sightseeing opportunities. If you're a hockey fan, stop by Scotiabank Place and check out an NHL game with the Ottawa Senators. There are also plenty of restaurants, pubs and nightclubs in the city to keep you entertained after the game.

Whatever you choose to do in Ottawa, you're never far away from historical sights and beautiful spaces.

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