We recently spent ten days traveling from Toronto to Quebec City. The sites, sounds, & snacks of the five Canadian cities we visited were just what we hoped they would be! Our third stop was the historical downtown district of Ottawa. We had the best day and saw all the sites. This is what we did:
Parking and Moving Around
This historical area of Ottawa is compact and offers the ability to park once and walk to everything. Our overnight accommodations were located in the Byward Market area so we parked our car at our hotel and didn't move it again until the next morning when we departed.
Lunch on Spark Street
Our first stop was Darcy McGee's Irish Pub on Spark Street. Located at the corner of Spark Street, we found this traditional Irish Pub to be just what we needed - cold Guinness on draft, a moody pub atmosphere, and good food served by a friendly wait staff. The pub offers both indoor and outdoor seating.
After lunch, we walked along Spark Street for a couple of blocks. Spark St. is lined with businesses, restaurants, and some shopping. It offered a couple of fun photo ops including the giant Ottawa letters but on a Monday it wasn't bustling and didn't really offer much in the way of entertainment so we quickly moved along.
As we crossed from the pub on Spark Street to Parliament Hill we stopped at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is located in front of the National War Memorial. It is guarded by a pair of centuries from the Ceremonial Guard from 9am-5pm (April - November).
Continuing across the street, we entered the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. Ottawa is the capital city and home to Parliament. The Centre Block contains the House of Commons, the Senate Chamber, Confederation Hall, and the Hall of Honor. There are walkways with views of Parliament Hill as well as the Ottawa River, plenty of green open space, and several statues of famous Canadians. Guided tours are available for free every day of the year. We did not take a formal tour but loved finding the unique carvings, stained glass features, and gargoyles on each of the buildings during a self guided tour of the grounds. We visited in May and the air was perfumed with the smell of blooming lilacs. The flowering shrubs seemed to line almost every walkway.
A public restroom is available at the Centre Block as well. It is located to the left of the Centre Block, behind the West Block.
Our next stop was to check out the locks (#1-8) of the Rideau Canal. The locks can be found between the grounds of Parliament Hill and Fairmont Chateau Laurier and are easily accessible from staircases located at street level. The locks can be photographed from above, below, and even standing in the middle of one. This is also a great spot to watch the sunset!
The Bytown Museum is located next to the locks of the Rideau Canal. This small museum is housed in the city's oldest stone building and tells the story of the Canadian capitol. There is an admission fee for the narrated tour. The museum is open Wednesday - Sunday from 10am-4pm. Watch your time carefully as they will not allow visitors to enter too close to the end of the day.
From the locks, we walked the staircase up to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier to gain access to Major's Hill Park. The park was filled with people! There are benches available but many people had blankets spread out in the green space. We were visiting in May and every flower bed in the park was filled with tulips. This was a great spot to take a break and grab a snack from our backpacks. If your bags don't hold snacks, an option could be to stop for a snack/drink at either the Tavern on the Hill located in the park or the outdoor terrace of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.
The National Gallery of Canada (art museum) is located steps from Major's Hill Park. We did not watch our timing carefully and were unable to tour the museum which is open daily 10am-5pm and late (until 8pm) on Thursday. The museum hosts a diverse collection of art as well as a cafeteria, a coffee shop, and stunning views of the Rideau Canal.
Notre Dame is the oldest church in Ottawa. It is located across the street from the National Gallery. Visitors are able to enter the church for free to offer prayers and take in the magnificent space. There is also the option for a free guided tour - check out the schedule online before visiting. Tours are offered in French and English and there is no need to reserve tickets in advance.
The Byward Market Neighborhood is the place to be after dark in Ottawa! Street performers, shops, restaurants & bars fill the streets around the Byward Market. We enjoyed walking the streets, listening to the street performers, and grabbing dinner at one of the many restaurants. This is a bustling and crowded area of Ottawa. We strongly suggest scouting your dinner plans in advance and making a reservation. Our recommendations include Aulde Dubliner & Pour House for traditional Irish dinners served with a pint and live music, the Apothecary Cocktail Lounge for small plates and fun cocktails, or The Social for progressive Canadian food options in a beautiful outdoor setting. Dessert can be found in one of the many ice cream or gelato shops located in the market. Also, beavertails can be purchased at a stand located just outside the Byward Market.
In the morning, there is a great bakery located in the Byward Market. We loved the cookies, breakfast pastries, and fresh baked bread. It was a perfect stop as we headed out of town.
Sunset Over the River
We watched the sunset from one of the terraces near the Fairmont Chateau Laurier and the locks of the Rideau Canal. This was a great (and totally free) spot to watch the sunset. It wasn't too crowded and we were able to capture some beautiful photos.
Another sunset option is to take a cruise on the Rideau Canal. The boat leaves at 6:30pm from the canal behind the National Gallery for a 1.5 hour narrated cruise which returns to the shore just as the sun sets over Ottawa. A third option is to catch the sun setting from the rooftop bar at the Andaz Ottawa by Byward Market Hotel. Reservations are a must at Copper Spirits Rooftop Bar.
Know Before You Go:
Ottawa is busy and can be crowded. Your daily timeline should plan for crowds, lines, and traffic.
We were lucky to find a restaurant in the Byward Market area but I think dinner reservations during high tourist times are a must. While we enjoyed our meal, it was not our first (or second or third) choice for dinner.
Ottawa is amazing! Go early to get the most out of your day.
Wear comfortable shoes! There is a lot of walking and most of the walking involves hills or stairs.
We crammed a lot of activity and sight seeing into our day. I would have loved to have a second day in Ottawa to allow for some of the tours and to visit the National Gallery of Canada.
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When to Go:
In our opinion, the summer months are the best time to visit. The weather is 75-80 degrees and all of the attractions are open.
Is Ottawa Safe?
Yes! Ottawa is safe for visitors. However, Ottawa is a busy area filled with tourists so we recommend taking the typical city precautions – don’t walk alone at night, park your vehicle in well-lit locations, ensure valuables are stored out of sight, be aware of your surroundings.
Our overnight accommodations were located in the Byward Market area - Andaz Ottawa Byward Market - A Concept by Hyatt. This is a boutique hotel with spacious rooms, the highest rooftop bar in Ottawa, onsite parking, and the perfect location to spend the day in historic Ottawa.
For the greatest level of flexibility and site-seeing opportunities, we recommend using a rental car. We found both the Waze app and Google maps to be easy to use to navigate from one destination to another.
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