Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, in the southeastern province of Ontario sitting on the Ottawa River. Ottawa is about 100 miles from Montréal and a one hour drive from the U.S. border. It’s the fourth largest city in Canada. Ottawa also hosts a variety of annual seasonal activities—such as Winterlude, the largest festival in Canada, and Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill and the surrounding downtown area, as well as Bluesfest, the Canadian Tulip Festival, the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Fringe Festival and a Folk Music Festival. Planning a visit to Ottawa soon? Check out our local Ottawa guide below with travel advice from an interview with local, Sophia.
THE LOCAL: Sophia
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HER: Though Sophie hasn’t lived in Ottawa her entire life, she’s been there long enough to know the ins and outs. From Sophie: “I want everyone to love Ottawa like I do! My circle of friends, (most of whom were born and raised here) have shown me the hidden gems, and I’m so excited to share them with you!”
LOCAL OTTAWA GUIDE QUICK FIVE
1. Favorite Street/Park in the city?
Walk along the Trans Canada Trail (also called The Great Trail) that goes along the river! This trail is great for cycling, hiking, walking or cross-country ski and is the longest recreational trail in the world!
2. Favorite Neighborhood?
The Glebe, a historic neighborhood just south of the downtown area. The houses are so pretty, and if you walk along Bank Street just south of Highway 417, there are tons of cute little shops and restaurants.
3. Best Local Cuisine or Drink?
Get a BeaverTails pastry (a Canadian specialty). There’s a little place in the ByWard Market called BeaverTails– go there! They’re the experts.
4. Your Recommended Sunny Day Agenda?
It’s wintertime now, but in the summer, walk along the canal, shop in the ByWard Market and have lunch outside at one of the many patios. End the night at Heart & Crown, an Irish pub with great fish and chips, beers and live music almost every night.
5. Best Way to Get Around the City?
By bike- the city is designed for cyclists. If you’re there in the winter or don’t want to bike, you can walk to most places within the downtown area. The main transit system is the OC Transpo, and Uber and Lyft are also available.
TRIPADVISOR’S TOP OTTAWA ATTRACTIONS
1. Canadian War Museum– Thumbs up, but only if you’re interested in history/war.
2. Parliament Hill and Buildings– Thumbs sideways.
It’s always under construction, but is still a great spot for a photo op. Take a tour if you can; they’re actually fun and really informative. Interesting fact: The Ottawa skyline has been controlled by building height restrictions originally implemented to keep Parliament Hill visible from most parts of the city.
3. Rideau Canal– Thumbs up!
Skating in the winter on the canal is so much fun! At night, you can bring your own mug of Baileys and coffee (shhh don’t tell!). Make sure you skate the full length and stop for another BeaverTails pastry! If you’re there in the summer, there’s a great bike trail along the canal as well, which passes by the major city landmarks (the War Museum, Parliament Hill and the Ottawa Locks).
4. National Gallery of Canada– Thumbs up!
It’s stunning. Many people book the Gallery for weddings, and the exhibits are always different so there’s something for everyone. The Gallery holds many noted collections of indigenous Canadian art, touting 1,200 permanent pieces of art!
Would you switch any on the list? Were any top attractions missed?
Byward Market: This is one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets, and features different specialties every season. There are vendors selling roasted chestnuts around Christmas, farmers markets in the summer and fall, and live music in the sumer. The market also has the most amazing boutiques, galleries and cafes (plus a fully licensed Starbucks that serves alcohol). Don’t forget to try St. Albert’s cheese curds- they’re the best in the world!
Nordik Spa-Nature: In the village of Chelsea, which is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa, this is an incredible wellness and day spa with thermal baths and saunas. I highly recommend that you get a day pass on a weekday if possible, because the weekends can be very busy.
SOPHIE’S FAVORITE OTTAWA RESTAURANTS
- Benny’s Bistro: Go for brunch! Located behind the ByWard Market.
- Labotegga: An Italian supermarket with the best $5 deli sandwiches in Ottawa.
- Brothers Beer Bistro: For apps and pre-drinks. They have the best charcuterie board ever, and all meats are smoked in house.
- El Camino / Datsun: Two restaurants side by side, with the same owner. One side (El Camino) is Mexican food and the other side (Datsun) is Asian. Order the steam buns or dan dan noodles (think Asian spaghetti bolognaise) and the Datsun Flip is the best drink in the world. It’s served in a coconut!
- Mantovani: Go for dessert! They have a beautiful fireplace, excellent gelato, a variety of hot and cold drinks and the best pastries ever.
- Zak’s Diner: A 24/7 retro diner that caters to all your late night food cravings. For reference, imagine the diner from the original Grease movie. Milkshakes included.
To hear more from Sophia, follow her blog at Inspire Sophia.
Are you an Ottawa local? Do you have any places or activities to add to this local Ottawa guide? Tell us in the comments below!