Ottawa is often cited as the second coldest capital in the world (Mongolia?s Ulaan Baatar claims the top spot), so if you can brave the sub-zero temperatures, you really should visit in winter. From January to early March the Rideau Canal opens as the world?s largest ice rink (almost 8km long) and joining the locals for some skating is an absolute must. Warm up afterwards with a hot chocolate and a beaver tail ? insanely sweet doughy snacks that were created in the capital.
What do you like best about your city?
I love the small city/big town feel of Ottawa. There?s always plenty going on, but you never have to walk far to get from one attraction to another. I never cease to be amazed at just how beautiful the skyline is ? or at how few people outside the city seem to know about it. I love the parliament buildings as viewed from the opposite riverbank, or from one of the bridges crossing the Ottawa River.
Ottawa is a delight to wander, with its flat and compact city centre. To get a real feel for the city, start at the Parliament Buildings and head west along Wellington Street. Cross the Portage Bridge, pausing for photos of the inimitable skyline, then head east along Rue Laurier. Allow a couple of hours to visit the superb Museum of Civilisation before heading back to downtown Ottawa over the Alexandra Bridge, passing the National Gallery and Notre Dame Cathedral en route to the city?s shopping district.
The Byward Market is full of places to eat, though many of them are chain restaurants offering identical and uninspiring fare. For something special try Beckta, just out of the city centre on Nepean Street. They serve exquisite Canadian cuisine, including seared Quebec duck and Alberta tenderloin. Main dishes cost around $30. Close to the Byward Market is the Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro, a pricey but worth-it place with a menu heavy on game meat.
Ottawa hosts a couple of festivals close to Canadian?s hearts. Winterlude happens in February and celebrates what the city does best ? coping with arctic temperatures and tons of snow. Skate on the canal, watch artists sculpt masterpieces out of a single block of ice and then warm up afterwards with a live concert and a much needed cup of hot chocolate. The other major festival is Canada Day on July 1st, when revellers take to the streets for beer and fireworks around Parliament Hill.
I love the laid-back fun to be had around the Byward Market, especially in the summer months when each bar opens an outdoor terrace. The Honest Lawyer is a local favourite and has lots to do for ADD types, including air hockey, basketball hoops and punch bag games. For a cheap night out head to Minglewoods, with its well-priced pitchers and nightly meal deals. It?s a nice pub and the prices are right, but the techno music from 11pm can get a little irritating.
Best Day Trip Out of the City
Just a couple of kilometres from central Ottawa is Gatineau Park, a vast expanse of hills and woodland. In summer the park attracts hikers and campers as well as history buffs keen to visit the one-time home of former PM William McKenzie King. In winter the hills become ski slopes and the hiking paths are transformed into 200km of cross country skiing trails.
Something that not many tourists would know about
Quebec is just a 15-minute walk away. You wouldn?t expect the single kilometre between Ottawa and its French-speaking neighbour across the river to make much of a difference, but as soon as you venture over you?re struck by the absence of English and the European-inspired bistros lining downtown Gatineau?s main street, Promenade du Portage.