As an avid traveller with a severe case of wanderlust, it is common and, if I may say so, easy to overlook your hometown. I know I am suspect of doing it time and time again and that is my mistake!
Though the capital of Canada, Ottawa is constantly overlooked as a major city, always overshadowed by the bigger and flashier Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.
However, this only adds to its charm. Busy, but not overcrowded with tourists, Ottawa is a beautiful destination that can be enjoyed every season of the year. From tasty local treats to wintery wonderlands and colour popping tulips, Ottawa will surprise you time and time again with the beauty it has to offer.
So, as I sit at my kitchen counter, quarantining on day 68, join me as I reminisce and share everything I miss about my hometown.
It’s no secret that the Byward Market in Ottawa is the place to be, especially on a sunny summer day. In the downtown core, tourists and locals alike walk the streets, scouring the outdoor farmer’s market for fresh produce, sampling local cheeses and smelling the beautiful flowers, picked daily. You can even spot local products by the Savour Ottawa logo, proudly displayed on all the Ottawa based vendors.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed browsing some of the hundreds of unique boutiques; selling everything from art, to furniture, to clothes.
Having gone to high school very close by, I would often skip from class to market, wandering the streets of my favourite spots: Milk (for one of a kind clothing), Zak’s Diner (for a mouth watering, greasy brunch) or Le Moulin De Provence (for an Obama cookie, named after the president himself who loved it so!).
Though also in the Byward Market, I could not, in good conscious, overlook Beavertails! Having opened sometime in the late 1970’s, the Byward Market location (as well as the Rideau Canal location) were the first fixed food trucks of this now giant Canadian enterprise.
But what is a Beavertail you ask?
Basically a fried dough pastry set in the shape of a beaver’s tail, this Ottawa classic combines fresh out of the fryer dough with a variety of sweet toppings, everything from cheesecake spread, to Reece’s Pieces, to a sprinkle of cinnamon or even Lucky Charms. I mean, how could you not want one?
Though beautiful in the summer for a picnic or an evening stroll down the locks, the Rideau Canal is most popular during the winter months (which is a looooong time in Ottawa). Once the temperature drops consistently below freezing, the long canal opens up to families, couples and friends who want to enjoy this classic Ottawa winter activity.
The largest frozen skating rink in the world (according to Guinness World Records), the Rideau Canal Skateway stretches 7.8km (4.8 miles) and is free and open 24 hours a day/7 days a week!
Even better, the ice is lined with many food trucks, selling delicious Canadian treats like poutine, beavertails and hot chocolate! So, when the time comes, lace up your skates and enjoy the ice!
If you’re visiting Ottawa in the spring or summer seasons, you’re in luck! The capital is home to many different festivals celebrating everything from jazz music to comedy, scheduled all summer long!
However, my favourite and arguably the most popular, is the tulip festival.
Held every year in May, this event first started in 1953 to commemorate the friendship between the Dutch and the Canadians after the liberation of the Netherlands in World War II. As a thank you for hosting Princess Juliana and her daughters during this dangerous time, the Netherlands gifted Ottawa with tulips, a tradition that still continues 75 years later.
Today, the festival claims to be the world’s largest, with one million tulips colouring Commissioners Park in bright hues of yellows, reds, pinks and purples. What better way to enjoy a sunny day than by surrounding yourself with music, colour and the beautiful Dow’s Lake?
And if you have time, make sure to walk up Preston Street to indulge in some amazing eats (Little Italy!!) and some fun window shopping!
Standing tall over the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill is home to Canada’s federal government. A beautiful copper roofed, neo-Gothic building topped with a proud flying Canadian flag, the parliament welcomes visitors for free tours all year long. Though the centre block (including the Peace Tower and the Library of Parliament) are currently closed for restoration, both the House Of Commons and the Senate are available to visit through guided tours.
My personal favourite, blazing brightly outside the Peace Tower is the Centennial Flame; a monument first lit in January 1967 at Canada’s centennial celebration.
But don’t worry! Even if politics aren’t your thing, the hill also hosts many events for the public, like the highly anticipated Canada Day concerts or even free yoga classes on the parliament’s front lawn!
Though not technically in Ottawa, Gatineau Park is a scenic getaway not far from the busier downtown streets. Just a quick drive over the Alexandra Bridge, this conservation area is well known for its 183km of hiking trails, camping sites, picnic areas and cycling paths.
Often used in the winter months for cross country skiing, the park can be enjoyed all year round; though I will easily declare fall my favourite time to visit. Overlooking various lakes and rivers, sturdy Sugar Maples dot the rolling hills, slowly turning from green to yellow to red as the seasons change.
By October, the entire valley basks in the sunlight, reflecting bright autumnal colours that I haven’t yet seen rivalled in any of my travels. Surrounded so fully by the beauty of nature, you can’t help but appreciate what a wonderful country Canada is.