If you’re like most people, you are always planning your next getaway to some place far, far away from where you live. The unfortunate thing about this philosophy is we very often miss the amazing attractions in our own backyard. I know this because I have been a resident of Ottawa for 12 years now and while I’m one of the proudest Ottawans you’ll ever meet, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve taken advantage of very little this city has to offer.
This summer, my family decided that instead of racing away to other destinations, we’d stay put and see our own city through the eyes of a tourist. Since I often proclaim Ottawa to be the best city in Canada to visit, I figured it was time to put some weight behind that. Instead of telling people they should go visit this place or that place, maybe I should heed my own advice and go there myself.
So without further ado, may I present a perfect tourist day in downtown Ottawa.
One of the most wonderful things about Canada is the accessibility of our government. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Parliament Hill, the centre of it all. Yes, yes, there are historic buildings, lessons in Parliamentary process and just the right amount of pomp and circumstance, but there’s also a cat sanctuary, bronze statues your children can climb on and yoga on the front lawn every Wednesday led by Lululemon. If you’re Canadian you can’t help but swell with pride standing here. If you’re visiting, you’ll wonder why we’re so humble.
Must dos: You really can’t miss the Changing of the Guard which runs daily from late June to the end of August. Also make sure you take a guided tour of Centre Block. Tours run daily from 9am to 7:20 and weekends 9 to 4:20 during the summer.
Quick Tip: Plan to be on Parliament Hill around 9:45am to see the soldiers march in for the Changing of the Guard. If you can, send someone in your group to the tent around 10:15 to get free tickets for guided tours of Centre Block. You’ll beat the rush afterwards.
Double Decker Bus Tour
Once you’ve toured Parliament’s Centre Block, walk across the street to Elgin & Sparks and hop on a double decker tour bus. This is a hop on /hop off tour so you can choose to get off at great places such as the Canadian War Museum, Rideau Hall or the Royal Canadian Mint. Buses run every hour so it gives you enough time to explore before moving on.
Must dos: Rideau Hall is the official residence of Canada’s Governor General. It’s also the largest residence in Ottawa and is open to the public. Heads of State and royalty stay at Rideau Hall during visits, including most recently Prince William and Kate.
Quick Tip: This is a popular tour and seating is limited up top obviously. Plan to arrive at least 20-minutes ahead of time to get a good seat. Also, try to do your tour early in the day to avoid rush hour traffic. Also, hold on to your hat. I speak from experience.
The Château Laurier is one of the jewels in the Fairmont chain of hotels. Named after Canada’s first French Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier, and located steps from Parliament Hill, this elegant hotel is reminiscent of a French château. Stop here when you return from your bus tour and take a break in Zoé's Lounge. Named after Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s beloved wife Zoé, the lounge is a perfect way to rest your weary feet and rejuvenate with a light meal and exquisite tea.
Must dos: If you have little girls with a penchant for tea parties, you really don’t want to miss this.
Quick Tip: Sugar in a square shape looks like candy and has a powerful magnetic pull on children. Keep your eyes on the sugar cubes unless you want your children bouncing off the walls. I speak from experience.
The Bytown Museum is a little gem of a museum located right beside the Chateau Laurier. Charming and loaded with history, this museum explores the stories of an evolving city and its residents from its early days as Bytown to present day Ottawa. Great family friendly activities running all summer.
Must Dos: Dress up! On the third floor of the museum there is a fantastic little play space for kids that has period costumes to try on. SO. MUCH. FUN. Also, have your kids collect all seven Bytown Gazettes as you explore the museum. They’ll have so much fun, they won’t even realize they’re learning.
Quick Tip: If you’re looking for it at street level, you’ll walk forever. I speak from experience. The museum is located down the hill, beside the Chateau, at the end of the locks. You can see it if you look over the bridge.
If you’re coming from afar, this itinerary is the perfect way to acquaint yourself with Ottawa. If you’re local this is a great way to reacquaint yourself with it.
This is the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing about Ottawa and all the wonderful things there are to see and do here. Special thanks to Ottawa Tourism for their help with pulling this together. Looking forward to sharing our next adventure with you.