If you’ve ever considered a trip to Ottawa, 2017 is the year to make it happen. Canada’s 150th birthday is in full swing, and Ottawa is the epicenter of the celebration. Whether you go this year or after, you’ll find plenty to discover about the capital city: vast and varied galleries and museums for art lovers and history buffs, an abundance of parks and trails for nature enthusiasts and fine-dining options for foodies.
Ottawa is Canada’s political hub, and the public sector is key to the local economy. Government is city’s largest employer. Technology is also important; so many tech companies are headquartered in Ottawa that it’s earned the title “Silicon Valley North.” Health care and education are dominant industries, as well.
Getting to and from the airport
Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport is 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of downtown. A public bus service runs from the airport to major hubs throughout the city. The trip to the city center takes about 30 minutes, and a one-way fare is C$3.30 (US$2.45 using the exchange rate US$1 = C$1.35. Buy bus tickets at the ground transportation desk level one of the airport’s arrivals area. Taxis are available outside the arrivals terminal. The average downtown fare is C$30 (US$22.27).
Getting around Ottawa
Ottawa has two city bus systems: OC Transpo operates buses in Ottawa-Carleton on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River. La Societe de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) operates buses in the Outaouais region on the Quebec side of the river. Metered taxis can be flagged from the street. Uber also operates in the city.
Where to stay
For luxury and upscale hotels, try Fairmont Chateau Laurier (1 Rideau St.; Ph: +1-613-241-1414), The Westin Ottawa (11 Colonel By Drive; Ph: +1-613-560-7000), Hotel Indigo Ottawa (123 Metcalfe St.; Ph: +1-613-231-6555) and Hilton Garden Inn Ottawa Airport (2400 Alert Road; Ph: +1-613-288-9001).
Midscale and economy options include Novotel Ottawa (33 Nicholas St.; Ph: 1-613-230-3033), Best Western Plus Ottawa City Center (1274 Carling Ave.; Ph: 1-613-728-1951) and Econo Lodge Downtown (475 Rideau St.; Ph: +1-613-789-3781).
Things to see and do
Start your tour of Ottawa with a visit to Parliament Hill—the city’s cultural and political heart. Canada’s magnificent Gothic-style Parliament Buildings, on a prime position atop the hill, house the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament. Free guided tours are available daily and include an opportunity to ascend the Peace Tower for an awe-inspiring view of the city. Days of operation and opening hours vary by season.
Museum and gallery essentials include the Canadian War Museum, which showcases the nation’s military past [admission is C$17 (US$12.62)], and the National Gallery of Canada with varied collections of paintings, sculptures and photographs [admission is C$15 (US$11.13)]. Days of operation and opening hours vary by season. The fascinating Diefenbunker Museum, named for the prime minister who commissioned it, reflects midcentury Cold War tensions. This four-story, 100,000-square-foot underground bunker is 75 feet underground and was intended to house government and military officials in a nuclear war. Admission is C$14 (US$10.39). It’s open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Next, get outside to enjoy the beauty and splendor of the Rideau Canal. The UNESCO World Heritage is a 19th century feat of engineering that winds 126 miles from Lake Ontario through downtown Ottawa. In summer, boat or paddle on the waterway. In winter, skate up and down the canal on 4.8 miles of snow-cleared ice.
The nearby ByWard Market is one of the country’s oldest and largest farmers’ markets. Locals and tourists converge on stalls selling flowers, fruit, crafts and souvenirs. The market is surrounded by charming boutiques and restaurants. Hours vary with the season. From May 1 through Oct. 9, it’s open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If you plan to visit Ottawa this year, join Canada’s anniversary celebration. Keep track of events with the Ottawa 2017 app or by visiting the website. The crowning event will no doubt be Canada Day on July 1!
Where to eat
Fraser Café is managed by brothers Ross and Simon Fraser. Every dish reflects their love of local and seasonal cuisine. Dishes change, but some favorites include seared duck with warm couscous salad and salmon with fondant potatoes. It’s at 7 Springfield Road; Ph: +1-613-749-1444.
Fairouz made Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants 2017 list with its delicious Middle Eastern cuisine served in an elegant setting. Ask the attentive staff to make recommendations from a sprawling list of shareable dishes. Find it at 343 Somerset St. W.; Ph: +1-613-422-7700.
If you’re craving Italian food, Ottawa has several good options. One of the best is Town, an intimate bistro in the heart of the city. Ricotta stuffed meatballs, local lamb bolognese, beet and goat cheese agnolotti and barbecued octopus are among delectable menu options. It’s at 296 Elgin St.; Ph: +1-613-695-8696.