It was cold.
It was even cold by Ottawa's standards.
But my visit to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, in early March was filled with warmth and nostalgia. I was, in fact, going home.
I lived in Ottawa between the ages of 10 and 23. My middle school, high school, and university years were spent there. These are significant years in anyone's life and, in relative terms, fairly carefree years as well. Ottawa was a great place to live them.
My fondest memories of the city are just a few of the things that make it great for visitors as well:
- The Rideau Canal The canal runs through the center of the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In my life it was the conduit between Carleton University (my alma mater) and Ottawa University, my then boyfriend’s. I have paddled it, skated it, and cycled the path alongside it.
- The Gatineau Hills Just north of Ottawa are the Gatineau Hills which offer skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, mountain biking–all of the outdoor sports you desire. It's an outdoor paradise that's only about 20 minutes away.
- Festivals Being the capital of Canada, Ottawa gets special attention in terms of festivals. There are festivals all year long and especially this year: 2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming a nation.
- Official Beauty The National Capital Commission is a big presence in Ottawa and Gatineau. It's their job to make the capital city beautiful and welcoming. From the magnificent display of tulips in the spring to tours of the Governor General's residence to the 150-km ski trail in the Greenbelt that encircles the city, the Commission adds an extra layer of beauty and activities for visitors.
These four are Ottawa standards. But since I lived there, much has been added to the city. Here are the highlights from my Ottawa weekend getaway.
The Highlights of My Trip to Ottawa
I stayed at the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa. All the city's major sites are within walking distance of the hotel which happens also to be dog friendly. In cooperation with Ottawa Dog Rescue they even foster a dog which has its home in the lobby.
- National Gallery of Canada The Gallery is located on the Ottawa River about a 15-minute walk from the Westin Hotel. As you can see in the first photo of this post, its location is superb with a view of the Parliament Buildings. I spent my time at the Alex Janvier retrospective. Janvier is considered to be a pioneer of contemporary aboriginal art. The Gallery typically closes at 5:00 pm but is open until 8:00 pm on Thursdays and is free after 5:00 pm.
- Dinner and/or Drinks Between the gallery and the Westin Hotel is the Byward Market which operates as a typical outdoor market on weekend days but is a hub of stores, restaurants, and bars the rest of the time. Try Play Food + Wine for dinner. For drinks I'd check out the Heart & Crown Irish Pub which is actually a series of interconnected pubs with different atmospheres. For a more upscale experience with a fabulous view, go to Copper Spirits and Sights in the Andaz Ottawa Hotel. It's also in the market.
- Tour of the Parliament Buildings It had been a very long time since I had visited Canada's Parliament Buildings and a refresher on more recent changes to Canada's governing priorities was interesting. The stained glass window in the Centre Block commemorating the devastating legacy of Canada's Indian Residential Schools, as well as the Prime Minister's historic apology in 2008, is one of the most important.
- Lunch Breakfast at the hotel was substantial so I only had one real lunch. I met a friend at The Whalesbone for a fabulous fish meal. I was at their larger, Elgin Street location. The original Whalesbone is on Bank Street. As you can see in the photo we had a couple of local beers. Ottawa has a booming craft beer scene.
- Afternoon Tea On the next day I met my cousin at the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa's grand, old hotel for afternoon tea. If you go, check out the six original photographs by Yousuf Karsh (of Sir Winston Churchill, Stephen Leacock, Albert Einstein, Pablo Casals, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jean-Paul Riopelle) that are displayed in the drawing room beside the lobby. Another alternative for tea is the Moscow Tea Room around the corner at 527 Sussex Drive.
- Shopping at the Rideau Centre Connected to the Westin Hotel is the Rideau Centre for shopping. There are many upscale stores as well as a new one for me. I discovered Simons, a department store for men's and women's clothing from Quebec. I'd never heard of them and it was definitely worth a visit for the Quebecois style.
- The Main Event The reason I was in Ottawa that particular weekend was to see the Ice Cross Downhill World Finals. This is like skiing on hockey skates with a bit of roller derby thrown in. It's a bit crazy. In the photo above the top image shows you only a portion of the Ottawa course which started alongside the Chateau Laurier Hotel and dove down into the Rideau Canal, ending at the Ottawa River. Thousands came out to watch and hundreds were in the VIP section where they had a choice of watching on big screens inside or from the patio outside. Watch the video below to get a feel for it.
Ottawa is a great destination at any time of year. I'll be back in warmer weather to give you another perspective on the city.
My trip was sponsored by Ottawa Tourism. My recommendations and enthusiasm are completely my own.