June 12, 2004

Tourism in Ottawa

So it looks like I may have to fly 3,000 miles to Ottawa, Canada two weeks from now to run a 20-minute errand. (Yes, I'm serious. Long story. Don't ask. Just understand that the Libyan tourism-visa bureaucracy is something to behold. And thank goodness airfare to that city is cheap at the moment.)

Anyway, I'll have two days while I'm in town. I've been to Victoria and Vancouver many times, Montreal and Quebec City once each, but never to Ottawa. Does anyone live there or know the city well enough for some recommendations? (Please use the comments.)

I'll be staying downtown, of course. What I really want to know is...which part of town has the best eye-candy? I like old buildings and walking around the quaint pre-automobile parts of cities - when such places exist, that is. Also, anything with a French theme is good. I know my own Anglo culture pretty well already.

I'll post pictures.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 12, 2004 04:35 PM

You should talk to Joe at Winds of Change. He lives in Canada, ableit Toronto, and might have some useful info.

Posted by: FH at June 12, 2004 05:13 PM

Try the By Ward district it's kind of touristy but pretty cool, you can't miss it it's right downtown. Parliment Hill is very hansom and the tour of the House is interesting. Downtown in general is pretty walkable and for some French flavour Hull across the river is a blue collar town. Too bad it isn't the winter because skating on the Canal is really great. Overall a nice city to visit, I think you'll enjoy it.

Posted by: jimcee at June 12, 2004 06:30 PM

Michael, I'm a Toronto boy, but I've been to Ottawa as a tourist a few times. You're not going to find much of anything with a French theme, at least not historically. It is a functionally bilingual city, but that's almost entirely because it's the capital. Of course, if you rent a car you can always go across the river to Hull.

Other than that, I agree with jimcee. You'll like Parliament Hill (there's even a 'cat city' of to one side!), and the ByWard Market (locals refer to it simply as The Market) has lots of restaurants/bars.

Posted by: Dave at June 12, 2004 07:05 PM

Don't forget to smoke a few Cubans and then blog about it.

Posted by: Jeremy Brown at June 12, 2004 08:13 PM

Actually, you can smoke pretty much anything you fancy in Canada.

Posted by: Craig at June 12, 2004 09:26 PM

I don't envy you a bit. I am convinced that Dante's Inferno was written in the waiting room of a government office building.

Try travelling anywhere west of Japan or east of Germany with a flagged clearance investigation associated with your SSN. That makes dealing with the Libyans look easy.

We are full up this weekend here. I will have to bring some oranges for Tano's apples later...but we aren't in the same universe so it really won't matter.

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 13, 2004 12:26 AM


The time to go to Ottawa is in the winter. You can ice skate for miles (klicks?) on the Rideau Canal which snakes through the heart of the city. And Gatineau Park across the Ottawa River in Quebec has world-class cross country skiing. But it doesn't sound like you can re-schedule. Too bad.

Avoid Hull. It would probably remind you of a French-speaking version of your hometown.

Posted by: HA at June 13, 2004 05:08 AM

Above comments about the canal in winter are right on. It's an 8 km (5 mile) skating rink. You can't miss the Market - it's right by the new U.S. embassy (a brand new bomb proof bunker).

If you are at all interested in aircraft visit the Canadian Aviation Museum ( http://www.aviation.technomuses.ca/collections/artifacts/aircraft/periods.shtml )

They have a wonderful collection of early through WW II aircraft.

Posted by: John B. at June 13, 2004 06:08 AM

Try www.ottawaplus.ca for ideas and tips about the city and what's on.

Posted by: novalis at June 13, 2004 12:26 PM

One great thing about Ottawa is that there's pretty much one street (Wellington) which acts the artery of any visit. You'll find (starting from the west end of the street) the Supreme Court, the National Archives, the Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal, the Chateau Laruier hotel and then Byward market all along Wellington. A tour of the Parliament buildings is interesting, especially the Parliamentary Library (one of the few times I've been on a tour and actually heard people gasp as they walked into the room). The Chateau Laurier has a fine hotel bar which is worth grabbing a drink at. Right next to the Chateau Laurier (right on the canal) is the Museum of Contemporary Photography, which isn't large, but is worth a visit. Byward Market, as someone else mentioned, can be relatively "touristy", but is where you'll find good restaurants, bars and shops. You can comfortably see pretty much everything in a day.

Posted by: Bob Tarantino at June 13, 2004 12:36 PM

Hey - enjoy Ottawa - I've been living here for 5 years and it's not a bad town. I don't really ahve any hotel recommendations, cuz I live here, but...

If you'll be in town on Friday the 25th and want to check out some good Canadian punk rock go to Mavericks on Rideau, my band moral hazard is playing with the Botched Suicides and the Bella Bombs (all girl punk rock).

Otherwise, if you want to chat with someone who's read your blog email me and we might grab a beer.


Posted by: Ken Ketchum at June 14, 2004 09:35 AM

I've lived in Ottawa intermittently since I was a kid, but now I live in Geneva, Switzerland. Actually, the two cities remind me a lot of each other. They are both reasonably attractive, small, non-touristy, kinda boring government towns (the feds in Ottawa, international organizations in Geneva) with easy access to winter sports. They are also both better places to live in than to visit.

Anyway, here are some ideas for your stay:

1. The Rideau Canal is best for skating in the winter, but there's also a path beside it that's fine for biking or rolerblades if you can find a rental.

2. John B. is dead right about the air museum. They have a Lancaster bomber and even a rare German rocket plane, among other things. The War Museum is also worth a visit.

3. The market is the place to go for bars. Elgin St. has some nice bars/pubs too. Avoid Hull for nightlife, despite its reputation. They used to have tons of bars and nightclubs full of drunken teenagers because of a later closing time and lower drinking age in QC, but that's all changed now.

4. The food is quite good in both Ottawa and Hull. For French cuisine in Ottawa, Le Jardin in the Market is always dependable. There are some excellent French places in Hull too but I can't remember their names. The local Chinatown is on Somerset St. If you want to OD on garlic, try the Mekong restaurant. (I find Chinese food is generally better in Canada than the States, at least compared to the East Coast).

5. There's some attractive, some interesting and some just plain ugly architecture in Ottawa/Hull. The neo-gothic parliament buildings, the Chateau Laurier and the National Gallery are among the high points. The Bank of Canada (a glass building built around an existing church) and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull fall into the interesting category. The new US embassy and the National Arts Centre are eyesores, along with lots of other anonymous government office buildings and suburban sprawl.

6. This may or may not apply to you, but the Experimental Farm is great for kids in the summer. It's basically a big petting zoo, with other farm activities like baking bread from scratch in a wood stove, etc.

One last thing: Ottawa is full of really great barber shops. I hope you get this before your trip. Have fun.

Posted by: Coleman Nee at June 14, 2004 10:30 AM

Please ignore the extraneous comment about barber shops in my last post. I meant to delete it (although Ottawa does have some nice, old fashioned barber shops. You get a great haircut and you can read Playboy while you wait.)

Posted by: Coleman Nee at June 14, 2004 10:40 AM

The last time I was in Ottawa there was a substantial power outage! Take a flashlight and some spare batteries!!

I thought the supreme court building was cool, right next to parliament.

Posted by: Wem at June 14, 2004 01:26 PM


May I add to the comprehensive list above a visit to the "Diefenbunker". It was a secret bunker constructed during the cold war to house an emergency government.


For a description, see

As far as pre-automobile places, a cruise down the Rideau Canal with a tour explaining its construction and purpose might be of interest.

Enjoy yourself, it is an exquisite, relaxed city.


Posted by: Dizzy at June 15, 2004 08:30 AM

I lived in Ottawa far too long... but bits of it are pretty. Wellington has nothing on it except government buildings so do not expect more than five minutes to look at the Archives and Supreme Court (though the Archives are a great building to do research in).

Thoughts: Parliament Hill, yes. You can take an elevator up the Peace Tower and there used to be a nice tour that included the Library (the one bit of the original central block that did not get burned down). Definitely check out the Byward Market. The National Gallery is along the Ottawa River at one end of the Market. The Group of Seven paintings there are the only thing in this country that stir patriotic feelings in me. The cathedral across the street is the closest thing to traditional French architecture.

Another nice walk starts at the War Memorial across from the Chateau Laurier. Stroll south on Elgin and you will find the faux gothic Museum of Natural History. That is worth seeing just for the central atrium with totem poles, etc. A short walk west to Bank Street takes and south under the Queensway takes you through a pretty residential area and "the Glebe" with its cafes and small shops.

Hull (or rather, the recently amalgamated city of Gatineau) is a bit of a dump it's true. But the Museum of Civilization is spectacular. You can't miss it across the bridge from the National Gallery. Finally, Sandy Hill is a residential area around the University of Ottawa. One of my favourite cafes in the world can be found there, "Who is this Rosie Lee Chick Anyway?" They used to have nice 750 ml bottles of Belgian beer on hand that went well with brunch. There are a couple excellent used bookstores nearby too.


Posted by: Flea at June 15, 2004 11:33 AM

I had forgotten the Mekong. Fantastic. But it's Vietnamese cuisine not Chinese...

Posted by: Flea at June 15, 2004 11:34 AM

I took some pictures in Ottawa, Illinois about a month ago. I won't be posting them.

Haven't been in Ottawa, Canada in over 10 years, so I barely remember it. I seem to remember having a better time sight-seeing across the river in Hull, though for the life of me I cna't remember why that thought sticks in memory.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by: JC at June 15, 2004 04:08 PM
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