10 Quick Tips If You Visit Ottawa This Summer

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Mark walking on a map of Ottawa, Godzilla style

Mark walking on a map of Ottawa, Godzilla style

Ottawa is a very popular tourist destination in the spring and in summer and people come from all other the country to see what the national capital looks like.

I have been living in Ottawa since 2002 so I know the city pretty well. Coming to visit this summer? Here are ten quick tips!

You will go to the Byward Market because it’s right in the centre and this is where all tourists end up. There is nothing wrong with it—it’s conveniently located by Parliament Hill, the Rideau Centre, the major bus stops (Rideau Street and McKenzie King Bridge) and it’s very walkable. However, keep in mind that it is a tourist trap. I wouldn’t recommend eating here since the food is expensive and not so great. Do avoid Le Moulin de provence (worst “French” bakery in my opinion) and the Fish Market Restaurant (the reviews are pretty awful).

Take a tour of the Parliament (in French or in English!). It’s not boring, it’s free, it’s cool and you can take the elevator up the Peace Tower for a great panoramic view of Ottawa. Oh, and did I say it was completely free?

Do check out Ottawa’s neighborhoods such as the Glebe, Westboro, Little Italy (mostly good for restaurants, not much there), Chinatown (great food, convenience stores and bakeries/coffee shops), Hintonburg, Bank Street, the business district, etc.

If you can, ride a bike. Ottawa has many bike paths (along the Canal, by the river, etc.) and it’s fairly flat. This is a great way to explore the city.

Free parking every weekend at the World Exchange Plaza, conveniently located about two blocks from Parliament Hill (two entrances: Metcalfe & Albert / Queen & Metcalfe). Don’t thank me.

There is a really cool shop for non-tacky unique Canadian souvenirs on Sparks Street: The Snow Goose. They specialise in Inuit and Aboriginal art and have something for every budget. This is where I buy  gifts for my family when I go visit.

If it rains, head to the Rideau Centre (for shopping), to the Parliament or to one of the many museums. My favourite one is the Canadian Museum of History, across the river, in Gatineau. You can spend hours there and it’s kid friendly (they have the Children’s Museum). Most museums are free every Thursday after 5 p.m.

All the 9X buses are very fast and efficient, as they take the Transitway. You can find info on buses on OCTranspo’s website.

Ottawa’s local coffee chain is Bridgehead. When you are sick of Tim Hortons, give it a try!

For local info, check out Ottawa Start (community events and many local listings), the website of Ottawa Tourism and don’t forget the Snapshots of Ottawa section of this blog for inspiration!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

11 Comments

  1. You know, I never really thought of Ottawa being a place which many people visit. Everyone I have ever spoken to here only talks about visiting Montreal and Toronto. I’ve got to say, where are all these tourists that visit Ottawa? Maybe they’re just not living in France?

    I remember once when I was in Denmark last year I went to a bbq. There was one girl who had an uncle living in Winnipeg and she was talking about how she had visited her uncle and how she travelled across the country. Then she said, “I liked every place that I visited, but there was one city I hated.”

    I knew deep down in the pit of my stomach what was coming even before she said it.

    Once she had said it, the people at the bbq were quiet because most of them knew I was from Ottawa. I didn’t say anything and just looked at the ground.

    • I don’t understand how can someone “hate” Ottawa. It’s not really a love-at-first-sight city because there is no hype like there is in London, NY, Paris, etc. I get that. But what’s to hate in Ottawa? I can see some people may find it boring but you have to live in it for that, right? So how can a visitor hate Ottawa? That’s weird.

  2. I really like going on the Peace Tower tour as well. Too bad that you can no longer go into the chamber of the House of Commons on the tour anymore.

    I agree, eating out in the Byward Market is expensive for what you get.

    I had to look up Hintonburg. I had no idea that that area was called by that name. Even I’m still learning about the place I grew up in! Thanks for the other tips – I didn’t know about this coffee place, the free parking or the Snow Goose.

    I hope to use a bike to get around during my visit this summer.

    • Hintonburg is the new trendy ‘hood. It only started developing a few years ago, before it was mostly Mecanicville and it wasn’t so cool. Never been to Bridgehead? They’ve been around for a while, since I have been there at least, I think.

  3. Just the information I was looking for. I live in Toronto and will be driving to Ottawa during the civic day long weekend… accompanying me is my Mom who is visiting us from India.

    And yes, thank you for the tip on parking near the Parliament hill.

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