Ottawa — Canada’s capital — has all the usual must-see sights of any major city. But just under the surface, this leafy, family-friendly metropolis has more than a few unexpected gems. Ottawa’s scenic Rideau Canal snakes through the city, sparkling icy white in the winter and filled with boating fans in the summer. Plus, it has a mix of rich history and history-in-the-making locales.
Yes, Ottawa may be the only city where you can watch Canadian senators debate on Parliament Hill during the day and then watch a hockey team of the same name compete at night.
The pedestrian-friendly ByWard Market area is home to more than 500 businesses, boutiques and restaurants, while the neighborhood of Kanata holds a magnificent conservation forest with world-renowned trails making Ottawa a desirable destination for any outdoors lover.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Explore the Canal Views by Bike
Begin the trip with breakfast at The SconeWitch, where they are famous for — you guessed it — scones. Order a currant-ginger scone if you’re in a sweet mood, or opt for feta if you want savory.
Then pick up your ride at RentABike under the Rideau Plaza bridge and cycle the canal pathways. Stay on the lookout for love locks, little padlocks put on the bridge’s fences by lovers and friends to commemorate mutual adoration. Stop for a photo (and a breather) at Commissioners Park, where thousands of tulips bloom in the summertime.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, grab lunch at the world-famous Zak’s Diner at ByWard Market. The 24-hour diner is like stepping back in time to the 1950s. Order a classic milkshake, burger or an item from the all-day breakfast menu.
If you want to pick up a souvenir, avoid the crowds at the Rideau mall and instead shop at the unique local boutiques on Dalhousie Street, adjacent to the downtown historic ByWard Market. Established in 1826, the market supports more than 600 local businesses and remains one of Canada’s oldest and biggest public markets. You’ll find vintage clothes, jewelry, housewares and more.
At Adorit Boutique, designers create original pieces from recycled materials, and their inventory changes every two weeks, so you’ll be sure to snag a one-of-a-kind outfit.
After all of that shopping, you’re bound to be hungry for some dinner. Follow the locals to Sansotei, a popular ramen shop on Bank Street. Order a Japanese beer or sake along with gyudon, a stir-fried rice with pulled beef and caramelized onions, then enjoy a piping-hot bowl of ramen floating in a savory pork-bone broth, made in-house daily.
If you’re new to this satisfying noodle soup, you can’t go wrong with classic tonkotsu, studded with braised pork, green onions and black mushrooms. Save room for a slice of citrusy yuzu cheesecake.
For a nightcap, pop over to Deacon Brodies Pub, known for its extensive whisky collection.
Saturday: Take In the History With an Afternoon of Museums
Start your day with brunch at Mazarine, which offers a yummy Mediterranean menu made with local Canadian ingredients. Order a pot of Assam black tea and a halloumi omelette. Or try the beef kofta wrap with garlic tahini sauce, or shakshuka, a tomatoey, baked-egg dish served with sourdough toast.
Ottawa is well-known as the capital of Canada and seat of government. With a full stomach, you can now tour the parliament buildings. Parliament Hill entrance is free of charge, but you will need to reserve tickets for guided tours on a first-come, first-served basis.
The tours include a chance to walk around Centre Block, which serves as home to the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament.
Visitors can also listen in on live parliamentary debates: Check the Senate calendar for details. Otherwise, take a chance to look around at the iconic peace tower, eternal flame and the Houses of Parliament.
Just a five-minute walk away is a local pub — 3 Brasseurs — that’s great for a quick lunch stop. Spread over two floors, the factory-like space serves up a huge selection of craft beer and dishes like the famous flammekueche, a typical Alsatian flatbread.
Then, if politics are your bag, take a short drive 25 minutes out of town to the small village of Carp to visit the Diefenbunker Museum. This relic of the Cold War age is a bunker built 75 feet underground to house former Prime Minister Diefenbaker and key members of government during the early 1960s in the event of a nuclear attack.
Admission includes a range of activities organized throughout the year, including the screening of Cold War-era movies.
For dinner and late-night drinks, head to Ward 14, a hidden cocktail bar with fruity and inventive cocktails like Mango Mojito Madness.
The bar and restaurant is hidden in the back of a consignment store, with a short menu of classic bar eats and late-night snacks. Every night is exciting, but especially their sporadic “creativity night” painting and writing parties. Cozy up in the intimate funky spot for a late night with a crowd of your closest friends.
Sunday: Take a Boat Tour
It might be a bit of a late start this morning after last night’s activities. So brunch is in order. And there’s no better place than Daly’s Restaurant, which is famous for its Sunday spread. Their version of eggs Benedict is a must-order — bite into signature olive oil and citrus hollandaise drizzled over salmon, spinach, organic poached eggs and a toasted English muffin.
After a busy weekend visiting city sights, you might crave peace and quiet. Retreat just 15 minutes across the downtown border into Gatineau, Quebec, and stroll through Gatineau Park. The park covers 89,281 acres and is home to a diverse ecosystem of plants and native animals.
One of the most beautiful spots along the parkway is Pink Lake, a meromictic lake, meaning the upper and lower layers of water never mix. The water remains a beautiful turquoise color thanks to its unique composition.
Visitors can walk the perimeter of the lake on boardwalks accessed by a series of seemingly never-ending steps and a platform designed to protect the lake from erosion.
After your long morning of strolling, stop into The Ministry of Coffee and Social Affairs in Wellington West, a local favorite with a menu of great coffee, espresso and tea drinks.
After some furry fun, it’s time for one last spin along the city’s waterways. Ottawa Boat Cruise’s river cruise takes you on a 90-minute tour to see no fewer than 10 sites, including Rideau Falls and the Samuel de Champlain statue.
Then it’s time for the final dinner of the trip — and it has to be special. Restaurant e18hteen serves French cuisine with seasonal Canadian ingredients inside a historic stone building.
After filling up on fresh raw bar and Angus Reserve steaks, head over to the legendary Chateau Lafayette House (the Laff), at ByWard Market. Its doors opened in 1849, and the late-night destination features live music and an extensive selection of cocktails.