Ottawa Tourism | Tourisme Ottawa


15 Quirky Reasons to Visit Ottawa


When news broke that the beloved Parliament Hill Cat Sanctuary has closed, many people commented that this was one of the quirkiest attractions in Ottawa and one they would miss visiting (or showing to visitors).

We at Ottawa Tourism humbly offer these other quirky Ottawa offerings to help fill the void. Some are family friendly, others more adult-oriented, some are free and others have a fee.

How many have you done? What’s favourite unexpected Ottawa attraction is NOT on this list?

Yoga on Parliament HillYoga on Parliament Hill1. Other Parliament Hill attractions: The monument to 19th century politicians Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine has a neat quality that is not immediately apparent. Because of the curve in its wall, two people can sit on opposite ends—metres apart—and converse in just a whisper! Check out the “Whispering Wall,” also known as the monument to 19th century politicians Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine at the northeast corner of the grounds. The monument has a neat quality that is not immediately apparent. Because of the curve in its wall, two people can sit on opposite ends—metres apart—and converse in just a whisper! And if you’re in Ottawa between May and October and your visit extends over a Wednesday at noon, head to Parliament Hill for a free yoga class! Hundreds show up and cover the lawn with their colourful mats. Say ooommmm!

2. Balanced rocks in the Ottawa River: Local artist John Ceprano’s works are beautiful but ephemeral. Each spring, Ceprano wades into the shallows of the Ottawa River near Remic Rapids and starts stacking the river rocks. No glue, no rods—just gravity and balance and patience. By the end of the summer, there is a whole community of whimsical sculptures, which disappears each winter as the ice, snow and wind take their toll. Then each spring, the magic starts again.

3. Horse stables in the ByWard Market: Did you know that there are horse stables still operating within the bustling ByWard Market neighbourhood in downtown Ottawa? John Cundell is the third generation in his family to keep horses on York Street just east of Dalhousie Street. Available for weddings, birthdays and groups, the local merchants’ association also uses Cundell’s services to provide free horse-drawn carriage rides in the neighbourhood each Christmas season.

4. Rideau Hall celebrity trees: Rideau Hall is the name of the residence of Canada’s Governor General (the Queen’s representative). Over the years, many visiting dignitaries have planted a commemorative tree on the grounds of Rideau Hall, including Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, the Emperor of Japan and more. One romantic fact—the tree planted by John F. Kennedy and the tree planted by Jacqueline Kennedy “kiss” above one of the walkways near the residence, their leaves entwined! Visiting the grounds is free—watch for small plaques at the base of the “celebrity” trees explaining who planted it and when.

Rideau Canal SkatewayRideau Canal Skateway5. Rideau Canal Skateway: Ottawa is home to the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, according to Guinness World Records. Once the ice is a foot thick (usually in early January), the Skateway is open 24/7, for free! Skate and sleigh rentals are available at 3 different locations along its 7.8 km (4.8-mile) length, and there are 4 spots to get BeaverTails, that hot pastry treat that Ottawans love. Put that on your bucket list, if it’s not already there! J And if Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, you can also check out the free Rink of Dreams at Ottawa City Hall or the free historic rink (weekends only) at Rideau Hall.

6. Urban sugarbush: Yes, Ottawa is next to Lanark County, the maple syrup capital of Ontario, but it’s also home to the only urban sugarbush we’ve ever heard of, the Vanier Sugarbush. Located within the Vanier Museoparc, a collection of cultural assets especially important to the Franco-Ontarian community, the Vanier Sugarbush taps 14 acres of trees to produce its own maple syrup. Join them at the annual Maple Sugar Festival, March 17-24, 2013.

7. Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum: What’s not to love about a once-secret, four-storey, underground nuclear fallout shelter? Beyond the Mad Men-era nostalgia, there’s great programming, from monthly Cold War-themed movie nights to zombie nights to kids’ spy camps! They’ve even hosted weddings!

HOPE Volleyball SummerFestHOPE Volleyball SummerFest 8. HOPE Volleyball SummerFest: What’s cool about volleyball? Well, it’s BEACH volleyball, for one thing. It’s the largest one-day beach volleyball tournament in the world, for another. And it raises thousands of dollars for deserving local charities for a third. THE place to be for Ottawa’s young and fit set.

9. Sleep it off in jail: The Ottawa Jail Hostel, to be more precise. Until the 1970s, this grand old building was the Carleton County Gaol and visitors today sleep in the very cells that were once home to prisoners. Except no one sleeps on Death Row (the top floor)—it’s too haunted. See for yourself on a Haunted Walk tour, offered daily—I mean, nightly.

The Ottawa Jail HostelThe Ottawa Jail Hostel

Haunted Walk tourHaunted Walk tour

10. Whitewater kayaking in downtown Ottawa: Yes, the Ottawa River near Beachburg—90 minutes’ drive west of Ottawa—boasts some of the world’s best whitewater, but did you know you can learn how to whitewater kayak in DOWNTOWN Ottawa? At the Pumphouse, an offshoot of the Ottawa River located between Library & Archives Canada and the Canadian War Museum, the Madawaska Kanu Centre offers one-day whitewater kayaking lessons each summer. That’s within walking distance of most downtown hotels!

11. Lucky Ron: A true Ottawa icon, Lucky Ron has been singing the same batch of old-school country tunes since 1986. Every Saturday around 4:30pm at the Château Lafayette—which, dating back to 1849, is Ottawa’s oldest tavern—Lucky Ron’s army of fans bring audience participation to a whole new level. No cover charge but let’s just say that quarts of beer are de rigueur.

12. China Doll at Shanghai Restaurant: The oldest Chinese restaurant in Ottawa is known for more than its food—on Saturday nights, it hosts a wild karaoke night. Hosted by China Doll, the son of the owner and one of Ottawa’s most colourful drag queens! Occasionally, China Doll hosts Retro Disco Funk & Punk Bingo!

13. Duelling pianos at Fat Tuesday’s: On Thursdays and Saturdays, check out Ottawa’s only duelling piano show: one of the best impromptu sing-alongs you’ll find! Shows start at 10:30 p.m. Live music also on Fridays.

Nordik Spa-NatureNordik Spa-Nature 14. North America’s largest spa: After $4.1 million in recent upgrades, Nordik Spa-Nature in nearby Chelsea, Québec, offers 45,000 square feet of relaxing interior space and more than 100,000 square feet outside. Surrounded by trees and rocks, you’re encouraged to follow a gentle routine of heat (sauna), coolness (plunge pools) and relaxation. Or try the infinity pool with panoramic view, casual lounge or the salt-water floating pool. Ahhhh!

15. Pure indulgence at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa: Several of Ottawa’s great chefs got their start at Ottawa’s Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute—the North American headquarters for the world’s foremost school for teaching classical French cuisine. While you could take the 9-month Grand diplôme course, you could also access your inner Julia Child by enjoying a three-hour demonstration course (or six-hour practical course where you can get your hands dirty!). Or if you just want to enjoy the fruits of others’ labour, you can dine at Le Cordon Bleu Bistro @ Signatures. Set lunches are offered Wednesday through Friday and à la carte dinners are available Wednesday through Saturday. The restaurant and school are located in a former lumber baron’s beautiful mansion in the leafy Sandy Hill neighbourhood just east of downtown Ottawa.