What differentiates Ottawa from other great destinations? Here are just a few ways Ottawa stands apart.
Skating on the Rideau Canal
The world’s largest skating rink offers 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) of uninterrupted skating (from late December to late February or early March, depending on the weather). For more than 30 years, people of all ages have come to enjoy the Rideau Canal Skateway, on skates, on foot and on sleds.
Skate and sleigh rentals are available on the Skateway near the National Arts Centre, Fifth Avenue, and Dows Lake. Canal conditions can be checked on a hotline at 613-239-5234 or at www.canadascapital.gc.ca/skateway
Every February, Canada’s Capital Region is host to Winterlude, North America’s greatest winter festival. Three fun-filled weekends of excitement and activity await the whole family, each February! From spectacular ice carvings to an amazing playground made of snow, Winterlude is a great way to take in the best of the Canadian winter. For a list of activities, go to www.canadascapital.gc.ca/winterlude
Parliament Hill is the seat of Canada’s government, home to both the House of Commons and the Senate. Free tours are offered every day, but are occasionally rescheduled due to the business of the House. You must pass through security similar to an airport. www.parl.gc.ca
In the summer, there is a free Changing the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill each day at 10:00 a.m. Modelled on the version performed in London, England, the ceremony runs from late June to late August 25 annually. Pure pomp and ceremony.
There’s also a free Sound and Light Show, entitled Canada: The Spirit of a Country, on Parliament Hill every night after dark between early July and early September. Images are projected onto the Parliament Buildings.
Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill are spectacular—the only place to be on July 1 if you’re Canadian, or even if you’re not. Free concerts, short speeches by politicians, the Snowbirds, the Musical Ride, maple leaf “tattoos,” face painting, fabulous fireworks, and everyone in a patriotic mood.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
See the training centre for the famous RCMP musical ride. The Musical Ride, a world-renowned military pageant performed with 32 horses and riders, was first produced publicly in Regina in 1887. The RCMP invites visitors to tour the stables and Visitors’ Centre year-round. It is sometimes possible to see the Musical Ride horses and riders practise when they are not away on tour. The Sunset Ceremonies usually occur at the stables at the end of June each year.
Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ottawa Culinary Institute
Le Cordon Bleu is the world’s foremost school for teaching classic French cuisine and the Ottawa school was the first Cordon Bleu school in North America. One of the top-rated restaurants in Canada, Signatures by Le Cordon Bleu Paris – located in the same building as the school – keeps with centuries-old traditions of providing the finest in classic French cuisine. http://www.lcbottawa.com
Canadian Tulip Festival
The Dutch Royal Family took refuge in Ottawa during World War II and the federal government even decreed that a local hospital room would be Dutch soil when Princess Margriet was born here. Canadian troops also played a large role in liberating the Netherlands in 1945. As a gesture of thanks and friendship, then, the Dutch government gave a gift of tulip bulbs in 1945 and every year since. Now Ottawa is home to the largest tulip festival in the world (and plants the most tulips per capita than any other city).
The festival takes place each May and features 3 million blooms across the region—300,000 of which are in Commissioners Park near Dows Lake. www.tulipfestival.ca
The Diefenbunker: Canada's Cold War Museum
This vestige of Cold War history is a unique reminder of Ottawa’s position in global politics. Built in the small town of Carp just west of Ottawa between 1959 and 1961, and meant to house key government and military officials in case of a nuclear attack, this four-storey underground bunker offers tours and unique events to catch glimpses of behind-the-scenes artifacts. Don’t miss the decontamination room, the emergency exit hatch, the CBC broadcast studio, the Prime Minister’s suite and the Bank of Canada vault. The bunker is named after John Diefenbaker who was prime minister during its construction, but who never visited the site. www.diefenbunker.ca
Rideau Hall has been the residence of every one of Canada’s Governors General (the Queen’s representative in Canada). The current resident is Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean. Visitors can learn more about the history, roles, responsibilities and activities of the Governor General while exploring this beautiful residence and its grounds. In the winter, there’s an amazing outdoor skating rink. In the summer, take a picnic and watch a cricket game or stroll the rose garden. www.gg.ca
This delicious, fresh, hot pastry treat is shaped like the water-slapping end of a beaver. These wildly delicious pastry treats were first introduced to Ottawa in 1978 and can be sampled at the first permanent BeaverTails store in Ottawa’s historic ByWard Market neighbourhood. In the winter, there’s nothing more quintessentially Canadian than enjoying a BeaverTail while skating on the frozen Rideau Canal. www.beavertailsinc.com
Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train
All aboard for a memorable journey into the past on board one of Canada’s last remaining authentic steam-powered trains. Sunset dinner tours, Sunday brunches, and fall colour tours are all available between early May and late October.
Located just 15 minutes north of downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park offers over 165 kilometres (102 miles) of trails, most available year-round. You’re sure to fall in love with Canadian nature. In winter, there are more than 25 kilometres (15 miles) of trails especially for snowshoers and 10 kilometres (6 miles) of trails are compacted once a week for winter hiking. You can rent snowshoes for $5 per hour or $15 per day at the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre. Hiking is free. For more information and trail maps, visit www.canadascapital.gc.ca/gatineau
Hedge Mazes at Saunders Farm
The Mazes at Saunders Farm were planted, pruned and cultivated over the past dozen years. The 6 hedge and two puzzle mazes are the largest collection of mazes in North America. During October, Saunders Farm is transformed into Canada’s most eerie-sistible fall attraction. Spook-tacular haunted hayrides and the Barn of Terror await you in the small town of Munster, just outside Ottawa. www.saundersfarm.com
Ottawa is a cyclist’s paradise. Use your bike or inline skates or just hoof it and explore hundreds of kilometres of paved pathways; winding along rivers and the Rideau Canal; flat and easy or mountainous and challenging—the choice is yours. Sunday Bikedays actually close 52 kilometres (32 miles) of the most picturesque rides to motorized vehicles and let cyclists, inline skaters and runners rule from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Sunday Bikedays run from Victoria Day weekend in May to Labour Day weekend in September. More info: www.canadascapital.gc.ca/biking
Opened on May 8, 2005 (60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe), the Canadian War Museum is a spectacular new facility on the banks of the Ottawa River. Other museums and galleries (civilization, nature, science and technology, aviation, agriculture, and the National Gallery of Canada) are found throughout the region.
A Great View
Buy fresh bread, fresh coldcuts, cheese and vegetables from the farmers and stores in the ByWard Market, then have an impromptu picnic in Major’s Hill Park or at Nepean Point (located behind the National Gallery of Canada) for a spectacular view. The point is a beautiful spot to take pictures of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, Victoria Island, Jacques Cartier Park, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.