In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Ottawa next weekend I have started to do some research and contacted Ottawa Tourism. Ottawa, as Canada’s capital, is certainly one of Canada’s most popular travel destinations and it includes a great variety destinations, activities and events to offer.
I had an opportunity to speak with Jantine Van Kregten from Ottawa Tourism who was simply kind enough to provide me a great general summary of things to see and do in Ottawa.
1. Please provide us with some general details about Ottawa. How big is the town, where is it located, what’s the current weather like?
Ottawa may be the capital of Canada, and its fourth largest city. With the neighbouring city of Gatineau in the province of Quebec, the region has about 1.2 million people. Ottawa is situated in eastern Ontario, about four hours’drive northeast of Toronto; two hours west of Montreal; and one hour north of the border with their state of New York.
Ottawa enjoys four distinct seasons, with warmest temperatures and sometimes high humidity in July and August; a temperate fall with gorgeous fall colours; a cold and snowy winter; and a damp spring.
2. How can one arrive at Ottawa and what is the greatest means of making your way around in Ottawa?
Ottawa is available with direct flights from major centres in Canada and several U.S. cities including New York, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta and more. Ottawa is a major stop along the Windsor-Quebec City corridor of VIA Rail and bus service also links the town with other Canadian cities.
By car, major thoroughfares include Highway 416 that links Ottawa with Highway 401. Highway 417 runs through the town, while Autoroutes 5, 50 and 148 are the major highways on the Quebec side of the river.
3. Ottawa is Canada’s capital and has played a substantial role in the annals of the country. Please reveal more about this and the Canadian Heritage Experiences offered in Ottawa.
The story of Ottawa begins with the building of the Rideau Canal between 1826 and 1832 by Lt. Col. John By of the Royal Engineers and thousands of mostly Irish labourers. The Canal stretches 202 km (126 miles) through eastern Ontario to the St. Lawrence River and was built to make sure a supply line in case of American attack (which never came). The Canal was never used for a military purpose and its 49 locks remain operated in the exact same way as when these were built. In fact, the Rideau Canal is Canada’s nominee to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is expected in 2007, the 175th anniversary of its construction. national capital of canada
Queen Victoria decreed in 1857 that Ottawa will be the capital of the nation that became Canada. The majestic Parliament Buildings were constructed shortly thereafter and remain a “must-see” attraction in the capital. Because the capital, Ottawa can also be home to 24 Sussex Drive (the prime minister’s residence and not ready to accept the public); Rideau Hall (home of the Governor General, with guided tours of residence and gardens available); and a large number of high commissions and embassies from governments round the world.
Don’t miss Laurier House, home to both Sir Wilfrid Laurier and WIlliam Lyon Mackenzie King, two former prime ministers, or the Mackenzie King Estate, King’s summer home in Gatineau Park.
4. Please reveal about some of the major attractions, museums and galleries in the Ottawa area.
The most recent addition to the national museum scene may be the impressive Canadian War Musuem, which opened in May 2005 in a wonderful location alongside the Ottawa River. Canada’s most-visited museum is Gatineau’s Canadian Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada offers the largest number of Canadian art, along side European and American masters. Other cultural facilities range from the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Canada Aviation Museum; the Canada Science and Technology Museum; the Canada Agriculture Museum; the Royal Canadian Mint; the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada; and the Canadian Museum of Nature, currently in the midst of an enormous renovation project, to be completed in 2009.
Other museums range from the Bytown Museum, which tells the annals of Ottawa’s early days, like the building of the Rideau Canal; the Billings Estate Museum that traces the annals of a prominent local family; and the funky Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, a four-storey underground bunker that was constructed between 1959 and 1961 as the location to that your Canadian political and military elite would ride out the results of a nuclear attack.
5. Our readers would like to learn about the festivals and special events in Ottawa.
The festival scene in Ottawa is a strong, year-round affair. The year commences with Winterlude, a massive winter festival held over the initial three weekends in February. In March, the Irish community celebrates Irish week, and in March and April, the maple syrup season spawns a number of delicious festivals and events celebrating this tasty treat.
May is one of the Canadian Tulip Festival–three weeks of celebration of Ottawa’s favourite flower. During World War II, the Dutch royal family took refuge in Ottawa and Princess Margriet was born here, in a hospital room designated Dutch soil for the event. Canadians played a massive role in liberating the Netherlands and when the royal family returned home after the war, as a gesture of friendship, respect and appreciation, they sent thousands of tulip bulbs. The bulbs have followed every year since and now 3,000,000 tulips bloom in Canada’s Capital Region.
Late May brings Canada’s largest marathon included in the Ottawa Race Weekend. Over summer time months, festivals abound: Doors Open Ottawa showcase heritage buildings; Italian Week; the Ottawa Fringe Festival; the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival; the Nortel Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival; Cisco Systems Ottawa Bluesfest (Canada’s largest); the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (the world’s largest); the Sound of Light fireworks festival; Ottawa Busker Festival; Ottawa GreekFest; CKCU Ottawa Folk Festival; the Central Canada Exhibition; and Pride Week.
On Parliament Hill, two free activities occur daily in summer time: the 10:00 a.m. Changing the Guard ceremony and the evening Sound and Light Show.
In the fall, the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival colours the skies; as the La Vendemmia Harvest Festival tempts visitors’palates. The Ottawa International Animation Festival showcases artists from around the globe as the Ottawa International Writers Festival provides a community for authors’lively debates. Fall Rhapsody celebrates the splendid autumn colours.
The capital lights up for the holidays with the Christmas Lights Across Canada program.
6. Think about restaurants and entertainment / nightlife areas in Ottawa?
Several neighbourhoods offer entertainment options in Ottawa. The ByWard Market is certainly one of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods and also functions as its entertainment district, with over 100 food and drink options in only a four-block-square area. Whether it’s fine dining, an excellent diner, a cosy bistro, or a romantic cafe, you will find it in “the Market.”
Elgin Street is another popular nightlife area, with an eclectic collection of bars, restaurants and cafes in just a few blocks. Bank Street offers 3 or 4 distinct areas along its length, including a popular area called the Glebe. In the near west end, Westboro can also be a nice-looking choice for dinner and drinks.
Needless to say, one could also decide to explore the many options at the Casino du Lac-Leamy–whether it’s gaming excitement or a show at its popular theatre or a dinner at its five-diamond restaurant Le Baccara. The region’s other five-diamond establishment (two of only 11 across Canada) is Signatures at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa.