Ottawa

It always amazes me the response I receive when people ask me “Where are you from?”. My answer? “Ottawa, Canada”... The reaction is ALWAYS the same from anyone outside my home country. “Where? I’ve never heard of it!” 

Poor Ottawa! As Canada’s 4th largest city, the national capital and agrueably the most beautiful city in the country, the wonderful city of Ottawa is often left off tourist plans for the larger urban centers of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. This is a shame because Ottawa has everything these larger, more world-renown cities have to offer, but in a smaller, greener, more family friendly environment. 

Ottawa, with a population of nearly 1.4 million people, is the perfect getaway to discover all that Canada has to offer in a compact, well organized, family focused environment. It is diverse in architecture, activities, cuisine, and culture. Truly a destination not to be missed when you plan your next Canadian holiday. 

Ideally located 2 hours west of Montreal, 1 hour north of the American boarder (New York’s White Mountains and Vermont’s Green Mountains) and equal distant between Toronto and Quebec City, Ottawa sits at the junctions of the Portage, Gatineau, Rideau and Ottawa rivers and is majestically beautiful no matter what time of year you choose to visit. 

As Canada's national capital, Ottawa has all the amenities you would expect in a great world city. There are 27 national museums (including the National Museum of Civilization, the National Aviation Museum, The National Museum of Science and Technology, the National War Museum and the National Museum of Nature to name but a few.), 15 art galleries (including the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, and countless others), numerous drama and stage theaters, the National Performing Arts Center (Orchestra, Ballet and Theatre), and of course the neo-Gothic architecture of the federal government buildings found in the downtown core, including the three impressive blocks of Parliament Hill. 

Due to Ottawa’s location on the boarder of the provinces of Québec and Ontario, the city is perfectly linguistically and culturally bilingual in English and French. This is not to give the impression however that these two cultures overshadow the true cosmopolitan make up of this vibrant city. Great ethnic restaurants are found in Chinatown on Somerset Street or yummy Italian treats line Preston Street in the Italian District. Greek flags and cuisine are the name of the game in the Hellenic area and Lebanese sharwarma are the name of the game at hundreds of restaurants throughout the city. As in all of Canada, multiculturalism thrives in this national capital, with people from every corner of the global, making this incredible city their home.

Even though Ottawa is a bustling urban centre, you are never more than a few minutes from Canada's famous natural beauty. Ottawa is a city devoted to nature and greenery. There are 450 kilometers of nature trails, another 250 kilometers of paved bike paths, 12 fresh water beaches, federal and provincial parks for camping and outdoor exploration, and the ability to take part in countless recreational activities such as geo-cashing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and boat rentals within minutes of the downtown core. 

Ottawa hosts 14 international festivals year round, including the International Fireworks Competition, the Jazz Festival, the Ottawa Blues Festival, the International Tulip Festival (10 times larger than any held in the Netherlands), the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the National Winter Carnival, (officially known as “Winterlude”) and the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival. 

Ottawa is the perfect city for both romantic getaways and family holidays. Discover the picturesque picnic places in the city’s lush, green parks, walk through the amazing gardens at Rideau Hall (home to the Queen’s representative in Canada), stroll beside the festive Rideau Canal or lose yourself (and probably some cash) at one of two casinos. If you are a family, all the national museums are designed with both adults and children in mind. The International Children’s Museum is a MUST for any family with small children, and the numerous lakeside beaches (Westboro Beach, Britannia Beach, Pitrie Island Beach) are all less than 10 minutes from the downtown).  For kids, there are numerous play areas with swings, slides and play structures, and children’ s swimming pools scattered around the downtown core. Children and adults will love the street entertainers on Sparks Street or the fireworks and party atmosphere throughout the city on Canada Day (July 1st) each year.

As a tourist in the city, you may wonder what is the best way to get to know the real Ottawa. I recommend using a company called Ottawa Walking Tours (www.ottawawalkingtours.com). They provide an excellent overview of the city and highlight many of the attractions mentioned above.  Other great means of sightseeing are Greyhound City Bus Tours, Ottawa River Boat Cruises, and the Rideau Canal Crusises. All are excellent ways to take outstanding photos of this beautiful capital city.
Whether it’s the stunning museums or the international cusine, the magical changing of the seasons or the amazing outdoor retreats, do not leave Ottawa off your next Canadian holiday plans.

For home exchange accommodation in Ottawa look here.

 

         

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