I moved out to the capital of Canada after high school to attend the University of Ottawa, and my (almost) three years here have been incredible. It’s taken some time to get out of the university bubble and explore the city, but after moving around the different neighborhoods I’ve found some pretty cool spots.
When to go:
Ottawa is at it’s best in the dead of winter or the middle of summer. With extreme temperatures on either end, Ottawa has a lot to offer on both seasons.
If visiting in the winter, dress warmly and always check for extreme weather warnings. Some of the most beautiful things to see in Ottawa are in the winter, and no other city quite captures the magic of Canadian winters.
In the summer, Ottawa thrives in a different way, with food markets, outdoor activities, and easy, walkable days.
Buses: Ottawa has a large network of buses that can get you anywhere around the city, including across the bridge to Gatineau, Quebec, at no extra cost. Buses run regularly, but are less reliable under extreme weather conditions.
Taxis: Taxis are easy to find in the downtown core, but leave lots of time if you need to call one from farther away. The two main companies, Blueline Taxi and Capital Taxi, are owned by the same people and provide sub-par service. All taxis in Ottawa accept debit and credit, which is a nice option.
What to do:
Skate the canal. There’s nothing more Canadian than strapping on your skates and spending an afternoon on the world’s largest ice rink. Open for most of the winter, the Rideau canal is great way to enjoy the Ottawa cold. With rest stops along the way offering beavertails and other snacks, you can skate around for fun or skate from one end to the other. You may even meet some locals on their morning commutes to work!
Visit Parliament and sit through Question Period. Visiting parliament is must when visiting Ottawa. Take an official tour or wander up to the Peace Tower for an amazing view of the city. If you want to see parliament in action, sit in the gallery and observe question period for some insight into real-life Canadian politics.
Spend the day in the Byward Market. The Byward Market is one of Ottawa’s biggest tourist attractions, and is a great place to grab a coffee, eat a great meal, or do some shopping. On nice days the area is filled with stalls selling everything from fresh fruit to handicrafts, and even when the stalls close up there’s an endless supply of restaurants and bars to keep you busy.
Where to eat & drink:
Ottawa has an endless supply of restaurants and bars, but these are my personal favourites:
Sconewitch: This is without question the best scone you’ll ever have in your life. I always thought scones were dry and hard, but one trip to Sconewitch and I can’t get enough. Their special sconewitches make sandwiches out of freshly baked scones with delicious ingredients like goat cheese, pesto, and spinach.
El Camino: This is a cool spot for a night out. Head down early and put your name down for a table, or grab some tacos from the takeout window and enjoy right away. If you do decide to wait, you’ll enjoy a selection of cocktails and beer, including the spicy El Fuego, and a delicious menu with some of the best Mexican food in town.
The Manx: A block away from El Camino, The Manx is a basement bar with a delicious menu and a great selection of drinks. Head over with some friends or even stop in for a late lunch. For a real treat, go for brunch on Sunday mornings and try their banana bread french toast.
Zak’s Diner: Zak’s is an Ottawa classic, located in the heart of the Byward Market. Open 24-hours, Zak’s customers vary from families out for lunch to partiers recovering from a big night out. This last point is up for debate, but Zak’s serves my personal favourite poutine in town.
Flapjack’s Pancake Shack: Flapjack’s is a spot I’ve discovered more recently, and I can’t get enough. Located in the Glebe, Flapjack’s is a food truck hidden just off Bank St that serves classic Canadian pancakes in all different forms, including bacon fried in pancake batter and “panwiches”.