Oh, Canada! How I wish I had discovered you sooner! When it comes to travel destinations, Canada really has it all: thriving cities filled with art and culture, a melting pot of diversity, rugged outdoor adventure, sprawling vineyards, tasty foodie finds, possibly the most polite residents in the world, Tim Horton’s, and of course, the ever-so-dreamy, Justin Trudeau! Canada basically hits the “best of all things” jackpot! While planning our Canadian road trip, I knew that Ottawa, the country’s capital city, had to be one of our stops. But, for how long? In doing some research for the trip, the general consensus seemed to name 2-3 days as the perfect amount of time. After visiting Ottawa, I can say I completely disagree. While it is entirely possible to cover the main points of interest, our two short days left me wishing we could have stayed much longer.
Of the various cities we visited in Canada, Ottawa ended up being my absolute favorite! With two days to cover everything, the kiddo and I definitely stayed busy the entire time we were there. We saw and did so many things, mostly by foot and mostly for free! Ottawa is an easily walkable city and offers so many free things to do, making it a bonus find for budget travelers and families with kids. Here’s what you should add to your must-do list when you visit Ottawa!
1. Canoe the Rideau
As soon as we arrived in Ottawa we headed straight for Dows Lake Pavillion to rent a canoe so we could hop out onto the historic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Canoeing the canal on a hot summer day really is the best way to pass the time and take in the scenery. Warm, sunny weather brings out locals and tourists alike to run, walk, cycle, and skate along the banks of the canal. Kayaks, canoes, and boats share the waterways with families of ducks swimming alongside all the action. The Rideau Canal isn’t just a summertime attraction. Once the water freezes over in winter, the canal becomes the largest ice-skating rink in the world! I was almost sad we weren’t there during the winter to take part, but I suppose it gives us yet another reason to return.
2. Parliament Hill
Following our afternoon canoeing the canal, we decided to get some rest for what was to be a very busy second day. The next day started quite early and we hit the pavement to make our way to Parliament Hill. We headed out early because every morning during the summer you can watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Then, every night you can return and watch a musical light show projected onto the buildings of Parliament, all for free. Unfortunately for us, we were exactly two days too early for both of these activities (major bummer!!). Nonetheless, taking advantage of the other activities on Parliament Hill was well worth our time. For an off-the-beaten path activity, head to Parliament Hill at lunch time on Wednesdays during the summer for free yoga on the hill. As a side note, I totally did not awkwardly hang around for this simply because I heard Justin Trudeau sometimes goes out and joins in on yoga while chatting it up with locals and tourists. Ok, I totally did.
3. Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
Once I accepted that my favorite Prime Minister was not going to be making an appearance at hill top yoga, we walked on to the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, a National Historic Site, for a free guided tour. The architecture and Gothic detailing of the ornate interior sanctuary is completely stunning. The fact that most of the interior is comprised of meticulously detailed, hand-carved wooden sculptures and statues is almost unbelievable. Add in the stained glass windows on each side of the sanctuary and it becomes a fully immersive work of art. Did I mention that the organ within the church consists of 4,700 pipes?? Wow! Another fun fact: Justin Trudeau was baptized here in 1972.
4. National Gallery of Canada
After our cathedral tour, we walked directly across the street to walk around the grounds of the National Gallery of Canada. The National Gallery, with its modern, geometric design, offers a striking architectural contrast to the oldest standing church in Ottawa right across the street. Since we didn’t have enough time to fully explore, I decided to put the National Gallery back on the list for a future visit. Want to explore the National Gallery for free? Plan to go on Thursday evening, when free admission is offered between 5-8 pm.
5. Nepean Point
For the best panoramic views of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River, head to Nepean Point. To find your way, just walk toward the huge statue of French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, standing at the top of the hill. Make sure you have plenty of room on your camera’s memory card for the abundance of captivating shots to be taken from this spot! Nepean Point also overlooks the Alexandra Bridge, connecting Ottawa to Gatineau, Quebec.
6. ByWard Market
After wearing our soles thin on Ottawa’s blacktop, we worked up an appetite and decided it was the perfect time to keep right on walking to ByWard Market. Combining art, crafts, produce, cafes, and street performers, ByWard Market provides several blocks of entertainment for all ages. Despite being Ottawa’s number one tourist attraction, ByWard Market does not have the typical touristy feel and actually has more of a local vibe during less busy hours. Also, being established in 1826 makes ByWard Market one of Canada’s oldest public markets.
Ok, technically, this could be included with ByWard Market. However, this unique Canadian dessert is so tasty it deserves its own category. Beavertails are basically fried dough shaped to resemble…you guessed it, a beaver tail. Add any variety of sugary sweet toppings and the deliciousness factor increases tenfold. If I were to make a comparison, I would say Beavertails are Canada’s own unique spin on funnel cake, but way more tasty. While there are a handful of BeaverTails locations to choose from in Ottawa, the original location in ByWard Market, operating since 1980, offers a more authentic feel.
As you can see, we packed in quite a lot in only 48 hours in Ottawa. While we logged no less than 10 miles on foot exploring this most awesome capital city, it was so nice to be able to walk just about everywhere we wanted to go. If you get the chance to go to Ottawa, I would highly recommend staying longer than two days. I would love to go back and spend a week or more enjoying things at a more leisurely pace. It seems that Ottawa may not get the credit it deserves, or, perhaps, is somewhat overlooked when compared to the bigger nearby cities of Toronto and Montreal. However, Ottawa should not be undersold on its offerings. I also found Ottawa to be a welcome reprieve from the constant crowds and fast pace of other cities. And then, of course you know, there’s Justin Trudeau.
Have you been to Ottawa? What would be on your Ottawa bucket list? Until next time, y’all, thanks for stopping by! To read more about our Canadian road trip adventures, click here. Follow Southern Roots Blog on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Become an email subscriber and never miss out on new blog posts!