Well, we didn’t end up camping this past weekend after all. All of the parks we wanted to visit were booked up (yes, even dear ol’ Ferris) and we didn’t want to risk being disappointed by missing a drop-in spot. Long weekends are just too precious to gamble on, y’know?
So, instead of spending the weekend in a tent we decided to revisit the fine art of day-tripping. The beauty of the region I live in is that it’s close to a lot of cool places. The BF had never been to Ottawa (but he had heard plenty about my adventures there during Winterlude) so when the forecast called for plenty of sunshine on Sunday we dragged ourselves out of bed way earlier than anyone should be awake on a weekend and made the trek east.
Ottawa is a four and a half hour drive from Toronto (two and a half from where I live) and is home to about 900,000 people. It’s also Canada’s capital city (not Toronto, contrary to seemingly popular belief. Toronto is the capital of the province, which might explain some of the confusion. The “centre of the universe” mentality might also have something to do with it ;) But seriously, I tease because I love).
Like any big city (especially a capital city with as much history and cultural significance as this one) Ottawa deserves more than a day to explore and experience it. But, if a day’s all you’ve got, here’s how I recommend making the most of it.
Step #1: Make ByWard Market your home base
Ottawa’s ByWard Market was established in 1826, making it one of Canada’s oldest public markets. It’s full of great farmer’s stalls, boutique shops, and trendy restaurants (not to mention the BeaverTails stall, which is a must-stop for anyone that’s never had one before. It’s very important). There’s always something going on in the Market and, most importantly, it’s basically right in the middle of everything. The country’s beautiful Parliament buildings, Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site!), the National War Memorial (we were there the day before the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I so there were some fascinating demonstrations going on), the Rideau Centre shopping mall, and many museums and attractions are all within quick walking distance of the Market. We parked our car in one of the parking garages, grabbed some Bridgehead coffee and set out from there.
Step #2: Be a shameless tourist
Ottawa is one of those places where it’s totally okay to be a tourist. Rich in history and with so much to see and do, it basically demands your touristy attention. So get your camera out and go and see all of those attractions vying for your attention! There’s very little there that isn’t worth seeing and without purpose.
Of course, if you’re just there for the day, you will have to pick and choose what you do carefully. We wanted to see as many spots as possible so we didn’t go on many tours and only went into one museum (The Canadian Museum of History). That doesn’t mean we missed out though; while we didn’t take a tour of Parliament we did get there in time to catch the changing of the guard, which was pretty cool. On a tight schedule but still want to leave informed? Read the plaques you’ll find at virtually every attraction/corner and talk to the many helpful roving tourism information personnel you’ll find all over the city’s core.
Step #3: Get out of town
Fun fact: Ottawa is actually situated right on the Ontario-Quebec provincial border. A quick stroll across the Alexandra Bridge (a great way to get some stunning views of the city from above the Ottawa River – perfect for photos) or a leisurely water taxi ride ($9 round-trip or $5 one way) will land you in the city of Gatineau, Quebec. We made the trek over because 1) Kyle wanted to cross another province off his visted-list, and 2) it’s where the Canadian Museum of History is (great choice – it’s very cool). There are plenty of other attractions in the city to keep you occupied if you’re interested in exploring there too.
Bonus Step: Live vicariously through attraction gift shops
Like I said: If you’re pressed for time you probably won’t be able to fully experience every museum and attraction in the city (or even just the core for that matter). However, if you still want to get a taste for what you might be missing, take a wander through the attraction’s gift shop. Almost every big place of interest has one and they’re almost always free to access. Gift shops are often stocked with goods inspired by the exhibits inside and, in my experience, will give you a pretty decent summary of the attraction as a whole. The Royal Canadian Mint is a perfect example: There’s not much that you can see there without going on a tour but the gift shop is PACKED with beautiful coins and lots of information about what happens behind those for-pass-holders-only doors. I honestly had no idea that the Mint made most of what they do. It was really cool!
You can even pick a little something up while you’re browsing and make believe you were actually there (y’know, if you’re into that sort of thing ;)
Have you been to Ottawa before? What are some of your favourite places to visit while you’re there? Have any tips for making the most of Canada’s capital? Share them in the comments!