Canada’s charming capital, on the border between Ontario and Quebec, offers great summer festivals and low-cost national attractions.Canada’s charming capital, on the border between Ontario and Quebec, offers great summer festivals and low-cost national attractions.
Ottawa sits on the border of Ontario and Quebec. As a whole, Canada’s Capital Region consists of Ottawa in Ontario and Gatineau across the Ottawa River in Québec. The McDonald Cartier Bridge, accessible by vehicle or foot, links together these two cities. Inspired by the region’s wonders, travel author Laura Byrne Paquet wrote Secret Ottawa, The Unique Guidebook to Ottawa’s Hidden Sites, Sounds & Tastes. Byrne Paquet disclosed many of the capital’s more elusive treasures, like the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. So many of Ottawa’s sights and attractions, however, are easy and accessible for families to discover — and that’s no secret.
For the record, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, a great collection of Judaica, is housed at the National Library of Canada (613/995-7960) on the 2nd floor at 395 Wellington Street. Lowy, a Montreal businessman, began gathering rare Jewish and Hebrew books in the 1930s. Four decades later, he donated them to the library. The collection includes 4,000 books from the 15th to the 20th century. The public can view this collection by appointment.
Conveniently located across from Parliament Hill is the National Capital Commission’s Capital Infocentre (800/465-1867), a year-round facility dedicated to providing information for your visit. In warmer weather, an Info-Tent stands on Parliament Hill grounds as well.
A great way to check out the region is on Gray Line Double Decker Bus Tours (800/594-3310). Passengers hop on or off the tour at over 15 stops including Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, the National Gallery of Canada, Byward Market, the Canadian Aviation Museum, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. This is a convenient option, especially if you are only around for a few days, to experience some of the best of what the city has to offer to travelers.
Every Governor General of Canada has lived and worked in Rideau Hall (866/842-4422) since 1867. Tourists can explore the entrance hall, with its dramatic stained glass windows, and the vast Tent Room, with its bold orange stripes and portraits of British-born Governor Generals, used for large receptions. The surrounding formal gardens are also lovely to wander through.
The National Gallery of Canada (613/990-1985) is home to masterpieces by Canada’s Group of Seven, and international artists Monet, Picasso, and Degas. Collections include Canadian, Aboriginal, European, American, Inuit, modern, and contemporary art. The Artissmo kiosk is open on weekends with art activities for kids. Guided tours, free with gallery admission, are offered once daily in the summer and Wednesday through Sunday during the rest of the year.
Byward Market ( 613/562-3325) is Canada’s oldest outdoor farmer’s market. Adults and teens will enjoy the surrounding trendy shops, cafés, and clubs–the hub of Ottawa’s nightlife.
A must-see for airplane enthusiasts is the Canadian Aviation Museum (800/463-2038; 613/993-2010), with about 130 national and international antique aircraft. Exhibits include the Pioneer Era, First World War, Second World War, and much more. The family-friendly museum offers a number of programs geared toward kids, including a Night Flight Sleepover, for groups of children from 5 to 18 years old.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization (800/555-5621) is located in Gatineau on the banks of the Ottawa River. This is Canada’s largest museum, tracing history from the Vikings to now. Permanent exhibits include the Imax/Onimax Theater and the Grand Hall, a display of the native cultures of the northwest coast featuring 43 totem poles. The First People’s Hall further demonstrates the lives of Canada’s native peoples and the Canada Hall showcases 1,000 years of Canada’s history. Also on display is the Canadian Children’s Museum, where in an exhibit called the Great Adventure, children can pick up passports, visit a marker bazaar, decode hieroglyphics on the Nile, and the visit the Kids’ Café.
Party at the Capital
Festivals are plentiful in Ottawa throughout the year. Winterlude (800/465-1867), in February, offers many events including skating along the Rideau Canal. May brings the Canadian Tulip Festival (800/66-TULIP). Of course, the millions of colorful tulips are the main attraction, but fireworks, concerts, crafts and a creative Tulip Flotilla on the Rideau Canal only add to the blooming experience.
On July 1st, Canada Day, the region celebrates the birth of the Confederation in 1867. Other festivals include the Ottawa International Jazz Festival (613/241-2633) in the summer and the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival (819/243-2330) in early September.
There are plenty of choices to rest your head as most of the major hotel and motel chains are represented in Ottawa and the surrounding areas. These include Best Western, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Hilton, Marriott, Travelodge, Eco-lodge, Holiday Inn, and Embassy Suites, among others, so there are many options for both budget and luxury properties.
The Fairmont Chateau Laurier (613/241-1414, Reservations: 800/257-7544), named in honor of former Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier, is a National Heritage site. It’s also steps away from Parliament and has hosted royalty, celebrities and a multitude of politicians and diplomats. Wilfred’s is the hotel’s fine dining room.
Just down the street from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier is Daly’s in The Westin Ottawa (613/560-7000, Reservations: 800/937-8461). In addition to a great view of the canal, Daly’s offers gourmet cuisine. The hotel is a treat as well, with an indoor pool and in-house fitness facilities.
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