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what to do in ottawa


What to Do in Ottawa One of the best things to do in Ottawa, especially if it’s your first time there, is to take a Gray Line 24 Hour Hop-On Hop-Off Tour (tours depart from jct. Sparks and Elgin sts.). English double-decker buses weave through the city, stopping at a dozen locations conveniently near the city’s most popular attractions, saving you shoe leather and giving you more energy to enjoy the sights.

For a relatively small city, Ottawa has deservedly earned bragging rights for its gorgeous architecture; the city’s impressive Parliament Buildings (on Parliament Hill) are a prime example. Built from 1859-66, the three Gothic-style structures boast copper roofs, turned verdigris-green with age, as well as gargoyles, friezes and ornate spires. The centerpiece of the buildings, and the largest, is the massive six-story Centre Block, which houses government offices, including the prime minister’s, and the 92-metre (302-ft.) Peace Tower, from which you can get an incredible view of the city.

Another shining example of Ottawa’s amazing architectureis the National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex Dr.). This jewel box of an art museum clad in granite and glass shelters a large collection of Canadian art, including many pieces of Inuit soft-stone sculpture, as well as classic and modern works by American and European artists. You’ll also encounter wall after wall of Canadian photography from the mid-1900s to the present. Outside the gallery stands Maman, a striking 30-foot-tall spider that dwarves visitors.

Yet another architectural stunner in Ottawa that no one should miss is the majestic Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (385 Sussex Dr.) built in the 1840s. On their own, the glimmering silver spires topping the exterior are quite eye-catching, but the inside is even more striking. Check out stained-glass windows galore and detailed wood carvings, and gaze up at the ceiling for a heavenly view of stars dotting a royal-blue background.

If you’re looking for fun things to do with friends, go to the Rideau Canal (the promenade runs for 8 km (5 mi.) from downtown along Colonel By Drive to the Hartwell Locks). In winter, ice-skaters and snowshoers flock to the frozen waterway; you can even rent a sleigh and go for a glide. Vendors set up shop on the smooth-as-silk ice and serve hot beverages and snacks to keep you toasty. Come summertime, boaters take over the water, and landlubbers enjoy picnicking, running or going for a stroll.

AAA/Patricia Miller
Take a 40-minute drive west of the city to visit Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum National Historic Site (3929 Carp Rd. in Carp) for a fascinating glimpse into Canadian life during the Cold War. This four-story underground bunker was built to house and protect government and military officials in the event of a nuclear strike and includes everything one would need to live for 30 days. Fans of mid-century furnishings will go gaga over the period rooms.

Admire the luxurious and ornate Fairmont Château Laurier (1 Rideau St.) and do lunch or dinner at one of its restaurants; treat yourself at the ritzy Wilfrid’s Restaurant or tuck into scones with clotted cream and other bite-size treats at afternoon tea. You may want to spend a few nights at this upscale hotel, a prominent landmark of this beautiful city since 1912.

AAA/Patricia Miller
Meander through the bustling ByWard Market district (bordered by Rideau, St. Patrick and Sussex streets and King Edward Avenue), stopping in boutiques and art galleries that strike your fancy and grabbing a bite at one of its many cafés, coffee shops and restaurants. An outdoor farmer’s market offers an array of the freshest local produce, meats, cheeses, breads and pastries, perfect for an inexpensive meal on a nearby bench.

AAA/Patricia Miller
Ottawa has many festivals throughout the year. Greet spring at the Canadian Tulip Festival , held for 10 days in May, when the city is adorned with about one million blooming bulbs—don’t forget your camera! In winter, check out ice carvings, snow sculptures, speed-skating competitions and cold-weather activities during Winterlude, held for three weekends in February.

Ottawa Tourism
In the mood for a little pomp and circumstance? The Changing of the Guard is based on the ceremony of the same name in London and is free to attend. Observe guards in ruby-red uniforms and tall black hats as they parade to a military band and perform drills on the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

AAA/Patricia Miller
Foodies will not be disappointed by the delicious offerings of Ottawa’s restaurants. Local favorite Wilf & Ada’s (510 Bank St.) oozes coolness with its brick walls and chalkboards, and their refreshing takes on breakfast and lunch standards will make your meal decision difficult. Lastly, when in Ottawa, you must have a smoked meat sandwich; Dunn’s Famous (355 Dalhousie St.) makes one of the best in town.

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Ottawa, ON

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Albert at Bay Suite Hotel

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Travel Information

City Population



87 m/285 ft.

Sales Tax

Ontario's Harmonized Sales Tax is 13 percent.



Police (non-emergency)

(613) 236-1222

Fire (non-emergency)

(613) 580-2860


(613) 998-3439

Road Conditions

511 or (800) 268-4686.


Montfort Hospital, (613) 746-4621; The Ottawa Hospital-Civic Campus, (613) 722-7000; The Ottawa Hospital-General Campus, (613) 772-7000.

Visitor Information

90 Wellington St. Ottawa, ON K1P 5L1. Phone:(613)237-5150 or (844)878-8333

Air Travel

Ottawa International Airport

Rental Cars

Hertz, (613) 521-3332 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members. For a complete list of rental agencies consult the telephone directory.

Rail Service

Via Rail's terminal, 200 Tremblay Rd. off Queensway (Hwy. 417), can be reached by city buses from Confederation Square. The station at 3347 Fallowfield Rd. can be reached by downtown bus 95; phone (888) 842-7245.


Greyhound Canada serves Montréal, Toronto, Mirabel Airport and other cities in Ontario, Québec and the United States. Its terminal, Ottawa Central Station, is at 265 Catherine St.; phone (613) 238-6668. City buses run by OC Transpo also serve the terminal.


Cabs operate on the meter system, with a minimum charge of $3.85 plus $1.72 for each additional kilometre. In excess of four passengers and asking the driver to load and unload baggage costs extra.

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