Wondering how to do Ottawa in a day? Here’s a little guide!
Raise your hand if you didn’t know Ottawa was the capital of Canada because American public schools failed you with geography! *Raises hand in embarrassment*
Yep! It wasn’t until Alyshia was outlining our trip for me and mentioned offhand stopping in Ottawa if we wanted to see Canada’s capital city that I realized… I have probably always assumed Toronto was my norther neighbor’s answer to Washington DC! Whoops!
Turns out Ottawa has been the country’s capital since 1857. Queen Victoria actually chose it because it was midway between Montréal and Toronto and farther away from the US border, giving it a better chance at defense. Today the city is home to just under 1 million Canadians, including PM Justin Trudeau who apparently was jogging through the park right before we arrived.
Funny enough, we opted to stop into Ottawa for roughly 24 hours for the same reasons Queen Victoria chose it as the capital – it acted as a bit of a halfway point between Québec City and where Alyshia lives in Oakville near Toronto!
Ottawa in a Day: Our Exact Itinerary
I’m writing this itinerary as though you’ve arrived in Ottawa in the morning and are leaving in the evening. However, ours was actually split as we arrived in the afternoon, slept over, and then did some sightseeing all morning. You guys are smart and know how to mix and match this itinerary to fit your own schedule.
Start with Breakfast
There are a few fun breakfast places around Ottawa! We ate at Jax, which makes sure to source all their ingredients locally. I got the smoked salmon bagel, a side of bacon, and an ice coffee while Alyshia got the The Ben sandwhich. Yum! I will just warn you that, like most places in Canada, this spot is not equipped for a heatwave. Outdoor seating is mostly in the sun and the A/C unit was working overtime trying to cool down the inside.
Jax is also about 30 minutes on foot from the next stop on this itinerary. If you’re driving, there’s street parking nearby and street parking around the city is free on the weekends, so you could just do that. Or if you want to just park your car for the day/don’t have one, you can always rent the electric scooters to get around faster. There are a few different brands, but we used the bright orange Neuron ones. You just need to download the app and have a way of paying!
Pass by Parliament Hill
The main thing to see in Ottawa is Parliament Hill. As you might guess, this is where the Parliament of Canada is situated. The whole grounds are about 22 acres. It’s a pretty massive Gothic revival structure with a Centre Block and West and East Blocks that surround a sort of square.
Also across the street sits a statue for Terry Fox, who I learned is sort of a Canadian hero. Diagnosed with bone cancer in 1980 and having to amputate a leg, he attempts to run the length of the country to raise awareness for cancer research. Unfortunately, he died in 1981 at only 22, but his memory lives on and according to Alyshia every Canadian knows who he is.
Take a moment to remember every child matters
When we walked over to see Parliament Hill closer, we noticed there was a huge demonstration with children shoes and toys. If you haven’t heard in the news, this is in response to the horrific residential schools in Canada. These schools, run by Christian churches, took Indigenous children from their homes and were meant to force them away from their culture and into the European-Canadian culture. As if that weren’t horrible abuse enough, recently (May 2021), people found the remains of 215 children at just one school in British Columbia. You can read more about Every Child Matters and Orange Shirt day here.
Check out Ottawa’s Castle
Like Québec City, Ottawa has a chateau as well. The Fairmont Château Laurier is designed in a Gothic Revival Châteauesque style and was built between 1909 and 1912 to act as a hotel for the city. It may look familiar if you’ve been to Epcot in Disney World as it’s the basis for the Hotel du Canada there!
Rideau Canal Locks
Château Laurier sits in Major Hill’s Park, and right next to the park are these Rideau Canal Locks. This is small series of locks that open when a boat comes through. Cool to watch if you happen to be there when it does!
Walk through Major’s Hill Park for a cool view
From here walk through Major’s Hill Park to get to your next destination. The park is quite lovely on its own and gives you some cool views of the chateau as well as Parliament Hill from below.
Head to the National Gallery
Your next destination will be the National Gallery of Canada. There are a few cool museums you can visit in Ottawa, and we opted for this one. It’s Canada’s main art museum and was originally established in 1880. Inside are a number of permanent and rotating exhibits both historical and modern. I’d allot at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours to really enjoy each collection.
Say hi to the giant, scary spider
On your way in and/or out, be sure to say hello to Maman, the 30ft high spider by Louise Bourgeois. Truly horrifying and the stuff of my nightmares.
Stop for a late lunch in Byward Market
By now, you’re probably starving! Head over to ByWard Market to check out the many stalls and spots for lunch. ByWard is one of the oldest farmers markets in the whole country, dating back to 1826. I don’t have any specific place to eat in mind as we got there as the market was closing but check here to see the list!
Don’t forget to eat the Beaver Tail
One thing not to forget is a beaver tail! Don’t worry, no beaver was harmed in the making. These guys are pretty much fried dough rolled out to resemble the lil guys’ flat tails and covered in all sorts of goodness. The classic is made with cinnamon and sugar, which is what we split.
Stroll around ByWard
Once you’ve had your full, stroll around the market and ByWard itself. Down along York Street is a fun area which includes the Ottawa Sign and famous mural stairs. The murals change, so what we saw may not even be what you saw! The one up when we went was called “Birds of a Feather” by Andrea Manica and Caitlin Taguibao. Here’s a cool video of how it’s put together!
Pick a spot to eat dinner (Blue Cactus)
If you’re anything like me, at this point you’re tired from being on your feet all day! Head over to one of the restaurants in the area for dinner. We ate at Blue Cactus Bar & Grill. They had some nice outdoor eating, and we split some nachos and tacos.
Grab a drink and just relax
That’s all I really have for a day in Ottawa! You can always grab a drink — the oldest tavern in Ottawa, Chateau Lafayette, is right near the Ottawa Sign. I’m sure there are loads of others as well.
If you’re staying the night, we stayed at the Arc the Hotel, which was nice enough for the price and location!
And that’s exactly how we did Ottawa in a day! I’m sure there’s loads more to add to this list, and we’ll just have to come back in the winter to go skating when the canal freezes over.
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