Ottawa Travel Information

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The city of Ottawa is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Ottawa and the Rideau. Its geographic location has shaped the city from its earliest days.

Founded as logging towns, Ottawa (originally known and Bytown), and its twin city, Hull (originally known as Wrightstown), were once among the roughest towns in the New World. In the early 1800s, most of the population was concentrated in Wrightstown, on the other side of the Ottawa River. In 1826, Colonel John By arrived on the scene with orders to link the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. The result was the Rideau Canal and a new village called Bytown, which, thanks to the canal, soon became a bustling boom town.

In 1855, Bytown was officially renamed Ottawa. Five years later Queen Victoria selected the city as the capital of the newly-founded Dominion of Canada.

With a population of about 750,000 Ottawa is smallish as capital cities go. The Ottawa International Airport is located in the south end of the city about a 20-minute drive from downtown. Visitors traveling by car arrive via Highway 416 from the south or Highway 417 from the east. Both highways join up with the Queensway, Ottawa's major east-west artery. Downtown access can be had by taking either the Nicholas, Metcalfe or Bronson exits northbound. Train and bus stations are downtown.

Once downtown the street layout is pretty basic, with all major streets running either north-south or east-west.

The City
There is a good reason why Ottawa is one of the most popular destinations among domestic travelers and globetrotters. As capital cities go, it is one of the most user-friendly in the world, filled with museums, green spaces, a wide range of restaurants and accommodations, and memorable events.

The most famous of these events is mid-May's Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest of its kind in the world. The festival's origins lie in a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs, presented to Ottawa in 1945 by a grateful Holland. Canada had given the Dutch royal family refuge during the war and, in 1944, a floor of an Ottawa hospital was declared part of Holland so that a princess of the exiled royal family could be born on Dutch territory. Today, millions of tulip bulbs are planted each fall in flower beds throughout the city. The result is a cacophony of color that has to be witnessed to be believed.

Another famous event is February's Winterlude, one of the largest winter festivals in North America, featuring the world's longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal.

In between these festivals are spectacular displays of fall foliage at nearby Gatineau Park, a winter of downhill and cross-country skiing at numerous surrounding slopes, and a summer of sightseeing, relaxing in sidewalk cafes, and strolling, rollerblading or bicycling along miles of pubic pathways.

Number one on every tourist's list of places to visit is Parliament Hill. Home to Canada's parliament buildings, Parliament Hill also offers a spectacular view of nearby points of interest such as the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Civilization.

Parliament Hill has three parts. The Centre Block contains the House of Commons and the Senate chamber as well as the Peace Tower, while the East Block and the West Block are occupied by members of the two houses. Guided tours of the Centre Block, which take in both houses of parliament as well as the parliamentary library, are held every 20 minutes in both French and English. During the summer months visitors to Parliament Hill can also take in the Changing of the Guard Ceremony every morning at 10am.

One block south of the parliament buildings is the Sparks Street pedestrian mall. During lunch hour the mall is filled with public servants who pour out of the many surrounding government buildings. Walk east along Sparks Street (that's left if you're facing Parliament Hill) and you come to Confederation Square, containing the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Running south of the square is trendy Elgin Street, with its many restaurants and busy nightclubs.

East of Confederation Square is the National Arts Centre, home to the NAC Orchestra and a variety of theatre productions and live performances. To the northwest is the landmark Chateau Laurier Hotel, built in 1912. Behind the hotel is Major's Hill Park, the oldest park in Ottawa. One block east of the hotel is the Rideau Shopping Centre, with over 200 stores, restaurants and services.

North of the Rideau Centre is the Byward Market. The Market has been a Mecca for visiting tourists for decades. Containing dozens of excellent restaurants and specialty shops, one can spend hours touring the area. Along with Elgin Street, the Market is also the place to go to experience Ottawa's night life.

Just east of the Chateau Laurier and running north along the west side of the Byward Market is Sussex Drive, home to several must-see attractions including the National Gallery, the Canadian War Museum, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Prime Minister's residence and Rideau Hall, home of the Governor General.

Behind the National Gallery one can find Nepean Point, with a statue of Ottawa's first tourist, Samuel de Champlain, at its summit. Across the Ottawa River and over the Alexandria Bridge in Hull is the Museum of Civilization, containing a state-of-the-art Imax theatre and Canadian Children's Museum.

Somerset Heights and Little Italy
Beyond the downtown core, one should find time to visit Somerset Heights with its multicultural mix of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants and specialty shops. The area is about a 10-minute bus ride down Somerset Street. Somerset intersects Bank Street, the city's main north/south artery, about 10 blocks south of Parliament Hill.

A short walk west of Somerset Heights along Somerset Street is Little Italy, which runs south along Preston Avenue. Be sure to walk down to the Prescott Hotel and enjoy a cold draft beer in one of Ottawa's oldest drinking establishments.

At the southern end of Preston Street one can access the Queen Elizabeth Driveway which runs along Dow's Lake and the Rideau Canal.

Sandy Hill
East of the Ottawa's main downtown area and south of Rideau Street is Sandy Hill, with its long, grid pattern roads and old growth trees. Situated in the west end of Sandy Hill is the University of Ottawa, surrounded by student dwellings. In the east end of the Hill one can find several embassies and diplomatic residences. To the far east, at the end of Laurier Avenue East bordering the Rideau River, is Strathcona Park. Hill dwellers take pride in the area's architectural past and are avid protectors of the many local heritage buildings.

Further to the east of Sandy Hill, across the Rideau River, is Vanier. A Francophone bastion for decades, Vanier has been working hard to transform its image as Ottawa's poorest community. A quick drive down Montreal Road yields a wealth of shops and stores which mainly service the local populace.

New Edinburgh
North of Vanier is New Edinburgh. One of Ottawa's oldest communities, New Edinburgh is situated to the northeast of the Vanier Parkway and Beechwood Avenue. During recent years a great deal of private development has helped reshape the area, turning it into a haven for the city's upwardly mobile middle class. With the change in population have come a number of trendy shops and restaurants, most of which can be found along Beechwood Avenue.

Rockcliffe Park
Follow Sussex Drive east past Sussex Drive and the Governor General's residence and then turn south at Buena Vista Road and you'll run smack dab into one of the richest neighborhoods in Canada. Rockliffe Park is both quaint and opulent. Many of the city's politicians, diplomats and high-tech nouveau riche have addresses in the tree-lined community. Chief among these is Corel president Michael Cowpland, who built a gold-mirrored mansion at the end of Buena Vista.

One of the more beautiful homes in Rockliffe Park is the Apostolic Nunciature, or office of the Papal Nuncio, at 722 and 724 Manor Avenue. The mansion, which can be seen through a curved archway, is also known as Manor House. Other homes of interest are the residences of the US and Russian ambassadors, located next to each other on Lisgar Road, and Stornaway, the home of the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, on Acacia Avenue.

The Glebe
Located south of the Queensway along either side of Bank Street is the Glebe, famous for its trendy stores, coffee shops and quaint restaurants. No shopping trip to Ottawa is complete without a visit to this eclectic mix of craft, clothing and toy stores. Look for that one-of-a-kind flying angel from Bali at Dilemme, authentic Andes woven sweaters at Quicha Crafts, garden knick-knacks at Thorne & Co. or scientific toys at Mrs. Tiggy Winkle's. In between stops enjoy a beer at Irene's Pub or the Royal Oak, a marguerita at Mexicali Rosa's or a café latte at either the Second Cup, Grabbajabba or Starbucks.

Located in the west end of Ottawa-Carleton is the city of Kanata, also known as Silicon Valley North. Kanata is home to many of Canada's leading high-tech companies including Mitel, Alcatel, Crosskeys and Mosaid. Like any bedroom community, there is not a lot to see and do in Kanata except the Corel Centre, home to the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators.

Across the Ottawa River from downtown Ottawa is Hull. Located in the province of Quebec, Hull is predominantly French speaking. Besides being home to the Museum of Civilization, Hull is also the jumping off point for the Hull to Wakefield steam train. A number of excellent restaurants can also be found here including Café Henry Burger and Oncle Tom.