My husband, our kids and I couldn’t wait for summer break. We decided to take a road trip up to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city from Arlington/Washington DC. For those who haven’t considered visiting Ottawa before—now is a good time! There are so many great things to love about Ottawa.
Ottawa is an amazing picturesque city packed with a ton of on-going festivals and fun stuff to explore with the kids! It’s also a very easy city to drive in and ride bikes. It’s very clean, safe, walkable, bilingual (English and French are spoken here), laid back weekend city with a great dining scene. We spent an entire week in Ottawa this summer and I’d like to share with you some of my favorite places that we explored that I think makes for a fantastic family vacation.
STAY: Setting up a home base away from home is essential to creating a comfortable stay for your family. Albert At Bay is without a doubt, the best place in the entire city of Ottawa to stay with your family. They have bedroom suites hailed as the largest suite sized rooms in Ottawa for the same price as a standard hotel. The suite is complete with a large living room, dining room, a full size kitchen, a full bath and one or two bedrooms, each with two queen sized beds. For all practical purposes, this is a luxury sized apartment rental for the same price as the other hotels that are fancier in name only. They offer free wi-fi for up to 10 devices, free local calls (I don’t know of any other hotel that offers that anywhere), and there’s even a balcony! This place is truly amazing! There’s a full sized Laundromat, full sized fitness center with a gorgeous rooftop and there’s a 24 hour convenient mart right next door. Best of all, it’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of all things touristy, yet within walking distance of all of the main attractions.
- The Rideau Canal is a chain of beautiful lakes, rivers and canals winding 202 km from Kingston, at the head of Lake Ontario, to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. One of Canada’s historic canals, the Rideau is maintained and operated by Parks Canada to preserve and present the canal’s natural and historic features, as well as to provide a navigable channel for boaters. It is absolutely gorgeous and offers so much nature and tranquility.
- Paul’s Boat Lines for a tour of The Ottawa River or The Rideau Canal Cruise from May to October. Paul’s Boat Lines have been around since 1936 and include:
- Parliament Buildings • Supreme Court • Museum of Civilization • National Art Gallery • Rideau Falls • Residence of the Prime Minister • and much more.
- All cruises come with a bilingual and live commentary.
- The tour duration is approximately 1.5 hours from the Ottawa dock and 2 hours from the Hull dock.
- Take a Free Tour of Parliament: Discover the history, functions and art of Canada’s Parliament with a guided tour of Centre Block. This iconic building is home to the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament. Free tours are available daily.
- Changing the Guard: Every morning at 10am, Parliament Hill offers a free Changing the Guard ceremony (similar to the one performed at Buckingham Palace).
- Yoga on Parliament Hill: Every Wednesday at 12noon (weather permitting), there is a free yoga class on the lawn in front of the Parliament Buildings. This is a fun photo opportunity, as literally hundreds of people show up. Very colorful.
- Explore the bike paths: RentABike can get you kitted out and provide great suggestions for routes, whether you want to explore the Rideau Canal (Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site) or ride along the Ottawa River or explore some great neighborhoods.
- Thursday night free museums: Many national museums including the Canadian Museum of History (formerly known as The Museum of Civilization), Canadian War Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of Nature and more offer free admission on Thursday nights, either as of 4pm or 5pm.
- Calypso Theme Waterpark: If you have access to a vehicle and your kids like the water, visit Canada’s largest waterpark, Calypso, located just about 25 minutes’ drive east of the downtown
- Soft-adventure whitewater rafting: Also on the water is a brand new rafting option. You’ll go through three sets of fairly mild rapids, but you’ll have the option to swim in the Ottawa River and hear stories about the logging industry, voyageur fur traders and First Nations people. Minimum weight: 50lbs This trip departs from Britannia Park, about 15 minutes west of downtown (and accessible from public transit)
Ottawa has a very eclectic dining scene. There is literally something for everyone here.
- Murray Street: Chef Steve Mitton is a master in all things charcuterie. My husband and I dined at this fine establishment twice while on vacation. The restaurant is romantic, chic and offers some of the freshest farm to table food in all of Ottawa. The staff adds a hip and cool vibe to an already awesome venue. Perfect for a date night or dinner with friends and colleagues. Our absolute favorite restaurant in all of Ottawa.
- Town: Definitely make a reservation in order to get a good table during prime hours here.
- The Green Door Restaurant is Ottawa’s oldest and best known vegetarian restaurant, having served many thousands over the last 25 years. They specialize in high quality foods and baked goods made from ingredients that are organic and locally grown and produced. They are buffet, cafeteria style.
- Tuckers Marketplace Restaurant offers an award-winning buffet serving unsurpassed quality of food, with almost everything made from scratch using only the finest, freshest and most authentic ingredients possible. Everything from breads warm from the oven, pick-your-own salads and hearty soups to made-to-order pastas, stir fries, hand-carved roast beef and tantalizing desserts. All at one all-inclusive price.
- Poutine Parlour is located a short drive from Ottawa in a town called Orleans. It is hailed by some locals as the “best poutine in the Ottawa area”. Not having had poutine before, I was thoroughly impressed with this local food truck. I have even considered franchising it and bringing it to the DC area–I like it that much. There is something for everyone here.
- Dunn’s Market Deli Established in 1927, this restaurant has a huge menu offering dozens of sandwiches, all day breakfast, burgers, steak and the local favorite, poutine.
- Cora is an amazing place to take the kids for breakfast, lunch, dinner or simply dessert. It’s like IHOP on steroids–bright, fun, energetic and really good comfort food.
- The Black Thorne Cafe is proudly located in a National Capital Commission building. This was once the home of Albert Thibert and his family. Monsieur Thibert was a nineteenth century carriage master (the mechanic of the day) who lived upstairs and operated his business on the main floor. The menu has a ton of fresh seafood and salads on the menu, including a menu for kids pizza.
- Black Cat Bistro offers modern French Bistro fare within an awesomely trendy setting. There’s also a prefix menu offered Tuesday thru Thursday that changes weekly.
- El Camino is the perfect tacos, tequila and raw bar for any night of the week.
Here’s a list of Ottawa parks and playgrounds
- Andrew Haydon Park
- Brewer Park
- Britannia Park
- Confederation Park
- Dow’s Lake
- Lansdowne Park
- Macdonald Gardens
- Major’s Hill Park
- Mooney’s Bay Park
- Nepean Creek Park
- Rockcliffe Park
- Strathcona Park
- Vincent Massey Park
Ottawa is one of the most walkable cities in the world. Another good way to get around is to rent a bike.
WHAT TO PACK
Ottawa is a very relaxed, casual and outdoorsy city. Plan on packing as if you’re going on a backpacking/hiking vacation with perhaps one or two “nicer, upscale outfits” for dinner. Comfortable, outdoor fitness gear with comfortable and water resistant shoes make for an idea “vacation uniform.” Be prepared for all types of weather. Depending on what season you travel, you could experience all four seasons within one trip. I’m not kidding. Be sure to pack sunscreen,insect repellent (in summer), sunglasses, plenty of layers and possibly a small backpack or fanny pack. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, but a camera is important to capture those awesome landscapes and those precious moments with your family.
If you have any comments, questions or tips about Ottawa that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!