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OTTAWA – GATINEAU
*Updated December 22, 2020*
As far as capital cities go, Ottawa is reasonably walkable. Whether you’re exploring its many heritage sites, browsing galleries, or taking scenic strolls along the river, you can do it all with a good pair of shoes or a trusty bicycle.
Explore new edinburgh – 9:00 am
DAY 1: Start off your morning in historic New Edinburgh
New Edinburgh is an upscale neighbourhood by the Rideau River — home to multiple embassies and the official residence of the Governor General. It wasn’t always so fancy though. Many of the early residents were mill workers, and the area was originally an industrial centre. The locals are so eager to share their neighbourhood’s charm that they’ve put together a self-guided walking tour of its storied streets. The tour gives an excellent history of the neighbourhood and highlights 17 historic buildings.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by Rideau Hall*, the official residence of the Governor General. This stately building used to be the home of Thomas McKay, a stonemason and entrepreneur who founded New Edinburgh back in 1832 and helped build the Rideau Canal. The grounds of Rideau Hall are a horticulturalist’s dream. There are rose gardens, greenhouses, a sizable vegetable garden, and lawns which are carefully landscaped to blur the line between design and the wilderness. If you visit in the cooler months, you can go skating at the winter pavilion.
*NOTE: As of August 1st, the grounds of Rideau Hall have re-opened.
Tour the Byward Market – 12:00 PM
Day 1 – 12:00 PM: Go on a tour at the Byward Market
If you’ve ever been to Ottawa, you’ve probably visited the ByWard Market. It’s hard not to love the pedestrian-friendly area filled with boutiques, cafes, art galleries, cultural sites and restaurants. You can wander on your own or join one of the many tours on offer, each with its own unique focus and format. Depending on the day of the week, you might stumble across one of the outdoor markets, where you can purchase fresh produce, baked goods, and much more; hours vary depending on the time and year and the weather.
Anyone looking for a spooky take on Ottawa’s historic spaces can sign up for a Haunted Walk. Learn about the alleged hauntings at the Bytown Museum, the Chateau Laurier, and the old Carlton County Jail.
VISIT THE OTTAWA ART GALLERY – 3:00 pM
Day 1 – 3:00 PM: THIS GALLERY’s architecture IS SIMPLICITY DONE WELL
The Ottawa Art Gallery’s* new building has an almost ethereal quality to it, with the perforated metal mesh of its facade creating soft transitions from the sharp lines of the cube toward the sky. The gallery is known for housing the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. Originally established by local collectors O.J. and Isobel Firestone, the collection focuses on 20th century Canadian art and has a significant number of works from the Group of Seven, especially A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris.
*NOTE: The Ottawa Art Gallery has re-opened to the public as of July 9th, 2020 on a pre-registration basis.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY & NEPEAN POINT – 10:00 AM
Day 1 – 4:00 PM: Meet Maman at the National Gallery of Canada
There’s another gallery not too far away from the Ottawa Art Gallery, and it’s right next to one of the best views in the city. Keep an eye out for the giant, metallic arachnid, Maman, by Louise Bourgeois, who greets everyone coming to the National Gallery of Canada*. The gallery has one of the most substantial collections of Canadian and Indigenous artwork, and a significant collection of works representing styles and traditions from all over the world.
A short walk from the gallery is the Alexandra Bridge Lookout which give a sweeping view of the Ottawa River and the city of Gatineau on the opposite shore. There’s also easy access to the Alexandra Bridge if you’re keen to pop over to Quebec for a little while.
*NOTE: As of July 18, 2020, the National Gallery of Canada has re-opened with adjusted hours.
Food tips: If you’re in need of a quick snack to enjoy with the view, then there’s the Tavern on the Hill not too far from the Alexandra Bridge Lookout. If you are crossing over to Gatineau, there’s an assortment of French, Italian, and Thai restaurants a stone’s throw from the bridge.
stroll through ottawa’s civic centre – 9:00 AM
Day 2 – 9:00 AM: Start the day with a leisurely stroll through Confederation Park & Ottawa’s Civic Centre
Opened in 1967 to mark Canada’s centennial anniversary, Confederation Park boasts several pieces of public art and monuments, including a memorial fountain dedicated to Lieutenant-Colonel John By and the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument by Noel Loyd Pinay.
It’s a short walk to Ottawa’s city centre, where you can admire the geometry of the courthouse, pass by the modern City Hall designed by Canada’s Raymond Moriyama, and a few museums to boot. You can get a slice of Canadian military history at the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Regimental Museum*.
There’s also the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, by sculptor Melvin Charney, which stands at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin. The monument was erected in 1990 to honour the peaceful pursuit of human rights.
The National Arts Centre* is on the other side of Confederation Park. The brutalist building recently opened its new wing, courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects. The most striking addition to the centre is the Kipnes Lantern, a hexagonal tower wrapped in transparent LEDs. At night time the tower comes alive with intense, colourful displays of Canada’s leading artists and productions.
*NOTE: The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Regimental Museum is open with limited hours.
*NOTE: The National Arts Centre is closed until further notice.
VISIT PARLIAMENT HILL – 11:30 AM
Day 2 – 11:30 AM: Explore Canada’s Parliamentary Precinct
Start at the bronze statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and then walk past the buildings of the East Block. This imposing structure, done in the Gothic-Revival style, once held the offices of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Now, it houses the offices of the Senate.
Next up, you’ll arrive at the Centennial Flame. This fountain, and its not-quite-eternal flame, started out as a temporary monument to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. Prime Minister Lester P. Pearson lit the flame on New Year’s Eve in 1966. The monument was so beloved by the public that it became a permanent fixture.
Right up the way from the fountain is the Parliament of Canada*, with its iconic Peace Tower rising skyward. The style is typical of the 19th century craze that was the Gothic Revival, featuring medieval embellishments like pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and more than a few gargoyles. Much of the Centre Block was damaged or ruined during a fire in 1916 and had to be rebuilt.
Continuing on, you find the West Block, which serves as the Interim House of Commons while work continues on the Centre Block.
Next up is the Confederation Building, which currently houses the offices of several serving MPs. It’s a more recent addition to the Parliamentary Precinct, opening in 1931.
Finally, you’ll arrive at the Supreme Court of Canada where two allegorical sculptures of Truth and Justice flank the central steps leading into the Grand Entrance Hall. While construction began in 1938, the Supreme Court would not take up residence until 1946 due to delays caused by World War 2.
Speaking of World War 2, the Canadian War Museum* is just up the road from here. Military history buffs should consider this one a must-see, especially with its massive collection of military vehicles.
*NOTE: All guided tours of the parliamentary buildings are suspended until further notice. The grounds are still accessible to the public.
*NOTE: As of our last updated, the Canadian War Museum has reopened to the public.
CROSS OVER TO QUEBEC – 3:00 PM
Day 2 – 3:00 PM: Cross over to Gatineau
Crossing the Ottawa River into Quebec is a simple affair, with two bridges nearby and a water taxi available in the warmer months. On the way to your main destination, you’ll pass by the Palais de Justice de Gatineau and the Maison due Citoyen.
The Canadian Museum of History* sits at the opposite shore of the Ottawa River across from Parliament Hill. You can learn about 15,000 years of history beginning with the earliest human settlements in North America all the way to the present day. The building is an architectural gem designed by Douglas Cardinal. The complex is defined by the undulating forms of its two main wings, which emulate the winding riverbank below.
You can wrap up the day with a stroll through Jacques Cartier Park, enjoying the sculpture, gardens, or historic structures therein, or just wander about and see what the streets of Gatineau have to offer.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Canadian Museum of History has reopened to the public.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
Rideau Hall – https://www.gg.ca/en/visit-us/rideau-hall
Byward Market – http://byward-market.com/en/home/
Ottawa Art Gallery – https://oaggao.ca/
National Gallery of Canada – https://www.gallery.ca/
Confederation Park – https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/confederation-park
Ottawa City Hall – https://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall
The Regimental Museum of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa – http://camerons.ca/museum/
Canadian Tribute to Human Rights – https://cthr-mcdp.com/
National Arts Centre – https://nac-cna.ca/en/
Parliament Hill – https://visit.parl.ca/sites/Visit/default/en_CA
Supreme Court of Canada – https://www.scc-csc.ca/
Canadian War Museum – https://www.warmuseum.ca/
Canadian Museum of History – https://www.historymuseum.ca/
Le Casablanca – http://www.lecasablancaon.com/
3 Brewers Sparks – https://www.les3brasseurs.ca/en/
Tavern on the HIll – https://www.tavernonthehillottawa.com/
Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel – https://hihostels.ca/destinations/ontario/hi-ottawa#
Andaz Ottawa Byward Market – https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/canada/andaz-ottawa-byward-market/yowaz?src=corp_lclb_gmb_seo_nam_yowaz
Ottawa Tourism provided information and assistance for the creation of this guide. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Esther Lee.