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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 its 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. Once an industrial centre, many of the area’s early residents were mill workers. Locals are eager to share their neighbourhood’s charm with visitors and have put together a self-guided walking tour that sheds light on its storied streets.
This neighbourhood is home to multiple embassies and 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; carefully landscaped rose gardens, greenhouses, and lawns blur the line between order and the wilderness. If you visit in the colder months, try skating at the winter pavilion.
Tour the Byward Market – 12:00 PM
Day 1 – 12:00 PM: EXPLORE THE Byward Market
If you’ve ever been to Ottawa, you’ve probably visited the ByWard Market. It’s easy to love the pedestrian-friendly area filled with boutiques, cafes, art galleries, cultural sites, and restaurants. 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, which is full of produce, baked goods, and much more.
Anyone looking for a spooky take on Ottawa’s historic spaces should sign up for a Haunted Walk to 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; the perforated metal mesh of its facade creates soft transitions from the sharp lines of the cube toward the sky. Originally established by local collectors O.J. and Isobel Firestone, the gallery’s Firestone collection focuses on 20th-century Canadian art. It has a significant number of works from the Group of Seven, especially A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY – 4:00 pM
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 near the spot to take in one of the best views in the city. Keep an eye out for the giant, metallic arachnid, Maman, by Louise Bourgeois, who greets everyone who walks up to the National Gallery of Canada. The gallery has one of the most substantial collections of Canadian and Indigenous artwork and also hosts a significant collection of works representing artistic traditions from all over the world.
A short walk from the gallery is the Alexandra Bridge Lookout, which gives a sweeping view of the Ottawa River and the city of Gatineau on the opposite shore.
Food Tip: For a filling snack nearby, try The Tavern on the Hill. If you are crossing over to Gatineau, there’s an assortment of French, Italian, and Thai restaurants just 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 public art pieces and monuments, including the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument by Noel Loyd Pinay.
Take a short walk to Ottawa’s city centre to admire the geometry of the courthouse, check out the modern City Hall designed by Canada’s Raymond Moriyama, and explore a few museums along the way. Learn about Canadian military history at the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Regimental Museum. You may also pass by the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, by sculptor Melvin Charney, which stands at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin.
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 the tower comes alive with intense, colourful displays by Canada’s leading artists.
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 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.
The Parliament of Canada, with its iconic Peace Tower rising skyward, is just up the way. Its style is typical of 19th-century Gothic Revival, featuring medieval embellishments like pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and gargoyles. Further along is the Confederation Building, which currently houses the offices of several serving MPs. Opened in 1931, it’s a more recent addition to the Parliamentary Precinct.
You’ll soon arrive at the Supreme Court of Canada, where two allegorical “Truth” and “Justice” sculptures stand beside the main steps leading into the Grand Entrance Hall. The Canadian War Museum is just up the road from here. Military history buffs should consider this one a must-see; it has a massive collection of military vehicles.
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 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. 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, designed by Douglas Cardinal, is an architectural gem, defined by the undulating forms of its two main wings, which emulate the winding riverbank below.
Wrap up the day with a stroll through Jacques Cartier Park, enjoying its sculpture, gardens, and historic structures, or just wander about and see what the streets of Gatineau have to offer.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
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.