The capital of Canada attracts all visitors with splendid architecture, a beautiful river, world-class museums, a World Heritage Site, and the bustling ByWard shopping and market district – all within walking distance.
A short history
Ottawa was founded in 1826 and went through gradual expansions up to this date. The centre is situated in the province of Ontario but Quebec is right across the river. The British military project to secure a river passage at a safe distance from the presumed hostile United States resulted in the building of the Rideau Canal completed in 1832, part of which follows the Ottawa River. Land speculators moved in and the city was set to expand during the next decades. For strategic cultural and political reasons it was also chosen as the new capital of Canada in 1857. It has kept its status ever since, and has grown close to a million inhabitants.
Like any capital throughout the world Ottawa has its fair share of monumental government buildings, universities, large office edifices and national museums. This is the place where foreign heads of state are welcomed, like on my visit when the visiting presidents of the United States and Mexico led to a thorough closure of most streets and important buildings in the city centre.
Its location and history makes Ottawa part English-speaking and part French. The art of balancing these languages and cultures seems to be eminently handled by the authorities.
View of Parliament Hill above the Ottawa River
What to see
The Rideau Canal with its locks run right below Parliament Hill and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had the fortune of walking up and down the locks in bright sunshine watching how they are still in operation almost two hundred years after they were constructed. The Parliament Hill was a definite highlight, seen from a distance and up close. I managed to get inside on a tour and also watch the changing of guards on the lawn outside.
I visited two museums, both of which I highly recommend. One was the Museum of Nature which was very popular with families, the other was the National Gallery. As the nation’s capital there are numerous monuments spread out in the city centre, some of which are included in the picture gallery at the bottom of this page.
The ByWard Market is where a lot of action is going on day and night. Bars, restaurants and the actual selling of fresh produce make this an essential part of a visit to Ottawa.
All these sights are better explained in other resources, so let me just finish by presenting my map. It is expandable into a new tab or window, and also to be worked in by zooming and clicking. I spent some time before going and while in Ottawa, compiling these points of interest. My suggestion is to zoom in on Ottawa to discover my findings, most of which I actually made it to.
Learn more about what to see by heading to the Ottawa tourist authority (including a great video I couldn’t have made better myself) and guidebooks like Lonely Planet.
This article is part of a series based on a four-night visit to three major cities in eastern Canada. The result is introduced in these articles.
(2) Quebec City
(3) Ottawa (THIS)
WHC List #0300 – Historic District of Old Québec
WHC List #1221 – Rideau Canal
PICS – Canada
Finally, here are some miniature pictures to click and browse in larger versions.