In Canada’s capital, our governing nexus, the centre of parliament, the Maple Leaf flaps proudly from many a flagpole. But if you think this vibrant city is all about pageantry and politics, you may want to take another look. Better yet, come along with us on this 36-hour whirlwind visit to Ottawa and discover a few of its must-see gems.
Friday 3 p.m. - A ROYAL RETREAT
We check into The Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a regal-like beauty that’s steeped with turrets, history and service, conveniently tucked into the city’s pulsating hub. Following in the footsteps of dignitaries and duchesses, we revel in the luxury and even go for the glitz - a fourth floor Fairmont Gold experience complete with pedigree perks like breakfast buffets and evening canapés.
4 p.m. - OTTAWA OVERVIEW
Walking tours are offered year-round, and even during these chillier months, it’s a great way to become acquainted with this city’s past and present treasures. Bundled in woollies and with Craig MacDonald leading the way, we stroll by famous landmarks and learn about Ottawa’s colourful traits - everything from political characters and legendary founders to its architecture and eateries.
8 p.m. - AMAZING GRAZE
...One of which becomes our gastronomy stop for the evening. Nestled in the heart of the ByWard Market is Murray Street, a favourite eatery that’s earned accolades for its charcuterie fare. Chef Steve Milton and his culinary team create pâtés, terrines, chutneys and other regionally inspired specialties. The quintessentially Canadian menu is complemented by a lineup of microbrews and fine local wines. Yum!
Saturday 9 a.m. - PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
After fueling up on the Fairmont’s morning spread, we’re stoked to see the sites and it seems befitting to start with the one that’s up front and centre. Though skeptical about doing a ho-hum government tour, we discover this is anything but! Neo-Gothic arches embrace the impressive copper-roofed structures that sprawl over an emerald lawn. Behind these majestic walls, the grandeur continues. Gleaming marble, stately limestone, ceilings of stained glass.
Like mice of the Pied Piper, we follow our guide, Eric, and get a Coles Notes overview - from the devastating 1916 fire that destroyed the original edifice, to today’s noble Senate Chamber, where the Head of State schmoozes with parliament.
Centre Block is where most of the action takes place, even for the dozen felines that shack-up behind this hallowed hall. To the east of this cat sanctuary is the whispering wall that doesn’t permit the sharing of secrets, and topping it off is Peace Tower, a view-boasting perch that provides one pretty city panorama.
11 a.m. - GLIDE ON THE WORLD’S LARGEST RINK
Sandwiched between the Parliament buildings and our getaway gem is the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that links Kingston to Ottawa. During these winter months, 7.8 kilometres of this pristine waterway is devoted to those who like to lace up and skate. The super-sized rink stretches all the way from the downtown core to Dows Lake, making it the largest in the world. A pedestrian pathway hugs up to both sides, so even those without blades (like us) can get in on the action. If you visit in February, Winterlude offers even more!
2 p.m. – IT’S TEA TIME BACK AT THE CHATEAU
Dainty sandwiches, lox with cream cheese, cranberry scones and thick clotted cream – they’re all served on fine bone china and with sterling service. If this beloved British ritual doesn’t make you feel like a queen, nothing will. Although once a hoity event, Zoe’s Lounge eliminates all pretentious airs. We arrive in our tourist duds and feel right at home when raising our pinkies. It’s a feast that’s literally steeped with tradition and one that gets our vote!
4 p.m. - GLEBE TROTTING
A short taxi ride away is Glebe, once a turn-of-the-century blue-collar community, now trendy and terrifically hip. Boutiques, bookstores and shops border the tree-lined streets and, when it’s time to dine, the options are awesome - Wild Oat for the health conscious, Flippers for the fish lover, New Nupur for spicy Indian fare. After much deliberation, we opt for a regional favourite in nearby Old Ottawa South.
6 p.m. - ONE TERRIFIC TAILOR - er...uh...TAYLOR
John Taylor made his mark on our capital as the chef of Domus Café by utilizing fresh homegrown ingredients to create his regional fare. And like any good thing, it took off. Fortunately, for foodies like us, he’s opened Taylor’s Genuine Food and Wine Bar, a nosh spot located just beyond Lansdowne Park. Seafood from Lake Erie, veggies from the local market, in-house-prepared pancetta, sausage, and terrines - each artistically presented dish is a fusion of flavour.
Sunday 9 a.m. - MEANDERING MUSEUMS
Ottawa is one cultured capital! With 29 museums to choose from, and limited time left, we opt for three of the bigwigs. The Canadian Museum of Civilization retraces a thousand years of Canada’s history and provides us with a “Face To Face” forum of prestigious people who have shaped our nation.
At the Canadian War Museum, we check out everything from Canada’s military timeline, war art and battle scenes to its eco-green grass roof.
And at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), we ooh and aah at the finest collection of Canada’s visual arts in the world. Crowned by headsets and meandering through its palatial galleries and Great Hall, we get the commentated audio scoop by well-versed radio voices and Canada’s former governor general, the honourable Adrienne Clarkson.
2 p.m. - NEPEAN AND NOTRE-DAME
Both of these must-see landmarks offer different Ottawa perspectives. From Nepean Point, just behind the NGC, the vista stretches all the way to Gatineau, Quebec. And within the sacred confines of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, it’s the stunning architecture, a symbol of its prestigious past. This city’s oldest standing and largest church, and seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, is recognized as a national historical site. Light filters through the panes of stained glass to an impressive nave that’s canopied by gothic arches, bordered by terraced galleries and anchored by a stunning altar - definitely a place that inspires the spirit!
3 p.m. - BY THE WAY...
Don’t miss the ByWard Market! Up to 175 vendors set up shop at this open-air venue and, even in the cold of winter, it’s bursting with business. We saunter the aisles where bistros butt up to boutiques, arts and crafts play together and veggies, fruits and flowers brim over with abundance – it’s an amazing menagerie of savoury delights, inviting scents and colourful sights. And like the rest of our 36-hour Ottawa soirée, it’s full of surprises!
If you go:
Check out these websites when planning your trip: