5 Things to Love About Ottawa

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I've only been in Canada's capital city of Ottawa for 2 days, it's true – but in those 2 days I've seen quite a bit and gotten a feel for the city. Despite it being cold enough to make all my extremeties go numb after 5 minutes, there are plenty of things I'm already loving about Ottawa.

I would recommend taking a last minute vacation here like I did if it's possible for you. This city is full of so many things to do — and so many things to love.

5 things to love about Ottawa

1. Ottawa is walkable

I'm staying at the Courtyard by Marriott downtown, right in the heart of the Byward Market neighborhood. Staying downtown means that I'm within walking distance of most of the city's major sites, from its museums, to the Rideau Canal, to Parliament Hill. This is the kind of city I love — one where I can just pick a direction and walk, and always find something interesting.

Parliament Hill

2. Ottawa is bilingual

I've never really spent much time in a city that appears to be truly bilingual. Almost everyone speaks both English and French, which I guess I knew but was still surprised by. And, really, is there anything cuter than a little kid speaking French? (The answer is no.)

3. Ottawa is full of great restaurants

Before coming here, I definitely did not consider Ottawa a foodie's paradise. But you know what? It kind of is. There are restaurants and cafes everywhere, and many of them participate in the “Savour Ottawa” program. This initiative works to bring together local farmers and producers with local chefs and consumers, which I think is fantastic. There are also great pubs and bakeries here — and of course the famous Beavertail stands!

Obama Cookies

4. Ottawa has so many bookstores

This may seem like an odd addition to this list, but as I've been walking around downtown a lot (and especially in the Byward Market area), I've been noticing a huge number of bookstores here. This is a big contrast to where I'm from, where we're lucky to have one Barnes and Noble per city. Canadians must be much more interested in reading than we Ohioans are!

5. Ottawa is not overwhelming

I realize Ottawa has nowhere near the population of some other world capitals, but I've been struck by how much Ottawa DOESN'T feel like a huge, overwhelming city. The traffic isn't scary, people have generally been very friendly, the streets are clean, and it's very easy to find your way around. I'm a country girl at heart, and so don't generally love big cities. But Ottawa is doing a pretty good job of making me love it so far.

Rideau Canal

I can't wait to see what else this city has in store for me!

READ NEXT: 5 MORE Things to Love About Ottawa

Have you been to Ottawa? If so, what do you like (or dislike) about the city?


*Disclaimer: My stay is being graciously taken care of by Ottawa Tourism. As always, though, all opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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55 Comments on “5 Things to Love About Ottawa

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  1. you MUST go to the museum of civilization…it is one of my all time favorite musuems. very interactive. leaning made painless. and it’s a beautiful complex too right on the river.

      Have no fear, it’s on the agenda for this weekend!! Ottawa certainly doesn’t seem to ba lacking in cool museums!

    I’m hoping to add this city to my travels late this year. Glad you love it, and thanks for the info.

      Awesome! Stay tuned for plenty more Ottawa coverage! There plenty more where this came from.

    I love Ottawa and I love that you’re showcasing Canada’s capital city here! I haven’t been there in a while but when I visited a friend in university about 10 years ago, I recall there being some great bars, I think in the ByWard market area. Enjoy the rest of your stay!

      I feel like perhaps unlike Washington DC, Ottawa might not get the travel blog love it deserves as a world capital! So I’m happy to have the chance to give it some attention. 🙂

      And yes, there definitely are tons of pubs and bars all over the place here. Unfortunately, they aren’t as much fun when you’re traveling solo and don’t drink! Lol.

    Hi Amanda,

    It’s nice to hear that you are enjoying yourself in Ottawa. I have not had the pleasure of visiting this city, yet. So, I am just appreciating the ride here!
    I have to agree with you on how wonderful it is to visit a city that is “walkable” and easy mass transit. I like the feeling of being able to take my time and see things on eye level. Like I did in San Francisco, which (minus the hills), is still very walkable.

    Bundle up and enjoy!

      A city that’s walkable is usually sure to win me over. While Ottawa does seem to have a good bus system and affordable taxi services, I much prefer to walk everywhere if I’m able to. You get such a better feel for a city when you’re seeing it on foot!

    That last photo is super cool. I don’t know about the cold, though – I think I’d visit Ottawa in the summer! 😛

      Haha, yeah, Ottawa would be great in the warmer months! (Not that it’s not great now… but you certainly have to bundle up to go outside this time of year!)

    Love the photos Amanda 🙂 Have fun in Ottawa!

      Thanks, Laurence! There’s plenty more where these came from, too! 😉

    I’m so glad you like my capital city. I’ll admit that I only visited when I needed to get my UK visa, but I really loved the downtown area and the proximity of the green spaces. I think it represents Canada really well (except for its notable resident Stephen Harper, but that’s a whole other story), with its laidback attitude and diversity.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

      I haven’t really seen anything outside of downtown… but I’m really liking what I’ve seen thus far! It’s a much cooler city than I was originally lead to believe!

    Glad to read that you are enjoying my neck of the woods. For a great croissant or chocolatine, head to Le Boulanger Français on Murray Street (the restaurant Murray Street accross the street is great for lunch or brunch – a bit more expensive at night). For the best sandwich ever, head to Edgar on rue Bégin in Hull, accross the river. The best coffee can be found at the different Bridgehead locations in the city. Enjoy !

      Thanks so much for the great recommendations! There certainly are enough places to find great food here!

    I’ve never been to Ottawa but now I am very intrigued! Did you say bookstores?? I love wandering bookstores and we, unfortunately, only have Barnes and Noble too.

      Yes, TONS of bookstores! Used books, new books, specialty books… all sorts of book stores everywhere here, especially in the Byward Market neighborhood! And lots of cafes, too, which are the perfect spot to cuddle up with a coffee and read on cold days like this!

    I love Canada and would love to visit Ottawa some day!!!
    Why are all cities to the north just so much cuter then what we have down south:-)?

    Glad you are having a great time!!

      Well if you ever get the chance to go to Ottawa, I’d say do it!

    Check out the Hintonburg and Westboro areas for the 1st Thursday of the month art walk. You can visit 6 art galleries (many offering snacks and wine) for free from 5 to 9pm! And there are great restaurants, bars, cafes in the area for afterward. It’s a far walk from the Market/downtown area though, best grab a bus.

    There’s also the Urban Craft market this Saturday as well.

    Ottawa is a great city to visit in any season – glad to hear you’re enjoying our capital!!

      Definitely am enjoying it, despite it being cold. I’m an Ohio girl, so the temps aren’t bothering me too much. Plus, there’s plenty to see and do here to keep my mind off the cold!

    I love Ottawa! It is clean and friendly! And great art and musuems if you are into that

      I’m not as into art as I’d like to be, but I’m definitely checking out a couple museums here!

      I agree that this city comes off as very clean and friendly!

    We had no idea you’d be visiting Ottawa!! Can’t believe how different the city looks in the winter – we had such a great time there in the summer (which was actually much hotter than we thought) – hope you’re not too cold to enjoy the city 🙂 Have you tried a beaver tail yet?

      Ottawa was kind of a last-minute decision, but I’m loving it! I can imagine it would be even more awesome in the summer, though!

      And no, I’m saving the BeaverTail for Saturday! But it is absolutely on my list.

    I’ve never been to Ottawa (aside from an airport layover) but it’s definitely a city that I’d love to visit. Walkable, good food, books – I’m pretty much sold.

      You should definitely visit if you ever have the chance, Alouise! There actually seem to be a good number of Canadian tourists here right now, which is nice to see!

    I love the snowy photos of the parliament building! You’ve created a great atmosphere in the cold, snowy photos. I don’t know anything about Ottawa so this is a great introductory post. Can’t wait to see what else you get into there!

      Thanks, Laura! I’ve got plenty more photos to share, too. And I think most people are in a similar boat, not knowing much about Ottawa (I certainly didn’t before I came here), so I’m happy to be able to share what I’m learning! Stay tuned.

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    I absolutely love Canada. And there is nothing cuter than a little child speaking French.

      Except maybe a little kid speaking in a British accent… that is also ridiculously adorable. 😉

    It’s been quite a number of years since I’ve been to Ottawa, but it’s a city I really would like to revisit. We were there a couple of times during the summer, so we enjoyed walking around the Byward Market and exploring the amazing selection of worldwide cuisines we found available in the city’s restaurants (one of my favorite meals was in a little Dutch restaurant). The Museum of Civilization is a must f’sure.
    We stayed downtown and had a birds-eye-view of the parade leading up to the changing of the guard at Parliment Hill. We also happened to be there one year during Canada’s 125th anniversary, so I remember seeing a great fireworks show. I’ve always wanted to go during the winter, though.

      I feel like there would be a much different vibe to the city in the summer — for instance, I know the whole Byward Market area transforms into basically one big outdoor patio when the weather is nice. I’d love to come back and see the city in the warmer months, too!

    LOVE Ottawa! Spent lots of time there. Parliament Hill is beautiful, and I love the bilingualism. There’s more French in Ottawa than Montreal, for the love of god.

    (That may or may not be an exaggeration.)

      Parliament Hill is indeed beautiful. I’ve made a point of it to walk by at least once a day, just because we don’t have buildings like that where I’m from!

      Also, as for the French, I was told today that because the government is now required to be bilingual, most kids have to take 8 or 9 years of mandatory French classes in school here. So I suppose it makes sense that so many people speak 2 languages in Ottawa!

    I love how you thought that the abundance of bookstores was an odd addition. I love bookstores and the fact that they are going out of business is heartbreaking! The photos you included in the post were so crisp, I feel like I’m seeing everything with my own eyes.

      It makes me super sad that there are so few bookstores around these days — which is probably why I took notice of them in Ottawa!

      Glad you liked the photos — check out my Parliament Hill post for even more!

    Glad you enjoyed my home town. 🙂 You may already be gone, but if you’re ever back… here are some restaurants to try.

    Mid-scale dinner – Stoneface Dolly’s in little Italy (not Italian though)
    Interesting dinner – Sweetgrass in the market (it’s aboriginal fusion… or something)
    Cozy pub – Pub Italia in Little Italy (Irish, actually)
    Best brunches – Baker Street Cafe in Westboro and the Manx on Elgin (if you can handle the hipsters)
    A bit wacky – the Works, several locations (burgers like you’ve never had before)
    Bakery – Art-Is-In Bakery in or near Little Italy (I think they may have moved but there still in that area). Mindblowing breads among other things, and apparently they also do a brunch there but I’ve never been.

    If you’re here in the summer, and once they repair the tracks after last year’s flooding, the Wakefield steam train is a great activity (especially in autumn) and you get to poke around the tiny town of Wakefield (little shops and an incredible bakery, among other things). My family cottage is just outside Wakefield, so I’ve spent a lot of time there and still don’t get tired of it.

      Thanks for the great suggestions! If I can manage it, I’d definitely like to visit again in the summer.

    I’m going to Ottawa in a week, so this is good to read. Any favorite restaurants while you were there?

      Awesome! Have a good time.

      As far as restaurants go, I mostly ate in the Byward Market neighborhood. You can get quick, cheap take-away meals in the market building itself. Planet Coffee has good desserts and some good soups. La Bottega (an Italian grocery store) has a little deli in the back where you can get really good sandwiches for $5. And if you’re looking for a fancier (and much more expensive) meal, I had a delicious dinner at The Courtyard.

    […] only stayed a few hours there. I definitely need to make a longer trip one day, because apparently, Ottawa is pretty amazing!The astronomical clock in PragueDespite the photo being actually quite good, I really hated the […]

    Just found this post through A Montrealer Abroad. Ottawa is my hometown and I can say it’s an amazing town! People used to write Ottawa off as a boring government town (something they’d never do for Washington!) but it has come such a long way!
    I’m glad to see you were going to hit the Museum of Civilization-it has got to be one of the coolest museums in the country! My mum used to manage the gift shop there. Ottawa is such a gorgeous city and you are a brave girl for going in winter! Ottawa is the world’s 2nd coldest national capital-a distinction we take on with pride hahaha. If going in winter, February is actually the best time to go because Winterlude, one of the world’s largest snow festivals, is on and the weather is actually notorious for getting inconveniently warmer.
    The fall is the best time to visit as it’s still warm during the day but the leaves are all changing colour and it’s beautiful!!!
    I’m so glad to see you loved my town (even though I don’t live there anymore) and has such nice things to say about it. Enjoy the rest of your travels through my amazing country!

      Ottawa was indeed an awesome city, even in the dead of winter! I actually kind of liked visiting when not many other people were there – I got a different perspective of the city. I’ll definitely have to go back during another season sometime to see how it compares!

    Ottawa is great in the summer for patio drinks, boating and hitting up some festivals. But for me, the winter is the best time for Ottawa. So many things go on that other cities don’t have. The lights around Christmas are beautiful along the canal (which you can skate for kilometers on) and around parliament.

    The war museum is world class.

    Grab a beaver tail as well.

    PS Ottawa is hardly bilingual.. Just the folks who work in the government. . Just saying!

    Thanks for the post!

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