Beautiful, cultured, and filled with power players, Ottawa is Canada’s bustling capital city on Ontario’s Ottawa River. When you visit, it’s tempting to try to pack it all in because there’s just so much to do and see. Don’t. Instead, dive fully into a few of the city’s top offerings clustered in one area so you don’t waste time zipping here and there. You’ll get a better sense of the real place — and more importantly — relax and have a terrific time doing it.
Here’s your guide to an easygoing, interesting, and refined three days in Ottawa any time of year, all centered around seeing, doing, and eating in some of the city's best neighborhoods.
Power is alluring. So it’s no wonder Canada’s federal seat of government is Ottawa’s most-visited attraction, and Parliament Hill stages national celebrations year-round — most of which are free. In summer, there’s the daily morning Changing of the Guard, a large-scale formal ceremony with pipers and a brass band, and evening historical Sound and Light Show. You can also take a guided tour of Parliament.
Expect cosmopolitan dining catering to Ottawa’s VIP crowd. Savor a relaxed meal at critically acclaimed Play Food & Wine for seasonal small plates and creative cocktails, slurp oysters on banquettes surrounded by politicos at Parisian Métropolitan Brasserie Restaurant, or rub elbows with diplomats at the see-and-be-seen spot, Zoé’s Lounge at the Fairmont Château Laurier, for afternoon tea, cocktails, and nibbles.
Go locavore and shop for artisan gems at the year-round ByWard Market, a historic outdoor public farmers’ market just east of Parliament Hill. First, nosh on gourmet edibles on the go: charcuterie, fresh berries and apples, Scone Witch baked goods, oven-warm bread, hot chocolate at Cacao 70, perhaps a craft beer at Lowertown Brewery. Then finish the day walking the heritage neighborhood of quaint 19th century brick architecture with 500 eateries, boutiques, bars, and lounges.
Recharge at York Street Spa with a massage, hand or foot treatment, facial, or Rosemary Mint Body Wrap. The spa has a full men’s pampering program, too. Another option is Date Night Yoga at Upward Dog Yoga Centre or a combo session — BLISS: A fusion of yin, massage, assists, and aromatherapy. Just say, Ommmmm...
Re-fuel at hot spots Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar, serving handmade tacos-as-art from the open-concept kitchen, and networking hub Restaurant 18, an elegant fine dining venue. Go to 18 for Happy Hour craft cocktails and microbrew oysters, and a carefully curated wine selection. The daring can sample the chef’s blind tasting menu — traditional French with modern Canadian accents.
The Glebe? It’s a laidback, trendy town-within-the city filled with up-and-comers around Bank Street, south of Highway 417 and close to downtown. Residents love the sense of community, leafy streets, cultural diversity, and charming Victorians. All is walkable. You’ll want to grab a bite at Kettleman’s Bagel Co., troll the shops and restaurants, and poke around weekend garage sales to meet locals.
Like fine wine, Ottawa is meant to be savored. Take your time and get to know this elegant city at your own pace. Stroll the avenues, take in a sidewalk performance, and people-watch from a café patio. Who needs to feel frazzled on vacation? It really is true: less is more — so sniff, sip and swirl, don’t gulp. Enjoy!
Start planning your leisurely-paced vacation now at the Ottawa Tourism website.