In fall, Ottawans pull on their sweaters and head outside to savor the crisp air and see the spectacular fall leaves changing colors. It’s a perfect time for a stroll, cycle, museum visit, or foodie festival, made all the better with a steaming mug of hot apple cider afterwards. Join the locals and take advantage of the season. Here are the top things to see and do in autumn:
1. Shop and Nosh at ByWard Market
Colorful, bustling, eclectic: the ByWard Market is a year-round, outdoor market — operating since 1826 — with 175 vendors offering anything from fine teas and artisan chocolates, to bouquets and fresh produce, small-batch cheeses and charcuterie, unusual arts and crafts. ByWard’s vintage brick-building ‘hood is filled with trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques, and galleries. Really, you could spend an entire day shopping and noshing. Why not?
2. Take in the City Sights on Bikes
Cycle the flat, 13-mile Osgoode Pathway, a renovated 1854 railway bed turned multi-use rec path. It’s a relaxing forest ride starting at Leitrim Road and heading south towards Osgoode Village. Another scenic cycle is past Parliament Hill west to the Canadian War Museum. Pick up wheels at RentABike across from the Fairmont Château Laurier and start exploring some of Ottawa’s 106 miles of downtown pathways.
3. Bite into a BeaverTail
A BeaverTail is pure Canadiana: a hand-stretched, fried wheat dough pastry in the shape of the animal’s tail (roughly). It’s kind of a Canadian doughnut version, rolled in cinnamon-sugar, or topped with Nutella and bananas, or fruit and whipped cream. Pick one up at an outdoor stand (at William and George Street or after skating the Rideau Canal) or at the ByWard Market and enjoy it with hot chocolate.
4. Dare to Try One of the Haunted Walks
Cloaked, lantern-toting guides take you on The Haunted Walk of Ottawa, a popular nighttime tour on foot of downtown’s ghosts and haunted history, including spooky stories about the Rideau Canal, Fairmont Château Laurier, and HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel. There’s a special “Ghost and the Gallows” Halloween tour, among others, too.
5. Feast at a foodie fest
Celebrate the local harvest with wine tastings, seasonal chef dinners, kitchen demos, and a 5,500-square-foot cheese vault at the Ottawa Wine & Food Festival. Each November, the city hosts 200 purveyors in an emporium of fine wines, confections, artisan breads, gourmet condiments, and delectable edibles. Learn from mixologists or craft beer masters at Prep School seminars, which are free with a Tasting Floor Pass , stomp grapes barefoot, or just meet, greet, sip, and swirl.
6. Revel in culture at the National Gallery of Canada
You’ll can’t miss the National Gallery of Canada on the Ottawa skyline: an eye-catching, tiered glass atrium on Parliament Hill, one of Canada’s premier art galleries and an architectural landmark. It’s all here: a comprehensive collection of 40,000 artworks spanning contemporary, international, and indigenous, from classics to avant-garde, plus crowd-wowing visiting exhibitions. Don’t miss it.
7. Explore the Rideau Canal
Ottawa’s heart is its beloved Rideau Canal — for ice skating in winter; walking, jogging, rollerblading, cycling, and paddling in warmer months. You’ll want to stroll downtown’s portion of this 126-mile, picturesque series of connected lakes, rivers, and canals — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — that runs from Kingston to Ottawa. Wander the green banks or take a guided boat tour — no matter which activity you choose, make sure you make the time to get to know “the canal,” as it’s called.
8. Join in on an animation celebration
Pixar or Disney fan? Don’t miss September’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, the most important gathering of indie animators and filmmakers for decades running. Screen a few of the nearly 100 short films, classics, features, and past winners, sit in on a showcase or talk, meet the talent, or attend the Nightowl party, a late-evening blow-out of gaming, drawing, and music.
9. Dig into the dining scene
As the nation’s seat of government, Ottawa is for movers and shakers. Understandably, the dining is as glamorous as it is superb. Try a trendy new eatery in The Glebe, ByWard, or Centretown neighborhoods. Chef Michael Moffat is hot, as are his three stellar restaurants: the more casual, small-plate-format Play Food & Wine, or critically acclaimed Beckta and gezellig for a splurge.
10. Stop by and enjoy a show
You’re in the big city, why not see a show? How about “The Book of Mormon” or an arthouse drama? Take in a musical, play, dance performance, or concert — rock, classical, pop, you name it — at the National Arts Centre, which is getting a big makeover in 2017 in time for Canada’s 150th birthday. Other outstanding production venues are the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa Little Theatre, and The Gladstone.
Canada’s capital city is just as fabulous other times of year too — in spring for tulips, summer for people-watching at sidewalk cafés, and winter for skating the Rideau Canal or touring Parliament Hill. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Canada’s top leaders passing by — the perfect backdrop for your vacation selfie.
See the Ottawa Tourism website to start planning your vacation now.