Story Ideas

Secret Ottawa: the insider’s guide to exploring Canada’s capital.

Live like a local and discover the city’s natural beauty, cool bike (and ski) paths, funky museums and great food.

09 October 2013

Suggested tweet: Live like a local and explore #Ottawa’s capital secrets @Ottawa_Tourism @TourOutaouais #explorecanada

Many visitors don’t experience the heartbeat of Canada’s world-class capital. However, insiders know there’s way more to see in Ottawa, ON, than just the towering Gothic spires of Parliament Hill, annual events such as the Canadian Tulip Festival or Winterlude and the splendour of the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So here’s a sample of spots that the locals love to boast about.

Parliament Hill is a must, but what are its secrets? Enjoy a panoramic view of Ottawa from the Peace Tower, with its 360-degree view of the city’s incredible natural setting. The Ottawa River, Canada’s “first Trans-Canada highway” into the heart of the nation, stretches before you, which brought First Nations, explorers and settlers to the confluence of the Gatineau and Rideau rivers. Here, indigenous peoples traded goods, stocked up on provisions and exchanged news. Learn about these people and ancient artefacts excavated at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

While on “The Hill,” stroll the grounds and take the sculpture tour. Walk (or rent a Bixi bike) along the paved pathways at its foot that course alongside the Ottawa River. Catch the mood of the river, perhaps spy a beaver or birds and find the tipis on Victoria Island, which is home to Aboriginal Experiences, Canada’s only urban aboriginal cultural attraction.

This journey also takes you to the Entrance Bay locks of the Rideau Canal. Learn about the canal’s construction at the Bytown Museum. What’s totally cool there? Find the plaster-cast hand of one of Canada’s famous Fathers of Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, who was assassinated on Sparks Street, now a nearby pedestrian mall.

Talking about murder and intrigue, get an insider’s scoop on our oh-so-naughty capital by taking an evening Ottawa Haunted Walk.

What else is unique? Ottawa’s the only capital in the world housing a working farm in its midst. Canada’s Central Experimental Farm boasts a park-like Arboretum, ornamental gardens, Fletcher Wildlife Garden, Canada’s Agriculture Museum and barns that are open to the public. The Farm is totally kid-friendly: children can watch cows being milked and, in season, pet calves, lambs and piglets.

Tip? The Farm is on Ottawa’s 180-km (112-mi) network of bike paths, which locals use in winter for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Funky museums, you ask? Diefenbunker Museum is in Carp, northwest Ottawa, built in the Cold War as an underground bunker/retreat to house the prime minister and VIPs in the event of a nuclear attack. Investigate the evening films, where movies such as the classic Doctor Strangelove are shown.

Nature embraces Ottawa. Explore the rare, almost 8,000-year-old peat bog called Mer Bleue, an internationally recognized Ramsar wetland, via a series of boardwalk and other trails. Love to paddle? Kayak thrilling rapids or canoe tranquil waters. There’s also the rock art resembling inuksuks that artists such as John Ceprano and others erect on the shores of the Ottawa River at Remic Rapids.

Hungry? Savour Ottawa is a city-wide, farm-to-table initiative that’s well supported here. Local farms such as Acorn Creek Garden Farm (where you can visit and purchase fresh produce), supply restaurants such as chef John Taylor’s Domus Café with freshest local produce, ensuring tasty, locavore meals.

So, come, linger longer and discover Ottawa’s true heartbeat.

Follow us on Twitter @DestinationCAN

Check out more details of Ottawa and its surrounding regions in Katharine Fletcher's companion guidebooks.

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