OTTAWA – Great food. Sleek new hotels. And lively neighborhoods. Ottawa is a city that’s most definitely moving in the right direction. Here are five things you need to do on your next visit. Oh yeah, Ottawa’s legendary Tulip Festival runs May 12-23.
PARLIAMENT HILL – I hadn’t visited our nation’s Parliament for at least 20 years. They offer wonderful tours, with fun stories about the history and architecture contrasted with very sobering areas, including the Memorial Chamber near the base of the Peace Tower.
A few minutes watching the House of Commons is a fascinating experience, and the main library might be the most beautiful interior space in the country.
CULTURE AND MUSIC – The National Gallery is a gorgeous facility just steps from Parliament Hill. You feel like you’re entering a new world as you walk up the ramp towards the main galleries. Of course there’s Canada’s Group of Seven and their famous landscapes, but you’ll also find cutting-edge displays from artists you may not have heard of but wish you had. Not to mention works by the likes of Rubens, Degas and Monet.
On the musical front, Ottawans have been flocking for nearly three decades to Chateau Lafayette in the Byward Market area, where every Saturday afternoon (for 26 years or so) a country/Canadian guy named Lucky Ron serenades a loyal crowd with everything from Johnny Cash to Stompin’ Tom Connors. Folks know all the lyrics and engage in back-and-forth banter and rowdy shouts of encouragement. Stuffy Ottawa? Not a chance.
BYWARD MARKET – You probably know about the famous Beaver Tails pastry stand and how U.S. President Barack Obama stopped by the market a few years ago. What you might not know is there are some seriously tasty food options (I loved the tacos at Corazon des Mais) and, across the road from the market building, some seriously inventive fashion. MILK sells lovely jewelry and in-your-face tee’s with phrases like “Canada Built” and “Canada as F—.” www.byward-market.com/.
RIDEAU AND THE RIVER – The skating rink in winter is legendary; a frozen trail that starts (or ends, depending on how you look at it) on the Ottawa River. At nearly 8 km’s, it’s said to be the longest natural rink in the world. In spring, summer and fall it’s where folks go to watch boats bob their way along or to stroll arm in arm. You can rent bikes in a number of places along the canal and ride out past Lansdowne Park and The Glebe neighbourhood, with its fine local shops and restaurants (try the Pomeroy House).
FOOD AND DRINK – My dinner at Navarra was as inventive and tasty as any I’ve had on the planet. I had an incredible foie gras with shiitake mushrooms Asian spices and a rabbit confit done up Mexican style with pickled pineapple. Also fun, with a great cocktail list, is The Black Tomato. You can take a terrific food tour of the Hintonburg and Wellington West areas with C’est Bon Tours. I sampled olive oils and specialty vinegars at Emulsify and nibbled on gluten-free, dairy-free brownies made with quinoa at Thyme and Again. Also included was a stop at Holland’s Cake and Shake, where they put cakes into your milkshake. The craft beer scene has exploded in Ottawa.
The folks at Brew Donkey can give you a tour of several of the top ones. The best I tried was Waller Street., located in the basement of an historic building with fantastic IPA’s. The beer isn’t as exotic, but it’s hard to beat a sunny afternoon on the patio at Lower Town Brewing.
WHERE TO STAY The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is a glorious property with the best location in the city. The afternoon tea is sensational, with or without champagne. The Alt Hotel folks recently opened an egdy, colourful property that has a great, youthful vibe.
NOTE: This story originally appeared in Postmedia and Sun Media websites and newspapers across Canada.
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