7 Ways to Experience Ottawa Like a Local

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, but it’s often skipped in favor of Montreal or Toronto. From street art and local festivals to exploring the outdoors on a quick day-trip, our local insider Hannah shows us why Ottawa shouldn’t be missed.

Canadian Parliament & Museums for History Buffs

Canadian Parliament offers free group tours throughout the day, depending on whether Parliament is in session or if there’s construction.

The Ottawa area also has several museums including the Museum of History and the War Museum. The museums and the National Gallery all offer some free time each week, so plan ahead if you're going to visit.

Byward Market & Local Neighborhoods to Explore

Take a stroll through Byward market, where over 600 businesses sell anything from trinkets to local farmers’ produce.

The Notre Dame Basilica in Lower Town neighborhood will certainly catch your eye – regardless of how religious you are, the impressive designs are certainly something to gawk at.

If you’ve chosen to visit in winter, head to Rideau Canal where you can skate across the frozen water. This 125mi (200km) waterway was constructed back in the early 1800s and is a UNESCO World Heritage site – not to mention one of the most memorable features in Ottawa.

Ottawa also has some pretty cool street art, especially in the Glebe and Vanier neighborhoods. Be on the lookout for bright murals up side-streets and outside local shops.

Byward Market, Ottawa. Photo credit: iStock

Get Some Fresh Air in Ottawa’s Parks

The thing that locals love about Ottawa is that it’s surrounded by nature. You’ll even see yoga classes happening in front of Parliament during the summer – feel free to join in!

Take a stroll through Majors Hill Park, Confederation Park, the grounds of Rideau Hall, and find a great photo spot at Nepean Point.

Wander the paths that wind alongside the Rideau Canal or the Ottawa River – which is part of the Trans-Canada Trail. Or, for an easy day-trip, head to the Gatineau Hills for hiking or skiing.

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Nightlife

Ottawa isn’t known for its party scene, but there are a few fun places to grab a drink with new friends. If you love beer, head to CRAFT or the Bier Markt. If you want to dance, check out The Great Canadian Cabin or The Heart and Crown.

The Byward Market area is your best bet to finding nightlife in Ottawa. Of course, if there’s an NHL or CFL game, any bar will do.

When the night is over, join the locals and head to Zaks Diner for your post-party food fix.

Festivals & Events in Ottawa

Ottawa celebrates all four seasons, and there’s always something going on.

During the winter you can expect tons of Christmas lights and a winterscape light show projected onto the Parliament buildings. Early February is Winterlude: a winter festival with ice sculpting competitions, special events, and a giant snow kingdom with ice slides for everyone.

Spring is the tulip festival; with hundreds of multi-colored tulips (an annual gift from the Netherlands) popping up across the city.

With summer comes Canada Day (July 1st), and several music festivals including Bluesfest.

Finally, fall is celebrated in with several community fairs, a Food and Wine Festival, and of course Canadian Thanksgiving, and Halloween.

Ottawa for Foodies

When it comes to local favorites, you need to try these: a freshly made sandwich from La Bottega, gelato from Stella Luna, and a beavertail from the stall in the market – yes, they are touristy, but locals love them too.

Ottawa also has Ribfest (June) and PoutineFest (April) – absolute musts if you’re around.

Street art in Glebe. Photo credit: Hannah logan

Getting Around Ottawa

Most of Ottawa’s attractions are really close together, which means you can walk from place to place. That being said, if you want to explore some of the more outlying neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Westboro, you will have to use OC Transpo – the city’s bus service.

Whatever the season, it’s always a good time to visit Ottawa.

Want to know more about Canada? Check out our podcast. We discuss when a traveler becomes a snack; the perils of wilderness adventure, a culinary tour of the provinces for foodies, and we speak to World Nomads photography scholarship mentor Richard I'Anson.

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