Metro cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal are the top travel destinations in Canada that attract hundreds of thousands of international travellers every year. Ottawa, on the other hand, despite being the capital city of Canada, is often overlooked as a vacation spot. The city might not be as large and modern as other Canadian cities, it is home to numerous historic sites, government office buildings and national landmarks that are not only important markers of Canadian history, but also represent an fundamental part of Canada’s system of government.
In today’s post, I will take you around various landmarks and attractions in Canada’s Capital, giving you ideas on how you can plan a 2-day trip to have a truly Canadian experience in Ottawa!
Day 1 Itinerary
9:30 AM| Visit Parliament Hill
Make Parliament Hill your very first stop! Home to the federal government, Parliament Hill is the political heart of the nation. The Parliament Buildings are gothic revival style structures that sit atop of the Hill overlooking the Ottawa River. It is a great place to start your Ottawa trip, especially if you’re visiting Canada for the first time.
The complex consists of the Centre Block, which houses the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament, along with the East and West blocks on each side.
Pro tip: Free guided tours to the Centre Block are available daily (with additional guided tours to the East Block open from July to early September). During the 20-50 mins tour time, you will become a pro and learn all about the history, functions and art of Canada’s Parliament!
The interior of the architecture is simply fascinating, enchanting us with its stateliness, elegance and vibrancy! We toured the Senate Chamber which is decorated in red to represent royalty. The ceiling of gold leaf features heraldic symbols representing Canada, England, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales with the names of Canada’s Governors General between 1867 and 1921 appearing in a band along the East and West sides of the ceiling.
The House of Commons, on the other hand, is decorated in green to represent the commoners. When the parliament is in session, you can sit in and listen to politicians debating over important issues of the country!
My favourite spot in the Centre Block is the Library, the design of which is so picturesque and grand. Remarkable woodwork with floral designs hand carved into the white pine paneling, large pointed-arched windows, and golden dome overhead, make it Canada’s best example of high Victorian gothic revival style.
Fast fact: On February 3, 1916, a fire destroyed most of the Centre Block, but the Library’s iron doors saved it from the disaster.
If you get a chance, head up to the Peace Tower for an incredible view of the city! On your way up, you will pass by Memorial Chamber on the third floor, a tribute to the Canadians who have lost their lives in conflict since the Confederation.
11 AM| Join a Guided Tour at Supreme Court of Canada
Located right beside the Parliament Buildings is the Supreme Court of Canada. Not sure what exactly to see there? Join one of the daily tours (offered in English and French) which will help you understand the operation of the Canadian judicial system!
The guide will take you to the Federal Court, which is Canada’s national trial court. It hears and decides federal legal disputes whose subject matter has been assigned to the Court by Parliament. Who says we can’t have a little fun inside the court? Look at us putting on the robe and posing as a judge!
The tour also includes a visit to the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal from all other Canadian courts. It has jurisdiction over disputes in all areas of the law. Do you know that the Court consists of a Chief Justice and eight other justices, 3 of which typically come from Ontario, 3 from Quebec, 2 from Western Canada, and 1 from Atlantic provinces?
For those who do not join the tour, you’re only allowed to walk around the Grand Entrance Hall and Judges’ Gallery. At the time of our visit, the Grand Entrance Hall had an exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Right Honourable Brian Dickson. He was served as Chief Justice of Canada from 1984 to 1990 and is known for the clarity and thoughtfulness of his judgments.
Noon| Brunch on the Hill (Option 1)
How about brunching on the Parliament Hill? Sure, that will certainly make a memorable experience! HOWEVER, it is only possible if you visit on a Friday AND if you are invited by a very important person in the Parliament (e.g., Member of Parliament).
Lucky us, dining at the Parliament was a dream come true, thanks to Mr. Darshan Singh Kang, the current MP representing Calgary Skyview Alberta! The brunch is served in buffet-style. At a cost of only $17.50 pp, you can enjoy a variety of fresh salads, meats, seafood selection, vegetarian dishes!
Noon| Grab a Bite at ByWard Market (Option 2)
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to brunch at the Parliament. I’ve got a better idea for you: grab a bite at the historical ByWard Market! A short walk from Parliament Hill will take you to one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. The area not only houses numerous cafés and some of the city’s best pubs and restaurants but also has food stands offering local products. After a quick bite, you can browse around the neighborhood and check out a few boutiques. You can even consider stopping by the museums and galleries nearby!
2 PM| A Quick Stop at Notre-Dame Cathedral
Just a few blocks away from the ByWard Market is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. You will be astounded by its Neo-Gothic style and the richness of its ornamentation. The soaring arches, dazzling combination of blue and gold, terraced galleries and stained-glass windows will leave you with your jaw dropped. No wonder it was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1990!
3 PM| Bike Ride Along the Rideau Canal
Get ready for some action! The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular destination in Ottawa, consisting of a chain of beautiful lakes, rivers, and canals winding 202 km from Kingston to Ottawa.
The best way to see the canal is through biking! Rent a bike from RentABike under the Plaza Bridge and start your trip from Ottawa Locks, which consists of a flight of 8 locks framed by Canada’s Parliament buildings on one side and the impressive Chateau Laurier hotel on the other. Then, ride south along the canal towards Dows Lake Pavilion. On the way, you will get a spectacular view of the Ottawa and pass by a few landmarks, including Aberdeen Pavilion (where outdoor Farmers’ Market is held in the summer), TD Place at Lansdowne, and Dows Lake (where the main Tulip Festival events are taken place)!
I highly recommend visiting Ottawa in May to experience the beautiful Tulip Festival! Over a million tulips are on display throughout the Tulip Route and out of those, thousands are sent by the Netherlands each year as an express of enduring gratitude and friendship.
Fun fact: Tulips were given in appreciation of the role Canadian soldiers played in liberating the Netherlands near the end of WWII and of the safe haven that members of Holland’s exiled royal family received in Ottawa.
Pro tip: The best place to view the tulips is at Commissioners Park, where ~300,000 flowers bloom and are laid out with lots of colours!
6 PM| Dinner at Signatures
Conclude the evening with a truly unique culinary experience at Signatures! The fine-dining restaurant offers contemporary, innovative French cuisine prepared by world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu Master Chefs
This brought our first day in Canada’s Capital to an end! Has it gotten you excited about your trip to Ottawa already? Head over to my next post for the second part of the itinerary to complete your Canadian experience!