When I tell people I’m from Ottawa, Canada I’m often met with a blank stare and posed with the question ‘Ottawa? Where is that?’. It seems funny to me that most travellers have zero idea that my hometown is, in fact, Canada’s capital city. A fact that, once disclosed, many people seem surprised about.
While I still find it funny, I am used to it. Despite being the capital, Ottawa is often skipped over for larger, more metropolitan cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Many describe the city as boring; a government town with zero nightlife. As a local, I should probably be frustrated with these accusations. But, to be honest, I kind of like being off the main tourist path. Because, no matter what everyone else says, I’m convinced that Ottawa is one of Canada’s best kept secrets. Here’s why.
It’s Beautiful Year Round
Canada celebrates four very distinct seasons throughout the year, and any one of them is a perfect time to visit Ottawa. During spring, the city comes into bloom with our annual tulip festival. Summer is filled with warm, sunny days (yes, we get a proper summer) festivals, farmers markets, and special events. Fall, many will argue, is the most beautiful time with the trees changing into red, yellow, and orange hues. And of course, the notorious Canadian winters which, despite the frigid temperatures, come with magical white Christmases, a festival called Winterlude, and the opportunity to ice skate on the UNESCO world heritage site, the Rideau Canal, which runs through the downtown core of the city. While some people may be more inclined to visit during certain times of the year, Ottawa doesn’t really have an ‘off’ season.
Big City Design with a Small Town Feel
Ottawa’s population is at about 1 million which may seem like a lot, but in comparison to other capital cities around the world, is really nothing. While the city is filled with tall, shiny office buildings, bustling crowds at rush hour, and hundreds of restaurants and shops; the people here are kind, genuine, and friendly. Smiles and hellos are commonplace and it’s not uncommon for complete strangers to strike up a conversation while waiting for the bus or for a coffee. And, fitting the Canadian stereotype, most Ottawans are incredibly polite, easily approachable, and willing to help.
It’s Close to Nature
One of the best things about Ottawa is that it is surrounded by nature. Not only is the city full of parks and green space, but it is located beside the river and across from the Gatineau Hills which makes it easy to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you are into hiking, cycling, kayaking or canoeing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, or even white water rafting; you can do it all nearby.
It’s no secret that Canada itself is incredibly multi-cultural, and that multi-culturalism is very evident and celebrated in Ottawa. Cultural festivals take place throughout the year which anyone can attend. We have a little Italy and China Town that are great to explore, and everywhere you turn you can find a shop or restaurant that promotes another country or culture. I can get delicious macarons from a French patisserie, authentic Vietnamese dishes from a few different restaurants, and delicious pierogis from a Polish deli. As an avid traveller, Ottawa’s multiculturalism has fast become one of my favourite aspects of living in this city.
In history class I learned that one of the reasons that Ottawa was chosen as Canada’s capital city was because the Queen of the time saw a painting and thought it was pretty. A silly reason to choose the powerhouse of a country? Perhaps. But, she wasn’t wrong; Ottawa is stunning. The gothic Parliament buildings with its stunning library (which has always reminded me of Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast). The castle-like Chateau Laurier hotel, and ornate Notre Dame Basilica. The city’s beauty can be appreciated by foot, by car, or even by boat during the summer months.
Ottawa may not have hot clubs or ancient monuments. It’s not filled with designer shops and world-famous Michelin Star restaurants. But the world is filled with cities boasting these and, in my opinion, Ottawa stands apart because it’s different. Ottawa may not be as famous as Paris or London, but Canada’s capital still has great food scene and plenty to see and do. Better yet? You don’t need a fat wallet to enjoy it all.