The capital of the second-biggest country on the planet, OTTAWA wrestles with its reputation as a bureaucratic labyrinth of little charm and character. The problem is that many Canadians who aren't federal employees – and even some who are – blame Ottawa for all the country's woes. All too aware of thsis, the Canadian government has spent lashings of dollars to turn Ottawa into "a city of urban grace in which all Canadians can take pride" (so the promotional literature runs) and despite the undoubted success of the policy, this very investment is often resented. The innate hostility is deeply rooted, dating back as far as 1857 when Queen Victoria, inspired by some genteel watercolours, declared Ottawa the capital, leaving Montréal and Toronto smarting at their rebuff.
In truth, Ottawa is neither grandiose nor tedious, but a lively cosmopolitan city of over one million inhabitants that boasts a clutch of outstanding national museums, a pleasant riverside setting and superb cultural facilities like the National Arts Centre. Throw in acres of parks and gardens, miles of bicycle and jogging paths, lots of good hotels and B&Bs and a busy café-bar and restaurant scene and you have enough to keep the most diligent sightseer going for a day or three, maybe more. It's here that Canada's bilingual laws make sense: French-speaking Gatineau, just across the river in Québec, is commonly lumped together with Ontario's Ottawa as the "Capital Region", and on the streets of Ottawa you'll hear as much French as English.
As capital cities go, Ottawa is arguably the most visitor-friendly capital in the world. Small enough that everything worth seeing is within a brisk walk or an inexpensive cab ride, the city is also large enough to have something to offer nearly every taste whether it be cultural, culinary, athletic or historic.
As Ottawa has grown, so has its cultural diversity. There are many theater companies including the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa Little Theatre , which operate in the city. Ottawa is also home to the National Gallery of Canada and the National Arts Centre , not to mention the Canadian Museum of Nature , the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization which is located across the Ottawa River in Hull.
While Ottawa's downtown core is home to many of the city's major attractions including Parliament Hill and the National Gallery of Canada , it is a vibrant community unto itself with a large residential element and several shopping centers including the pedestrian Sparks Street Mall and the Rideau Shopping Centre .
One can also find many fine restaurants in the downtown core including Hy's Steak House , Suisha Gardens and Mamma Teresa Ristorante . The core itself runs from Wellington Street in the north to the Queensway in the south, and the Rideau Canal in the east to Bronson Avenue in the west.
For a taste of Ottawa's nightlife, be sure to visit some of the nightclubs and restaurants along Elgin Street including Griffin's , Big Daddy's Crab Shack and Oyster Bar and The Bulldog Pub .
South of the Queensway running along both sides of Bank Street, is the Glebe. As a trendy arts and specialty shop district, the Glebe, attracts many suburban transplants looking for a little downtown living.
Sandy Hill and the Byward Market
Across from the downtown core on the eastern bank of the Rideau Canal is the University of Ottawa, which borders the stately Sandy Hill district where a majority of the city's embassies are located. Across Rideau Street to the north of Sandy Hill is the Byward Market where every sense can be satisfied.
The "Market" is a tourist Mecca attracting both vacationers and locals to its many special shops and restaurants during the day, while in the evenings the streets are filled with late night revelers touring the area's many bars and nightclubs including On Tap the Heart and Crown and the Rainbow Bistro blues club.
Situated to the west of the downtown area is Somerset Heights, which was previously known as Chinatown before the age of political correctness and an influx of Vietnamese immigrants in the late 1970s. If it's Asian food you're interested in, then the Heights is the place to come. Along Somerset Street one can find some of the finest Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in the city including the Mekong Restaurant , the Yangtze and the Cam Kong .
About a 10-minute walk west down Rue Somerset from the Heights is Preston Street, the cultural center of Ottawa's Italian community. Every year during the last weekend in June the street overflows with people returning to their roots to celebrate Italian Week .
Running north and south along the eastern edge of the downtown core is the Rideau Canal where one can either walk, jog, inline skate or just sit on a bench and people-watch.
Further east from Sandy Hill is Vanier. This small neighborhood is the last bastion of the francophone community in Ottawa and they maintain their heritage with immense pride.
To the north of Vanier is Rockcliffe Park where one can find some of the most expensive real estate in Canada including the multi-million dollar home of Corel founder Michael Cowpland. Rockcliffe is also the home of 24 Sussex Drive and Rideau Hall , the homes of the Prime Minister and the Governor General respectively.
Across the river from Parliament Hill is Ottawa's twin city of Hull. Located in the French-speaking province of Quebec, Hull has grown up struggling to find an identity under the shadow of the nation's capital. Besides having many fine French restaurants, Hull is also the gateway to Gatineau Park , a wonderfully bucolic getaway run by the National Capital Commission. The Park itself has many fine bike paths, picturesque lakes and points of interest including the Mackenzie King Estate and Meech Lake.
Further to the west of the downtown core are the suburban neighborhoods of Bells Corners, Barrhaven and Kanata. While Barrhaven and Bells Corners are mostly bedroom communities with a smattering of restaurants and hotels, Kanata is the high tech center of Ottawa and home to many high tech giants such as Nortel, Mitel, Alcatel, Mosaid and Entrust. In Kanata, you can also find the Scotiabank Place , for some world-class hockey, do some shopping at the 60 shops in the Kanata Centrum and catch a movie at the adjoining AMC Kanata 24.
As the capital city of Canada, Ottawa has been a magnet for immigrants looking for a better way of life and the hope of a brighter future. Besides enriching the city's cultural heritage, the waves of Italian, East Indian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, and other new arrivals, have brought with them a culinary smorgasbord that is reflected in the many fine restaurants which can be enjoyed throughout the city.
Italian For Italian fare one should go no further than Mamma Teresa Ristorante on Somerset Street in the downtown core. Though slightly on the expensive side, a trip to Mamma Teresa's is worth every penny. For years Ottawa's political movers and shakers have met and dined on the restaurant's succulent veal entrees in any one of a number of semi-private alcoves.
Other Italian eateries that can be depended on for excellent food and fine service in the downtown core include the small, but quaint Fresco Bistro Italiano on Elgin Street and Fratelli on Bank Street in the Glebe. Meanwhile, in the Byward Market there is the slightly upscale Cafe Spiga Trattoria on Dalhousie Street, the always consistent Mangia across the street from Spiga, and the Cafe Baci located just down the street.
Of course, if it's Italian food you're after, you can always take a short cab ride to Little Italy, located along Preston Street, and sample from the menus at either Allegro Ristorante or Leonardo's .
But perhaps the most romantic Italian eatery is the Canal Ritz , located along the side of the Rideau Canal where you can either dine indoors or al fresco on the restaurant's expansive patio.
Further a field there is Capone's in the west end of the city and The March House located in Kanata.
French Stradling the Ottawa River and the Ontario/Quebec border, as Ottawa does, the city is also home to many fine French restaurants. Chief among these is the Cafe Henry Burger, which is actually located on Laval Street in Hull across from the Canadian Museum of Civilization . The menu at the Henry Burger is impeccable and the service is second to none. But be forewarned, it is also one of the more expensive restaurants in the city.
Back in Ottawa, Le Cafe , located on the main level of the National Arts Centre , adjacent to the Rideau Canal, is another not to be missed dining experiencem, although a night out for two can cost between CAD 80-100.
Elsewhere in Ottawa, Le Metro located on Somerset Street in the downtown core and Le Jardin in the Byward Market are also sure to please.
Indian For some reason Ottawa has a wealth of fine, reasonably priced Indian restaurants mostly located in the Glebe, just south of the downtown core along Bank Street, and in the Byward Market.
Most notably among these is the smallish, but always excellent Light of India on Bank Street. Also located on Bank Street is the New Delhi , while the Haveli Indian Restaurant and Cafe Shafali can both be found in the Byward Market.
Chinese and Vietnamese While there are many fine Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Ottawa, the best among them are located along Somerset Street in Somerset Heights, about a five-minute cab ride from many downtown hotels.
Whether you choose the Yangtze , the Mekong Restaurant or the Shanghai Restaurant you cannot go wrong. But for a real treat, that is both a culinary delight and light on the pocketbook, check out the unassuming Ben Ben Restaurant located across the street from the Yangtze. Ben Ben has been a popular mainstay of the local Asian community for over 15 years. For lovers of Vietnamese food there is the popular and affordable Cam Kong , also located in Somerset Heights.
Mexican Lovers of Mexican food also have quite a few eateries to choose from to please the palate including, Las Palmas and the Blue Cactus , both located in the Byward Market. Traditionalists will love the authentic Mexican fare served up at Feleena's in the Glebe, while for the best of the bunch for the money is Pancho Villa located on Elgin Street.
Seafood Seafood afficiandos can have their appetites satisfied at any one of three recommended restaurants, each in a different part of downtown. In the Glebe, seafood lovers have made Flippers a mainstay, while The Fish Market Restaurant in the Byward Market is known for its fresh product and succulent lobsters. More centrally located is Nick & Jerry's Simply Seafood on Albert Street.
Alternative fare For the more adventurous gastronomic travellers Ottawa has much to offer in the likes of the Savana Cafe which serves up rather eclectic Carribean fare on Somerset Street in the downtown core and the popular Big Daddy's Crab Shack and Oyster Bar which offers up wonderfully diverse Cajun fare including grilled alligator. Then there is Sante at Rideau Street and Sussex Drive in the Byward Market which changes it's experimental menu on an almost weekly basis.
Nate's Delicatessen on Rideau Street is another restaurant not to be missed during any visit to Ottawa. Owned by restauranteur Dave Smith, Nate's is the premiere deli in the city. And if you have the time, why not check out Moe's World Famous Newport Restaurant which doubles as the headquarters of the Elvis Presley Sighting Society and is filled with tons of Elvis memorabilia.
By boat, by car or by bus, Ottawa awaits discovery. However, the best way to explore the capital city is by foot.
Any walking tour of Ottawa should start at Parliament Hill . You shouldn't have trouble finding the most recognizable sight in Canada! The impressive Gothic revival buildings house the Senate and House of Commons. Tours of the government buildings and grounds are available year-round; at the very least, climb up the Peace Tower for a stunning panoramic view of the city.
From Parliament Hill, walk west down Wellington Street. Immediately on your left is the Bank of Canada, where corridors of vaults store our nation's gold reserves. The bank's Currency Museum provides a fascinating view into the history of currency around the world.
On the right are three must-see attractions in quick succession: the Supreme Court of Canada , the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. The Supreme Court, as its name suggests, is the highest court in the land. The National Library has two copies of every written article ever produced in Canada, including sheet music and sound recordings. And if you can't find what you are looking for there, the National Archives preserves unpublished documents like diaries, letters, photos, maps and computer discs.
Turn right and cross over the Portage Bridge to French-speaking Hull. Along the way, you'll walk past Victoria Island where the original inhabitants of the area first set up camp in the summertime. As you cross into Hull, walk east along Laurier Street while taking time to admire the Ottawa River. Paths bordering each side of the river offer outdoor enthusiasts the chance to walk, jog, blade or cycle amid beautiful scenery.
That bizarre-looking building up ahead on your right is the Canadian Museum of Civilization , home to archaeology, ethnology, history and folk culture collections as well as the Canadian Children's Museum and an IMAX theatre.
Before heading back to Ottawa, you might want to take a half-day Hull to Wakefield steam train excursion . The 1907 locomotive affords picturesque views of the glorious Gatineau Park .
You can now cross back to Ontario over the Alexandria Bridge . Once back in Ottawa you will find yourself on St. Patrick Street. Up a short hill to the left is the magnificent National Gallery of Canada . From Rembrandt to Canada's famous Group of Seven and relatively unknown Canadian contemporary artists, this gallery has it all. It's a peaceful place to take a break and admire world-class exhibits.
Across the street from the National Gallery is Notre Dame Basilica , Ottawa's oldest Roman Catholic church. To the east of the gallery is the Canadian War Museum where you can check out the historical war. Beside the War Museum is the Royal Canadian Mint , where you can nip in to see loonies and twoonies being made.
Keep strolling down Sussex Drive. On the rig ht is the Lester B. Pearson building, home to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Next to the Lester B. Pearson Building is the old Ottawa City Hall, which was recently sold to the federal government after the 11 municipalities that formerly made up the National Capital region were merged into one.
As you proceed further down Sussex Drive you will eventually come to the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive . Diagonally across from 24 Sussex is Rideau Hall , the residence of the Governor-General. Feel free to picnic on the grounds or enjoy a guided tour of the residence.
Backtrack your way along Sussex Drive to the Peacekeeping Monument . Turning left along any street will take you to the Byward Market . The oldest area in Ottawa, this market is bustling year round. Relax for a bite at a cafe or shop till you drop, depending on your inclination.
Zip back to Sussex Drive and turn right back onto Wellington Street. Admire the historical Chateau Laurier on the corner. Beside this luxurious hotel is the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, which highlights the work of Canada's best photographers.
Straight across from the Photography Museum is the National War Memorial honoring the sacrifices made by Canadians in war and home to the country's annual Remembrance Day ceremonies. At the base of the memorial lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a nameless father, husband or son who died in the First World War.
Strolling down Elgin Street, the National Arts Centre is on your left. North America's only bilingual, multi-disciplinary performing arts centre offers dance, music, variety shows and more.
Weary of walking yet? You can hop on a Rideau Canal boat cruise across from the NAC. In fact, it's virtually impossible to walk by without someone trying to sell you a cruise ticket.
Across from the National Arts Centre , on the corner of Sparks Street, is D'Arcy McGee's Irish Pub . For walks decidedly more creepy, join their haunted evening strolls .
Feeling overwhelmed? This walking tour should have just whetted your appetite for Ottawa sight seeing. At the corner of Metcalfe Street between Sparks and Wellington is the Capital Infocentre . Pop in for information about other tours of Canada's Capital Region and start again.