Canadian parliament, Ottawa
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Canadian parliament, Ottawa

© / Norman Pogson

Ottawa travel guide

Cosmopolitan, classy and as cultured as they come, Canada’s capital is bags more fun than its somewhat staid reputation suggests. Think of Ottawa as the country in microcosm: a harmonious blend of urban and outdoorsy with a bilingual population, a coffee addiction and a healthy obsession with ice hockey.

At Ottawa’s heart are the neo-gothic spires and turrets of Parliament Hill. Stretching skyward on the steep bluffs high above the River Ottawa, these Westminster-style government buildings exude a European elegance that is echoed in the barge-lined undulations of the Rideau Canal as it cuts through the city centre.

Ottawa began life as a small lumber town, but a radical 20th-century redesign transformed the city into the leafy, elegant capital it is today. Much of the action still takes place in the original ByWard Market district – the focal point for the city’s French and Irish communities – which teems with closely-packed shops, restaurants and bars.

It might not be as lively or as garrulous as nearby Toronto, but Ottawa is the nation’s intellectual nucleus with a raft of museums and galleries to prove it. The city’s highbrow residents don’t spend all their time browsing exhibitions and sipping flat whites in coffee shops though - not with so many outdoorsy activities to indulge in.

From winter skating on the frozen Rideau Canal, the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink, to summer cycling on extensive recreational paths, there are countless ways to give your adrenal glands a good workout. When you want to escape the city altogether, a world of adventure awaits in the superlatively scenic Ottawa Valley

A packed calendar of events helps make Ottawa a year-round destination. Winterlude, which takes place over three weekends of February, offers everything from learn-to-skate clinics to a children’s snow playground and draws around 600,000 visitors. Music enthusiasts have no shortage of options either with Bluesfest, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and Ottawa Chamberfest all rolling around annually.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.