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The Ottawa region’s identity has been influenced by many cultures, including First Nations, French, English, Scottish and Irish. The city of Ottawa is located within the traditional Anishinàbeg Algonquin territory. Since several rivers meet here, the area was an active transportation corridor for an astounding diversity of Indigenous groups and travellers. In fact, the city’s name is derived from the Algonquin word “Odawa,” meaning “to trade.”
European explorers passed through the region beginning in the 1600s, followed by Irish, French and Scottish settlers, who launched the local timber trade in the early 1800s. Population also increased with the construction of the Rideau Canal (1826-1832) as a military defence and transportation route in case of war with the United States. The settlement was known as Bytown until it was incorporated as the city of Ottawa in 1855. Queen Victoria chose it as the new capital of Canada in 1857.
Located between Toronto and Montreal, and just north of the eastern United States, getting to Ottawa is easy. And since the metropolitan region stretches across the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Québec, you can visit two provinces in one destination. Cross one of the bridges, take a boat across the river, or even ride the world’s first interprovincial zipline, Interzip Rogers (seasonal)!
Walkable urban spaces
Around every corner on both the Ontario and Québec sides of the Ottawa River, you’ll find unique, safe and walkable neighbourhoods to explore. Try craft beverages and fresh cuisine, shop for big brands or local designers, and admire colourful urban art. For instance, the historic ByWard Market area is always bustling, with its year-round farmers’ market, restaurants, cafés and nightlife, as well as unique spots such as the original kiosk of the world-renowned BeaverTails pastry treat.
The diverse culinary scene in Ottawa includes everything from food trucks to fine dining, as well as dozens of craft breweries, distilleries and wineries. Chefs and residents benefit from a bounty of fresh products from over 1,000 farms—more than Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver combined—and shop at popular farmers’ markets. Many local chefs trained at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute (the famed school’s only official campus in North America) or in culinary programs at local colleges.
Pristine outdoor spaces within the city and in the nearby countryside offer a wide variety of activities in all four seasons. The region is framed by beautiful waterways, including the Ottawa River, the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From spring through fall, you can go boating or paddling; for an adrenaline rush, one of the world’s best whitewater rafting destinations is just over an hour from the city centre. Winter weather brings opportunities for snowshoeing and skiing (cross-country and downhill), as well as ice skating options ranging from trails in the forest to the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway.
Cycling enthusiasts of every level can explore over 800 kilometres (497 miles) of urban and rural pathways, plus mountain biking trails in the nearby hills, including Gatineau Park. The Greenbelt surrounding the city’s core features hundreds of kilometres of eco-friendly, multi-use trails for walking and hiking through diverse landscapes, such as forests, sand dunes and wetlands.
Ottawa is the perfect place to soak up national and regional cultures. Parliament Hill, the seat of Canada’s federal government, welcomes visitors on free tours of its historic buildings. Seven of Canada’s nine national museums immerse you in Canadian history, art, war, aviation, science and more. The National Arts Centre represents the entire country through orchestra, dance, variety, and multilingual theatre programming. Other sites of national importance include the historic Fairmont Château Laurier (the first in a series of hotels constructed by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company), Rideau Hall (historic home of the Governor General of Canada), the RCMP Musical Ride Visitor Centre (where the renowned horse-riding group practises), Laurier House National Historic Site (where famous prime ministers lived) and the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum (a real bunker-turned-museum).
Fascinating and unexpected local stories also unfold at sites such as the Bytown Museum (Ottawa’s history starting with the construction of the Rideau Canal), the Ottawa Art Gallery (regional art including the Group of Seven and beyond; free admission), Museopark Vanier (Ottawa’s French-Canadian history), as well as city-run sites such as Watson’s Mill (the operations of a working 1800s flour mill), Cumberland Heritage Village Museum (early 20th-century life) and many more. You can also join a guided tour (including walking, cycling and boat cruising) for an inside look at history, food, haunted sites and more.
Ottawa hosts exciting annual events that attract international audiences. Visit during Winterlude to celebrate Canadian winter culture and activities, including a giant snow playground for the whole family. Celebrate spring’s beauty during the Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest event of its kind in the world. Enjoy concerts by famed international artists and up-and-coming local acts at music festivals in genres ranging from chamber and classical music to blues and EDM. Other fun events celebrate food, fireworks, hot air balloons, international cultures and animated films.
Live the ultimate authentic Canadian experience and create unforgettable memories in Ottawa, Canada’s capital!
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