With a lively, largely bilingual population, and lots of impressive architecture, Ottawa has a vaguely European feel to it. She's not Canada's biggest city, but she is the capital, and therefore the site of many interesting national treasures. Here are a few cool things to do in Ottawa that some folks might miss.
1. See The Massive Spiders
Before you shudder in terror of a massive spider as big as a multi-story building, relax; it's not real! It is a cool piece of art, though. Sculptor Louise Bourgeois created a total of six of these 30-feet-tall-spiders using high-end materials such as marble, stainless steel, and bronze. And one of them lives in Ottawa.
Bourgeois' built 'Maman', the Ottawa spider, in 2000 to greet visitors of the Unilever Series event. It was so popular that it's maintained its presence through the years and can now be found just outside the entrance of the National Gallery of Canada. The Gallery loved the piece so much that they purchased it for over $3 million, a credit to the French artists' fame and talent.
Maman presents a unique photo opportunity for those of you who like to memorialize your trips. Arachnophobia be damned, this spider is worth seeing on your way into the National Gallery.
2. Skate Or Hike The Rideau Canal
Ottawa has earned global fame as the home of the World's Longest Skating Rink during the winter months. The Rideau Canal stretches 202 km, so you might not be able to skate the entire thing, but you should go for a glide before enjoying some hot cocoa and the famous Canadian beavertails. It can get very cold in Ottawa, so dress warm!
If you're planning a visit in the warmer months, the Rideau Canal is still worth visiting (and, in face, it's basically unavoidable). Whether you take a boat cruise along the Canal and enjoy the sights while lounging, or opt for a scenic hike along the water, you'll be greeted by some splendid views. The Canal is one of Ottawa's oldest and most distinctive landmarks.
3. Take A Stroll On The Mer Bleue Bog Boardwalk
Canada is well-known for its vast expanses of land and abundant wildlife, and the Mer Bleue Bog is an excellent representation of both. This wetland territory is framed by a long boardwalk that allows visitors to see the captivating scenery (and the wild inhabitants) without getting muddy.
We especially recommend visiting the bog in the morning, when the evaporating blue mist that gives the area of its name is still hugging the land. ("Mer Bleu" is French for "blue sea.")
The endangered spotted turtle is one of the bog's residents, and you'll want to keep an eye out for this rare creature as there aren't too many left. The telltale sign is, of course, a spotted shell.
Once you've worked up a sweat on your boardwalk stroll, you'll want to enjoy some refreshment at the following establishment...
4. Drink One Of The Best Beers In Town
Dominion City Brewery has earned a stellar reputation as one of the best breweries in Canada, and their tasting room is open seven days a week. Don't worry: there's delicious food as well!
The brewery has 12 different taps of Dominion City beers on offer, and all of the food is locally-produced. They even have Jenga if you feel like alcohol and a teetering tower is a good combination...
If you want to tour the brewery, stop by on a Sunday at 2:00 pm and be prepared to spend $15 per person. The tours last roughly 30 minutes and come complete with, you guessed it, beer! A flight of four brews is provided while an expert brewer tells you all about them.
5. The Ottawa Farmers' Market
What better way to get to know a city than by meeting the people who work the land? The Ottawa Farmers' Market started in 2006 at Lansdowne Park, but they've expanded to four locations and over 100 vendors.
The market is full of fresh, locally-grown or farmed foodstuffs such as maple syrup, honey, heritage pork, beef, eggs, chocolate, jams, coffee, and a selection of handmade artisanal goods.
Whether you go to the Westboro, Orleans, Riverside South, or Lansdowne Park markets, you'll be greeted by happy people who love what they do. You'll get to experience the local culture in a special way, and you'll leave with a full stomach!
6. Stay In A Former Prison
If you're tired of the same-old hotels, why not stay in a former prison?
The Ottawa Jail Hostel housed prisoners up until 1972, but now, the building has been converted into comfortable, albeit unique, lodgings. You'd never know that they used to have death row inmates and even executions on-site.
If you can get past the rumors that the whole building is haunted by spirits, you might just fall in love. Even if it is haunted, you'll leave with some interesting stories to tell your friends!
Ottawa has a rich history, and what's more, the people are notoriously friendly, even by Canadian standards. Check out some of these fun activities, alongside the more standard options like visiting Parliament Hill, Hull, or the Canadian War Museum.