I grew up in Ottawa, and don’t often visit the tourist spots unless I have an out-of-town friend visiting. I do however LOVE playing tour guide. I’m full of random fun facts that I love to spew whenever I have the chance to. Over the August long weekend, I got to play tour guide to both visiting friends AND Ottawa natives who had never really explored downtown before!
Our tired smiles after a 2-hour walking tour of Downtown Ottawa
We started our tour from Centretown, and walked down Sparks Street (a street that is closed to vehicle traffic all year round), where the annual Buskers Festival was happening (no photos, sorry!). I always forget how incredibly talented buskers can be! We saw short bits of a couple acts, and stayed longer for one guy who was hilarious. He did a lot of typical busker type acts, engaging the audience, juggling, miming, fire, etc.
We walked past the Rideau Canal locks (one of my favourite places in Ottawa!), pointed out the place where the Rideau sinkhole was a couple months ago. Did you know that a truck fell into the sinkhole and because it was too dangerous to get it out, they cemented around it? That means it’s still in the ground!
We then made our way through Major Hills’ Park — great green space, by the way. Ottawa is full of green spaces throughout the city. We made it past the American Embassy on our way to the National Art Gallery to see the giant spider sculpture (Maman). You can see the marble eggs in the spider’s sac. It’s a little eerie, but also an awesome fixture in Ottawa.
One of my favourite views, with Bourgeois’ Maman sculpture framing the National Art Gallery
Turning around, and heading back South, we weaved our way through Byward Market, pointing out local pubs as well as fruit and vegetable vendors. I also found the location of Sweet Jesus (an ice cream shop) for the first time, and I CAN’T WAIT to try it! It wasn’t yet open, but you’ll be sure to see a review once I go.
On our way back to Centretown (where we left the car), we finally went to Parliament Hill to end our tour with the most famous tourist attraction. We didn’t have the foresight to nab any tour tickets of Parliament, but I think our feet were tired enough at this point. So we just called it a day.
On day 2, we went for a short hike around Pink Lake at Gatineau Park. If you’re looking for an easy hike, this is it. It’s the closest to Ottawa (only ~30 minutes away), and the shortest/easiest trail. Lots of families with young kids were on the trail while we were there. Since we were so tired from our 7km tour the previous day, this was a good trail for us.
Did you know that the lake is blue in the spring, and green in the summer? It’s because of the algae content. It’s never pink, but the lake is called Pink lake after the Pink family who settled in the area in the 1800s.
We also toured Old Chelsea a bit and went to the Visitor’s Centre to learn more about Gatineau Park as a whole. It is very large, and there are so many things that you can do – hike, bike, swim, boat, camp, beach, etc.
And because we all know how big of an ice cream fanatic I am, I wanted to go to La Cigale, but my company didn’t. So I guess I’ll just have to go back another day. That’s okay!
Then we decided to tour Embassy-land, and drive past the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive on our way to Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence.
We didn’t go inside, but we wandered the grounds (another beautiful garden and green space!). We visited the ceremonial guards at the entrance of the grounds, and wondered how they were managing the heat in their elaborate uniforms. Sorry I really didn’t think to take photos since I was tour guide-ing, not tourist-ing!
And with that, our tour ended.
Anyway, I love Ottawa. And it’s a great place to visit. You can usually hit all the major spots in a day or a weekend. If you stay longer, I would recommend the museums as well. Ottawa has some pretty great museums – my favourites being the War Museum, and Nature Museum, the National Art Gallery, and the Mint.