Jennifer N. Dienst
With the charm of a European village and the big-name amenities of a metropolis, it's no surprise that Ottawa has earned the superlative of Canada's best all-around tourist destination. The capital city is home to an impressive collection of historic sites such as the Rideau Canal, the neo-gothic architecture of Parliament Hill, and a diverse collection of museums dotting downtown. Visitors can peruse them all while brushing up on their French (more than a quarter of Ottawa's residents are fluent) or riding the Capital Pathway network of bike paths, which start downtown and stretch in every direction and along rivers and canals.Meeting planners will find themselves charmed as well. Ottawa's compact yet verdant downtown is anchored by the new, 192,000-square-foot Ottawa Convention Centre, which hosted more than 2,000 attendees this past July for Evolution Ottawa, the first joint congress on evolutionary biology. Within downtown are 6,000 hotel rooms from well-known brands like Fairmont, Westin, Marriott, and Novotel. And the ByWard Market district, the city's top tourist attraction, offers dozens of local restaurants and bars within just a few steps of the convention center.
1. Parliament Hill
Overlooking the Ottawa River downtown, Parliament Hill is the seat of Canada's federal legislature. The complex is also a popular setting for events throughout the year, from outdoor concerts to light shows and festive holiday celebrations. Visitors can take complimentary tours of public galleries seven days a week, watch a lively debate on the Senate floor, or enjoy the pomp and circumstance of a Changing the Guard ceremony during the summer months.
2. Rideau Canal
A UNESCO World Heritage Site built by British military engineer John By and the Royal Engineers in the 1830s, the Rideau Canal stretches from Ottawa to Kingston, for a total of 125 miles. The engineering marvel meanders through a diversity of landscapes, farmlands, wetlands, lakes, and villages, with a dramatic finale at Parliament Hill's staircase of eight locks. The canal is beloved by outdoor enthusiasts, who can canoe its waterways and hike the adjacent trails.
3. Ottawa Convention Centre
The Ottawa Convention Centre is like many of Ottawa's architectural revelations, more than just a pretty facade. The LEED Silver- certified center's distinctive glass face wraps around four floors with 192,000 square feet of function space, giving guests sweeping panoramic views of the Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, and the rest of Ottawa's scenic downtown. Between sessions, attendees can stroll along the canal or peruse one of 180 stores at the adjacent Rideau Centre.
The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest public markets in Canada and Ottawa's most popular tourist attraction, with more than 50,000 visitors streaming through its doors on weekends during the popular summer months. The market is home to more than 108 restaurants, farmers and artisans markets with 260 stands, and many arts, cultural, and educational attractions, including Notre Dame Basilica, Ottawa's oldest and largest church.
5.National Gallery of Canada
View Maman, Louise Bourgeois' 30-foot bronze spider sculpture, and 36,000 other pieces of artwork at the National Gallery, an architectural landmark and one of Canada's oldest cultural institutions. Besides hosting some of the country's largest collections of native art, the museum is home to the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The grounds' sunken gardens, reconstructed 19th-century chapel, and views of Parliament Hill make spectacular settings for off-site events as well.
Sidebar:Blues 'n' Grooves
RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest makes its home on the western edge of downtown, in the revitalized LeBreton Flats neighborhood, on the lush grounds along the Ottawa River and around the Canadian War Museum, for 11 days every July. One of Canada's largest outdoor music festivals, Bluesfest attracts around 300,000 fans and some of the biggest names in music entertainment, from James Brown to the White Stripes.
Nov. 7-11,2012: Ottawa Wine & Food Festival
In its 27th year, this foodie festival draws close to 30,000 visitors to the Ottawa Convention Centre to sample wines, watch cooking demonstrations, and mingle with Canada's culinary elite. More than 40 events take place over the course of five days, from sommelier-led wine tastings to "Tasting Alley", a popular two-hour tour of vintages from around the world.
For more information: ottawatourism.ca