Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati
When I think of Ottawa I think of how lucky we are to live in such a great country. I think of our great history, Canadian culture and what makes us tick as Canadians, and I think of Beavertails. A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to visit Ottawa for my third time, but first time in my adult life. With much more appreciation of Canada and of our nation’s capital under my belt, I enjoyed getting away for the weekend and exploring all that Ottawa has to offer.
I started my visit to Ottawa with a visit to Parliament Hill, which I ended up returning to over the course of the weekend a few times: once to escape a bit of rain, and again with an American friend to share a bit of Canadian history and enjoy exploring with her.
Parliament Hill, home to the political meetings of the Senate and Members of Parliament, is rich in history and architecture. Visit the Centre Block, Parliamentary Library, or East Block for a guided tour and learn about parliamentary life in the late 19th century, House of Commons, and the architecture of the building. Originally the Parliament buildings were the site of a military base before taking on its current form in 1927 with the completion of the Peace Tower. A stunning site and castle-like building looking over the rest of downtown Ottawa, visiting the Parliament buildings should be on everyone’s must-see list for an Ottawa vacation, whether you’re politically inclined or not.
The Parliamentary Library is the only original part of the Parliament Building after a fire devastated the Hill in 1916. Originally opened in 1876, the library was refinished in 1952 following a library fire. Today, the library is used as research and reference material to Parliament and members. Free tours of the library and Centre Block are available daily.
Following the 1916 fire, the original clock tower bell was saved from the wreckage and is on display behind the Parliamentary Library amid statues. Here you’ll find a plaque that tells the story of the fire on February 3, 1916, in which the bell rang out on the hour through the smokey, blazing chaos. The bell crashed to the ground shortly after midnight, but has been refurbished and is now on display.
One of my favourite parts of visiting Parliament Hill and the surrounding area is the number of statues to explore. Alive with history, don’t miss walking behind Parliament Hill to find statues of former Prime Ministers and important stories from Canadian history. With a total of 17 statues on the grounds, and several more across Wellington Street at the War Memorial of Canada and at 90 Wellington, these icons are an important part of Canadian history and show the importance of Parliament Hill.
One of my favourites was the newly-installed War of 1812 Monument in front of the East Block. Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the war, the statue shows the seven figures Canada had fighting to defeat the American invasion: a Metis fighter, a female nurse, a Royal Navy sailor, a First Nations warrior, a Canadian militiaman and a member of the British Army’s Royal Newfoundland Regiment. The monument, “Triumph through Diversity”, was created by Adrienne Alison and unveiled in November 2014.
Another favourite was The Famous Five, located beside the Centre Block half-way up the east driveway. This monument, called “Women are Persons!” recognizes Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henriette Muir Edwards, the famous five who won the Persons case in 1929. This case legally declared women as persons under the British North America Act, allowing them to be eligible for appointment to the Canadian Senate.
When visiting Parliament Hill, plan for time to walk the grounds after your building tour to visit the statues and see how many you recognize: I found quite a few former Prime Ministers and key members of Canada’s confederation!
Another favourite, and just a quick walk from Parliament Hill, is the ByWard Market: a historic area in downtown Ottawa just off Rideau Street. This public market is packed full of farm stalls, local artisans, unique shops, delicious eateries and pubs, and nightlife/entertainment venues. A great place for an afternoon stroll, snack (search out the Beavertail stall here!), and free street entertainment, I could spend a whole day here (and I almost did!). With over 260 stands and 500 businesses, the ByWard Market is a great spot for people-watching, shopping, eating, and getting a feel of great Ottawa culture and friendliness. I managed to catch a great street performer juggling both fire and knives, and sometimes both, in the market square. This, with a side of a local snack from a farmer’s stall, makes for a great afternoon. You never know what you’re going to find in downtown Ottawa!
One of my favourite parts of my trip to Ottawa was of course the food: my belly didn’t go unspoiled on this vacation! A must-have when visiting Ottawa is definitely a poutine followed by a Beavertail for dessert (or if you do what I did: a Beavertail for lunch).
I indulged in this poutine at The 3 Brewers (Les 3 Brasseurs) at 240 Sparks Street along with one of their dark beers, brewed on site. The beer had chocolate and coffee undertones and was rich in flavour: a surprising pairing with a poutine loaded in cheese curds and salty, succulent gravy. The restaurant was packed by about 9 p.m. Saturday night when I strolled in – I take that as a good sign (rather than from chilly weather and a thunderstorm!). For about $30, my husband and I both had delicious appetizers (he ordered onion rings with siracha ketchup and jalapeno mayo) and beer and were thoroughly impressed.
I continued to add to my waistline Sunday morning when I tried out Wilf & Ada on Bank Street. This is a must-visit if you’re looking for a quieter, quaint diner with delicious food for a great price. I met with a friend who said there’s always a line-up, which saw us with grumbling bellies for about 20 minutes…and it was well worth the wait! I recommend the Florentine which was enough to fill me through to dinner: two eggs benedict on English muffins with olive tapenade and topped with chopped spinach and feta cheese, and homefries – or as they call them, “homies” – on the side. While indulging in my email I was eyeing my friend’s “Hungryman” which came with waffles topped with fruit and fresh cream, eggs, beans, bacon, lettuce, toast, and homies. What better way to start the day?
All in all, my 48 hours in Ottawa was a quick one but a great one. With so many museums to explore and sites to visit, I couldn’t possibly see them all but was happy to have some laid back time to just explore, indulge, and celebrate all that the city has to offer and represents. If you’re thinking of following in my footsteps, and the thousands of others who will walk downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill this summer, get more tips and tricks in our full Ottawa travel guide.