Canada's Crossroad of Culture and Adventure
Named a CNN Travel Top Destination for 2023, Ottawa—Canada's capital—attracts two types of travelers: those whose hearts belong to the arts, history and culture; and those stimulated by heart-pounding outdoor adventure.
Nestled at the junction of three rivers at the eastern edge of the province of Ontario, Ottawa is a picturesque and welcoming city of one million people that was founded almost 200 years ago on the traditional lands of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. It was established by British military engineer Lt. Colonel John By as an outpost for the construction of the Rideau Canal, which today winds through the heart of the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ottawa can rightly claim to be "the city of museums," as it's home to seven national museums that welcome millions of visitors each year. The largest and most visited is the Canadian Museum of History, an architectural gem that overlooks the Ottawa River and presents the stories of Canada's Indigenous Peoples and those who arrived after them. Just across the river, the National Gallery of Canada displays the country's most extensive collection of Canadian and world art—both historic and contemporary. Other national museums in the capital are devoted to nature, science and technology, aviation and space, agriculture and food, and military conflict.
For those whose cultural tastes tend toward live performance, Ottawa doesn't disappoint. The National Arts Centre, Canada's lively showcase of the performing arts, presents annual seasons of orchestra, dance, and theatre—English, French and Indigenous. Visitors can likewise explore an Indigenous village and enjoy Indigenous performances at both Indigenous Experiences and Mādahòkì Farm, which also hosts four seasonal Indigenous festivals.
Ottawa also offers a number of local museums. The Bytown Museum right next to the Rideau Canal locks tells of the story of the Canal and early Ottawa, which was known as Bytown after its British founder until it was renamed Ottawa and became the country's capital in the 1850s. As the capital, Ottawa was also the natural site for the construction of a fallout shelter to house government officials in the event that the Cold War turned hot. Known today as Diefenbunker: Canada's Cold War Museum, this multi-story underground facility offers a fascinating subterranean exploration of this bygone era.
Back above ground, Parliament and its soaring Peace Tower are landmark must-sees for all visitors. The seat of Canada's national government, Parliament sits high on a hill above the banks of the Ottawa River and offers guided tours of the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada building providing insights into the workings of Canada's political system.
But enough with the culture—let's turn our attention to Ottawa's adventurous side.
Spring through fall, cycling tours are a favourite and accessible activity for groups of all ages. Nearly 500 miles of recreation pathways crisscross the city and surrounding countryside, many passing national sites and landmarks.
For the more daring, there's ziplining across the Ottawa River within view of Parliament Hill. On the other side of the river in the Gatineau Hills, there are aerial parks, a mountain coaster and mountain biking. Not for the faint of heart, Canada's highest bungee jump is located on cliffs overlooking a flooded rock quarry. For a wet and wild experience, Ottawa offers some of the best white water rafting east of the Rockies.
In winter, there's skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world's largest naturally frozen skating rink, plus cross-country skiing in the city and downhill not far away. And year round, visitors can take a Canadian safari and get up close to wildlife at Omega Parc in the Outaouais region east of the city.
Whether you're a curious-minded or a thrill-seeking traveler—or both—Ottawa is the all-Canadian destination for you. Learn more and view Ottawa itineraries here.
Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism.
Photos Courtesy of Andrew Szeto, Interzip Rogers, Explore David Jackson, and James Peltzer.