I know Ottawa is around here somewhere...
October 3, 2006 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Access in Ottawa - which sights should I see, where can I get free wifi?

We'll be staying at the jail (hostel) after the conference ends, and have 4 days to visit museums, eat, walk and pet cats. During the conference, I'll need things to do in the evening and places to eat. The entire time, I'll need a place I can log on, preferably free.

We enjoy museums (especially small and quirky, although we're thrilled to see Petra is at the Museum of Civilizations), history, gardens (probably not in October in Ottawa), ethnic food and libraries (can't wait to visit the Parliment Library again). We don't like bars (unless good folk is being played), spending lots of money or crowds.

For example, the Diefenbunker sounds like a blast to me (although not to my partner). Is there a way to get there without a car? The Bywater museum looks like fun.

And, any other Mefites going to Access?
posted by QIbHom to Travel & Transportation around Ottawa, ON (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You must go to Byward market, incredible food, incredible stuff, all kinds of little shops with neat stuff...it's awesome. And you have to eat a Beavertail while you're there. Walking up and down the lovely old streets around the market is also great (Zenteriors is a very cool shop). I spent a while in Ottawa this summer and completely fell in love with the place.

Try the War Museum, which is interesting, if you like that sort of thing. The building it's in is also very cool.

Do lots of walking if the weather allows, Ottawa is made for walking. Colonel By Drive and Queen Elizabeth Driveway beside the Rideau canal. You won't believe you're a few minutes from downtown.

Gatineau Park is well worth the very short drive across the border to la belle province, and there are tons of other parks in and around Ottawa proper.

It's also worth taking a drive out of Ottawa if you can, the surrounding countryside and little towns are lovely. Have fun, I'm jealous.
posted by biscotti at 7:53 PM on October 3, 2006

The Diefenbunker is out in Carp and not really accessible without a car.

I haven't lived in downtown Ottawa for several years so can't speak to WiFi/Internet cafés, but I'm willing to bet there are plenty of open access points around.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:54 PM on October 3, 2006

Café M at the corner of Sussex and Rideau has free wireless and will let you plug in your laptop.

see here for a bunch of other Ottawa ideas.

With deference to Biscotti, I love a lot of the Restaurants in the Market, but if you are after cheap eats, you need to leave the touristy areas and get to somewhere more working class, like Centretown West or the east end of Rideau Street. And of course, you run the risk of picking somewhere crappy that way.

If you like ethnic foods, chinatown is in the area of Bronson and Somerset, with all kinds of cheap good eating. I recommend Yang Sheng right on the corner of Bronson and Somerset, especially their Har Moon Vermicellii. For good Pho, look for a restaurant with a big lunchtime lineup and with the word "pho" in the restaurant name. Some of them look like total dumps, but that's some good soup.

There is an Ethiopian Restaurant, Horn of Africa just East of Nelson on Rideau Street; I liked the food there, but it's the only Ethiopian I've ever had. Service can be slow, too. There's also a great Moroccan restaurant that will stuff you to bursting (though it's reasonable rather than cheap) just West of O'Connor on Laurier. Ceylonta just West of Bank Street on Somerset is a nice Sri Lankan Restaurant, but if you want cheap eats there are tons of Shawarma Restaurants. Maroush's International House of Shawarma is the most interesting experience, but they're all at least adequate.

The Bytown Museum is a nice historical place, but it's really only at most a 30-minute visit, a nice diversion as you walk along the canal or the Ottawa River. I also recommend the Currency Museum which is on Sparks Street between Bank and Kent.
posted by cardboard at 8:29 PM on October 3, 2006

Wifi downtown: Free at Cafe M, corner of Sussex and Rideau, as well as at Bridgehead cafes, of which there are two downtown, both on the west side of the canal; one at Elgin and Gilmour, the other at Slater and Bank. I believe all require a coffee purchase. There isn't much free wifi here.

There's a bunch of not-free hotspots downtown but I don't use them so I couldn't tell you exactly where.

It sounds like you have a good idea of the things you're after. You'll really enjoy re-visiting the Parliamentary Library as it was just completely restored. Be sure to go up the Peace Tower if you haven't before, and visit the feral cats who live just west of the centre block.

The War Museum, just west of the National Archives in the Lebreton Flats, is also practically brand-new and worth a visit. Pace yourself when you go, it's easy to spend so much time in the early days of Canada that you don't have enough time to go through World War 2 and later. There's also the National Gallery right down in the market too, of course.

The Museum of Nature is closed right now but is re-opening after a year or more of renovations on October 20th.

Small and quirky museums? The Currency Museum in the Bank of Canada across from Parliament Hill is free and neat. The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography is sandwiched between the canal and Chateau Laurier. The Canadian Postal Museum is attached to the Museum of Civilization.

The Museum of Science and Technology is a great dose of technical Canadiana, but it's a bit out of the way (but busable).

For folk music, you might see who's playing at Rasputin's on Bronson, a tiny little coffeehouse that's been around a long time.

Not only is the Diefenbunker completely inaccessible without a car (it was built in the middle of nowhere on purpose, after all), but it also requires booking visits in advance.
posted by mendel at 8:35 PM on October 3, 2006

Ottawa-Gatineau Sans-Fil has just started so they don't have many hotspots yet, but it's still something to watch (if not for this poster, then for future answer-seekers).

Bridgehead coffee shops have free Wifi as well, and it's usually very comfortable to go and hang out for a while.
posted by mikel at 8:38 PM on October 3, 2006

Most Bridgehead Coffee places have free wifi, as does the World Exchange Plaza (on Albert/O'Connor) so I've heard - never tried. Hooley's on Elgin (where I am posting this from) is a pub with free wifi, although I assume they want you to buy at least a beer.

I second the rec for Gatineau Park, especially this time of year.

Ethnic food is abundant in Ottawa, particularly lebanese. Depends on what you're looking for, but you can find most anything within walking distance from the hostel.

I'm assuming when you say "pet cats" you're planning on visiting the Cat Sanctuary on the Hill. If not, you should.

I highly reccomend the War Museum at Lebreton Flats, a quick easy ride on the 95 (it'll cost you $3 each way, or two bus tickets each way) and you can get a double pass for it & the Museum of Civ.

For small and quirky there's the Museum of Photography (right beside the Hill, $4) and the Museum of Nature (Metcalfe and...argyle, I think) not sure what cost, but about a 15 min walk from the hostel.

There's more, but I'm at a loss for the moment.
posted by aclevername at 8:41 PM on October 3, 2006

Should have mentioned, I did read the previous questions. They were all a bit old, and we just don't seem to discuss Ottawa enough around here, so I went for it.

No car...darn. I was looking forward to the Diefenbunker. Next time.

Currency Museum...that's a new one, sounds pleasantly odd.

I vaguely remember an incredible WWI trench exhibit from when I was a small child...probably the War Museum.

Ceylonta came up on eGullet, too. You wouldn't have happened to have been to the newish Keralan place, cardboard? Coconut Lagoon, I think. I lived in the Konkan for a bit, and could use some (near) home cooking.

I'd rather have bad food in a working class neighbourhood than bad food at some chain.

Thanks for the ideas, and we'll try for as much wandering as we can take. My partner has intermintant mobility issues.

I promise to eat a beavertail, biscotti. I even plan to try poutine. I will not eat Step...let's not go there...
posted by QIbHom at 8:42 PM on October 3, 2006

I vaguely remember an incredible WWI trench exhibit from when I was a small child...probably the War Museum.

It's moved to a huge new facility since then, so worth a re-visit. Just in case you're confused about your memory and my "brand-new".
posted by mendel at 8:44 PM on October 3, 2006

Thanks, mendel, I was. We're talking over 30 years ago, so I'm not too surprised it moved.
posted by QIbHom at 8:47 PM on October 3, 2006

Oh, the Market doesn't have too much in the way of chains like TGI Fridays and such (except on York Street), they're just more in the mid-to-expensive price range. Some of the restaurants like Mama Grazzi's, the Black Tomato or Chez Lucien are good values for the money, but I would say they're outside your "cheap" specification.

I've heard of Coconut Lagoon, but haven't tried it, though the reviews make it sound like the sort of place you're after: unassuming with good food. Getting to the far side of Vanier by bus might be an interesting experience for you (though not dangerous). Taking the 95 to St. Laurent Mall and then a bus up St. Laurent (or walking, but it's not very pedestrian-friendly compared to downtown) would be less eventful than taking the 2.
posted by cardboard at 9:15 PM on October 3, 2006

Thanks, cardboard. I don't mind paying a bit more than cheap for good value for money, but there is so much great inexpensive food.

Appreciate the bus route for Coconut Lagoon. We've only got one South Indian restaurant around here, and it is Tamil. Plus taking the bus to out of the way places is a good way to get to know a place. It does sound worth the trip.

It'll be interesting to compare the Lebanese food in Ottawa to the Lebanese here in Detroit.

And, yes, we were planning on visiting (although not really petting) the cats on Parliment Hill. Found out about that here.

This is going to be great...
posted by QIbHom at 9:31 PM on October 3, 2006

All great stuff from the previous posters...

Try to get out to Gatineau Park ... this is the time of year I miss home the most, and I have friends telling me that this is the best year they've seen since before the ice storm. If you can, get a car, drive up to Wakefield (or take the steam train, very touristy and possibly too cheesy) and have lunch. Great modest, unassuming cafes, cute little village. Then walk over to the mill or to the covered bridge. The Black Sheep in Wakefield used to draw amazingly good live music, not sure if that's still the case. On the way to Wakefield is Les Fougeres, one of the very best restaurants in the region. Back in the day when the Canadian dollar was weak, this was a total steal coming from south of the border. This is no longer true, but its still a worthwhile experience.

I think the Market is kind of meh, and you can give the beavertails a total miss. With the exception of Chinese, Italian or Japanese food, international food in Ottawa (indeed in most Canadian cities) is invariably considerably better, more authentic and cheaper than you can find in any American city. The Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Jamaican and Afgan food is particularly good in Ottawa.

In the end, its nice, small town. Not extremely exciting or glamorous but I think you'll enjoy yourself.
posted by bumpkin at 10:53 PM on October 3, 2006

The Manx, on Elgin Street is (imho) the best pub in town - good lager & ale selection, great food (esp. breakfast/brunch).. can get a bit crowded at night/ weekend mornings.
The best poutine is from the takeaway/convenience store (I kid you not) on Bank opposite the bar/band venue Babylon.
Oh yeah, and get out to Chinatown (5-6 blocks west) for amazing cheap Vietnamese pho restaurants.
(hey yo bumpkin - I'll talk to you soon)
posted by Flashman at 3:05 AM on October 4, 2006

Further to the above (I checked local.live for more precision - I left the city 2 years ago)
The Manx - Elgin/Frank street (yes there might even be folk music)
Poutine - Bank/Gilmour (or 1 block south) - there might also be good bands playing at the Babylon - most of the good bands play there.
My favourite pho - Somerset just before Lorne as you go west - just past a Desjardins bank & a convent. A little place on 2 or 3 levels, lots of pine and plants.

Also, across Somerset and a block further west is a little hole in the wall place that just sells these amazing vietnamese sub sandwiches - meat & veg in crispy french bread, for $2 each. Sooo good.
posted by Flashman at 4:12 AM on October 4, 2006

Second the War Museum -- it's actually quite stunning. Take the haunted walk if you haven't already (I spent my first month in Ottawa staying at that hostel and the walk was constantly trouping through there). And the Museum of Civilization in nearby Hull is a must.

The market is standard chain-restaurant fare, and crowded, too. Ceylonta on Somerset is great. Al's Restaurant on Elgin is the best place to get a steak though it's a bit pricey (but worth it). Five Roses, either on Dalhousie or Gladstone (two locations) has awesome Indian food (the aforementioned Ceylonta is actually Sri Lankan/Indian, but they do a mean masala dosa).
posted by dreamsign at 4:29 AM on October 4, 2006

Also, Chinatown is close to the new war museum which definitely seems worth a visit - it's up for all sorts of architectural awards at the moment, for one thing
posted by Flashman at 4:31 AM on October 4, 2006

See, I was going to say that the best poutine is from a chip stand on York street, between Kinki Suishi and the strip club Barefax.

But I definitely second the Manx. There's also Vineyards - a pubesque place below the Fish Market Restaurant (on York, I believe) that has lots of different beers from around the world.

The trench exhibit is still a part of the war museum, it's probably quite a bit smaller than you remember (the exhibit - the museum itself is huge), but still rather cool.

Most others have covered the food, but if you like mexican I suggest Aszetc on Dalhousie. Informal, but very good.
posted by aclevername at 7:45 AM on October 4, 2006

Hi there. I live in Ottawa and if you have any specific questions you can email me. Address is in my profile.

I like the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. Also interesting are the public programs at the National Library and Archives and the public tour and weekend cricket matches at Rideau Hall. The independant Bytowne Cinema shows a lot of interesting movies. I highly recommend a drive through Gatineau Park to see the fall colours.

As for ethnic food, there's Nagina's Indian Cuisine that has an awesome Sunday buffet and delicious butter chicken (it's also three blocks from your hostel). The S7 special at Pho Bo Ga La on 784 Somerset Street West in China Town is delicious (need to take a bus or cab). I've heard good things about Ahora Mexican Cuisine, The Whalesbone Oyster House and Chez Lucien (all close to you except the Whalesbone). The best croissants in town at The French Baker at 119 Murray Street, just six or seven short blocks from you.

There is free wireless at the Roasted Cherry.
posted by KathyK at 8:00 AM on October 4, 2006

Thanks, gang! There is so much good info here that I got strict on who gets best answer (although handing those out pre-visit is a bit odd). You've come through with wifi, food and quirky museums, as requested, and also film, stuff to do when I have a car next time, bus routes and socially responsible stuff.

I may well e-mail you, KathyK. Thanks for the offer.

If I walk alot, I can eat in most of these recommendations...yum.
posted by QIbHom at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2006

Oh, speaking of bus routes, the OCTranspo Travel Planner gives you step-by-step bus instructions to get from anywhere to anywhere, and has an option to restrict the trip to accessible (low-floor) buses.
posted by mendel at 6:43 PM on October 4, 2006

Thanks, mendel! I was going to look up the bus web page, but that saves me time. And I'll feel better knowing which bus to look for at the train station before I actually leave.
posted by QIbHom at 9:08 PM on October 4, 2006

The SAW Gallery is right beside your hostel. Here is a list of their upcoming events. There's also Arts Court, on the same block your hostel.

For more food suggestions, there's La Pataterie in Hull (I know that transportation is an issue but they serve the best poutine in the Ottawa area) and Shwarma King does great Lebanese platters.

I forgot there's the XPress' Best of Ottawa 2005, a public opinion poll on the best of everything in Ottawa from food to landmarks.
posted by KathyK at 7:14 AM on October 5, 2006

Darn, I'm going to miss Doctor Faustus.

How hard it is to get to Hull or Gatineau? I assumed I could just walk across the river, and catch busses over there?

La Pataterie sounds like the Quebecois equivelent of Detroit's Coney Islands. Where the locals go to get inexpensive, probably unhealthy, but very tasty local specialties (in Detroit's case, coneys, which are hotdogs with chilli). Yum.
posted by QIbHom at 12:13 PM on October 5, 2006

Indeed, that's La Pataterie, your one stop for every iteration of excellent poutine (one of which does involve a dollop of chili). And while Hull (officially Gatineau, which encompasses a huge swathe of incorporated towns and villages) is as close as a walk across the river - ie to get to the Museum of Civilization, and also a block of excellent, smoky and French pubs and clubs just up the hill behind(ish) - unfortunately La Pataterie is well out of the passably engaging bit of Hull (barely, at that), out with the shopping malls and muffler shops. Busable, ben oui, or a long walk which would appeal only to a conoisseur of earth's most bleak, windswept and stalinesque places.
posted by Flashman at 1:29 PM on October 5, 2006

A few routes of Gatineau/Hull (STO) buses come across the river to stops along Rideau St. at the Rideau Centre, by Chapters. Their web site is hard to navigate compared to OCTranspo's, but there it is.
posted by mendel at 9:42 PM on October 5, 2006

Great! My thanks. Not every neighbourhood can be pretty.

OCTranspo's routing thingie is wonderful. Doesn't look like much, but I was able to plan several routes without having to google for the addresses of the locations. Very nice. Just wish they had places to buy tickets on there.

STO is going to take a bit more stroking, but it doesn't look bad.

Shopping malls...I will venture into suburban hell, if it involves, good, inexpensive local food.
posted by QIbHom at 11:34 PM on October 5, 2006

Here's where to buy tickets -- including a Google Map thingy showing the independent ticket vendors near you once you type in an address.

Do follow up here and let us know how your trip went and what you ended up seeing, eh?
posted by mendel at 10:33 PM on October 7, 2006

Thanks, mendel. I had found those, poking around, but the main route page (where you can choose hotels, landmarks, etc.) spoiled me. I'll have to actually look up the addy of the Via station. No worries - I can manage that easily.

I do plan on checking back in after I get back. If this page is closed (they go for a month, no?), I'll say something over in the grey.

I leave Wed., at dark o'clock in the morning. So looking forward to doing the cool stuff folks have pointed out, and eating my way across the Gatineau/Ottawa area.
posted by QIbHom at 11:30 AM on October 8, 2006

they go for a month, no?

A year over here in the Green, IIRC.
posted by mendel at 7:13 PM on October 8, 2006

I'm back, and want to thank you all for your advice again. While we didn't get to everything, your suggestions helped a lot.

I've got 30 pages of notes, which I've tried to condense, and will paste in below. But, suffice to say that Ottawa is a great city, we had a wonderful time, and I'd move there in a heartbeat. Thanks again!

Teriyaki Experience, food court, Rideau Centre. Worse noodle dish I've ever had.
Black Tomato-very tasty prosciuto wrapped chicken breast on gnocci. Huge portion. Moderate, good value for money.
Chinatown-NASA Indian Market-excellent ladoos and veg samosas. Loved the bahn mi (Vietnamese subs) for CAN$2.00 down the street.
Moroccan place (cardboard's)-Horrible service, pushy about add-ons, but tasty. Moderate price.
French Baker-nice pain au chocolat. Must be eaten same day. Chocolate tart was amazing. Apple turnover thingie was boring. Decent coffee.
Bridgehead Cafe-very good coffee (they roast slightly too dark). 1 hour of free wifi with purchase. Nice snacks. Impressive bathroom. I love this place.
Cafe M-ok coffee, free wifi, no limit. Yuppier feel than Bridgehead.
Carribean Sizzla-huge portions, mostly tasty food.
Naginta Indian-pretty bad.
Cora's-bad eggs, amazing piles of fresh fruit, artistically cut. I want one in Detroit. Not cheap, but the fruit!
Coconut Lagoon-an advanture to get to, not bad. Not as good as the buzz would have it, but worth a visit.
Le Patate Dorée-great neighbourhood (felt very at home there), poutine was tasty. Peppery gravy, awesome fries.
Ceylonta-service sucked. Uneven food, but what was good was extremely good.
Sweetgrass Aboriginal Restaurant-Not cheap at all, but so worth it! All the food was delicious, subtly spiced, they accomodated substitutions and requests gracefully, service was excellent, beautiful surroundings, better art than in the Museum of Civilization. Lunch for two was about CAN$40, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Possibly the best meal I've had in a restaurant ever.

War Museum-gets a bit scattered around WWII and after, but very interesting. The special exhibit on the Seven Years War was particularly interesting.
River Walk-I couldn't stop taking long walks along the Ottawa River. Even when it was cloudy and raining, it was still so beautiful.
Museum of Civilization-uneven. Hall of Canada was incredibly well-done. First Nations Hall wasn't. Petra special exhibit was very good. Postal Museum deserves its own building, as it is very well done. We spent 2 days here, and not only didn't see it all, but felt rushed through what we did see.
Currency Museum-this was a blast! Far more interesting than it sounds. Also the best job of integrating non-Western cultures into a museum I've seen. It is off the atrium of the Bank of Canada, which is worth a walk-through of its own.
Rideau Canal-it was being drained, so not as pretty as in the summer, but you can get right up on top of the locks, and really look at them.
Parliment Hill-the library...I adore that library. Tour is very good. I love that there are paintings of the hell of WWI all around the Senate chamber (a little girl on our tour described them as "looking like the end of the world"). View from the Peace Tower is great, cried in the Memorial Chamber. Security was thick and attentive, but polite and helpful. Only metal detector of the trip, but they were really cool about my multitool, and gave it back at the end.
LAC-Library and Archives Canada had a few nice exhibits, and a great lit rack to raid.

Westin-nice staff, but several broken things in my room, they shorted us on chairs bigtime in the conference centre.
Youth Hostel-loud, bit creepy at first, but a great place to stay. Kitchen, inexpensive, very central. Also fun telling people you are staying at the jail.

Random Things
Train from Windsor was pleasant, calming and generally much lower stress than the plane or driving.
Everywhere we went in Ottawa and Hull, folks were helpful and friendly. This included most of the bus drivers.
Shocking number of homeless.
Wouldn't think the US would need such a big embassy to just tell Canada what to do.
Next time, I'll buy day passes on OCTranspo. Buying tickets led to me walking to the point of exhaustion rather than hopping on a bus.
Ottawa Public Library Friends of the Library book store is pretty bad.
Most of the federal buildings seem to have public restrooms. Many times, guards graciously waved us through security so we could get to them.
posted by QIbHom at 1:33 PM on October 22, 2006 [2 favorites]

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