How to make the most of a month in Ottawa?
September 12, 2007 5:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about visiting Ottawa, Canada for a month in June 2008 to do this course at Carleton. Looking for advice on how to make the most of our visit, as well as practical tips on where to stay, how to get around and so on.

I'd only be there for a month. I'd probably be travelling with my wife and son (who'll be 18 months old by then) - I'll be in class during the day, so I'd appreciate suggestions on how she can keep entertained. We're into pretty much anything, but especially parks, walking, geocaching, books, craft breweries, music, cafes, people watching, markets and "antiques" (read pointless junk). I'd probably be happy to pay up to CDN$500 a week on accommodation. We've never been to Canada before.

Bonus points if you've been to Canberra, Australia and can compare and contrast the two cities (apart from the fact that they're both national capitals nobody knows about).
posted by obiwanwasabi to Travel & Transportation around Ottawa, ON (17 answers total)
Check out the other Ottawa-tagged threads for lots of advice.

For brewpubs near Carleton, there's the Clocktower at Bank and the Queensway; I'm not sure if the Arrow and Loon at Bank and Fifth brews their own or just has microbrews on tap. Pub Italia on Preston Street has a wide variety of things on tap as well.

For markets, there's the Byward Market (called The Market by locals) which is a street or two of open-air market surrounded by cafes and restaurants and specialty shops. If you just want fresh produce there's the Parkdale Market at Parkdale Ave just north of Wellington and (this year anyway) there is an organic farmer's market operating at the north end of Lansdowne Park (Bank/Holmwood) on Sundays.

Besides the walkable downtown core, there is tons of walking along the Rideau Canal, in the Greenbelt, and in Gatineau Park. I recommend the official NCC Website for most (but not all parkland). The city website has its own list of city-run parks and recreational facilities. The weather in June should be beautiful.

For antiquing, there is a 500m stretch of Bank Street between Sunnyside and Riverdale that has a number of antique/junk shops. Yardley's in particular is a rabbit warren of crap.

For a month's accommodation at those rates you should look for something longer term than a regular hotel, like an executive hotel suite (or ask about weekly rates). Living here, I don't know much about hotels.
posted by cardboard at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2007

Your easiest accomodation choice will be a suite hotel. We usually reccommend the Cartier Place hotel as being one of the nicest for longer term stays. Les Suites is another.

Since you're coming to Carleton, however, you might look into a house swap or something similar. The Carleton univerity accomodation page is here.
posted by bonehead at 6:09 AM on September 12, 2007

The Arrow and Loon doesn't brew themselves, but serves microbrews from all the local Quebec and Eastern Ontario Brewers. They have terrific food too. They're well worth a visit. The Gastropub on Wellington St. is also an excellent, amazing place, not to be missed.
posted by bonehead at 6:11 AM on September 12, 2007

Wow, obiwanwasabi, that's great! I live in Ottawa, and would be more than happy to show you around.

Although I've never been to Canberra, I can say with some certainty that you and your family'll not be left with nothing to, based on what you say you're interested in.

Parks: Gatineau Park across the river is a great destination for anything from drives in the country to skiing, running, hiking, etc. It's 363 km2, and encompasses the Gatineau Hills.

There's lots of music in Ottawa, so it depends on what kind of music you like. If Blues is your thing, the Rainbow on Murray Street is your best bet. If Folk is more your style, head for Rasputin's on Bronson. I run a singing session there once a month! In June, the Ottawa Jazz Festival takes place at Confederation Park downtown. For Rock, check out Barrymore's on Bank Street.

For geocaching in Ottawa, try these guys.

There are two craft breweries to Ottawa, one in Fitzroy Harbour, and one in Carleton Place.

For cafes, people watching and markets, check out the Byward Market, just a couple of blocks from Parliament Hill. During the day, it's a bustling market and trendy cafe area. At night, this area also doubles as the club scene in Ottawa.

As for rent, most apartments rent out for $1000 to $1200 a month, but you'll be best off finding a sublet from a student who's heading off somewhere for the summer. Carleton's student association should be able to help.

Looking forward to seeing you here, drop me a line (email's in the profile), and I can take you round and show you the sights!
posted by LN at 6:13 AM on September 12, 2007

Ottawa is a very bike-happy city in June. I'd go so far as to say that it's the best way to see the city. Several of the most scenic routes close to cars on Sundays for bike traffic. All of the museaums that we're blessed with are within an easy bike ride of the downtown hotels. Ottawa centre has very few hills and there are several bike rental shops downtown. Some hotels rent bike to their guests also.

Here's the NCC's bike maps for Ottawa. It's got all the museum and site listings on it.
posted by bonehead at 6:48 AM on September 12, 2007

I was on vacation in Ottawa (from upstate NY) recently. It was a pleasant, low-key long weekend. If you enjoy parks and hiking, you'll probably spend time in Gatineau Park (across the river to the north and through Gatineau to get to the entrance, not far -- but then it kind of opens up into this huge expanse of park roads, rolling hills, lakes, and scenic overlooks). There's a wonderful restaurant just outside the park proper (in north Chelsea on Rt 105) great for a special lunch, called Les Fougères. The duck confit is amazing.

For hanging out, bars, good restaurants, fresh veggies and flowers, definitely check out the Byward area, a few blocks by a few blocks north of the Rideau center mall downtown. Two (slightly pricey but very good) restaurants in the By Ward I recommend are Domus (gourmet made with seasonal local goods) and Sweetgrass ("aboriginal" food, ie. game meats and seasonal vegetables).

Be sure to take the tour of the Parliament buildings (centre block) while you're there -- it was surprisingly interesting and the Centre Block buildings are gorgeous -- and don't miss the elevator to the top of the Peace Tower.

The Museum of Civilization (just across the river in Gatineau) is a stunning building architecturally and the native artifact collection is interesting. And, it sounds weird, but there's a museum called the Diefenbunker about 20 km west of downtown Ottawa that's worth the drive (a refurbushed cold war fallout bunker built to house the govt in the 50s-60s in case of nuclear war) -- we enjoyed that quite a bit too.
posted by aught at 6:53 AM on September 12, 2007

Visit the museum of civilization. It's totally retro.
posted by tehloki at 9:03 AM on September 12, 2007

You will become best friends with the O-train (nicest, but not necessarily easiest, way to get to Carleton if you won't be living near it) and OCTranspo in general. Use the travel planner on the site; it has never lead me wrong (except for the obvious 'this bus route is never on time' stuff). The O-train is easy if you're going south-north, otherwise it might take longer than other routes.

OCTranspo is less useful during the summer than in the fall -- just the way things are. But, most bus drivers, especially in the summer, are happy to help lost people and tourists.

The market is a great place to walk around in. Also, try going down Bank street someday -- it's a really,really long street, but contains a lot of little gems, including a store called 'Ragtime' or something similar -- happy-dappy antique clothing and miscellany store. The Bytowne Cinema is in the market, and has cheap, good flicks playing. If you want cheaper, and more family-friendly, there's the Rainbow Cinema in St. Laurent (take the 95 Trim/Orleans from the MacKenzie King Rideau bus stop to St Laurent -- it's the stop inside the tunnel).

Go grab a shawarma somewhere, and go get pho in Chinatown (our Chinatown is... a section of Somerset Street. Tiny.) You can walk there in a half an hour from uOttawa's campus (which I find fine, but apparently I'm also a freak), or you can 2 or 85 it there. Don't ever trust the schedule of the 2 or 85, it's never actually on time. The bonus of Chinatown is that it has a lot of cheap-o little stores that have 'junk' in 'em. It's fun.

Check out the National Gallery, and all of the museums. By all means, if it's still open in the summer, check out Carleton's art gallery -- it's actually VERY good (at least from the one exhibit I saw), especially considering that Carleton doesn't even have a fine arts program. (Note: no matter what those sites say, the Diefenbunker is not in Ottawa. It's in Carp, which is pretty far out.)

Oh, another practical hint -- Ottawa recently amalgamated, so if you're getting directions from a native, or simply trying to find out if you're going the right way on the bus, it might pay to know the main communities, and their bus stations, from pre-amalgamation. Stittsville, Kanata = west. Orleans, Cumberland, Gloucester = east. Greenboro, South Keys, Airport = south. Fallowfield = south-west. Gatineau/Hull = the Quebec side of the river. The Glebe and the Market are fun, Rockcliffe is rich, Vanier is neither fun nor rich (and depending who you ask, it's not safe, either). Many of the names on that map are falling into disuse, so just try remember the ones I've mentioned. If you end up living there, Alta Vista has Hurdman and Billings Bridge as its stations (at least as far as I remember).

During the summer, there's a program called "Doors Open Ottawa." Basically, various facilities open their doors for tours. My parents got to tour the French embassy once, and loved it. Doors Open Ottawa probably won't be happening during your stay, but best keep your eyes open for it.

Wow, this is way too frigging long.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:25 AM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you'll be there soon enough, but the Great Glebe Garage Sale usually takes place around the end of May. If you like "pointless junk", it's worth checking out. Basically, everyone in the Glebe neighbourhood hauls all their junk out onto their lawn to sell.
posted by teg at 9:26 AM on September 12, 2007

"Doors Open Ottawa". Great idea.

A lot of the "official" non-public spaces are opened up to general tours. In a national capital, you get to see some interesting places: embassies, official buildings, forensics labs, the national research facilities, the back rooms of many of the museums, etc...
posted by bonehead at 10:27 AM on September 12, 2007

I've only been to Ottawa once, so I can't give any authoritative advice, but I can share my impressions as a "stranger in a strange land." I live in the US, but near the Detroit/Windsor border, so I've been to Windsor more times than I can count, along with Toronto and Niagara Falls. I never realized how tourist-friendly these cities were, though, until I arrived in Ottawa late at night when all the banks were closed. In T.O. and Windsor, every restaurant/hotel/store accepts US currency and has the exchange rate posted right by the cash register. Not so in Ottawa. We went out for drinks and only had American money, and the bar's manager had to dig through a pile of documents to find his most recent fax with the exchange rates. Nevertheless, he was very friendly about the situation, as was just about everyone else we met and/or dealt with. My other impression was the number of pedestrians and bicyclists. It reminded me of Amsterdam - sometimes there seemed to be more people walking than driving. The parks, the architecture of many of the old buildings - very beautiful and very clean. I would love to go back there some day.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:33 AM on September 12, 2007

Lots of great advice so far. A few other things that I don't think have been mentioned...

As your course runs to July 4th, you'd be here for Canada Day on July 1st. Mega-party downtown with family-friendly stuff during the day - concerts etc. It gets very crowded and normally the weather can be very hot (may not be an issue for you) but this year it was so cold we were shivering despite wearing sweaters. NCC information about Canada Day.

The Jazz Festival usually runs in late June, if you're into Jazz, though there's usually a fair amount of non-jazz performances as well.

n-thing the Museum of Civilisation, though I don't think anyone has mentioned that it also has a Childrens' Museum with wonderful indoor & outdoor displays and activities that your son will just be getting old enough for.

If you have time on weekends or before/after your course, try to get some time in Montreal or Toronto or other parts of Canada.

Email in my profile if you want any more detailed information about family-oriented stuff in Ottawa or the other cities nearby.

And I have a friend who spent some time in Canberra on a government-executive-exchange program a few years ago. I could ask her for comparisons if that would be useful.
posted by valleys at 2:49 PM on September 12, 2007

A couple of small additions for your enjoyment:
  • The Manx Pub - On Elgin St. Copper tables, great food, good pints. Good gelato nearby for dessert.
  • If you have a car, make the trip to see a live show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. Always great music, more great pints, and a beautiful little town to go with it.
  • I second the National Gallery.

posted by mrmcsurly at 3:06 PM on September 12, 2007

You may want to consider joining
You can check out a car for anywhere from an hour to a day, maybe two. They're good folk.

Plan a day trip or two to Montreal, and maybe a long weekend in Toronto. (If the school year is over, you can find cheap pleasant lodging in one of the UToronto dorms.) There are hourly buses from the Greyhound station to Montreal. $45 roundtrip to Montreal ffor students, but if you're traveling with a small child, you're probably better off checking out the Vrtucar or the train, which is a bit more expensive. Parking in Montreal is inconvenient and expensive.

There are some small towns and cities along the upper St. Lawrence; Gananoque, Brockville, Prescott, Upper Canada Village, and Kingston. Many of them offer boat tours along the river; I haven't done it but it should be fun.

Along with the Jazz Festival, there's a fringe festvial, a dragon boat race and so on:

Used bikes and trailers:

Bridgehead coffee has free wireless (and good treats).

My wife and I live in the Glebe, and walk up to the Elgin street neighborhood as a different place to go and have coffee. Since you'll be taking a course at Carleton, you should aim to live around Elgin/Centretown, Glebe, Old Ottawa South, or maybe Preston: these are all interesting places to live and an easy bike to Carleton. When it's raining, you'll take the #7 bus, which goes down Bank Street and then west to Carleton.

Book shopping in Ottawa is pretty miserable although there's a decent big-box store called Chapters in Byward Market. Ottawa also has a fairly good library system.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:32 PM on September 12, 2007

Adult oriented advice seems to be well covered.
For kids:
The Children's museum at the museum of civilization is mandatory.

Brewer Park is just across Bronson Ave. from Carleton (10 mins walk, depending on where on campus). It may well be the best kid park in the city (even for little ones). Walk to the Athletics center on campus and cross at the lights there, and the park is right there. If you're on the bus, take #7 from Carleton and it will come turn right on Seneca to Brewer park. Get off just as it turns left onto Grove Ave. (or stay on to have it go back down Bank st., through the glebe and then downtown).

Clifford Bowie swimming pool is very kid oriented.
Museum of Science and Technology in the East end is good, as is the Aviation museum. Mrs. Tiggy Winkles used to be the best toy store (independent) in the Glebe (see above). My kids all liked running on the paths next to the canal.
posted by kch at 8:45 PM on September 12, 2007

Oh, and if your kid (or anyone in your family) is into trains, there's the steam train ride that runs from Ottawa to Wakefield.
posted by kch at 8:46 PM on September 12, 2007

I second the recommendation of the Manx pub -- one of my favourite places. In addition to the Museum of Civilisation, I also recommend the Canadian War Museum. It's a quick hop on the #8 just past Lebreton Fields and just before the bridge to Quebec.

By no means does it glorify war, in my opinion. It's fairly new (a move from an older War Museum) and the highlight is the models of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in Regeneration Hall, with a neat view of the Peace Tower. Even the architecture of the building is brilliant. Plus, you can combine the ticket to get entry to both the War Museum and the Museum of Civiliasation at a cheaper rate.

Oh, and one of my favourite independant book stores is Perfect Books on Elgin *just* north of Somerset West. And if you do the Centreblock tour you'll see the Parliamentary Library which is brilliant. And don't miss the Stray Cat Colony on Parliament.
posted by aclevername at 9:39 PM on September 13, 2007

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