Checklist: Ottawa, Canada

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Checklist: Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa is Canada’s egalitarian capital, a bilingual city where politicos and hipsters mingle at happy hour or glide in tandem around the world’s largest skating rink. Loaded with recreational possibilities in all four seasons, it’s a mecca for skating, skiing and cycling, all taking place alongside Ottawa’s multiple rivers and wide-open urban parks. Yes, the winters are long and cold but don’t dismiss a frosty visit. Locals toast the snow-capped season with festivals, outdoor activities and a full plate of cultural happenings.

This city’s architectural diversity, leafy beauty and compact core are a dream for pedestrians, so bring comfy shoes and skip the car rental.

A favorable exchange rate is icing on the maple leaf-shaped cake.

Allison is a travel and food writer based in NYC. Her work has been published in The New York Times, off Metro, Dave’s Travel Corner and Family Travel Forum.

1. Rideau Canal Skateway

Canadians don't let tundra-style weather keep them indoors. Rideau Canal Skateway, the world's largest naturally frozen ice-skating rink, offers nearly five miles of groomed surface. It's open daily from January-March, weather permitting. Skating is free and skate rental shacks and fortifying snacks can be found along the way. Locals learn to skate as soon as they can walk, so be prepared for tiny toddlers to whirl by at lightening speed, like Munchkins on blades. To fully experience winter's glory, visit during February's fabulous (and frigid) festival, Winterlude. You'll see how Ottawans boldly celebrate the icy months in the great outdoors. Just don't forget to pack your long underwear.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

2. Canada's Parliament

Take a guided tour of Canada's Parliament in English or French, mais oui. You'll get an informative overview of our northern neighbor's government and history as you roam the imposing Gothic structure. Sneak a peak at the meticulously restored Library of Parliament, affectionately called "Canada's Most Beautiful Room." The two free tour options last approximately 20-50 minutes. Show up early so you can snag a same-day ticket.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

3. Holland's Cake and Shake

Satisfy your epicurean cravings as you explore this city's cultivated culinary scene. Wellington West is an up-and-coming hipster enclave that is the perfect place to nibble and nosh an afternoon away. When it's time to visit the sugar fairy, Holland's Cake and Shake is dedicated to whimsical desserts. Pastry chef Michael Holland spins edible magic on par with Willy Wonka. His hockey puck-size layer cakes in a fantasy of flavors are diminutive and delicious delights worthy of a thousand Instagram posts.
Photo by Vineeth Sampath

4. National Gallery of Canada

The National Gallery of Canada is home to the world's most comprehensive collection of Canadian art. Highlights include works from the Group of Seven, Canada's most iconic painters. The vast collection of Inuit and indigenous art is not to be missed. The building itself is a visual treat; its dramatic glass pavilions and soaring windows offer some of the most expansive views in town. The indoor and outdoor gardens are lush and soothing additions to the permanent collection.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

5. Yoga on the Hill

Get your downward facing dog on in the shadow of Canada's Parliament each Wednesday at noon with Yoga on the Hill. Parliament's spacious lawn is a glorious backdrop as you relax in child's pose. This free mixed-level class attracts everyone from students to Members of Parliament. Rumor has it even beloved Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has participated, so meditate on that. Class is held May-October.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

6. The Capital Pathway

With hundreds of miles of bike-friendly pathways, Ottawa offers cycling enthusiasts a range of rides. The Capital Pathway network takes you by some of the city's most recognizable scenery, connecting key attractions such as museums, the Rideau Canal, parks and gardens. VeloGo is the official bike share program. Apple green bikes are generously sprinkled around town, so it's a snap to start pedaling.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

7. Canadian Museum of History

The Canadian Museum of History is this country's most visited museum. It's the place to go to get a sense of the people that have shaped Canada's history, particularly its indigenous population. The First Peoples Hall is an educational showstopper and the mystical towering totem poles are so imposing they'd make a giant feel like a dwarf. For those traveling with children, the Canadian Children's Museum located here offers a hands-on haven for the junior set that is an interactive wonderland.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

8. Urban Whitewater Rafting

The Ottawa River is one of Canada's top whitewater rafting spots. With a range of rapids from bathtub gentle to daring descents, there's a thrill for every seeker. Ottawa City Rafting offers multiple itineraries, including a scenic trip that meanders through the city's downtown core. Urban paddlers can expect a mild adrenaline rush and photo-worthy views as they savor the city from this aquatic vantage point. You will be getting wet, so bring a change of clothes.
Photo Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

9. ByWard Market

ByWard Market, one of the country's oldest and largest public markets, is fittingly located in Ottawa's oldest neighborhood. It's a lot like most other markets you'll find in the world in that it sells locally made food (maple candies and BeaverTails), cold weather accessories and souvenir-worthy trinkets. However, not all markets can say they're home to a favorite snack stop of President Obama (the Moulin de Provence Bakery). Besides, who doesn't love a good market? And when you've walked your way through, the surrounding boutiques and outdoor stalls (in warm weather) continue to entertain.