As the temperature begins to take a nose dive, inevitably so will begin the posting of tropical destination pictures all over Instagram and Facebook. For us Canadians, there is just something about a Canadian winter that brings out our inner tourist. Can you say -40 degree weather? However, if you’re like me and can’t afford to escape the sub-zero temperatures this year, don’t fret – I’ve got you covered!
Now, I know what you’re thinking – what in the world is there to do in Ottawa? Isn’t it just a boring old government town? Well my dear readers, Ottawa actually has many hidden gems that even some Ottawa natives don’t know about… until now!
To compile this list, I took to my networks to gather a collection of must see attractions and even added in the discounts and freebies to help in your planning, and trust me – there are were some that even I had never heard of.
Get your museum on
It always amazes me how many people don’t know about the free admission at the following Ottawa museums:
Canadian Museum of History: Thursday nights from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Canadian Museum of Nature: Thursday nights from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
National Gallery of Canada: Thursday nights from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum: Every day from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Canadian Aviation and Space Museum: Every day from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
However, what even I didn’t know about was the Canada’s National Museum Passport, which gives you three consecutive days at three different museums for $35. This is huge when you figure that the normal admission to one museum is $14 (or $12 if you still have a student ID – or I mean, are an actual student).
Support the arts
Now, while many people have heard about the National Arts Centre (NAC), very few know about the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) and the amazing productions they have to offer. For a more sophisticated spin on your typical dinner and movie date night, check out the Chef & Shows packages.
In the 28 years I’ve lived in Ottawa, I have never taken a city tour – crazy, I know! What’s even crazier is that Ottawa actually has many different types of tours – a little something for everyone.
Are you a craft beer lover? Check out Brew Donkey for their craft brewery tours.
Are you a self-proclaimed foodie? Check out C’est Bon Cooking for their local food tours. Want to experience the spooky history of Ottawa? Check out the Haunted Walk tours. Are you a political science junky? Check out the free tours at Parliament Hill.
Cheer on the local teams
Ottawa is home to a number of local sports teams. Whether you’re a hockey, football, soccer, or baseball fan, there is always a game to see, no matter what time of year.
Although Ottawa has some very cold winters, we don’t let that get in the way of enjoying some great outdoor activities.
Ottawa is home to the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway. This Skateway spans 7.8 KM and when travelled from end to end will bring you from downtown (beginning at the National Arts Centre) to Carleton University. A little intimidated by such a large skating rink? Check out the SENS Rink of Dreams, in front of City Hall, for a more typical hockey rink feel, only outside!
Care for a spa day? Located just 20 minutes from downtown Ottawa, in the quiet municipality of Old Chelsea, Quebec, Le Nordik Spa is the largest spa in North America. They specialize in the thermal cycle which is the practice of alternating between heat, cold and rest to eliminate toxins, stimulate circulation and improve cardiac health. Over the last couple of years, the spa constructed additional sections (silent, whisper and, my personal favourite, social!) where guests can choose the experience they want, depending on their relaxation requirements.
Get in the Christmas spirit
Check out the Christmas Lights Across Canada show every night from 5:30 PM – 11 PM beginning December 7 through until January 7, downtown at Parliament Hill. Or if you’re in the east end, check out the famous Taffy Lane. This is a street that is decked out in Christmas lights. EVERY. SINGLE. HOUSE. Have a car? Travel to Morrisburg, Ontario, located one hour outside of downtown Ottawa for Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village, beginning December 1.
Plan it out
Now that you have an assortment of activities to experience, make sure you have the time to do it all. Whether one day or a staycation, you need to map out all of your activities so you can:
1) visualize your day(s) and
2) be realistic about what you can accomplish in your allotted timeframe and budget
Get a room
Now this might be a little pricier, but I believe the best way to get the tourist experience is to stay like a tourist would – in a place that is not your home!
There are hundreds of hotels and Airbnb accommodations in Ottawa – literally hundreds. Also, if you go the way of hotel accommodations, don’t forget about one of the perks of your government job, Government Discounts! Not to mention, don’t forget to look at their list of Hotel and Attraction Packages before you book (so you save on things you will already be doing!).
Resist the urge to Uber
Another great reason to stay in a hotel or Airbnb is the proximity it could bring you to where you will be venturing. Don’t forget that part of the authentic tourist experience is to travel on foot or to take public transportation like the locals do (and trust me, OC Transpo isn’t THAT bad!).
Go solo or show someone around
Now this is totally up to you, but personally I love travelling alone – there is something about being by myself that allows me to fully immerse myself in the experience. However, if you are to show someone around your city, this often allows you to focus on things you tend to overlook every single day since they tend to fade into the background.
Bring your camera
Now last but not least – don’t forget to bring your camera (and maybe a selfie stick) to help you capture the amazing moments you will experience being a tourist in your own town.