Unique as a North American capital, the city is bilingual with the majority of the population speaking English and a significant number also speaking French. Staff in stores and restaurants usually speak both well.
Ottawa is home to many of the world's cultures as thousands of immigrants from around the world now call Ottawa home. The city is probably best known as the nation's capital but has become one of the fastest growing cities in North America owing to the booming high-tech business sector.
Ottawa started as a humble lumber town, then called Bytown, named after Colonel John By who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal, much of which was done by hand, between 1826 and 1832. Lumber mills were built along the Ottawa River in the mid-nineteenth century and those brought employment and wealth to the growing population. The center of action then, as now, was the Byward Market. While it's still the centre of the city's nightlife, it has changed appreciably from the rough and tumble early days of brothels and taverns.
In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada. The choice was controversial, partly because it sidestepped the rivalry between Toronto and Montreal (then, as now, Canada's largest cities), and partly because the new capital was still a tiny outpost in the middle of nothing much — an American newspaper famously commented that it was impregnable, as any invaders would get lost in the woods looking for it.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the telephone was demonstrated to the Canadian public for the first time and the city was electrified. The first electric streetcar service was started in 1891. A menu from 1892 states that, "the first instance in the entire world of an entire meal being cooked by Electricity" was in Ottawa.
Today, the major economic sectors are the public service, travel and tourism and the high-tech industry. Ottawa has proudly remained a green city, and many residents make regular use of Ottawa's parks and green spaces. Many national attractions are located in Ottawa: Parliament Hill; the National Library and Archives; the National Gallery; as well as the Museums of Civilization, Contemporary Photography, Nature, and Science & Technology.
The newly renovated and expanded Macdonald-Cartier International (airport code YOW) is Ottawa's main airport with regular arrivals and departures from most major Canadian and many American cities. Services outside North America, however, are limited to a daily flight to London Heathrow with Air Canada, less frequent flights with Zoom Airlines to London Gatwick and Glasgow (via Halifax NS).
Macdonald-Cartier is easily reached by public transit or taxi and most of the major car rental agencies have a presence at the airport terminal in the parking garage. A taxi to downtown hotels should cost between $20 and $30. There are also hotels within minutes of the airport and a less than $10 taxi ride.
To reach downtown via public transit, hop on the #97 bus (the only bus at the airport) and get off at the Rideau Centre transitway stop (approx. 14 stops), which is also called Mackenzie King. If you take this route before 6:00am you will take the more meandering early morning route, but will still get to Mackenzie King. To get to the train station you also take the #97 bus, but get off at Hurdman station and take the #95 eastbound bus to the next stop which is the train station. Bus fare is $3 ($1.90 with pre-purchased tickets) which gives you 1.5 hours of unlimited bus travel, or $7.25 ($6 pre-purchased) for an all-day pass.
There is a Voyageur/Greyhound terminal in Ottawa with regular service to Montreal (departure on the hour from 6 a.m. to midnight), Toronto and all other cities in North America. The bus terminal is downtown on the corner of Catherine Street and Kent Street, between Bronson Avenue and Bank Street. Though the bus terminal is downtown, a 15-20 minute walk will get you to most hotels and downtown attractions. Alternatively, a 5-10 minute local bus ride will do the same. (Bus #4, with its stop around the corner from the terminal on Kent St., is the bus you'll want to take.)
A taxi to most downtown hotels should cost between $8 and $15, and busses are $3 one-way, ($1.90 with pre-purchased tickets) or $7.25 ($6 pre-purchased) for an all-day pass.
Passenger train service is run by Via Rail in Canada and the train station in Ottawa is less than ten minutes from downtown by car, taxi or bus. There are several trains daily leaving for Montreal, Toronto and points in between.
The train station is on a high frequency bus route (#95) and takes only 5 minutes to get you downtown.
The city is also accessible via the Rideau Canal, which runs from the St. Lawrence River at Kingston to the Ottawa River at Ottawa. It is possible to dock at Dow's Lake Pavilion and at points along the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River near downtown.
By car, Ottawa is about a 4.5 hour trip from Toronto via the 401 and 416 highways. Montreal is 2 hours away via highway 417. The American border at Ogdensburg, NY is only 45 minutes away to the south, and the border at I-81 is a little further west at an additional 1 hour's drive.
The city's public transit is run by OC Transpo and includes the bus service as well as the O-Train light rail system. The network includes the Transitway, a bus rapid transit system running through and out of downtown, with frequent service (on the order of 1-2 minutes at rush hour).
Standard bus fare is $3.00 CAD cash or 2 tickets. Tickets cost 95¢ CAD each and are available from local stores in sheets of 10. Children 6-11 require only one ticket. Upon boarding you will be given a transfer which allows you to ride any number of buses or trains until its expiry (in roughly 2 hours). A day pass can be purchased on any bus for $7.25 (or $6 if pre-purchased at a vendor) and is good for both buses and the train. On Sundays, families (up to 2 adults and 4 children, age 11 and under) can share a day pass.
The O-Train operates on a "Proof of payment" (POP) system. Valid proof of payment is a bus transfer (see above), or an O-Train ticket purchased from the automated vending machines for $2.25 CAD. Note that the vending machine does not accept bus tickets, nor are bus tickets acceptable proof of payment. Children 11 and under can ride the O-train for free. Some high-occupancy buses use this same "POP" system as well, where rear boarding is available to those holding passes or transfers.
Although downtown is very walkable, if you are within the downtown area (Lebreton station to campus station), you can take any bus going East-West. If you are going to the Market from the transitway (95, 97, 85, 87), get off at Rideau Centre and walk through the mall to the other end. To go North-South, take the 4 (to Catherine Street, edge of Centretown), the 7 (edge of Old Ottawa South) or the 1 (all the way down to the Ottawa South).
The Ottawa transitway offers speedy travel to various regions, then transfer over to local buses, if walking is not an option.
===By Taxi=== Taxis are easy to find downtown. Elsewhere, phone for a cab or go to a cab stop (Greyhound, airport, and other places). All taxis should have a meter and the base charge is C$2.45. A ride from downtown to the airport will be costly, running between C$25 and C$35. Cabs won't take credit cards for fares below C$10. Most cab drivers don't know Ottawa as well as they should (and some know less than the average tourist), so have clear instructions and a map if you're going anywhere in the suburbs or on the Quebec side. Ottawa cabs aren't supposed to pick up customers off the street on the Quebec side; the converse applies to Quebec cabs in Ottawa. You may phone a Quebec cab if you are in Ottawa and vice versa.
Parking at most attractions is convenient, though on-street parking in downtown areas is sometimes at a premium. If you are driving to downtown on the weekend, parking is free in the garage at the World Exchange Plaza. There are entrances to the garage on both Metcalfe Street and Laurier Street. A map is useful if you are going to be driving around downtown as many of the streets are one-way and more than one visitor has complained about navigating the downtown core.
Most major car rental companies have several offices in Ottawa with all of them represented downtown and at the airport.
A good place to start a walking tour would be the Capital Infocentre, located directly opposite Parliament Hill on Wellington Street. They have maps and brochures for most tourist attractions in Ottawa, many of which are within walking distance. During the summer months, the temperature and humidity can get rather high so definitely bring water if you'll be doing a lot of walking. If you are walking along the public pathways near the canal or the river, there are drinking fountains to refill your bottles.
Guided walking tours are available from a small business called Around About Ottawa (www.aroundaboutottawa.com). This tour operator offers 2-hour tours, visiting historic landmarks and tourist sites in Ottawa's downtown area. Also popular is the Haunted Walk of Ottawa that provides a walking tour of the city's darker past.
A popular pedestrian area, especially during spring and summer months, are the various streets in the Byward Market. As well, Sparks Street, near the Parliament Buildings, is a popular pedestrian area during the daytime, particularly in the spring and summer months.
There are usually a few options for renting bicycles downtown, and of course you can always bring your own. Ottawa is very accessible to cyclists. Again, you may want to start immediately opposite Parliament Hill to pick up a map of the area or find a bicycle rental. Cycling to the attractions around downtown Ottawa is a great way to get around, but don't ignore the Gatineau side of the river. They have several attractions along the river including the Museum of Civilization and if you want to really stretch your legs, Gatineau Park has many kilometers of great cycling paths.
The city is criss-crossed by many bicycle paths, some of which are shared with motorists, and some are shared with pedestrians. The city provides maps of the routes.
OC Transpo, the city bus company has bicycle racks on the front of many buses. You can load your bike on the rack and then ride the bus for the normal passenger fare.
There are many national museums and galleries in Ottawa and neighboring Gatineau. All museums in Ottawa have free admission on Canada Day, July 1, but most people are outside enjoying the party.
For the sports fan, Ottawa has professional hockey and baseball teams:
If you enjoy the outdoors, especially if you are a cyclist, you should definitely visit Gatineau Park just across the river from Ottawa. Bicycles can be rented during the summer months at the northeast corner of the Chateau Laurier. Ottawa and the surrounding area boasts over 170km of public paved trails on which you can run, bike, walk or rollerblade. These trails extend throughout Ottawa, to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River and lead all the way to Gatineau Park and beyond.
In winter, go skating on the longest outdoor skating rink in the world, the Rideau canal. Skates can be rented, and refreshments purchased, from vendors right on the ice. This is also a great place to enjoy a "beaver tail" which is a local specialty - a bit like funnel cake, often enjoyed with lemon and sugar.
In early spring (typically March), when the daytime temperatures are above freezing and night temperatures are below freezing, consider visiting a sugarbush for fresh maple syrup. There are many to choose from in the region if you have a car to drive out of the city.
Ottawa is host to over 60 festivals and events per year, including:
The two comprehensive undergraduate universities in the city are Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. St. Paul's University is a seminary with ties to the University of Ottawa. There is also the Algonquin College and the Cité Collégiale.
The Federal Government is the region's largest employer with the high-tech sector firmly in second place. Unless you are a Canadian resident, you will need a work visa to work in Ottawa.
The Byward Market area of downtown Ottawa, located east of the Rideau Canal and the Chateau Laurier, is probably the area's best known shopping district. In summer, stalls selling fresh produce line the streets, but even in the middle of winter there are some hardy vendors braving the cold — and maple syrup bought here costs half the price of souvenir shops elsewhere in the city.
Larger shopping malls include the Rideau Centre (downtown), St. Laurent Shopping Centre (East End), the Bayshore Shopping Centre and Carlingwood Mall (West End).
Ethnic foods from around the world are available at a wide variety of restaurants and street vendors throughout the city. The Byward Market area has a wide selection of different cuisines; the Chinatown area, with plenty of different Asian places, is along Somerset Ave. between Bronson Ave. and Preston St; Little Italy runs along the length of Preston Street, from Carling Avenue to Albert Street.
Also try the tasty beaver tail, a doughy, deep-fried pastry created in Kilaloe, Ontario and available in sweet and savory versions, topped with cinnamon, sugar, icing sugar, etc.
Ottawa probably has more shawarma (kebab and fixings in pita bread) restaurants than any other place on Earth and most of them will serve up a great shawarma for around $5. Their busy times are typically weekdays at lunch-hour, and on weekends after the bars close. The Market and Elgin St. both have several restaurants to choose from. The usual range of diners, bagel shops and fast food restaurants can be found in shopping areas throughout the city.
Major restaurant areas can be found on Elgin Street, on Bank Street in Centretown, on Bank Street in the Glebe, in Westboro and in the Byward Market, with entrees ranging from $12-$25. Similar restaurants can be found in major suburban shopping areas too.
The most popular bar areas are in the Byward Market, along Wellington Avenue in Westboro and along both Elgin Street and Bank Street between Somerset and Gladstone in the Centretown area. There are pubs and bars scattered throughout the city as well. In the last few years there has been an obvious increase in Irish-/British-style pubs in many areas. In the Byward Market on Clarence St. you will find Patty Boland's, the Black Thorn, and Ottawa's largest pub complex, the Irish Village. Along Elgin St. there's the Lieutenant's Pump and The Manx. If you are in little Italy (along Preston St) you can find Pub Italia, which has a large selection of beers from the world (especially Belgian).
The other local trend is with new clubs and lounges having numbers in their names. In the Market you have Suite 34 at 34 Clarence St. and E18hteen at 18 York St. On Elgin there's Club 292 at 292 Elgin and more.
For a punk rock feel, head to the Dominion (on York) for simple beers and some pool. For the alternative rock/new age punk, check out Zaphod's (next to the dominion).
Any Royal Oak is popular, and there are many.
You can also take a small trip over the Ottawa river to Gatineau. Bars on both sides of the river close at 2:00 am.
Note that smoking is not permitted in Ontario or Quebec restaurants and bars.
Ottawa is not a dangerous place, so if you use common sense it is as safe as any other city. There are many tourists in the city, especially in summer months, and there are very few incidents of robbery or assault.