Classic Ottawa: Can’t miss spots on your trip to Canada’s capital

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The leisurely flowing Rideau and Ottawa rivers unite in the captivating Canadian city of Ottawa, reflecting a distinctive Victorian flair with stone buildings and miles of tree-lined streets dotted with red brick homes. While Ottawa is a governmental city, the culture is surprisingly modern and high-tech, with rapid growth in the tech sector welcoming a wealth of world-class restaurants, shops, and cultural venues. Consider stopping by our top picks on your next trip to Ottawa.


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Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica is Ottawa’s oldest and largest Catholic church and a National Historic Site. Architecture lovers will appreciate this opulent, Neo-Gothic edifice. Completed in 1847, the cathedral features tin-covered steeples, a hallmark of French-Canadian churches, a relatively reserved façade compared to the spectacular interior. Designed by Georges Bouillon, the inside features vibrant colors, soaring vaulted ceilings, a forest of ornate wooden sculptures and marble statues, and superb stained glass windows.

The basilica’s treasure is its colossal pipe organ, a 1,063-pipe behemoth that stands as one of the finest instruments ever created by Joseph Casavant, a world-renowned organ maker.

Parliament Hill

parliament hill

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Stately, Gothic-style buildings crowned with copper roofs rise magnificently above the Ottawa River as the home of the Canadian Parliament. Constructed in the 1860s and 1870s, the original buildings were destroyed in a 1916 fire. The new Centre Block, completed in 1920, displays exquisitely crafted stained glass windows and carved stone pillars by Eleanor Milne, a nationally renowned artist of the period.

The 1927-construced Peace Tower stands as a monument to those killed in service for Canada’s military. The Peace Tower houses a 53-bell carillon, and concerts occur at noon on weekdays during the summer months. The Library of Parliament, the only building to survive the fire, features a statue of young Queen Victoria in its polished octagonal chamber.

Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum is a tribute to the country’s military history, covering the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War, and the two World Wars, among other conflicts. Its designer, Raymond Moriyama, was one of the Japanese Canadians interned during World War II. In addition to its permanent collections, the museum features a rotating schedule of fascinating temporary exhibits.

Rideau Canal

rideau canal

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This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Ottawa’s most distinctive features, beloved by locals and visitors alike. During the summer, boats cover the canal, and the banks teem with boisterous revelers gearing up for the annual Rideau Canal Festival. Visitors can also fish, canoe, and bike along this lovely canal that snakes its way through downtown Ottawa.

In the winter, however, the Rideau Canal reveals its true glory, when frigid temperatures transform the canal into the world’s largest skating rink with a surface area equal to more than 90 Olympic-sized skating rinks.

National Gallery of Canada

national gallery of canada

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Guarded by a massive spider sculpture at its entrance, this magnificent, futuristic gallery exhibits paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, plus works by beloved Canadian artists Antoine Plamondon and Benjamin West. Striking collections of contemporary art, sculpture, and photography abound.

Located in downtown Ottawa facing Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada is a must-see for art lovers and visitors who appreciate its stunning granite and glass architecture. The building also houses a library and archive collection, a charming cafeteria, indoor and outdoor gardens, and serene, relaxing courtyards for rest and reflection. The splendid Great Hall offers panoramic views of Parliament Hill.

ByWard Market and BeaverTails

byward market

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The ByWard Market is one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets in the bustling heart of the city. In addition to vendors selling everything from mittens and gloves to produce and poutine, you’ll also discover charming boutiques, restaurants, and a vibrant entertainment scene. Don’t forget to sample a BeaverTail, a pillowy piece of fried dough covered with your choice of savory and sweet toppings.

Packed with history, culture, and opportunities for adventure, Ottawa’s restaurants, shops, and nightlife scene rival those of any international capital city. Be sure to book an IHG® hotel in Ottawa to fully engage in the rich history and heritage of this historic city.

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