Ours to Discover: Ottawa

Enjoy springtime in the capital. Welcome a new season in Ottawa with blooming tulips, newly reopened attractions and tours of Parliament Hill.

By Fiona Tapp Wheels.ca

Apr 16, 2022 5 min. read

Article was updated a month ago

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About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to explore. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, ands show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”

Despite a few late-season snowfalls, Spring is here, and it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy the milder weather. Events are back on in Ottawa, after two years of shutdowns and postponements, and the downtown core is open for business. Come immerse yourself in the vibrant colours of the Canadian Tulip Festival and reacquaint yourself with the city after a long winter.

DAY ONE

In the morning: It is around a four-and-a-half-hour drive to the nation’s capital from Toronto, following Hwy 401 eastward. Just over an hour after leaving, take Concession Road 4 and drive to 5th Line in Port Hope for a farm-fresh breakfast at Haute Goat. Enjoy homemade frittata, available at the farm on weekends from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., before spending time with its Nigerian dwarf goats, Icelandic horses, alpacas and chickens. Head back to the 401 and continue driving east before heading north on Hwy 416 toward Ottawa.

In the afternoon: You’ll arrive in Ottawa in time for lunch, so take a wander down vibrant Elgin Street and stop at Citizen, just around the corner on Gilmour Steet. Try its Mariposa duck-filled egg rolls served with fried rice, and fermented gochujang sauce. After, continue walking on Elgin toward Bank Street and treat yourself at Moo Shu, a small-batch ice cream maker with unique flavours, including Hong Kong milk tea, lime lea and fresh mint. It also scoops plenty of vegan options.

Guided tours of Parliament Hill are set to relaunch starting May 20, allowing visitors an opportunity to view the country’s seat of power. An ambitious, decade-long project is currently underway to refurbish and modernize the entire site, but you can still tour the West Block of The House of Commons and the Senate, temporarily located within a historic Beaux-Arts style former train station a short walk away.

If you prefer an active afternoon, rent a bicycle from Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals on Sparks Street, a quick 10-minute walk from Elgin. Either sign up for a guided tour or explore on your own with the help of the trail map you’ll receive with your rental.

Ottawa

In the evening: Stay in the heart of Ottawa’s historic ByWard Market by checking in to the Andaz Ottawa Hotel. This chic accommodation’s large floor-to-ceiling windows provide amazing views of Parliament Hill and the busy market area. Keep your eyes peeled for the copper accents in the lobby and guest rooms, which pay homage to the metal famously used to top the nearby parliament buildings.

Head to Copper Spirits and Sights, the hotel’s rooftop bar and the highest in the city, for cocktails with a view over the downtown core. For dinner, enjoy Middle Eastern dishes at Fairouz Cafe, in the ByWard Market. Choose its Fairouz Feast option for four diners that includes a sizzling meat platter, riz asfar, pitas, dips, stuffed grape leaves, olives and dessert.

Now that live performances are back, you can catch a hockey game, comedy or music show at the Canadian Tire Centre in nearby Kanata. While you're in the suburbs, check out Evergreen Craft Ales, just a three-minute drive from the arena, which grew from a garage-based micro-brewery into a large taproom and patio. If you prefer to stay downtown, sample a few brews at Lowertown Brewery on York Street, instead.

DAY TWO 

In the morning: Start your day at one of Ottawa’s most popular breakfast spots, Wilf & Ada’s, on Bank Street, which is close to the Canadian Museum of Nature. You’ll find all the usual breakfast platters and French toast favourites, as well as the dish Eggs in Purgatory, featuring poached eggs in a tangy tomato sauce and topped with grana Padano cheese.

[caption id="attachment_167396" align="alignnone" width="2560"]Ottawa Iceberg sculpture at Canadian Museum of Nature[/caption]

After you eat, walk over to the castle-like museum on McLeod Street and explore four floors dedicated to mammals, dinosaurs, birds and water life. Don't miss the Landscapes of Canada Gardens’ outdoor experience, highlighting 60 species of plants and trees from the boreal forests, Arctic tundra and prairie grasslands.

In the early afternoon: Make the eight-minute drive or half-hour walk to Dow’s Lake Pavilion and stop for a waterfront lunch at the Umbrella Bar. If the weather is fine, grab a spot on the resort-inspired patio that features cute hanging chairs with views of the lake. Choose from comfort food options like macaroni and cheese, burgers and fried chicken.

Following lunch, cross the street to Commissioners’ Park, and revel in the colours of springtime by admiring the more than one million cheerful tulips that line its flowerbeds. Plan your visit to fall between May 13 and 23 so you can take part in the 70th anniversary of the Canadian Tulip Festival.

In late afternoon: For one last Ottawa activity before you head home, take a spin around Dow’s Lake on a canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard or paddleboat, which are available to rent between May and October.

Begin your drive back to Toronto by heading south along Hwy 416 toward the 401. For a break along the way, stop in historic Brockville and stroll through its historic railway tunnel, which runs between downtown and the waterfront and was the first constructed in Canada. It usually opens for the season around Easter weekend.

If you're traveling with children, visit the Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing before it closes at 5 p.m. to see otters, amphibians, fish and other underwater sea creatures. Kids can also learn all about hydroelectric power and climb onboard the “HMS Ontario” to experience the life of a historic sea captain.

COVID-19 need to know

Ottawa is following Ontario’s provincial COVID-19 guidelines. Contact individual businesses ahead of your trip to find out how they’re currently operating.

For the drive

Get a taste of Ottawa’s music scene by listening to “The Love Local Music” podcast from The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition. Foodies might prefer “At The Pass with Adam Vettorel,” a podcast hosted by a celebrated local chef.

TIMELINE: Drive Guide

Day one

  • 8 a.m. Leave Toronto


Drive east on Hwy 401 and north on Hwy

  • 1.30 p.m. Citizen

  • 3 p.m. Moo Shu

  • 3:30 p.m. Parliament Hill

  • 6 p.m. Andaz Hotel

  • 7:30 p.m. Fairouz Cafe


Day two

  • 9 a.m. Wilf and Ada’s

  • 10 a.m. Canadian Museum of Nature

  • 12 p.m. Umbrella Bar

  • 1 p.m. Commissioner’s Park

  • 3 p.m. Drive back to Toronto


NOTE: Times are suggestions only

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