View of Parliament Hill and Ottawa River from Nepean Point
I visited a couple of friend’s in Ottawa during Labor Day Weekend. In their words, Ottawa is very underwhelming for a capital city. Montreal and Toronto are nearby Canadian cities that are much more fun. My friends brought me to Montreal for a day trip because they were afraid of running out of interesting things to do in Ottawa. Nevertheless, Ottawa is the capital of Canada and still worth a 1-2 day trip. Unless you have friends in Ottawa, I would probably plan a trip there as a side trip in addition to a trip Montreal or Toronto. It is a couple of hours drive from Montreal and a bit longer at four hours from Toronto.
- Parliament Hill (Wellington St, Ottawa, ON, Canada)
It is a must stop if you are in Ottawa. The Parliament buildings sit on top of a hill overlooking the Ottawa River. In my opinion, the buildings are very beautiful and classic. The best view is actually at Nepean Point at the back of the National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada), where you can see the Parliament building on top of the hill over the Ottawa River. In addition to the Ottawa River, there are beautiful canals that run through the city. On Parliament Hill, there is a large lawn in between the buildings. From early July to early September, Northern Lights [light show] runs at night. It runs at later times during the beginning of the summer and earlier as the summer progresses to coincide with sunset (in July at 10:00 PM, in August at 9:30 PM, and September at 9:00 PM. The show shines lights on the Parliament building with commentary broadcasted via speakers to narrate the history of Canada. As an American, it is difficult to follow but the light effects are fantastic. The show will run through 2019.
Parking can be a bit difficult around Parliament Hill. During the day, we parked by Chinatown and walked the 2.1 km (1.3 miles) there. At night for the light show, there are more parking spots in the downtown area but you will still have to walk a few blocks to Parliament Hill.
- Vietnamese Food
Ottawa has a large Vietnamese population. The best restaurants are located in Chinatown. On the other hand, Chinatown is more Vietnamese than Chinese. Accordingly, I personally think of it as a Little Saigon. I absolutely love pho: a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, and meat. The pho spots in Ottawa are as good or better than my favorite pho spot in New York City.
- Pho Thu Do (781 Somerset St W, Ottawa, ON K1R 6R3, Canada)
I did not get the Pho at this restaurant. I went with my friend’s recommendation and ordered dry noodles instead. I ate the “Bun”, Vermicelli, with Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork) and Cha Gio (Spring Rolls). The pork is unbelievable. It is extremely tender and perfectly marinated. The bowl of vermicelli is huge. It is also one of my favorite Asian rice noodles. In addition, the spring rolls are good. I definitely recommend the dish.
- Pho Bo Ga La (784 Somerset St W, Ottawa, ON K1R 6R1, Canada)
The pho I had here is excellent. I usually order the beef Pho and went with 013, Pho Tai Gau Gan Sach: rare beef, beef brisket, beef tendons, and beef tripe rice noodles. The key to a great pho is the broth since the noodles will soak it in for the flavor. I loved the broth at this restaurant. Depending on your experience with ethnic food and tolerance for something different, I would warn against tripe (intestine). I enjoy it but I have eaten it my entire life.
- Pho Thu Do (3987 Riverside Dr, Ottawa, ON K1V 1C1, Canada)
If you did not get your Pho fix during your time in Ottawa and are flying out from the airport, Pho Thu Do also has a location by the airport. It is not as good as the Chinatown location and more expensive. Nevertheless, it is good and conveniently by the airport if you are looking for a place to eat before your flight. I ordered the beef Pho: P9 – Medium Rare, Welldone, Beef Tripe and Tendon. I also ordered the quail egg in it so I guess it is actually P11 – Combination [with P9] and Quail Egg.
- Shawarma Palace (464 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5Z3, Canada)
Ottawa also has a large Lebanese population. Consequently, there is great chicken shawarma in the city. My friend brought me to Shawarma Palace. I ate the chicken shawarma platter with potatoes, salad, and hummus. In terms of the chicken, some of the pieces were amazing: extremely tender and juicy. Other pieces were dry. Of course, the chicken shawarma is cooked via a vertical spit that spins. As a result, some of the chicken is going to dry out. It is the nature of the dish. At shawarma restaurants, I usually go with lamb since it does not dry out as easy as chicken. Overall, I rank it as very good to great [depending on the piece of chicken you eat]. My favorite part of the platter is actually the potatoes. They were amazing. The hummus is very good too.
- BeaverTails/ Queue de castor (69 George St, Ottawa, ON K1N 1K1, Canada)
BeaverTails are a must try. It is fried dough that is shaped like a beaver tail with different choices for toppings on top. The dough is sweet and soft. I ordered the tail with Nutella and banana. The combination is amazing. BeaverTails are a dish the locals like to eat in the winter because it is warm. However, I can vouch it is great regardless of the season.
- Other Food
1. Harvey’s (564 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario)
Harvey’s is a burger chain in Canada. It is unique because it offers a custom, “build your own”, feature by offering 11 different toppings you can choose to add to your burger. The beef patties are very good. Harvey’s is comparable to the better fast food joints I have tried in the United States. The fries and onion rings are solid. The milkshakes are decent but nothing special. For anyone who has been to California, Harvey’s is the Canadian answer to “In-N-Out”. Although I like In-N-Out better, it has a very simple menu and Harvey’s variety of toppings definitely gives it an edge.
- Hokkaido Sushi, ByWard Market (272 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7E5, Canada)
When it comes to All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) sushi restaurants, I do not expect much. In order to maintain a reasonable price, the fish cannot be high quality. Accordingly, you need to understand this fact before you eat at one. Hokkaido is a solid AYCE sushi spot. It has a good selection of appetizers, sashimi, rolls, tempura, noodles, entrees, and dessert that you order to your table. It will not blow you away but is a good value if you are craving a lot of Japanese food and sushi for a reasonable price.
Hokkaido is in the ByWard Market. There are a lot of other restaurants in that part of town if you want to try something else.
- Share Tea (399 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 9K4, Canada)
I am over the bubble tea phase of my life. It is just too sugary for me to be drinking it all the time. Nevertheless, I enjoy it from time to time. Share Tea is an excellent bubble tea spot. In addition, it offers lychee jelly which I prefer instead of tapioca.
I have been to a lot of specialty coffee shops throughout the United States in recent years. While Ottawa does not compare to the upper echelon of my list of top coffee shops, it does have solid spots.
- Happy Goat Coffee Co. (35 Laurel St, Ottawa, ON K1Y 2E6, Canada)
Without a doubt, I drank my best cup of coffee at Happy Goat. The barista made me a perfect latte. The taste was smooth and rich. It maintained the consistency as I drank all the way to the bottom. The microfoam was perfect and was used to make stellar latte art.
- Art-Is-In Bakery (250 City Centre Ave #112, Ottawa, ON K1R 1C7, Canada)
First, it has a great name. The lattes are also very good. In addition, it is an awesome bakery. I planned on only getting coffee but could not resist ordering a cookie. The chewy chocolate cookie delivered and lived up to its name. It was thick but soft and chewy. The chocolate melts in your mouth. Although I did not order a sandwich, they looked great too.
You do not have to pay for parking but you need to get a stub to put on your dashboard.
- Bridgehead (366 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1Y4, Canada)
There are a lot of Bridgehead shops throughout Ottawa. Chains are usually mediocre. I am happy to say Bridgehead is an exception. I can definitely say it is the best coffee chain I have tried. It really is not even close.
- The Ministry of Coffee (279 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1M1, Canada)
I was disappointed by my experience. Based on the reviews and pictures I saw on Yelp, I anticipated it would be my favorite coffee shop in Ottawa. However, it can be difficult to maintain the quality of all your baristas. Some will naturally not be as great as others. A shop may also have trainees or new baristas trying to master the craft. It probably takes 1-2 years to fully train a barista. I went at a random hour during the day with less traffic so one of those reasons could have applied to my barista. It was still acceptable quality for a specialty coffee shop but I was not blown away as I was hoping I would be. I will definitely give the shop another try if I return to Ottawa.
If you are looking to hike; Gatineau Park, on the other side of the Ottawa River in Quebec, has a couple of solid, short hiking paths.
- Champlain Lookout (Luskville, Québec J0X 2G0, Canada – top of Champlain Parkway at Gatineau Park) – 1.3 KM (0.8 miles)
Champlain Lookout sits at the top of Champlain Parkway and the Gatineau Hills. It provides the best view in Gatineau Park with great views of the Ottawa valley and Ottawa River. There is also a short hiking path that begins to the right of the lookout that gets you to another, smaller lookout and through some of a forest.
- Pink Lake (Promenade De La Gatineau, Gatineau, QC) – 2.5 KM (1.6 miles)
Pink Lake is a very unique lake. It is a meromictic lake where some of the layers of water do not mix. As a result, there is no oxygen at the bottom and nothing is alive down there. It also results in a beautiful turquoise color. It is one of the most memorable lakes I have ever seen. There is a hiking path that runs around the lake. If you go in a clockwise direction, the first half of the path offers the best views of the lake. Definitely spend some time to soak in the views and take some pictures.
1. Dick Bell Park (Carling Ave, Ottawa, ON, Canada)
If you are looking to run, I recommend Dick Bell Park. There are plenty of well paved paths that run along the Ottawa River. There is also a marina where boats are parked and set sail. I visited Ottawa during the height of the Pokémon Go craze. At the Breakwater pathway in the park, there were hordes of Pokémon Go players camped to catch Pokémon.
- Brittania Park and Beach (2805 Carling Ave, Ottawa, ON K2B 8K6, Canada)
It is the best beach in Ottawa. It is a small, nice beach with a couple of jetties that are enjoyable if you want to walk on the rocks. Moreover, it is a great spot for beach volleyball.
- Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport (1000 Airport Parkway Private, Ottawa, ON K1V 9B4, Canada)
It is not a very busy airport so it is convenient to fly in and out of Ottawa. It took me 20-30 minutes to get past customs when I arrived because everyone got off the plane at the same time. When I returned to fly home, I got through security and customs in the matter of ten minutes.