Even though it is reputed to be the world’s second coldest capital city (after Ulan Bator, Outer Mongolia), Ottawa can be a pleasant city to visit. Spring or summer is obviously the preferred time for a visit, but winter has advantages too. The attractions include the museums, Parliament, the National Arts Centre, skating on the Rideau Canal, and skiing or snowshoeing in the nearby Gatineau Hills.
The Arts Centre is heavily subsidised, so ticket prices are relatively low – about $5 for a balcony seat in the theatre and $8 for a balcony seat in the opera. Other prices tend to be high, however. Like Washington, Ottawa is populated mainly by civil servants. Many civil servants are exceptionally well paid, affecting the general level of hotel and restaurant prices.
Unquestionably the best deal in town (if you can get in on it) is a meal in the Parliamentary Restaurant. An excellent full-course lunch or dinner here is only $2.75; wine and beer are available at low prices. Members of Parliament and senators can take guests here, so put the arm on your MP to invite you – remember, you’re subsidising it. Even lowly Parliamentary Press Gallery reporters eat in the restaurant, so if your MP isn’t compliant, strike up an acquaintance with some journalists.
For a city its size, Ottawa has a surprising variety of good restaurants. In summer, the canal-side outdoor Cafe at the National Arts Centre is a pleasant, reasonably priced spot for lunch. Quiches, salads and sandwiches are available. Near the Parliament Buildings, try The Brokerage for Canadian food such as quiches, salads at reasonable prices, and delicious desserts. The complex at 240 Sparks St., on Ottawa’s pedestrian shopping mall, has several take-out places in the basement offering healthy food, German and Mexican fare. In summer, you can eat on the benches that line the mall.
This area is the spot for trendy boutiques, wine bars and budget restaurants.
- Daphne and Victor’s is a local favourite offering light meals and snacks in a pleasant, old-fashioned atmosphere. The daily dinner special here is about $5.
- The Old Spaghetti Factory has pasta and other Italian fares at low prices.
The area has two good seafood restaurants:
- the Fishery, where a good dinner for two with wine can be as low as $17 and
- the Old Fish Market, with similar prices.
Crepe lovers can satisfy their desires at Hungry Crepe. For an after-dinner Cognac or port, try Vines or the William Street Bars, both attractive wine bars that provide light snacks.
For pizza, the Colonnade downtown is a good bet. More elegant but reasonably priced Italian food can be found at Mamma Teresa’s, where full dinners start at about $8. The downtown Cafe de la Bonne Fourchette is probably Ottawa’s best spot for French food. This is an elegant restaurant located in a converted Victorian townhouse, with prices in the high budget range – expect to spend at least $40 for dinner with wine for two.
Although the restaurant scene is quite good, there is a lack of reasonably priced accommodation in Ottawa. However, the Lord Elgin Hotel is a delightful, centrally located find in the high budget range. Rates start at $31 single and $35 double, and the hotel has free parking, an attractive lobby and a library bar.
The Beacon Arms downtown has single rooms for $30 and doubles at $34.
The Bytown Hotel also offers clean but smallish rooms at prices ranging from $26 single to $30 double.
The Auberge King Edward Bed and Breakfast is within walking distance from downtown Ottawa in historical Sandy Hill. This masterpiece of Victorian architecture was built in 1902 and has been painstakingly refurbished–it’s one of the best bed and breakfasts!
You may also book a studio or large hotel apartments with kitchenettes – particularly convenient for a family. This way, you can have substantial savings since you can cook some meals at home. For example, the Algonquin Apartment Hotel downtown has pleasant accommodations and rates as low as $27 a night for two people in a studio apartment. Four people can rent a two-bedroom apartment for as little as $50 a night. Weekly rates work out even lower.
Minto Suite Hotel on 185 Lyon Street North, in downtown Ottawa, is within walking distance of Parliament Hill. The hotel offers more than 400 guestrooms, including kitchens with microwave ovens, fridges and coffeemakers.
Hostels are available for those on a tight budget who want a European-like backpacking experience and love interacting and exchanging ideas with fellow travellers.
Ottawa Backpackers Inn on 203 York Street in the Byward Market offers a fully-equipped kitchen. There is a mini-market across the street for groceries all day.
For a unique experience, spend your night in jail (without committing a crime!) at Saintlo Ottawa Jail hostel. You may relax in one of the 125 beds, some in former jail cells.
If you just love being pampered and want to be treated like a Hollywood superstar, choose the Fairmont Chateau Laurier for some Old World elegance. The fairy-tale-like castle is practically at the doorstep of Parliament Hill, the Byward Market, the National Gallery of Canada and other Ottawa hotspots. Located downtown, the Chateau delivers top-notch service in a luxurious environment. It features beautiful, elegant guest rooms and luxury suites. Expect to spend a fortune, though.