I arrived in Ottawa at the start of November (a pretty chilly time of year!). I started working in Ottawa Backpackers Inn immediately (one of the three hostels in the city). I will focus on what to do in Ottawa if you’re spending 2-3 days in the city backpacking. There’ll be info on where to stay, sights to see, places to go (depending on the day of the week) and events!
Where to stay?
First of all, how many bucks do you have to spend? If you’ve not got many, then stay in a backpackers hostel. If you’ve got loads, then….stay in a backpackers hostel! You are backpacking in Ottawa, after all! Booking in a hostel is a great way to meet people in a new city, and it’ll give you the chance to pair up with someone to explore the town!
The hostels in the town vary drastically in price from $26 (when you book direct) for Ottawa Backpackers Inn to $36 for the Barefoot Hostel. The great thing about the hostels in Ottawa is that they all offer something different – go to OBI for a homey environment, the Jail Hostel to stay in an old jail or Barefoot Hostel for the ultimate intimate flashpacker experience! Alternative: couchsurf! The Couchsurfing community is really great in Ottawa, and they hold regular meetups at least once a fortnight!
What to do in Ottawa for sightseeing
The Parliament, duh. Seriously though, you kinda have to see the Parliament. Wandering 10 minutes out of any of the hostels in town will take you to the official headquarters of the Government of Canada, so it seems rude not to. I recommend taking at least a pic or two of the truly remarkable building.
If you had a checklist for what to do in Ottawa while backpacking, it would probably feature Parliament and two museums. That probably won’t change….but please explore some more when you are in the city! My favourite museum is the Museum of Nature on MacLeod Street. The building is impressive, it’s in a great part of town (right next to Somerset St and Elgin St), and their featured exhibitions are great. We went when ants were the featured exhibit, and it was great…they even had live ants as part of the show!
Take a stroll and wander up Elgin Street and then Somerset Street. Elgin is one of the busiest streets in the city for bars, restaurants and shops. Somerset is more of a hipster area, and when you’re walking up, you’ll see some great street art on the buildings of The Daily Grind and PourBoy. For me, if you’re backpacking in Ottawa, then Somerset Street is a must: it’s where many locals chill out… Every so often, they have festivals up there. Who said Ottawa was boring?
What to do in Ottawa at night
Ottawa is most certainly not the size of Toronto. This means that you might need to be clever about when you visit certain bars! At the start of the week, I definitely recommend going to one of the many beer hotspots in town; who needs a place to be packed when you’ve got a great beer for company?
My personal favourites are Brothers in the Byward Market (with beers from all four corners of the world!) or PourBoy.
Later in the week, your options start to open up more. On a Wednesday, you’ve got a hump at the Mercury Lounge. This is a gay night in one of the coolest bars in the Byward Market. Head here at the weekend for a funkier, more indie night than is offered in many places in Ottawa. Wednesdays are best spent on Elgin in either The Lieutenants Pump or The Manx. Both are great ‘proper pubs’. Go to The Pump if you want busy and lively; go to The Manx if you want cosy and vibrant!
Thursdays are made for going out in Ottawa. OK, that’s a lie, but you’ve got two places to pick from if you’re after busy in the Byward Market. Try SpinBin if you’re after something different. The music might be country, but you get to play ping pong on one of the many tables here, and the drink is cheap!
And then it’s the weekend. So here are the places I love.
The Clocktower Brew Pub (it’s close to most of the hostels in town, brews its own beer at its brewpub on Bank Street, and prices are reasonable)
The Pump and PourBoy
Go to The Laff on a Saturday for Lucky Ron’s show. Lucky Ron is a country singer who has been playing in the pub since time began. And he always seems sozzled. So going to The Laff for his show is a local experience. A definite must if you’re backpacking in Ottawa!
What to do in Ottawa for your taste buds
I love food, and there are many great places to go to in Ottawa!
The Tea Party is tasty vegan food with over 160 teas to wash it down.
Rideau Bakery – a massive selection of non-pretentious baked items and close to Loblaws on Rideau St.
Bluebird Coffee – a chilled out vibe with ethnic music playing the background; coffee is roasted on the premises.
Boushey’s Fruit Market, a convenience store on Elgin Street, makes great homemade snacks.
Chez Lucien – slightly higher end but worth it. Get one of the excellent quality meat items.
French Baker and Benny’s Bistro – pop into the French Baker for a snack but if you have more time and money, go to Benny’s Bistro for some excellent brunch!
What to do in Ottawa: Events
Numerous events are going on in the city so remember to check online what to do in Ottawa in terms of events. Here are the sites you should be referring to.
apt613 – all things Ottawa. Mainly music and cultural events aimed at all age groups.
Couchassassin – a bit of a newbie on the event listings front, aimed at a slightly younger market than apt613.
Ottawa Showbox – similar to Couchassassin but music-specific.
THE major event to be in Ottawa for is Canada Day (1st July). So if you want to spend your Canada Day in Ottawa, then book your accommodation super duper early! As a warning, the prices will be inflated slightly, but it’ll be worth it for the party!