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The Ultimate Spring Weekend in Ottawa

The Ultimate Spring Weekend in Ottawa

Situated at the confluence of the Ottawa, Rideau, and Gatineau rivers, Canada’s pretty capital city isn’t as buttoned up as you might expect. Ottawa is one of those self-possessed places where history and local life playfully co-exist. Discover both along the banks of its waterways, in its distinctive neighborhoods, massive museums, booming culinary scene, and unique festivals. Spring is an ideal time to discover Ottawa’s upbeat side. This guide is all you need to be enchanted by this sophisticated city on a spring weekend getaway.


Icons to discover

Rideau Canal downtown Ottawa

Rideau Canal: An exhilarating way to discover Ottawa's deep heritage and natural beauty is by getting out onto the Rideau CanalExternal Link Title, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For an immersive experience, take a cruiseExternal Link Title or settle into a 34-foot replica voyageur canoeExternal Link Title, led by gouvernail who host interpretive tours down the stone-walled canal. Want to explore on your own? Rent a stand-up paddleboardExternal Link Title right from downtown and you'll soon be gliding by historic sites. Take time to gaze at enchanting landmarks such as the castle-like Fairmont Chateau LaurierExternal Link Title, which has earned accolades like Travel and Leisure magazine's Greatest Hotels in the World Award.

National Gallery of Canada: With its twin towers rising from an octagonal building, the National Gallery of CanadaExternal Link Title is like a gigantic glass jewel box. Light floods into this airy venue that houses the world's largest collection of Canadian art. Before you cross the gallery's threshold you'll be greeted by MamanExternal Link Title, artist Louise Bourgeois's 30-foot bronze spider sculpture. Once inside, explore ancient Indigenous art objects, paintings by Canada's celebrated Group of Seven, and see Gauguin: PortraitsExternal Link Title, the world's first exhibition dedicated to the French artist's portraiture.

Yoga on Parliament Hill. Photo credit: Tourism Ottawa

Parliament Hill: Ottawa's storied Parliament Hill is Canada's core of political power but not everything here is about pomp and ceremony. Political junkies will get a rush out of watching a live debateExternal Link Title in the Senate or House of Commons, or taking a guided tourExternal Link Title of the Gothic-Revival buildings to learn how Parliament works. Get your muscles moving with free yoga andExternal Link Title ZumbaExternal Link Title classes held on the sprawling lawn in front of the copper-roofed buildings.


Craft breweries

Flora Hall Brewing: When the weather warms up the garage doors at Flora Hall BrewingExternal Link Title roll open in the 1927 heritage building, formerly an automotive-repair business. The two-level structure in Central Town retains its industrial bones, but today it's all about bringing together community and craft beer like its Strawberry-Rhubarb Gose, a celebration of spring in a glass. An extensive food menu invites you to linger over bites like miso-spiced chicken wings and deep-fried Brussels sprouts served with garlic aioli -- perfect pairings with the Belgian Table Beer, a session brew that's only 4.5% ABV.

Dominion City Brewing: Pride of place is evident at this unpretentious micro-brewery where you can chill out in the tap room and sip suds while reading the daily newspaper. The tasting-bar menuExternal Link Title includes crisp and refreshing Civic Pilsner, plus cool collaboration brews with venues like Jabberwocky BarExternal Link Title. The two establishments teamed up to create the craft cocktail-inspired Second Breakfast Oat Special Bitter made with barley, oats, cherry bark, and maple syrup.


Brew Revolution: Ottawa's craft beer scene is on an upswell and the tide is rising again with the addition of Brew RevolutionExternal Link Title. Located in Stittsville on the edge of Ottawa, you can spin some old-school vinyl in the brewery's tap room and quaff creative offerings such Smoke on the Porter, Lemon Daze, and Here Comes your Mango.


Dining out

Jackson Caf?: With its glam decor that's a warm blend of bronze and blue hues, Jackson Caf?External Link Title oozes with understated elegance. A top-notch weekend brunchExternal Link Title is offered at this new restaurant tucked inside the Ottawa Art GalleryExternal Link Title (after eating, check out Cheryl Pagurek: Connect, an interactive audio and video installation). The menu focuses primarily on plant-based fare and supports small businesses and farms. To-die-for dishes include the ricotta hotcakes accompanied by maple-whipped butter, and a hearty brunch bowl composed of green-tea noodles, sesame-crusted tuna, avocado, and turmeric-pickled onions.

The Rabbit Hole: Freshly-shucked oysters and inventive libations are the draw at The Rabbit HoleExternal Link Title, a new two-level restaurant and cocktail den that's luring locals to the 122-year-old building it occupies on Sparks Street. A "tunnel" of lights twinkle from the ceiling in the street-level room anchored by a long bar. Here, whet your appetite with small dishes like crab cocktail, then dive into dinner with straightforward items such as steak frites and pizzas. The subterranean area is a hip warren of intimate corners swathed by stone walls that date back to 1886. Find a seat at the cocktail bar to savor drinks like the Above Average Joe, made with coffee-infused aged whisky.

OCCO Kitchen & Bar Downtown: Scratch, local, and craft are the watchwords of OCCO Kitchen & Bar DowntownExternal Link Title, which opened its new location this spring. Its artisanal street food is prepared daily with premium local ingredients, like the sesame-herb buns and homemade poblano ketchup that accompany its candied-bacon cheeseburger made with local AAA beef.


Eat local at the market: Springtime ushers in the start of patio season and celebrations of Ottawa's exploding culinary sceneExternal Link Title. Along with the city's famous Byward MarketExternal Link Title, four additional farmers marketsExternal Link Title teem with local crafts, seasonal produce, and foods produced from within 60 miles of Ottawa. Check out Jargon PreservesExternal Link Title' small-batch pickles and jam, as well as Carlington BoochExternal Link Title's traditionally brewed kombucha.


Explore outdoors

Canadian Tulip Festival: When Holland's Queen Juliana returned home after seeking shelter in Ottawa during the Second World War she gifted the city with 100,000 tulips; so began the annual Canadian Tulip FestivalExternal Link Title where spring is welcomed in Canada's capital with more than a million tulip bulbs bursting into bloom. During this breath-taking fest you can listen to musicians performExternal Link Title, take a legacy walking tourExternal Link Title, and watch Ontario artists paintExternal Link Title outdoors among the flower beds.

Nordik Spa-Nature, minutes from downtown Ottawa.

Nordik Spa-Nature: Unwind in a spa surrounded by nature at spectacular Nordik Spa-NatureExternal Link Title, located less than 30 minutes from Ottawa, in Old Chelsea, Quebec. Ten outdoor baths, quiet resting areas, and a vast menu of relaxation and wellness treatments let you truly escape at Nordik Spa-NatureExternal Link Title, the largest spa in North America. In the Panorama LoungeExternal Link Title, nibble on tapas, drink cocktails made with local spirits, and enjoy organic beer.

Ottawa Biplane Adventures: Fly over Ottawa 1930s style, by riding in vintage open-cockpit biplane. Located inside the Canadian Aviation and Space MuseumExternal Link Title, Ottawa Biplane Adventures offers a range of exhilarating flight toursExternal Link Title that take you high above the city, zipping past sites like iconic Parliament Hill, glorious Gatineau ParkExternal Link Title, and eastern Ontario's rolling farmlands.


Shop local

Roadtrip: Canada's indie brands are the mainstays at RoadtripExternal Link Title, an Ottawa-born boutique in buzzing Byward MarketExternal Link Title. Men and women can find easy-to-wear clothing and accessories like eco-friendly "vegan leather" bags and cool kicks by Mat + NatExternal Link Title, fashionable outerwear from Soia & Kyo, and jeans in a range of styles, fits, and washes from Fidelity.

Maker House: "Buy from your neighbor" is the ethos that underpins Maker HouseExternal Link Title's products made by artisans from across Canada. Gareth Davies founded the community collective with the aim to bring the maker movement into the mainstream. Original products span the spectrum from Beard OilExternal Link Title by Zoe's Corner, Justin Trudeau "Hey Girl" greeting cardsExternal Link Title from Whaaat? Studio, and DIY-friendly Sugar Shack Log Cabin KitsExternal Link Title by Panabo.


Adorit Boutique: Ottawa native Emma Inns is the brainchild behind the decade-old Adorit BoutiqueExternal Link Title, filled with ethically-made and fairly-traded items from Canada and around the globe. Find original pieces from designers like Birch Jewelry's handmade acorn necklaces, and jersey dresses and blazers sewn from sustainably sourced fabrics from MiikExternal Link Title.

Workshop Studio & Boutique: More than 150 independent Canadian designers from Vancouver to Montreal are represented at Workshop Studio & BoutiqueExternal Link Title and sister store Flock BoutiqueExternal Link Title. Co-owners Bridget and Christina also design under their eponymous labelExternal Link Title, crafting a collection of ethically made T-shirts screened with vintage-inspired Canadiana images, plus Ottawa-themed artwork, tote bags, and more.


Discover culture

National Arts Centre: As one of the world's largest bilingual performing arts hubs, the National Arts CentreExternal Link Title brings together classical and contemporary dance, music, theater, and more, in Canada's capital. Check out innovative programming like Le Patin LibreExternal Link Title, contemporary dance combined with figure skating, and Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and the DrumExternal Link Title, performed by the Alberta Ballet.


West Fest: Hip-hop artist Aspects is just one of the talented Canadian performers headlining West FestExternal Link Title in Tom Brown Arena Park. Juno award-winning country crooner Charlie Major and psychedelic folk-metal experimentalists Yamantaka // Sonic Titan will also take to the main stage. The free three-day event is an all-age party with local food vendors, artisans, and an Indigenous pavilion.

Indigenous Walks: Stroll through downtown Ottawa's public spaces and get an Indigenous perspective on the city's art, architecture, landscape, and history. Led by Indigenous WalksExternal Link Title' founder Jaime Koebel and other guides, a ranges of walks and talksExternal Link Title take you to places like Confederation ParkExternal Link Title, Parliament Hill, and Byward MarketExternal Link Title.

The Grand Hall at the Canadian Museum of History. Photo Credit: Canadian Museum of History

Canadian Museum of History: Two thousand years of human history are chronicled at the Canadian Museum of HistoryExternal Link Title. Learn about the nation's Indigenous peoples through the 1856 museum's permanent collections and visiting exhibitions such as Grand HallExternal Link Title. It's an enthralling primer on the First Peoples of Canada's Pacific Coast, shown through six Indigenous houses, totem poles, and Haida artist Bill Reid's original plaster pattern for Spirit of Haida Gwaii. (One of only two every cast sits in front of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.) Another mind-expanding must-see is NeanderthalsExternal Link Title. Scientists have determined that these cave dwellers were most advanced than originally thought. Fossils rarely shown to the public outside Europe are also on display.