Travel review: Ottawa, Canada
When you think about Canada, what is the first city that comes to mind? Toronto? Montreal? Well, let me introduce you to Ottawa.
Even its citizens are quick to point out that this compact and stylish city is not the first place would-be visitors think of … but let me tell you, it really should be.
Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, and the seat of government. And it has huge amounts to offer all year round, whether you are keen on sports, the arts, history, fine dining or just mooching around enjoying the sights.
In the winter the city has a lively charm all of its own – the landmark Rideau Canal, which runs through the heart of Ottawa, becomes frozen and people take to its glistening surface on skates. Not only for fun - although there are lights and stalls galore along its banks - but even to commute to work, warmly wrapped up against the crisp, cold air.
This is a wonderful destination for families, with reasonable air fares, a wide choice of accommodation, loads of places to eat whatever your budget and lots of fun things to do.
Just as we Brits love football, the Canadians are potty for hockey – that is ice hockey to you and me. Much-loved local team, the Ottawa Senators, play at an impressive indoor stadium, the Canadian Tire Centre.
The atmosphere is electric, the fun factor is dialled up to 10 and the action on the ice is fast and furious. What a terrific night out.
Ottawans are rightly proud of their place at the heart of government. The beautiful Parliament Buildings, which are about to undergo a 10-year refurbishment programme, are a very fine feature of the cityscape, as are the many museums.
These range from the neo-Gothic Museum of Nature with its glorious dioramas showcasing Canadian wildlife in all its splendour – as well as an enchantingbutterfly house where the brilliantly-coloured insects fly all around you and even settle on your clothes – to the deeply absorbing Canadian Museum of History. Here you can learn about the first people to occupy the region and how their history unfolded as Europeans arrived from afar.
And for a complete change of pace try the Diefenbunker, Canada's Cold War Museum a few miles west of downtown Ottawa. Here you can wander with a guide through what seems to be miles of corridors and rooms deep underground - and get an insight into the preparations officials thought essential at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s.
For lovers of the arts there is the spectacular National Arts Centre, which is Canada's home for performing arts including the NAC Orchestra, English and French theatre, dance, festivals and events for visitors of all ages. You can dine at the smartly-appointed restaurant overlooking the Rideau Canal before catching a show or concert.
The recently-opened Ottawa Art Gallery focuses on regional art and boasts five floors of historical and contemporary exhibitions.
Or how do you fancy a selfie with what must be the world's biggest and scariest sculpture? Outside the National Gallery of Canada is 'Maman', a mammoth 9.25 metre-high bronze spider complete with 26 marble eggs.
And, of course, we all love food. In Ottawa you can dine and enjoy drinks in true style. What about a cocktail at the 16th-floor Copper Spirits and Sights bar at the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market hotel? Here you can sip your cocktail and drink in the sights at the same time as the sun sets behind the lovely silhouette of the Parliament Buildings and the city lights up for the night.
A short distance way is the historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier. In the evening Zoe's bar offers a dazzling range of cocktails. Dinner is also offered in classically elegant surroundings.
How about some shopping? Look no further than the Rideau Centre for designer goods and top-of-the-range stores. Nearby the ByWard Market, which gives the district its name, is a great place to browse among smaller and more traditional stores, as well as stalls on the street.
Here you can sample local delicacies such as poutine (chips with cheese curd and gravy) or a scrummy and very indulgent beavertail pastry – so named because of its shape.
Not far across town, in Lansdowne, foodies can delight in wandering through the Victorian market which features locally-made produce and craft goods - as well as visiting numerous artisan shops selling everything from hand-made chocolates to pressed oils from round the world.
Vegetarian and vegan tastes are well catered for in the city, with venues such as Pure Kitchen.
Or maybe you just want a burger or some great street food and a beer. The perfect place to go is the newly-opened Queen St Fare in the heart of town. This smart and up-to-the-minute food hall showcases a great range of contemporary outlets serving meals from round the world, washed down by craft beers.
So what about the great outdoors? Surely it would be rude to visit Canada without seeing some of the wildlife. No problem. An hour away by car is Parc Omega, across the river in Quebec.
Here you can drive through thousands of acres of spectacular landscape and see creatures including fallow deer, wild pigs, cute little black squirrels and elk. You can even feed them if you want. The park also has bears, beavers, wolves, Arctic foxes and many other creatures.
It is a great day out where you can also relax in a comfortable cabin-style restaurant for a meal.
Winter is also a fun time to try snowshoe walking on the Sugarbush Trail in Gatineau Park, closer to Ottawa. You can hit the trail – either with or without snowshoes depending on the conditions - and walk for miles through pristine forests and past streams laced with ice and snow along their edges.
A few minutes' drive away is the Nordik Spa-Nature Centre where you can enjoy outdoor hot baths, saunas, a salt water floating pool and then round off your day with dinner.
There. I bet you did not know Ottawa was such an incredible place. I do now, and I can't wait to go back.
How to get there – Air Canada offers more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline.
From London Heathrow this winter, the airline operates daily non-stop services to Ottawa, with economy fares starting from £455.32 inclusive of all taxes and 1 x checked bag (subject to change).
Find out more at www.aircanada.com or call Reservations on 00 800 66992222.
Where to stay – Try the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market, which has a spectacular 16th-floor cocktail bar overlooking the city. Go to andazottawa.com for more information.
Where to eat – the choice is enormous, from street food to fine dining with vegetarian and vegan tastes well catered for.
For more information about where to stay and what to see and do visit www.explore-canada.co.uk
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.