When I saw this article in the NYT last week, I actually felt ripped off for a brief moment.
“I was going to write that post! And those are some of my recommendations,” I thought.
(As if the NYT would even know my blog existed, let alone care.)
As I read the article though, I realized I still needed to write this post. I have quite a few friends who know I am spending a lot of time in Ottawa, and sometimes they even ask for my recommendations. Well, one person did. Once.
So, for my handful of readers, here is how I would spend 36 hours in Canada’s capital city.
Savvy Farmgirl’s Weekend in Ottawa
Food usually gives me a good excuse to explore a neighbourhood and my first visit to Hintonburg was no different. More than once I was advised:”this neighbourhood used to be sketchy.” A weird thing to point out but today it’s chock full of great food and coffee, art and all sorts of hipsters.
I also suggest visiting the Maker House. I fell especially in love with their map pillows. Should you need a bottle of wine, you can conveniently grab it at the LCBO next door, before spoiling your dinner with a donut from SuzyQ’s. You may have heard of this plate – they have a maple bacon donut. I thought it was a little overrated compared to the spicy pineapple, dirty chocolate and Earl Grey. (I tried them all).
While munching your donut, wander the neighbourhood and check out some of the cool shops. There’s also some nifty artwork around the neighbourhood and if the weather is nice, a stroll up to the Ottawa River isn’t far and you can access the Trans-Canada Trail near the LRT line.
For dinner, if you’re into eating fish on Fridays, or even if you just like fish, the Hintonburg Public House is your spot. This quirky restaurant has chairs on the wall and serves up local fare. The fish and chips is easily top 3. Ever. And their aioli for the fries? Mucho yummy.
I am a breakfast person, so it’s no surprise I could give you a list of breakfast joints in Ottawa as long as my arm.
Like the NYT, I think Art is in the Bakery is a must-stop. The avocado toast is pricey for breakfast but it’s totally worth it. Their macaroons melt in your mouth. I love that you can enjoy breakfast and chill or you can take out. And they have a cool cow painting on their wall.
Another very worthy alternative is Kettleman’s Bagels in The Glebe. I’ve had bagels from a couple Ottawa spots and this my favourite. You might even want to take a bag home with you. They’re also open 24 hours so if you don’t get there for breakfast, you can always pop by at 3 am. Bonus!
After breakfast, I would head to the War Museum. There isn’t a person I know who doesn’t say this is the best museum in Ottawa. I agree. Although, I haven’t gone to the Museum of Nature, and I also have it on good authority it’s pretty impressive. (Local hack: the museums are free on Thursday nights if you happen to be in town. Here’s more free fun.)
A hotel restaurant wouldn’t typically be my recommendation for lunch but as I discovered on one of my first trips to Ottawa, LIFT isn’t typical.
If shopping is your thing, you could head to the Rideau Centre after lunch. If you’ve been inside long enough and want to get outside (which you really should in Ottawa), then head across the river to Gatineau. Gatineau Park has excellent hiking trails, accessible year-round.
My next visit to Ottawa will also include a stop at Spa Nordik. I’ve heard so much about their pools and relaxation rooms, I have to experience it for myself. Only 10 minutes from Ottawa, their website claims they are the largest spa in North America. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Finally, if the sun hasn’t gone down, Major Hill’s Park is a great place to watch the sunset and stare at the Parliament Buildings. I just feel that’s a must for any visit to Ottawa. They’re so darn stunning. My visits also often include a stop at the War Memorial. It’s finally open to the pubic again and as hauntingly impressive as ever. At night, it literally looks like the soldiers are coming up out of the trenches.
Now, I would head back to Hintonburg dinner, because it’s where I like to stay in Ottawa. The sign on the window that said “1 of 12 best pizzerias in Canada” drew me into Anthony’s Pizza but the atmosphere (and pizza) is what makes it a must visit. It got some hype lately because an Ottawa Senators player proposed to his girlfriend there. I like the pizza and the company at the bar.
Since you’re already there though, the Byward Market also has a lot of dinner choices since it’s a popular tourist spot. If you’re feeling something light, then the funky vibe and fresh pho at Asian Alley is worth checking out. Otherwise, I always go to the Heart & Crown. (NYT mentioned this place too and it really is a gem for locals and visitors alike). Get the chicken curry and a Belfast Mule to warm up.
Grab a Beavertail and smother it in Nutella for a bedtime snack. Did you know the Byward Market Beavertail location is the original? Sorry Blue Mountain – it wasn’t the shack on the top of Southern Comfort.
Alright, you have a few breakfast joints where you can grab something quick. You might need to also check out The Ministry of Coffee & Social Affairs. If you aren’t sworn off Nutella, they also have a Nutella latte. It’s as sweet and hazelnutty-amazing as you might expect.
If you’re looking for brunch and you don’t mind a splurge, then head to Little Italy on Preston Street where you’ll find Stoneface Dolly’s. This is an especially great spot if you love Benny’s since they have a new Benny Special daily.
Walk south on Preston and you’ll hit Dow’s Lake. Here you can pick up a bike from the VeloGo Bike Share program and enjoy a casual ride along the canal. These aren’t fancy bikes though, so if you know bikes then you may want to bring your own or rent something from one of the rental shops.
VeloGo is easy and costs $5 to sign up, then $5 for 30 minutes. You “check out” the bike with a code sent to an app on your phone, then return it to other VeloGo locations around downtown Ottawa. As I said, the bikes aren’t high quality, but if you want to go for a ride along the canal, this is one way to do it.
Before you head out of town, grab a chicken & avocado sandwich and some snacks for the road from Sherwood Deli and your weekend is complete!
Getting to Ottawa
From Toronto, take the train. Via holds sales on Tuesdays and you can get a one-way economy fare for $39 or as low as $79 for Business Class. Just be advised it gets delayed (thank you insufficient infrastructure) so don’t make plans to be somewhere right away after your planned arrival time.
Uber seems to doing quite well in Ottawa, and I use it often when I’m there. However, if you want to head to Spa Nordik, a rental car may make sense. There is also ZipCar service in the downtown.
Where to Stay
Ottawa is tricky. I’ve noticed you can find deals sometimes and other times, rates are really high. Like most cities, I think it depends on what is happening in the city and with the capital being host to so many different events, especially in 2017, it can sometimes be a crapshoot.
The locations of most hotels are not super convenient for me though and since I’m a little frugal… I have used AirBnB a lot. There are tons of great places, both in the downtown and in the hip neighbourhoods, where there are no hotels and they are more budget-friendly.
New to AirBnB?
*Full disclosure – The Westin and Novotel are the preferred hotels for the event I’m managing next summer.