Ottawa is a town whose reputation needs a bit of a makeover. The heart of Canada’s political community is often unfortunately known for being a tad boring and bureaucratic. There’s often a joke that the Canada Day parade, the Gay Pride parade, and the Santa Clause parade all look the same – identical floats and displays from local school boards, embassies, and union offices! Areas of the downtown core can be quiet at night and there are more business-friendly accommodations than bespoke boutique hotels.
Luckily I can see past this occasional dull façade to always see the city I first fell in love with. I grew up in a rural area of Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island, an area renowned for beauty and Celtic music. Nevertheless, I always wanted to go out and explore the world further. I started by attending university in Kingston, a lovely small city just a few hours from Ottawa. The first time I visited Ottawa on a school trip, it was the middle of February – the coldest, snowiest, bleakest time of year. On a bad day, it can be minus 40 degrees Celsius with the wind-chill! But still, I fell in love. I loved the gorgeous public spaces, meticulously maintained, with statues, monuments, and plaques. I love the fairy lights entwined on all the trees in winter, and I knew I would love the beautifully landscaped parks, public gardens, and individual flower beds come spring.
Of course, visiting a city and living and working in it can be two different things altogether. You spend less time admiring the historic architecture and more time examining overpriced artichokes in the grocery store and every day on your way to work you pass national museums and galleries without ever really seeing them. I knew it was time to revitalize my love for Ottawa and, during May, I dedicated my blog entries to rediscovering Ottawa.
Turns out that Ottawa has a budding foodie scene! Restaurants like Union Local 613 and Zen Kitchen are doing amazingly innovative and delicious things with fresh ingredients from local growers. The food truck scene has finally started to take off, and at local festivals there are food stands from Columbia, the Philippines, the Netherlands, and El Salvador. And, what every writer needs and wants is a great coffee shop and Ottawa is starting to do a good job here as well – hidden gems like Planet Coffee and Ideal Coffee in the Byward Market, Francisco’s in the Glebe, and the Morning Owl (crammed among government buildings of Carling Ave) are really rising to the challenge. You can find Jamaican Blue Mountain Beans, a proper Australian flat white, and plenty of tasty baked goods.
And there’s a definite upside to living in a national capital with tons of offices, bureaus, and departments – there’s always a public event taking place, there’s always a publically funded festival or celebration. In May alone, I’ve been to concerts for Tulip Fest, walking tours of the Parliament grounds as part of the Jane’s Walk Festival, and attended a “Desserts of the World” charitable fundraiser. Value focused travelers (and residents like me!) will love enjoying Ottawa’s many free concerts, art shows, exhibits, and plays.
Ottawa will never top a list of the hippest, hottest travel destinations but it DOES consistently top the ranking of the best places to live in Canada, and for good reasons. I invite more travelers to come discover the beautiful city I first fell in love with all those years ago.