Ottawa sunset panorama over river with historical architecture
local perspective

Ottawa, Canada: know before you go

Visitors to Canada often miss out on one of the most historically significant places in the country: our capital city, Ottawa. Known colloquially as “the city fun forgot”, even Canadians forget to enjoy the splendour of our capital.

Here are some reasons why Ottawa should be on your itinerary, plus a few key tips from a local to help you make the most out of your visit.

The historic Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada

1. Ottawa is a government city

Ottawa is the parliamentary seat of Canada. When you visit, you can take a tour of the historic parliament buildings in downtown Ottawa. As you stroll along the streets, you’ll notice that most of the buildings nearby are embassies for countries around the world.

Since the federal government is based in Ottawa, it makes sense that it’s the most popular employer in the city. Most people who live in Ottawa work for the federal government in some form.

Tulip field during the tulip festival of Ottawa, Ontario

2. Ottawa has the largest tulip festival in the world

You’d think that the Netherlands would be home to the largest tulip festival in the world, but Ottawa holds the title. However, the tulips for the festival do still come from the Netherlands.

During WWII, Canada helped a Dutch princess hide during and declared her hospital room Netherlands soil so her new baby could remain in line for succession. As a thank you, the Dutch sent Canada a gift of a thousand tulips.

They continue this tradition annually, leading to the Canada Tulip Festival in Ottawa every May.

Ice Skating on the Rideau Canal

3. Ottawa has the largest outdoor skating rink in the world

Ottawa is home to multiple world record holders. The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO Heritage Site, freezes over every winter. The 7.8km canal becomes the world’s largest outdoor skating rink.

You’ll find people skating on it for fun, businesspeople skating to work in their suits, and students heading to class on the ice.

Skate the Rideau Canal like a true Canadian by renting skates or bringing your own. Don’t forget to stop for a Beavertail!

Parliament Hill in Ottawa on a snowy, winter day

4. Winters are cold

Canada is famous for being cold.

While it’s not true that it’s always cold in Canada (summers in 2021 reached highs of 40C), winters in Ottawa maintain the stereotype. In fact, Ottawa is the seventh coldest capital city in the world.

Ottawa regularly sees temperatures of -25C and snow so high that it can bury cars (in large part due to snowplough build up). You’ll want to bundle up to handle the Canadian winter cold if you’re planning to go outside in winter in Ottawa.

The National Gallery of Canada at sunset

5. Visit museums in the evening for discounts

Ottawa is home to 14 museums that cover topics ranging from military history to arts and culture. It's one of the most interesting cities to visit if you’re into museums and art galleries.

But not everyone can afford the cost of admission.

To make sure everyone can learn from these education centers, the city offers discounted admission to every museum at least one night a week. Most offer this discount on Tuesday or Thursday evenings.

A street sign in Ottawa

6. Ottawa is a bilingual city

Located on the border between Ontario and Quebec, Ottawa has a rich blend of English and French in its community. Whether you speak one or both languages, you’ll be able to get around easily in this bilingual city.

However, you need to watch out for street signs as they can sometimes be in only one language. It’s good to have Google Maps at the ready to help translate the highway markers for you.

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Nina Clapperton

Author - Nina Clapperton

Nina is a travel blogger and freelance writer. Born Canadian, but having lived in over 18 countries in 10 years, Nina makes expat life accessible. She proves that there's no need to wait for the right time or amount of money, having moved to Italy alone at 16 and to New Zealand with $200 to her name.

Last Updated 4 August 2022

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