Originally named Bytown, Ottawa was founded in 1826 shortly after plans were announced for construction of the 120-mile-long Rideau Canal, linking the Lake Ontario City of Kingston with the Ottawa River. In its early years, Bytown was plagued by disease, violence and labor unrest. Bytown was incorporated as “Ottawa” in 1855. On New Years Eve, 1857, Queen Victoria decreed Ottawa as Canada’s capital. Today, Ottawa is Canada’s fourth largest city… roughly the size of Columbus, Ohio. The Ottawa-Gatineau National Capital Region spans the Ottawa River and includes Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec. Ottawa’s economy is based on government, education, research, technology and health care, therefore the scenic city does not bear many scars of manufacturing found in most other large cities. Ottawa is among the most educated cities in North America. Bilingualism is official city policy. French is widely spoken, but 62 percent of Ottawa's population identify English as their mother tongue. 37 percent speak both languages, and virtually all who have regular contact with visitors speak both. Language is not a barrier for visitors who speak just one of the two official languages. Ottawa’s skyline is dominated by the Parliament Buildings and iconic Peace Tower. Due mostly to urban planning regulations designed so as not to obscure the Peace Tower, Ottawa has no towering skyscrapers. Only a few buildings exceed 300 feet.
Ottawa is an easily walkable city. Many of the city’s primary attractions are located downtown within a few blocks of the Parliament buildings, and most of the bus tours, boat tours and walking tours originate there. Ottawa Walking Tours offers an outstanding introduction to the city. Led by veteran history teacher Craig MacDonald, the company’s friendly tour guides provide knowledgeable, accurate facts about Ottawa history and Canada’s government. The popular 2-hour Historical Highlights Walking Tour takes visitors to most of the downtown attractions and offers peeks into some nooks and crannies not accessible by motor tours. The prices are very affordable and those who have experienced Ottawa Walking Tours give glowing reviews and recommendations.
Canada’s Parliament building complex is Ottawa’s architectural centerpiece. Situated on Parliament Hill of the south banks of the Ottawa River, the Parliament Buildings are exquisite examples of Gothic Revival architecture, a style prevalent throughout the city (and exemplified by many 19th Century US churches). The most notable feature of the Parliament complex is the Peace Tower… an ornate 300-foot-tall bell and clock tower in the center of the Centre Block building. Centre Block’s open, spacious front lawn is the site of the beautiful Changing of the Guard ceremony, held daily at 10 AM. Shortly after sunset during the summer months, the amazing Mosaika light and sound show is an experience to behold. The free show tells Canada’s story through bilingual narration and colorful images projected upon Centre Block and the Peace Tower.
The historic ByWard District is located in the area where Ottawa first began. ByWard’s centerpiece is the ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. Filled with vendors offering fresh meats and produce, baked goods, tasty meals and Canadian souvenirs. The ByWard District is loaded with restaurants and shops popular with locals and visitors.
Although Ottawa has plenty of great lodging facilities, the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel is among the city’s finest. Providing a great blend of luxury, value and convenience, the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel is just a five-minute walk from the Parliament buildings and within a 15-minute walk of Ottawa’s other top attractions. The comfortable rooms are sufficiently large, and the beds are particularly comfortable after a long day of sightseeing. Their breakfast buffet is outstanding, providing a wide variety of choices including several quality hot items. They have all of the amenities one would expect from a high-quality hotel including a heated indoor pool, fitness center, and 24-hour valet parking. The Sheraton Ottawa Hotel is the ideal centrally-located base for your Ottawa adventure.
Perched above the Ottawa River next to the Rideau Canal, the majestic Fairmont Château Laurier is another of Ottawa’s architectural wonders. Built over 100 years ago, the French Gothic architectural style nicely complements Ottawa’s nearby government buildings.
The Ottawa area is home to some of Canada’s finest museums. The National Gallery of Canada is one of the country’s premier art galleries. The Canadian War Museum and chronicles Canada’s military history, and the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum displays an impressive variety of aircraft and artifacts.
Ottawa has several companies offering tours beyond the downtown area. Visitors may take a Gray Line double-decker bus tour, and Paul’s Boat Lines provides scenic boat tours of the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River.
Canada’s capital city has a friendly, dignified vibe that defies comparison to other Canadian cities. The city’s beautiful architecture and abundant green spaces lend to its pleasant personality. - Mike Bechtol 2014