36 Hours in Ottawa

Ottawa gears up for its 150th birthday bash this year, with exhibits, galleries and a thriving food scene.

Canada’s capital has no shortage of historical charms — from Gothic Parliament buildings to a Unesco World Heritage canal — but it has long been dogged by a reputation as a workaday government center. A weekend in the city, however, proves otherwise. With a thriving food scene, a multicultural and multilingual sensibility owing to its location on the Ontario-Quebec border and an outsize night life, Ottawa is emerging from the shadow of Montreal and Toronto with new infrastructure projects, including a multibillion-dollar light-rail line. As it gears up for Canada’s 150th birthday bash this year, with a host of exhibitions and galleries set to open, Ottawa is anything but business as usual.


1. HILL TIME, 3 P.M.

Yes, it is firmly on the tourist track, but Parliament Hill is worth the climb. High above the Ottawa River rise the copper-topped turrets and gargoyled facade of the Centre Block, the soaring Gothic Revival building that houses Canada’s Parliament. Skip the guided tour and take the free elevator to the top of the Peace Tower (advance tickets required). At 302.5 feet, it is among the city’s highest structures and is a good perch from which to survey Ottawa, as well as its twin city Gatineau, Quebec, across the river.


A Unesco World Heritage site, Rideau Canal — 126 miles of locks and waterways completed in 1832 and stretching from Ottawa to Lake Ontario — turns into an ice rink in the frosty depths of winter. For a bird’s-eye perspective, go to Major’s Hill Park, whose grassy bluffs also afford great views of the Ottawa River and Parliament, especially at sunset. Slip inside nearby Château Laurier, the castlelike railway hotel opened in 1912. Just off the lobby hang portraits from the hometown photographer Yousuf Karsh, including his famous 1941 shot of a scowling Winston Churchill, taken seconds after Mr. Karsh snatched a cigar from the P.M.’s mouth.

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A statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier sits near the East Block, part of Parliament Hill. CreditDavid Giral for The New York Times

3. BAR POLITICS, 6:30 P.M.

Politicians, staff members and policy wonks descend from Parliament in droves for Hill Hour (4 till 7, weeknights) at the Métropolitain, a Parisian-inspired brasserie and oyster bar. Cozy up to the vintage zinc bar to eavesdrop on political intrigue over oysters from Prince Edward Island (1.50 Canadian dollars, or $1.12) and beers from the local brewery Kichesippi. Barkeeps in pressed vests keep glasses filled, and the conversation in English and French grows more heated as the evening progresses.

4. FOOD BANK, 8 P.M.

A dose of urban chic just off Parliament Hill, Riviera opened in 2016 in an Art Deco bank building. (Yes, the vault is now a wine cellar.) Inside, a small, changing menu is served to a well-dressed crowd under 50-foot ceilings with brass fixtures. Sit at the kitchen bar and start with the tuna crudo with puffed quinoa (18 Canadian dollars) or shaved black truffle on toast (18 dollars), before moving on to exquisite homemade pastas or smoked short ribs on white-corn polenta (32 dollars). The wine list is complemented by inventive cocktails, including the Jockey Full of Bourbon (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Taylor Fladgate Port, Ancho Reyes liqueur; 14 dollars). Then head to Elgin Street, home to many taverns and some of the city’s better restaurants. A line often snakes up from the Manx, a tiny, below-ground pub with local beers on tap, including Broadhead Wildcard, a lightly bittered Ottawa ale.

The BeaverTails stand features whole-wheat, deep-fried confections. CreditDavid Giral for The New York Times


5. BREAD RUN, 10 A.M.

Why trek to a windswept industrial drag on a chilly Saturday morning? For some of the best bread in Ottawa, not to mention almond croissants, brioche, scones and more. Lines out the door attest to the popularity of the French-trained pastry chef Kevin Mathieson’s Art-Is-In Bakery. Weekend mornings, the bright, unfinished space is crammed with patrons who come for loaves of Mr. Mathieson’s white sourdough and “dynamite baguettes” (blistered crust over an explosion of air pockets). Try the breakfast sandwich from the cafe (on buttermilk, sourdough or “crazy grain” bread; 6.95 Canadian dollars), and try to resist the plate-size “Kronuts” (4.25 dollars).


A once shady stretch of dilapidated houses and storefronts, Wellington West has morphed into Ottawa’s “it” neighborhood. Inside Maker House Co., find quirky objets d’art, furniture and housewares, most locally made, including deer heads fashioned from card stock that you fold yourself, origami-style. Farther on, the ceramicist Ginger McCoy’s Hintonburg Pottery showcases her turquoise-hued vessels, as well as other local art. Stop into the tasting room at Tooth and Nail; the microbrewery draws a flannel-wearing crowd for great small-batch beers, including Solo Mission, a bright, peachy, single-hopped pale ale.

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The interior of Art-Is-In Bakery. CreditDavid Giral for The New York Times


Built to accommodate Ottawa’s 19th-century canal builders, the ByWard Market neighborhood is a mix of pubs, clubs, fine-food shops and boutiques. The 1926 Market Square building is worth a stop if only for Moulin de Provence, a boulangerie serving patisserie and Québécois classics such as tourtière, a minced-pork-and-beef pie. Across the street, the irresistibly stinky House of Cheese stocks savory aged Lankaaster from Ontario (top prize in the 2013 Global Cheese Awards) and cheese curds for a DIY poutine. Nearby, the chocolatier Heinrich Stubbe has been making dark chocolate bars, truffles and a mean stollen for 27 years at Stubbe Chocolates. For a consummately Canadian sugar rush, stop by the original BeaverTails stand: the whole-wheat, deep-fried confections — slathered with everything from cinnamon and sugar to chocolate hazelnut — gained popularity here before going global.


Just opposite the United States Embassy, Play Food & Wine is Stephen Beckta and Michael Moffatt’s casual, small-plates restaurant, spread over two floors. (Their Beckta restaurant has long been synonymous with Ottawa fine dining.) Start with cauliflower and apple soup, with curry and apple cardamom chutney, served in a teacup (9 Canadian dollars), before moving on to hanger steak and frites (17 dollars). Desserts — such as the white Cheddar apple crumble with candied bacon (9 dollars) — can be matched with a dessert wine flight (three one-ounce glasses for 20 dollars).


On the 16th floor of the new Andaz hotel, Copper, is the conspiratorial rooftop lounge Ottawa had been missing. Lights are low, the better to admire views of the twinkling city while sipping a 16th-Floor Martini, made with local Top Shelf Vodka and served with blue-cheese stuffed olives (17 Canadian dollars). On ground level, head to the 1849 Château Lafayette(fittingly nicknamed the Laff), said to be Ottawa’s oldest tavern, complete with quart bottles of Labatt 50 and rowdy live music. Nearby, the mazelike Heart & Crown pub consists of five interconnected bars spanning a city block and linked by doorways, dark corridors and stairs. On a recent night, a band performed Irish drinking songs in the front of the house, while a D.J. spun vintage hip-hop in another wing.

Alexandra Bridge, and Gatineau beyond, seen from Parliament Hill. CreditDavid Giral for The New York Times



A menacing, house-size bronze spider (Maman, by Louise Bourgeois) stalks the entrance to the National Gallery (admission, 12 Canadian dollars), normally the place to see Canadian art. But renovations have closed those galleries through mid-May. Intrepid visitors, however, will discover one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Inuit works on a basement floor. Sculptors working in stone, whale bone, walrus ivory, wood and antler offer a vision of life in the Far North. Familiar animal forms give way to unexpected chimeras, like Kiugak Ashoona’s Bird Creature, part bird, part crab, part man, sculpted in luminous green serpentine.


Accessible rents have transformed the north end of Dalhousie Street (NorthDal) into a hub of local, ascendant designers. Workshop offers muted Canadiana — silk-screened T-shirts featuring antique snowshoes, howling wolves and other images (35 dollars). Up the street, Goodscurates local prints, candles and pottery, including mugs (40 dollars) by Nina Marchewka. Warm up with a hot chai-der (part chai, part local Hall’s apple cider) inside Ottawa’s cafe chain Bridgehead, before checking out Victoire, which showcases Canadian fashions for “rebel girls with good manners.”


A brisk walk over the Alexandra Bridge, a railway span completed in 1900, leads to Gatineau, the Francophone half of Canada’s National Capital Region. There, the Canadian Museum of History (admission, 15 Canadian dollars) is largely under renovation until July, but it is worth a peek inside to see the Grand Hall. Towering totem poles from Haida Gwaii and the Pacific Coast stand beside a curving, six-story wall of windows, keeping silent sentry over the river.


Article written by Remy Scalza on the New York Times Website. Follow the link to the original article here.

Featured photo taken by Julie Oliver/ Post Media on the Ottawa Citizen Website here.

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