You don’t need a car to zip between the icons and cultural riches of Canada’s capital. The city has plenty of options for people who want to take in all Ottawa this summer has to offer by bike, boat, or even just on foot.
In fact, if you do opt to stow the vehicle and pound the pavement, the Ottawa region, along with the Outaouais region across the river, has some 600 km of recreational pathways just waiting for a pedestrian or cyclist.
“So definitely lots of pathways and lots of ways to explore within the city itself, as well as along the Ottawa River and in Gatineau Park,” Nives Scott, a spokeswoman for Tourism Ottawa, says.
The national museums and other major attractions of the capital are all within a relatively short walk of each other, such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Museum of Nature, and the Parliament buildings, many with the backdrop of the Ottawa River.
If you want to meander through some of the city’s more charming neighbourhoods such as the Glebe or Wellington West, most are in reach for the patient walker at 30 minutes of a brisk pace. In fact, places such as the bustling ByWard Market are better off experienced on foot, the better to sample every part of it at leisure.
“It’s a very walkable downtown core. It’s a city made for pedestrians,” Scott says.
If you swap out your four wheels for two, your experience of the city becomes even larger.
Those 600 km of recreational pathways run all through the capital region. Within the city itself, a cyclist can take in all the same museums and culture spots accessible to pedestrians, while the trails run along the Ottawa River and through Gatineau Park, as well as along the Rideau Canal.
It’s not just culture that awaits you. The Ottawa River hosts several beaches, such as Britannia Beach to the west and Petrie Island — a perfect way to cool off during what has been a VERY warm summer, and easily reachable by bicycle.
Champlain Lookout, Gatineau Park. Image: James Peltzer.
For the fitness-minded, summer Sundays will be a treat. From late May through to Labour Day weekend, some 50 km of parkways are closed to motorized vehicles, and made accessible only to cyclists, skaters, pedestrians and other self-propelled transportation as part of Nokia Sunday Bikedays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
On the Gatineau side, the topiary masterpieces of Mosaïculture, in Jacques Cartier Park until October 15, are a must-see for anyone taking a trip to the capital this summer.
But it’s not only the land where travellers can experience the best of Ottawa. The river itself can be its own path.
If you’re heading to Gatineau from Ottawa, or the other way around, hop aboard Au feel de l’eau, the eco-friendly, 100 per cent electric aqua taxi service linking the Canadian Museum of History, and the Ottawa dock near the Bytown Museum, running every five minutes beginning 9:30 a.m.
There’s also a one-hour cruise option from Casino Lac-Leamy to the Ottawa dock at 10:30 a.m., and in the other direction at noon, though reservations are required. New this year, riders can take advantage of a new stop at Richmond Landing, connecting passengers to the Canadian War Museum and Mill Street Brew Pub.
“It offers beautiful views of the Parliament buildings and the Ottawa River,” Scott says.
River cruises are also plentiful, offered by providers such as World Famous Paul’s Boat Line or Capital Cruises, taking sightseers past numerous landmarks such as Rideau Falls, Parliament Hill, the Library of Parliament and others.
If both a tour of the city AND of the river strikes your fancy, there’s always the Lady Dive, an amphibious bus that will take you past major landmarks in the city core, then ease into the river for a different look at the city.
Lady Dive. Image: Ottawa Tourism.
And for taking it in under your own power, you needn’t go to the Yukon for whitewater rafting. Ottawa features class 1 and class 2 rapids, west of the downtown core, with rafters rewarded with a first-class view of Parliament. For a dash of history, Parks Canada offers excursions on the Rideau Canal via voyageur canoe, blending the sights of the canal, Ontario’s only World Heritage Site, with the mode of transportation used by the first European travellers along the rivers leading into the interior of North America.
If you’ve a longer, more relaxing journey in mind, Scott recommends Le Boat. Departing from Smiths Falls, groups can rent two or three-cabin boats for tourist excursions or romantic getaways and, after some training, set off to explore the 200-km length of the Rideau Canal, making as many or as few stops along the way as you like.
“It’s a really neat way for people who don’t own a boat to explore the Rideau Canal,” Scott says.
So if you don’t want the hassle of driving in and around the capital, you won’t need a car to get the most of summer in Ottawa.