Most visitors begin in Centretown and the ByWard Market (often called simply “the Market”), but several other neighborhoods worth visiting are clustered around these two. Directly south of the ByWard Market is largely residential Sandy Hill, while New Edinburgh and Rockcliffe Park are to the east of the Market. The Glebe and Old Ottawa South are south of Centretown, and Wellington Village and Westboro lie to the west. Across the Ottawa River from Centretown and the ByWard Market is the sprawling city of Gatineau, Quebec.
With its offices, libraries, banks and national institutions, Centretown—bordered by Wellington Street, the Rideau Canal, Highway 417 and Bronson Avenue—is where the city works. Parliament Hill, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the National Arts Centre, the National War Memorial and the Supreme Court of Canada are the leading tourist attractions here. The green space along the Rideau Canal is a nice respite from the monotonous office buildings that dominate much of the area between Queen Street and Somerset Street. The business district is dead after 5PM and on weekends. If you’re looking for a restaurant after normal business hours, head to Elgin Street on the neighborhood’s eastern edge. You may also have a bit of luck on Bank Street south of Somerset.
While Centretown might be considered the brains of the city, the ByWard Market—directly east of Parliament Hill—could be seen as Ottawa’s soul. It once housed the working-class laborers who built the Rideau Canal or worked as lumbermen and maids; the surviving 19th-century homes are mainly modest ones. Here’s where you’ll find one of Canada’s oldest farmers markets, rowdy taverns, posh cocktail bars, trendy restaurants and shops selling custom-made hats or hand-milled soaps. Check out the pricey boutiques in elegantly restored Victorian buildings on Sussex Drive, or head to Dalhousie Street for indie fashion on a budget. Don’t miss the National Gallery of Canada. Come by day to shop and by night to eat and drink. If you’re here at night, be careful east of Dalhousie Street, where the drug trade does a brisk business.
This largely residential neighborhood is notable mainly for the attractions that line its western and northern edges: the large Rideau Centre shopping mall, several hotels, the University of Ottawa and the Rideau Canal. The streets immediately adjacent to those institutions are a bit rough, with lots of rooming houses and some social services agencies. The farther you move east, though, the more serene the area becomes. A line of ambassadors’ residences overlooks Strathcona Park, on the far eastern edge of Sandy Hill along the Rideau River. With its Edwardian landscaping and outdoor summer theatre, the park is a great place for a picnic.
New Edinburgh/Rockcliffe Park
Until the amalgamation of Ottawa with several other municipalities in 2001, Rockcliffe Park was a separate village. With its leafy streets lined with embassies and the mansions of high-tech magnates and real-estate millionaires, it still feels like a place set apart. Rideau Hall, on the border between Rockcliffe Park and slightly less-expensive New Edinburgh, is the main attraction here. It’s the residence of the queen’s representative in Canada, the governor-general; the grounds are open to the public and you can also tour parts of the house and gardens. New Edinburgh has a small but upscale shopping strip along Beechwood Avenue where you can find gourmet foods and quirky gifts.
Ask anyone from anywhere else in Ottawa and they’ll be quick to tell you that the typical Glebe-dweller is a CBC-listening, Birkenstock-wearing, NDP-voting, Volvo-driving, Tilley-Hat-wearing Baby Boomer. And while there’s some truth to the stereotype, this attractive residential neighborhood south of Centretown is more diverse, with Carleton University students, young families, 40-something professionals and seniors, too. They all congregate on the lively stretch of Bank Street between Highway 417 and Lansdowne Park, with its magazine shops, cafes, clothes boutiques and sporting-goods stores. Speaking of Lansdowne Park plans to redevelop the sports and exhibition complex on the neighborhood’s south edge currently have locals at war with real estate developers. For now, Lansdowne hosts a popular farmers market several days a week from spring through fall, as well as Ottawa 67’s hockey games, trade shows and other events.
This inner suburb, about a 10-minute drive west of downtown, was already gentrifying when the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) opened its new glass-and-chrome headquarters there in 2007. But the theatre’s arrival threw the process into high gear. Today, Wellington Street, between Parkdale Avenue and Island Park Drive, is stuffed with restaurants, food shops, yoga studios and galleries catering to an increasingly artsy and yuppie crowd. At lunchtime on weekdays, restaurants are often filled with government workers from the nearby Tunney’s Pasture office complex.
Not really a neighborhood—it’s a sprawling city—Gatineau’s prime interest to visitors lies mainly in two attractions: the Canadian Museum of Civilization, right across the river from the National Gallery of Canada along the pretty Alexandra Bridge; and Gatineau Park, a huge enclave of lakes, hiking trails and rolling hills northwest of downtown. The city is the product of an amalgamation of several smaller municipalities in 2002. Now, the former cities are known officially as “sectors” of Gatineau, but locals still usually use the old names alone (Hull, Aylmer, Wakefield and so on). The downtown sector of Hull was eviscerated by a redevelopment scheme in the 1970s, which replaced much of the main business district with a cluster of hulking government office towers. In several pretty villages on the outskirts, such as Wakefield and Chelsea, you’ll find inns, spas and outdoor adventure parks.