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Ottawa Travel Guide

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Best Ottawa Museums

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Ottawa OVERVIEW
When Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as Canada’s capital in late 1857, the rest of the country metaphorically blinked in surprise. Other cities were older, bigger and more significant. Ottawa—then known as Bytown—had been founded just a few decades earlier by Lt. Col John By who supervised the building of the Rideau Canal. It was a rough-and-ready place with barely a paved street; some called it “a sub-arctic lumber village converted by royal mandate into a political cockpit.” Ottawa has been trying to shake its inferiority complex ever since. As late as the 1970s, a Cabinet minister allegedly sniped that the best thing about Ottawa was the train to Montreal. But the world has changed, and now this charming capital’s manageable size and lack of heavy industry are seen as strengths. With a population of about 1.1 million—when you include the city of Gatineau, Quebec, directly across the Ottawa River—it’s easy to get around. Indeed, many visitors park their cars for the duration, since Parliament ...See More Hill, several national museums and many of the best shops and restaurants are clustered in two central neighborhoods: Centretown, the prosaic name for the downtown business district; and the ByWard Market, the historic area just east of Centretown where the city began. For many visitors, the key reason to come to Ottawa is history. The hyperbole of Question Period and the traditional Changing of the Guard ceremony draw people to Parliament Hill. The National Gallery of Canada houses the world’s largest collection of Canadian art and the Canadian Museum of Civilization showcases everything from West Coast totem poles to Samuel de Champlain’s navigational equipment. You can see a replica of Canada’s first airplane at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, or watch groundbreaking legal fights at the Supreme Court of Canada. But there’s more to the city than national heritage. For one thing, it’s a great base for outdoorsy people. At the base of Parliament Hill, the recreational pathways along the Rideau Canal are popular with cyclists, inline skaters and joggers from spring through fall, and the canal itself is packed with skaters on bright winter days. Half an hour’s drive from Parliament Hill, visitors can go skiing, hiking, fishing or canoeing in the over 361 square km. of Gatineau Park. Drive another hour or so and you can go whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River. If nightlife is your thing, Ottawa might not be your first choice. It doesn’t have the café life of Montreal or Toronto’s range of theatre. But, unlike the scene in some bigger cities, this one is accessible: ticket prices aren’t stratospheric and—since this is a city where almost everyone moved here from somewhere else—visitors rarely feel like they’re on the outside of an established artsy clique looking in. See Less
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