In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Ottawa next weekend I’ve started to complete some research and contacted Ottawa Tourism. Ottawa, as Canada’s capital, is one of Canada’s most popular travel destinations and it has a great variety destinations, activities and events to offer.

I had an opportunity to speak with Jantine Van Kregten from Ottawa Tourism who was simply kind enough to provide me a good general breakdown of what to see and do in Ottawa.

1. Please provide us with some general information about Ottawa. What size is the city, where’s it located, what’s the weather like?

Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and its fourth largest city. With the neighbouring city of Gatineau in the province of Quebec, the region has about 1.2 million people. Ottawa is located in eastern Ontario, about four hours’drive northeast of Toronto; two hours west of Montreal; and one hour north of the border with their state of New York.

Ottawa enjoys four distinct seasons, with warmest temperatures and sometimes high humidity in July and August; a temperate fall with gorgeous fall colours; a cool and snowy winter; and a moist spring.

2. Just how can one get to Ottawa and what is the greatest means of navigating around in Ottawa?

Ottawa is obtainable with direct flights from major centres in Canada and several U.S. cities including New York, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta and more. Ottawa is really a major stop across the Windsor-Quebec City corridor of VIA Rail and bus service also links the city with other Canadian cities.

By car, major thoroughfares include Highway 416 that links Ottawa with Highway 401. Highway 417 runs through the city, while Autoroutes 5, 50 and 148 will be the major highways on the Quebec side of the river.

3. Ottawa is Canada’s capital and has played a significant role in the real history with this country. Please inform us more about that and the Canadian Heritage Experiences offered in Ottawa.

The story of Ottawa begins with the building of the Rideau Canal between 1826 and 1832 by Lt. Col. John By of the Royal Engineers and tens and thousands of mostly Irish labourers. The Canal stretches 202 km (126 miles) through eastern Ontario to the St. Lawrence River and was built to make certain a supply line in case of American attack (which never came). The Canal was never used for a military purpose and its 49 locks remain operated in the exact same way as when they were built. Actually, the Rideau Canal is Canada’s nominee to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that will be expected in 2007, the 175th anniversary of its construction.

Queen Victoria decreed in 1857 that Ottawa will be the capital of the united states that became Canada. The majestic Parliament Buildings were constructed shortly thereafter and remain a “must-see” attraction in the capital. Since the capital, Ottawa is also home to 24 Sussex Drive (the prime minister’s residence and not available to the public); Rideau Hall (home of the Governor General, with guided tours of residence and gardens available); and dozens of high commissions and embassies from governments round the world. ottawa sightseeing

Don’t miss Laurier House, home to both Sir Wilfrid Laurier and WIlliam Lyon Mackenzie King, two former prime ministers, or the Mackenzie King Estate, King’s summer home in Gatineau Park.

4. Please inform us about a few of the major attractions, museums and galleries in the Ottawa area.

The most recent addition to the national museum scene is the impressive Canadian War Musuem, which opened in May 2005 in a stunning location next to the Ottawa River. Canada’s most-visited museum is Gatineau’s Canadian Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada offers the largest collection of Canadian art, along side European and American masters. Other cultural facilities include the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Canada Aviation Museum; the Canada Science and Technology Museum; the Canada Agriculture Museum; the Royal Canadian Mint; the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada; and the Canadian Museum of Nature, currently in the midst of a massive renovation project, to be completed in 2009.

Other museums include the Bytown Museum, which tells the real history of Ottawa’s early days, including the building of the Rideau Canal; the Billings Estate Museum that traces the real history of a prominent local family; and the funky Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, a four-storey underground bunker that was constructed between 1959 and 1961 as the positioning to that the Canadian political and military elite would ride out the results of a nuclear attack.

5. Our readers want to find out in regards to the festivals and special events in Ottawa.

The festival scene in Ottawa is a robust, year-round affair. The entire year kicks off with Winterlude, a massive winter festival held over the first three weekends in February. In March, the Irish community celebrates Irish week, and in March and April, the maple syrup season spawns numerous delicious festivals and events celebrating this tasty treat.

May belongs to the Canadian Tulip Festival–three weeks of celebration of Ottawa’s favourite flower. During World War II, the Dutch royal family took refuge in Ottawa and Princess Margriet was created here, in a hospital room designated Dutch soil for the event. Canadians played a massive role in liberating the Netherlands and when the royal family returned home after the war, as a gesture of friendship, respect and appreciation, they sent tens and thousands of tulip bulbs. The bulbs have followed annually since and now 3,000,000 tulips bloom in Canada’s Capital Region.

Late May brings Canada’s largest marathon as part of the Ottawa Race Weekend. Over the summertime months, festivals abound: Doors Open Ottawa showcase heritage buildings; Italian Week; the Ottawa Fringe Festival; the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival; the Nortel Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival; Cisco Systems Ottawa Bluesfest (Canada’s largest); the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (the world’s largest); the Sound of Light fireworks festival; Ottawa Busker Festival; Ottawa GreekFest; CKCU Ottawa Folk Festival; the Central Canada Exhibition; and Pride Week.

On Parliament Hill, two free activities occur daily in the summertime: the 10:00 a.m. Changing the Guard ceremony and the evening Sound and Light Show.

In the fall, the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival colours the skies; while the La Vendemmia Harvest Festival tempts visitors’palates. The Ottawa International Animation Festival showcases artists from around the world while the Ottawa International Writers Festival provides a community for authors’lively debates. Fall Rhapsody celebrates the splendid autumn colours.

The capital lights up for christmas with the Christmas Lights Across Canada program.

6. How about restaurants and entertainment / nightlife areas in Ottawa?

Several neighbourhoods offer entertainment options in Ottawa. The ByWard Market is one of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods and also functions as its entertainment district, with over 100 food and drink options in just a four-block-square area. Whether it’s fine dining, a great diner, a cosy bistro, or even a romantic cafe, you will find it in “the Market.”

Elgin Street is another popular nightlife area, with an eclectic selection of bars, restaurants and cafes in just a couple of blocks. Bank Street offers three or four distinct areas along its length, including a favorite area known as the Glebe. In the near west end, Westboro is also an attractive selection for dinner and drinks.

Of course, you can also decide to explore the various options at the Casino du Lac-Leamy–whether it’s gaming excitement or even a show at its popular theatre or even a dinner at its five-diamond restaurant Le Baccara. The region’s other five-diamond establishment (two of only 11 across Canada) is Signatures at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa.

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