Ottawa Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Ottawa

The name Ottawa comes from the Algonquin word for trade. It is an appropriate name for the Ottawa River, which was once the primary trade route for Eastern Canada. The capital of Canada gets its name from this river due to its location. Resting on the banks of the Ottawa River, Ottawa is a political and cultural city that also offers outdoor activities and beautiful natural sights.

Ottawa was chosen as the capital of Canada for multiple reasons. Its location on the waterway was a consideration, as was its relative isolation. Keeping the government free from attack was a concern of the nation's first Prime Minister, John MacDonald, as well as Queen Victoria and the executive branch of parliament.

In the more than 150 years since the city was incorporated, Ottawa has become vital to the growth of Canada. It is the center of the tech industry for the country and is often called the "Silicon Valley of the North." It is also known as the home for arts and cultural festivals, including the countries largest: Winterlude.

Parliament Hill is the primary stop for any visitor to the city, as it is the home to some of the most recognizable buildings in Canada. From there, visitors can travel by foot to explore a number of other well-known sights, such as the National War Memorial, Rideau Canal National Historic Site, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, ByWard Market and more.

Take this self-guided tour to see the top attractions that Ottawa has to offer.
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Ottawa Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Ottawa Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Ottawa (See other walking tours in Ottawa)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Parliament Hill and Buildings
  • Office of the Prime Minister Building
  • Sparks Street
  • National War Memorial
  • Rideau Canal National Historic Site
  • Fairmont Château Laurier
  • Major's Hill Park
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • ByWard Market
1
Parliament Hill and Buildings

1) Parliament Hill and Buildings (must see)

The capital city of Canada is home to Parliament, which is located directly in the center of the city. Resting on the bank of the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill is a series of Gothic Revival style buildings that date to the mid 19th century. The Parliament Buildings are made up of the East Block, West Block and Centre Block.

The Centre Block contains the House of Commons, the Senate Chamber, Confederation Hall and the Hall of Honor. Each of these areas, along with other part of the Centre Block, are decorated with carvings, stone arches, stained glass windows, cathedral ceilings and marble floors. Visitors are welcome in the Centre Block. Guided tours are offered for free every day of the year. Each tour includes access to Peace Tower, which stands proudly in the middle of the building.

The East Block and the Library of Parliament are the only buildings that are original parliamentary buildings. The East Block contains offices that are currently used by parliament. The East Block is free to tour in July and August. The West Block also contains offices for parliament and a branch of the Library of Parliament. However, the West Block is not open for public tours.

The Parliament Buildings are only one part of Parliament Hill. Tourists also visit the area to see the numerous statues and monuments on the grounds. Statues of royal figures like Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II share space with statues of Canadian prime ministers like John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier and Alexander Mackenzie.

Tourists should also keep their eyes out for the War of 1812 Monument, the Victoria Tower Bell, the Candian Police Memorium, the Centennial Flame and a statue in honor of Sir Galahad.

Why You Should Visit
- To admire the Gothic Architecture of the Canadian Parliament
- To tour the center of Canadian democracy

Tips
Guided tours must be booked in advance. Reserve tickets online through the Parliament of Canada website.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 8:30 - 18:00; Fri: 8:30 - 17:00
2
Office of the Prime Minister Building

2) Office of the Prime Minister Building

The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council building, formerly known as the Langevin Block, is an office building facing Parliament Hill in Ottawa. As the home of the Privy Council Office and Office of the Prime Minister, it is the working headquarters of the executive branch of the Canadian government.

Started in 1884 and completed in 1889, the building was the first federal government office building constructed outside the Parliament Hill precinct. It is built of sandstone obtained from a New Brunswick quarry. It occupies a prominent place on Ottawa's Wellington Street, adjacent to the National War Memorial.

The structure is distinctive in Ottawa for its Second Empire Style design because most government buildings from the period were built in the Gothic Revival style. It was designed by the Chief Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller, who also designed the original Parliament Buildings.

The building is not open for public viewing, but one still appreciates its beauty from the outside.
3
Sparks Street

3) Sparks Street

Sparks Street is one of the most prestigious historic streets in Ottawa, holding a number of heritage buildings. Founded in the early 1800s by Nicholas Sparks – hence the name – it was made a fully pedestrian street in 1966, which makes it one of the first outdoor malls in North America. Nicholas Sparks, one of the Fathers of Ottawa, was a farmer who in the mid-19th century cut a path through the forest toward his house that has ultimately become the well known Sparks Street.

Today, the street runs from Elgin Street to Bronson Avenue and contains a number of outdoor restaurants, beautiful works of art and many lovely fountains. One portion of the street is reserved for pedestrians, while the two final blocks west of Lyon Street form a regular road. Sparks became a bustling commercial center of the Ottawa Valley after the selection of Ottawa as the capital of Canada by Queen Victoria. A number of government offices and homes for parliamentarians were built here. The most notable of the street tenants was Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a prominent journalist, who in 1868 was killed outside his house at the corner of Sparks and Metcalfe.

In the early 20th century, the street saw booming activities. A number of Beaux-Arts buildings of that period are still visible. However, with the expansion of the city, the street became less centralized and commerce spread into the neighbouring areas. Government ministries in need of larger offices also moved elsewhere. Sparks' business was further damaged in 1959 when the streetcar line was closed.

In 1961, the street was temporarily – just for the summer – turned into a pedestrian mall in order to give the local commerce a boost. This undertaking proved successful and eventually, the street was permanently closed to vehicles. Today, the pedestrian mall extends from Elgin to Kent streets and is open all year round.

Sparks is a home to some of Ottawa's major attractions too, such as the National War Memorial and the National Arts Centre. Many of the city's oldest buildings like the Post Office, the Ottawa Electric Building and branches of several Canadian banks are located on the eastern side of the street. Some newer buildings can also be seen in this part of the mall, including Ottawa Broadcast Centre and Thomas D'Arcy McGee Building, shaped somewhat like a squat "7" and visually very captivating.

The mall and most of the buildings on the south side are owned and administered by The National Capital Commission, while those on the north side are run by Public Works and Government Services Canada. It is through the combined effort of these two bodies that Sparks street has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Ottawa.

Tip:
Keep an eye on the calendar of festivals and special events held here.
4
National War Memorial

4) National War Memorial

The National War Memorial is a tall, granite memorial arch with accreted bronze sculptures in Ottawa. It was first dedicated by King George VI in 1939. Originally built to commemorate the Canadians who died in the First World War, it has since been dedicated to also include those killed in all conflicts past and future. In 2000, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added in front of the memorial and symbolizes the sacrifices made by all Canadians who have died or may yet die for their country.

The National War Memorial is the focal point of Confederation Square in Canada's capital city. The square is located between several major buildings and features, with Parliament Hill to the northwest, the Rideau Canal to the northeast, and the National Arts Centre to the east. A number of buildings is situated west of the square, including the Bell Block, the Central Chambers building, the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, and the Scottish Ontario Chambers building.

Whenever the monarch or another member of the Royal Family is in Ottawa, they will, regardless of the date, lay a wreath at the monument. Visiting foreign dignitaries will also sometimes lay a wreath at the monument; prominent figures who have done so include US President John F. Kennedy in 1961, Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and French President François Hollande in 2014.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Rideau Canal National Historic Site

5) Rideau Canal National Historic Site (must see)

Rideau Canal was designated as a national historic site in 1925. In 2007 it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Though it was originally built as a precaution in case a war was fought with the United States, the Rideau Canal is mostly used for cruises, boat tours and fishing.

Visitors to Ottawa can go to Rideau Canal National Historic Site to relax, look at scenery or go for a walk. Camping, biking and hiking are all popular activities at the historic site. An indoor visitor center is open Monday through Friday. It is a three-story building that introduces tourists to the history of the region. In particular, visitors can learn about how the canal was built. It also includes a children's area with interactive exhibits.

Ottawa vacationers who travel with families will find Rideau Canal National Historic Site to be a particularly good place to stop. The Rideau Canal Xplorers program provides interactive booklets to children age six to 11. They will search for clues as they follow the map. At the end of their journey they receive a souvenir to commemorate the exploration. Younger children can join Club Parka. This activity offers stories and prizes for children ages three to six.

Rideau Canal is not just a summertime hot spot. Winter visitors to Ottawa can enjoy the world's largest skating rink in January and February. A number of other winter activities take place at the historic area, though these are subject to change depending on the weather conditions.

Why You Should Visit
- To see a one of the great outdoor marvels of Ottawa
- To learn about the engineering feats that were accomplished when building the canal

Tips
The visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. It is free to the public.
6
Fairmont Château Laurier

6) Fairmont Château Laurier

The Chateau Laurier Ottawa is one of the key attractions in the city. Designed in the Châteauesque style, this historic and stylish hotel stands at the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. The Château was built between 1909 and 1912. Originally, it was planned to occupy part of the land belonging to Major’s Hill Park. However, that decision caused controversy and the then Prime Minister of Canada, Wilfrid Laurier, had to step in and assist in finding an alternate place for the project. In appreciation of his efforts, the newly built hotel was named Laurier.

Initially, the hotel's opening was scheduled for 26 April 1912 and was to be attended by Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway whose construction company ran the project. Hays was returning from Europe to Canada for the opening ceremony on RMS Titanic and tragically died when the boat sank on her maiden voyage on April 15. The ceremony was, thus, delayed and took place two months later in the presence of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

After the inclusion of Grand Trunk in the Canadian National Railway, the Château Laurier was designated as the most significant hotel in Ottawa and hosted heads of states, celebrities, royalties, and political personalities. Canadian Prime Minister R.B. Bennett also lived here from 1930 to 1935. In 1999, the hotel's name was changed to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.

The place is said to be haunted as many guests have admitted to seeing here the ghosts of Charles Melville Hays and a small child. They also claimed to have heard supernatural voices, experienced unexplained shivering and even had the sensation of being watched whilst on the premises.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has put the hotel among the top 500 buildings constructed in the country over the past millennium. It is also known as "the third chamber of Parliament" for having housed many important meetings of prominent politicians and other famous personalities, and also due to its proximity to some of Ottawa's major sites, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Rideau Canal, the Parliament Hill and others.
7
Major's Hill Park

7) Major's Hill Park (must see)

Major's Hill Park is one of the most distinguished parks in downtown Ottawa. It is situated above the Rideau Canal at the spot where it empties into the Ottawa River. Because of its prime location, Major’s Hill Park is the site for many of Ottawa's exciting events such as Canada Day celebrations on July 1, annual Tulip Festival in May and February’s Winterlude Festival.

Laid out in 1874, the park was originally named after Colonel By, the engineer who built the Rideau Canal, and had his residence located on the site of the park. After his succession by Major Daniel Bolton, the name was changed to Major's Hill Park in 1832. In 1849, By's residence was destroyed by fire; the ruins of it are still visible today.

The National Capital Commission manages the park and has placed many interpretative panels displaying historical information in the northwest corner of the park. Dozens of artists come to Major’s Hill regularly to sell their works – paintings, clothing, woodworking, pottery, glass and jewelry – in the designated area called Artisans in the Park. During the Tulip Festival, the International Friendship Village presents countries that have made a mark in the cultivation of tulips, among them Turkey, the Netherlands, and Japan. Many varieties of food are also available in the park, complete with many crafts activities to engage in.

Concert Stage operates day and night. During the day, it is open to all visitors free of charge. In the evening, the Concert Stage features big-name artists and requires a ticket. The Family Zone, located at the north end of the park, abounds in various activities and teems with kids.

Major’s Hill Park is a peaceful retreat in the middle of the city. With its grand trees and pathways, it offers picturesque views of Ottawa’s major sites such as the Rideau Canal, the Parliament Buildings, the National Art Gallery, the Ottawa River, Sussex Drive and ByWard Market. It is a great place to walk during the summer months, enjoy ice cream from the street vendors, or sit on one of the many benches and soak up the moments of tranquillity. It is also a great urban picnic spot to be found in a close proximity to some of Ottawa's best restaurants and shops.

Why You Should Visit:
Great location during the summer while festivals are going on and a sought-after place to watch fireworks. Lots of access point and parking nearby.

Tip:
Use this park to explore the shores of the river.
Having a picnic with family with children is a good idea.
Vantage points for seeing Parliament buildings and the National Gallery are stupendous.
8
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

8) Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (must see)

Set in the place where the first Catholic chapel once stood, Notre-Dame Basilica is the oldest church in Ottawa that has survived for many centuries. In 1978, the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa was officially marked as a historic building by the City Council.

In 1832, a small wooden church, known as St. Jacques Church, was erected on the site. In 1841 it was demolished with the plan of being replaced by a larger church. The latter was designed in a Neo-classical style by Antoine Robillard and Father Cannon. After the completion of the church's lower section, the construction was handed over to Father Telmon who redesigned it in a more famous Neo-Gothic style. As a result, the building features a combination of styles: Neo-classical in the lower section and Neo-Gothic in the rest of it.

The interior of the church is more brightly painted and more elaborately decorated than the exterior. There are superb stained glass windows and a large number of statues of different religious persons, the most notable of which is the gold-plated statue of Madonna with twin spires. The church and its characteristic architectural features are clearly visible from the nearby Parliament Hill.

Among the notable events that have taken place at Notre-Dame Basilica are the funeral ceremonies of Governor General Georges Vanier and Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Visitors are free to enter the church and offer their prayers during the week. Many of the visitors, however, are attracted by the majestic grandeur of the building itself.

Why You Should Visit:
There is no charge to enter and you can have a free English/French tour of the church both upper and down in the hall with another chapel (check out the schedule online).

Tip:
Pay attention to the details of things such as the marble pillars, which are actually made of wood made to look like marble.

Opening Hours:
Mon: 11:30 - 18:00; Tue-Sat: 9:00 - 18:00; Sun: 8:00 - 20:30.
9
National Gallery of Canada

9) National Gallery of Canada (must see)

The National Gallery of Canada is one of the most acclaimed art institutions in the world and contains the most exceptional collection of artworks. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the Gallery building is one of the most beautiful in Ottawa. Completed in 1988, it houses a huge and diverse collection of paintings, drawings and other works of art, created by both Canadian and prominent European masters.

For years, Canadians had wanted a national gallery of their own where they could display Canadian art, as well as preserve, learn and educate people about their country’s cultural heritage. In the course of the centuries, the country has accumulated wonderful works of art from around the globe – sculptures, paintings, photographs etc. – belonging to various historical periods.

A tour of the Gallery reveals how it came into being as such a magnificent cultural institution. Among other interesting things, The National Gallery presents a captivating story of Canadian Civilization in the form of visual arts. From here, one can also enjoy a stunning view of the Ottawa River and the skyline of the Canadian capital.

In 2000, the National Gallery was chosen by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada as one of the top 500 buildings created in the country over the past millennium. Many exhibitions are hosted by the Gallery in collaboration with other national art galleries and museums. Many of the items held in the Canadian National Gallery have been purposely donated or purchased. The sculpture of a giant spider was mounted in front of the Gallery in 2005.

A remarkable piece of architecture, The National Gallery of Canada is a site worth seeing, not only for the huge collection of artistic masterpieces. It is a definite must-see for everyone visiting the city. Time seems to fly by when you are here!

Why You Should Visit:
The place to understand and learn about Canadian artists, both native and contemporary.
Many excellent paintings of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists artists as well: Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Matisse...
As a bonus the show of the Danish Golden Age is superb; there are many fine paintings of Eckersberg and Hammershøi.

Tip:
The gallery is free on Thursdays after 17:00.
Includes a cafeteria with a "view" and a coffee shop.
For more upscale food options and wine, check out the excellent 7 Tapas bar in the Great Hall.

Opening Hours:
Oct 1 – Apr 30: Tue-Sun: 10:00-17:00; Thu: 10:00-20:00;
May 1 – Sep 30: Daily: 10:00-18:00; Thu: 10:00-20:00
10
ByWard Market

10) ByWard Market (must see)

Founded by Lt-Col. John By in 1826, ByWard Market is one of the largest and oldest public markets in the Canadian capital, commonly regarded as the birthplace of Ottawa. John By, responsible for engineering the Rideau Canal, laid out the market plan. While working on the town grid, he arranged for George and York Streets to be extra wide. The aim behind this was to make way for the horse-drawn carriages that daily transported grocery to the market.

ByWard has largely preserved its historical Victorian heritage. Since the 1840s, it has been a major commercial hub. Today, ByWard Market attracts tourists and locals alike.

Famous for its chic boutiques, high-end restaurants and glamourous nightclubs, the ByWard Market area only two-three decades ago was mostly a blue-collar Lower Town district inhabited by workers of Irish and French descent, predominantly lumbermen, supplying construction materials for the canal works in Hull.

Greatly adapted to the trends of today's Canadian society, ByWard Market is a prominent tourist destination in Ottawa. It is the foremost place for eating out, shopping, and entertainment, dotted with numerous restaurants and bars that have mushroomed in recent years. Swarming with street performers also, it is one of the liveliest places in the city, seeing on average 50,000 visitors each weekend during the summer. There are more than 260 stalls held by local farmers and artisans along with the stands of over 500 businesses. Other amenities found in the area include a community center, child care facilities, schools, parks and places of worship.

Why You Should Visit:
Touristy area which on a good day is very crowded but still fun to enjoy the different stores and eateries.
Amazing bakery, cheese shops, maple syrup and candies, as well as the oldest bar in Ontario...

Tip:
Make sure you taste the famous beaver-tails – unless you're a weight-watcher, of course! :)

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:00-20:00; Sat-Sun: 8:00-18:00;
Hours can depend on the weather and vary from stand to stand.

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