Ottawa: A Tourist in My Own City

by Angèle Alain

A few weeks ago, my eleven year old daughter’s second cousin came to visit. It was her first time in Ottawa, so there were many things she wanted to see.  We went to Calypso Water Park, Papanack Zoo and Ikea (you’d be surprised how fun it is for tweens).  I think the most interesting day, however, was when we showed her around downtown.  One of us was a true tourist while the rest of us simply played the part. 

 Lazing around at Ikea

Lazing around at Ikea

When was the last time I was a tourist in my own city? My family and I travel the world in search of beautiful cities, yet we rarely stop to appreciate the beauty of our own. So on a hot day in August, I looked at Ottawa through the eyes of an 11 year-old tourist. And boy was there a lot to take in.

 Maman the Spider

Maman the Spider

We parked in the ByWard Market and walked straight to Maman, the spider. I took photos of the girls standing under it surrounded by other tourists doing the same. Have you ever done a 360 degree turn while standing under the spider? The view is breathtaking: the art gallery, the cathedral, the old buildings on Sussex, the Cenotaph and Major’s Hill Park with the Parliament buildings in the background. Who knew?

We then walked around the National Gallery of Canada to check out the architecture and the view from the inside balconies (we got a free pin from the admissions desk).  The wide steps are a lot of fun and, I imagine, could provide many hours of entertainment for children of all ages. We also enjoyed wandering around the boutique, where I was able to talk to the girls about art history. 

 National Gallery of Canada

National Gallery of Canada

We then crossed the street to visit the Cathedral. After visiting many churches across the world, I can say that this one, although not old at all, is colourful and impressive in its own way. Its ornate decor and detailed stained glass windows are something to see. The view from its busy front steps is also quite lovely and, as it seems, a great backdrop for family photos and selfies.

 The locks below

The locks below

We made our way to Major’s Hill Park, where people were lounging around and having picnics. I admit I’ve never been in the park when it isn’t full of festival vendors; I think we forget it’s even a park. Plus, the view of the Peace tower and the Chateau Laurier looks like it belongs in a travel magazine, even when the Parliament buildings are undergoing restoration work. We took the path that led us to the locks, where the girls loved watching the boat go up the water elevator. Not surprising that we weren’t the only ones interested in this; who doesn’t like watching boats magically go up and down?  

 Tea at Zoe's Lounge

Tea at Zoe's Lounge

Next up was tea time at Zoé’s Lounge in the Chateau Laurier. I’ve done this before with my daughter and it’s always a hit. No need to dress up (but you can!) and no need to go all out with the tea time menu (but you can!). This time, we had cold drinks and deserts off the regular menu. But if this isn’t for you, one of the waiters mentioned that they love having people walk in with their children for a glass of water –everyone is always welcomed. 

Finally, we enjoyed the Rideau Canal from the Wellington Street bridge and walked around the ByWard Market, looking at crafts and souvenirs. We purchased personalized name bracelets (deemed the best souvenir) and stopped for a Beaver Tail.  I laughed when our guest thought she’d be eating a real beaver tail, forgetting that it is genuinely an Ottawa treat.  Which reminded me: next time, she should visit Ottawa in winter…  

It was a fantastic day, and we could have done so much more. But wandering the streets of our downtown core was an eye opening experience. As parents, we think to show our toddlers their city but as the years go by, we often don’t bring them to visit unless we go somewhere or do something specific.  As I learned, it’s well worth being a tourist in your own city.  

Angèle is what you call an opportunistic traveler: there isn’t a travel opportunity she’ll pass up. She caught the travel bug early in life, and it became serious after her first trip to London is 2006. Since then, she’s traveled the world with her husband and daughter, yet still finds time to do many interesting things in our city.