The real reason for visiting Ottawa in May was the exquisite tulips of the Canadian Tulip Festival. Once a year, a carpet of colorful blooms erupts across the landscape, a reminder of the unique relationship forged between the Dutch and the Canadians when the city hid the Princess of the Netherlands during WWII. What I didn’t expect from Ottawa was to be captivated by it’s beauty and culture beyond the tulips. The city is only a 10 hour drive from my hometown in Ohio, but it felt like a cosmopolitan mix between Paris, London, and Brisbane. The second language of French, the architecture of the imposing Parliament building, and the Rideau Canal set the tone for a majestic city that has much to offer for families.
Ottawa’s stroller friendly streets and green spaces that gave the kids a place to run made it an ideal city for exploring on foot. As another benefit, while the city was busy, it never seemed unmanageable. It also felt very safe, and we felt comfortable strolling the streets with young children.
Where to Walk in Ottawa
Walking through a new city has two big benefits- 1. It gives me a feel for the sites and the people and 2. It’s free! Walking is always the best for the budget.
Start your walk at the National War Memorial. The tomb is guarded by soldiers and it is a beautiful spot to reflect and start your tour. This was the first time my highly-sensitive 5 yr old has seen armed guards though and he was a little worried about being shot at- just an FYI for those who may want to warn little boys and girls before you go!
Next, walk to Parliament Hill for a view of the old world style architecture. The buildings are neo-Gothic, with the Peace Tower resembling Big Ben in London. Tours of the Parliament are available across the street. Unfortunately when we visited, tours were sold out until 7:30pm. Plan to get there first thing in the morning and schedule your tour. Be aware that you also cannot carry any bags on the tour and cannot store things in the bottom of your stroller.
If you continue west you’ll pass by the Supreme Court building and the National Archives and Library, or you can head east and make your way to the National Gallery. We spent quite awhile outside of the National Gallery because of the “Spider Statue”, which my 3-yr-old still talks about. The sculpture is actually named “Maman” is made of marble, stainless steel and bronze, and was purchased by the Gallery in 2004. The sculpture adds a modern flair to the area, contrasting the old world architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica across the street.
After hanging out with the arachnoid we walked down the hill and across the Pont Alexandra Bridge. The Alexandra Bridge leads you to Quebec and the Canadian Museum of History. We did not entirely cross the bridge on foot, but it is a great place for a photo op of Parliament Hill and the Canal Locks even if you don’t travel all the way across.
Head east and retrace your steps, but now towards the Byward Market. Started in 1826, the Market is a lively place for artisans and foodies to hang out. We went there with a specific purpose- to try a BeaverTail! BeaverTails are like the Canadian brother to an elephant ear, but the topping choices are extensive- from sweet to savory. Cinnamon sugar toppings are popular with kids and parents. I was a little disappointed in the lack of Canadian-themed crafts and goods in the market. Although the maple syrup products were endless, there was a lack of maple leaf brazen attire to take home for the kiddos.
From the market, stroll west and take a walk along to Rideau Canal. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal was built in 1832 as a precautionary measure in case of war with the United States. The canal is over 126 miles long and stretches all the way to Kingston, ON, another place on my bucket list. The Canal was busy with pedestrians and bicyclers while we were visiting. Watch for bicyclists- most weren’t amused with my children leisuring strolling and running around- although I understand that they didn’t want to end up in the Canal.
With little ones, we ended our walking tour after the stroll along the canal, but if you have more time to explore head south on Elgin Street and check out the many cafes and small shops. The street will eventually lead you to the Canadian Museum of Nature. The Museum of Nature is the perfect spot for kids- every gallery has an interactive game or space for families to enjoy. My 5-yr-old was enthralled by the water exhibits, while my 3-yr-old loved the many dinosaurs skeletons. Many of Ottawa’s museums are free on Thursday evenings! We planned this into our schedule and it resulted in saving over $30.
Ottawa was really a hit for our young family, offering sophisticated architecture and history for adults with plenty of interest for little kids.