Friday, July 04, 2014

true patriot love

This past week we had the opportunity to celebrate Canada's birthday in Ottawa.   I've always wanted to take the kids there on Canada Day, as there's no better way to experience true patriotism and appreciation for your country than to celebrate it's birthday right at the nation's capital.

Even though approximately 100,000 people (according to Ottawa police) were in attendance for the Canada Day Festivities "On the Hill", it never felt overwhelmingly crowded.  It's a beautiful city to visit, and below are a few places I'd recommend to try, whether you're in Ottawa for a Canadian holiday or for a jaunt on a long weekend.


We drove to Ottawa, so finding a centrally located hotel was key. We parked our car for the duration of our stay and walked everywhere.  All major attractions and destinations were within a 10 minute walk or 15 minute shuttle bus ride.

The Lord Elgin Hotel
I love the grandeur of historic hotels and prefer to stay somewhere that has some history.  We stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel, which was built in 1941, named after the 8th Earl of Elgin, and has hosted many dignitaries. Centrally located in downtown Ottawa overlooking Confederation Park and just a few short blocks away from Parliament Hill and many attractions, with free WiFi and a Starbucks on site, this hotel had the old world charm of yesteryear but the modern amenities suitable for young families. It is a decent stay if you book a breakfast/parking package.
(Another similar hotel alternative is the Fairmont Chateau was sold out at the time of booking)

Ottawa has a burgeoning culinary scene and there was so much variety to choose from. We chose restaurants that had fresh local offerings and were also family friendly.

Play Food & Wine 
(in the Byward Market)
Part of the Beckta group of restaurants, this restaurant delighted the foodies in our house.  Shared small plates of scallops, artic char, mussels, pork belly, watermelon salad, and an impressive wine list made this a wonderful spot to enjoy local food offerings.  As part of my son's ever growing love of cheese tasting, their cheese plates were a delectable treat. ~Cheese favourites were Cendrillon (a goat cheese from Saint-Raymond, QC) & Canotier de L’isle (cow cheese from L’isle-aux-Grues, QC).  We thoroughly enjoyed the Pinot Noir, Chimera, Capiaux, (Sonoma, California, '12).  All dishes were fantastic.

Fatboys Southern Smokehouse
For some hearty grub, this place had good old fashioned, southern style slow cooked BBQ meat (ribs are their specialty).  Large servings, along with comforting sides like bacon mac n'cheese make this a casual and fulfilling meal. Get ready to get messy...and don't wear white. Take. big. nap. afterwards.

(in Byward Market or Sparks St.) 
For an afternoon snack or after dinner dessert, Beavertails are a sweet treat.  Found at various locations across Canada, it's first permanent location was in Ottawa. Arguably one of Canada's iconic culinary treats, these whole-wheat pastries are stretched by hand to resemble the tail of a beaver, topped with a choice of toppings. (cinnamon sugar is a traditional flavour)

Gelato at Piccolo Grande (or Pure)
We were undecided with which place received our vote for best gelato.  Both Piccolo Grande and Pure have two locations: one in downtown Ottawa as well as one in the Byward Market.  Pure was recommended by many locals, but Piccolo Grande seemed to have more interesting exotic flavours and claims to be "voted best in Ottawa".  I liked Piccolo Grande for the lychee nut was out of this world! 

You'll just have to try both and decide for yourselves.

Ottawa has no shortage of museums and on Canada Day (July 1) all museums and shuttle bus transportation are FREE! We only visited two museums (we were stalled at lunch so we didn't make it to a third attraction). The Canadian Museum of Nature and The National Gallery of Canada (the one with the big spider statue at the entrance) were also on our list to see.  There are family packages available and if we returned on a non-holiday, I would would consider purchasing a CityPass.

Visit the Canadian War Museum
With tanks and planes preserved from the war on display and knowledgeable war Veterans available on the premises to provide more information and details about the machines and history of the war, this was quickly the favourite museum of our kids.  We arrived early so it was still relatively quiet from the crowds...this only made the war tanks more magnificent and larger than life.

Visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization 
(formerly Cdn. Museum of History).
This museum took us through the history of Canadian civilization.  Scenes depicting various centuries gave a lesson on how the Canadian people have evolved through history. A children's museum on the main floor is ideal for really young children (the under five group).  On Canada Day, there were free shuttles directly from Major Hill Park to Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau (where the Canadian Museum of Civilization is located)

Take a boat taxi across the Ottawa River
A short 10 minute ride across the Ottawa River from the Museum of Civilization provided lovely views of Ottawa from the water and a cool ride in the hot summer weather. Passengers disembark at the base of the locks where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River.  If you're lucky, you'll get to watch the boats go through the locks from Rideau Canal to get to the Ottawa River.

Take a tour of the Parliament Building
We took the "quick tour" (The Peace Tower & Memorial Chambers) which is ideal for busy families as it took about 2 hours to go through (including line ups).  If you have older children (and are able plan ahead as you can only purchase tour tickets offsite during the summer!), you can have full tours of the whole Parliament building.

There are plenty of (free) things to see just by walking around in the city.  The streets were impeccably clean and we always felt safe no matter how late we walked around in the evening.

Changing of the Guards
At 10:00 am every summer morning, the pageantry of the marching band and military drills performed for the Changing of the Guard takes place on Parliament Hill.

Beginning with a parade from the Cartier Square Drill Hall (Laurier Avenue near the Rideau Canal), the marching band and soldiers proceed down Laurier and Elgin Street past the War Memorial, and then onto Wellington Street to Parliament Hill.

Bonus:  Our hotel was situated right on Elgin Street, so the parade passed right in front of hotel. We sat on the hotel benches to watch, then followed the guards right to Parliament Hill where we watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Check out the Byward Market
Enjoy local fruits and food at this outdoor market.  Street performers and local arts and crafts make this a vibrant place to see and do some local shopping.  Most of the amazing restaurants are found here.

Check out The Rideau Canal/Ottawa River
Surrounding Parliament Hill is the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa river where you can see a magnificent view behind the Parliament building.  Monuments and statues are also located behind the Parliament buildings, and if you're lucky during the day, there are tour guides that can provide more information about the monuments and Parliament. My history buff husband was in his element, teaching the kids about the significance of the buildings and what it means to Canada.

In the winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the world's largest skating rink.

See the Fireworks (Canada Day)
Attend the biggest Canada Day party on Parliament Hill for the concerts, activities as well as the magnificent fireworks. Well organized stations for water, emergency, and lost children are set up around the park, and security was thorough.  If you're in Ottawa the night before, there is plenty of room to sit on the grass and enjoy listening to the rehearsals of the music acts preparing for the big day. It's just as entertaining to see what goes on behind the scenes! There's something truly magical listening to the choir rehearse the national anthem while being at Parliament Hill.

Even though our visit to Ottawa was brief (two nights), we visited many museums and attractions that can be enjoyed beyond Canada Day.  There are plenty of things to see and do throughout the summer (many more museums, restaurants, beaches, summer concerts) and the rest of the year (Winterlude in February and The Canadian Tulip Festival in May are popular).  The best part of our trip was the energy we felt when so many people came together to celebrate this beautiful country.  Nothing sent chills down my spine more than singing our national anthem with hundreds of thousands of people during the fireworks.  We really felt our true patriot love...and can't wait to visit again.

 To all my Canadian readers, I hope you had a great Canada Day!

To all my American readers, Happy July 4th Day!

{Disclaimer}: There are NO endorsements or affiliations with any of the businesses or establishments mentioned in this post.  I just wanted to share all of the simply beautiful  places my family enjoyed while visiting Ottawa, and all opinions are my own.

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