Canada’s capital celebrated its 150th birthday this year and proudly celebrates its diversity, inclusion and cultural achievements.
Parliament Hill with Christmas lights
ottawa tourism | neil robertson
This year, tourism to Canada hit a 14-year high, with international arrivals increasing by 16%. This renewed romance is due in part to the splendor of the 150th anniversary of Canada and its multitudinous celebrations, but also perhaps because our Northern neighbor demonstrates a commitment to openness, inclusion, diversity, and welcomes foreign nations in a way that seems sorely lacking in the U.S. these days. As the world’s second-largest country, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Arctic oceans, there is a lot to explore in Canada, and the best place to begin is in the nation’s capital of Ottawa, which is, of course, the home of LGBTQ ally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
So where should you make your home base when visiting Ottawa? If you wish to stay somewhere that treats you like an official dignitary, choose Fairmont Château Laurier, a sprawling and splendid fairytale castle that embodies the history, tradition, and grandeur of this inspiring city. Over 100 years, this iconic hotel has hosted the international elite—including Princess Diana, Marlene Dietrich, and the Dalai Lama! It’s the best luxury 5-star hotel in Downtown Ottawa, and an elegant centerpiece of the city, prestigiously located between Parliament Hill, the picturesque Rideau Canal, the Congress Center and all the major arts and cultural attractions. With 426 charming guest rooms decorated with old-world style, many with views of Parliament, it’s not hard to feel like a VIP, especially when sipping a cocktail on La Terrasse and watching the sunset over the canal. If you’re interested in walls that talk, take a narrated self-guided tour of the castle and discover its rich history. Just sign in for an iPad at the front desk.
Downtown panorama, with Fairmont Chateau Laurier
To continue the European feel of your visit (remember, Canada is a bilingual country, with most nationals speaking French and English), have dinner at Métropolitain Brasserie conveniently located just a block away from the hotel. Fashioned after the grand Parisian brasseries of the 1920s, Métropolitain features classic zinc bars and all your French foodie favorites including Ottawa's largest raw bar. This is a classy, classic place to get your visit off to a cosmopolitan start and fuel up for the many sightseeing opportunities that await. For a hip and happening lunch, dinner or cocktail spot popular with locals, head to SOCIAL, a lovely modern restaurant known for its progressive Canadian cuisine, utilizing local produce and honoring Canada’s multiculturalism.
Since Canada is such a vast country, with abundant natural wonders, the Canadian Museum of Nature with its new Arctic Gallery is a great place to begin. The museum is also housed in a century-old castle, grandly renovated and featuring a 65-foot skeleton of a blue whale (the largest animal on the planet), and stunning and lifelike wildlife dioramas that are works of art in themselves and portray the distinct geographical regions of the country.
Gatineau Park fall hike
Located behind the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel is Major’s Hill Park, with beautiful views and winding pathways perfect for strolling year-round. This is the site to enjoy blooming tulips in May, summer gardens, and Canada Day entertainment on July 1. The westerly views of Parliament Hill and the Library of Parliament, the Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau Hills, the National Gallery of Canada and the Notre Dame Basilica are unbeatable from this spot. This is also where The Great Trail Connection Celebration, which honored the world’s longest network of its kind, took place. Explore the Great Canadian Trail and see Ottawa by bike with LGBT-operated Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals. Follow the river and a section of over 100 miles of pathways that link attractions through the city and into the most picturesque parts of Ottawa’s neighborhoods and parklands.
Even though you’re in a capital city you can still enjoy the fruits of the great outdoors in the ByWard Market neighborhood. One of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada, located in an eclectic neighborhood full of great eateries, the markets feature up to 175 outdoor stalls selling flowers, fruits and vegetables, and art and crafts, 363 days of the year. One of the most fun restaurants in this neighborhood is The Grand Pizzeria, which turns out incredibly delicious old-world Italian food, including Napoletana pizza cooked in a specially constructed wood-burning oven.
To experience the cultural bounty of Canada, head to the National Gallery of Canada, one of the country’s finest art museums. Located on one of the most spectacular sites in Ottawa, on Sussex Drive, in an award-winning building designed by Moshe Safdie, upon approach you’ll immediately notice French sculptor Louise Bourgeois’ "Maman," a mammoth 9.25-metre bronze spider. Inside, the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries recently opened following a major transformation in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.
To understand how Canada became a North American beacon of tolerance, inclusion, and geopolitical adaptation, take a free public guided tour of Parliament Hill, home to Canada’s enviable federal government. The Parliament Buildings are distinctive Gothic structures beautifully preserved and restored, with the Library of Parliament dubbed The Most Beautiful Room in Canada. The Centennial Flame on the lawn facing the Centre Block was lit in 1967 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada and brurns brightly day and night.
If you want to check out how the LGBTQ locals do Pride, time your visit to Ottawa’s Capital Pride Festival, which takes place August 21-27 with community fair, events and a Pride Parade along Bank Street, which starts at 1:30 p.m. and travels into The Village neighborhood, continuing to about 4:00 p.m. Locals of all generations and expressions turn up decked out in rainbow gear to celebrate the diversity and inclusion that is a cornerstone of Canadian identity and which will ensure that Canada’s next 150 years are just as glorious as the ones celebrated this year.
To plan your visit go to www.ottawatourism.ca