I went for a visit, I came away in love.
I have vacation disease. You know the symptoms. Happiness, relaxed, gained 10lbs and don’t care, and the big one I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen in Love with Ottawa and the 1000 Islands and I don’t want the affair to end. Like all affairs and vacations though it has to come to an end. Looking back on my 30 Days In Ottawa I wouldn’t change a single thing. I experienced more than most in my time here yet I feel I’ve just scratched the surface and that there is still so much more to see and do.
I thought I would take a moment to reflect back on the top 10 highlights of my trip and also share some of the things I didn’t get to do that are at the top of my to do list when I return.
Traveling by train the Via Rail VIP experience. This has to be top of the list as it was my first time traveling by commuter train and the way you arrive at your destination determines whether you are relaxed from hour one of if you need 1, 2 or 3 bottles of wine to relax. Being able to relax and stretch out, chat with my travel companions and enjoy a great meal all while having complimentary WiFi meant that I arrived in Ottawa from Toronto ready to begin my love affair.
Yes that photo is blurry. I had enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine by this pint on the journey
ByWard Market a food lovers paradise. If you visit Ottawa and never leave the DT core then you will pretty much live in the ByWard Market. It has everything you could possibly need from fresh produce stands to gourmet and specialty food stores. It also has a restaurant or pub every 5 feet. Murray Street Kitchen, Play Food and Wine, Sidedoor Kitchen, The Grand, Blue Bird Cafe and the list goes on and on. All great places to see and be seen. If you can’t have a great time in the ByWard Market I wouldn’t want to travel with you. Oh and did I tell you that the very first ever Beaver Tails store is in the market? That’s reason enough to visit.
Hintonburg, 5 minutes from DT yet a world away at the same time. Any list of mine about Ottawa has to include Hintonburg. Where else can you enjoy some of the best donuts ever made, great coffee, a burger joint that deserves to be on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and a bakery in an industrial complex that people line up for? Only in Hintonburg, a neighbourhood 5 minutes from DT Ottawa but with a remarkably slower pace of living. I spent a few nights in this part of Ottawa and loved it.
Almonte the ultimate day trip from Ottawa. Not on any tour guide that I could see but if you have access to a car then definitely head out 30 minutes west of town and you will discover Almonte. Historical buildings and full of rich history this little town is packed with quaint shops and one of the best lunches I had on my entire trip at Heirloom Cafe Bistro.
Boldt Castle tour in the 1000 Islands. On my first day in Gananoque I hopped aboard the Gananoque Boat Line river cruise of the St Lawrence and got to tour Boldt Castle. It’s been over a month and still all I can say is WOW. To think that this magnificent castle wasn’t fully completed or lived in due to the death of George Boldt’s wife Louise who the castle was built for is such a shame. It’s probably the closest I will ever be to my own Downtown Abbey experience.
Fort Henry, the defence of Canada. Touring Fort Henry ignited a thirst for Canadian history in me that had laid dormant since my school days. To see and experience how the defenders of Canada lived in the 1800’s really makes you appreciate how good we have it today. The team behind Fort Henry really bring the experience to life, from an interactive learning centre to guided tours of the fort to the display the regimental guard puts on hourly it’s real entertainment with nuggets of learning. A must visit especially if you have kids.
Flying over the 1000 Islands by Helicopter. How could this not be a highlight of my trip? The perspective is so awe inspiring and different from what we see every day it can only be described as special. Seeing the islands, the water and some of the beautiful “cottages” that make up the area put you in the mood to day dream for what might be. Flying over the 1000 Islands by helicopter allows you to see what you can’t see from the ground, everything at once!
Cordon Bleu cooking school. This has to be on the list for many reasons but one of them is that you can only have this experience in Ottawa. As someone who loves to eat and cook the chance to take a class at the Cordon Bleu is one that I couldn’t miss. Now I can say that Julia Chil;d and I have at least 2 things in common, we both cook with wine (we drink while cooking) and we’ve both taken a cooking class at The Cordon Bleu.
Festivals, festivals, festivals. West Fest & The New Art Festival. I love street festivals. They create excitement and they bring such a diverse group of people together. While I was in Ottawa I was lucky enough to experience 2 of them, West Fest and The New Art Festival. each is very different than the other but both are special in their own unique way. What they share is the sense of community they are a part of creating within Ottawa. If you travel to Ottawa you may miss these festivals but I can guarantee you there will be others for you to experience.
The food scene is Ottawa is farm to table and fabulous. Make me a great meal and I’m happy. Well for my entire time in Ottawa and in the 1000 Islands I did not have a bad meal. They were all spectacular and left me wanting more. I had so many great meals in Ottawa I had to split them up into 2 separate posts so that I could share them all with you. Where to eat in Ottawa part 1 and part 2. You try to pick a favourite. If I had to it would probably be El Camino and Side Door Kitchen but honestly I would happily return to all of them in a heart beat.
That’s it, my Top 10 list of highlights from my 30 Days In Ottawa. To be honest my entire trip deserves to be on this list but…. if I could only pick 10….
There are still tons of things I didn’t get a chance to do. Museums galore and riding a bike along the Rideau Canal stand out as some things that I missed. One of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t have the time to cross the bridge over into Hull, Quebec. From everything I heard it would have been like I stepped into another country. I guess this just means I need to return for another visit to continue my love affair with Ottawa and the 1000 Islands.
I hope that I’ve inspired you to look beyond the tourist guides and really see and experience Ottawa more from a locals perspective. It’s a great town and deserves to be loved by every Canadian.
Here’s to a great time in Ottawa and the 1000 Islands and from me to you I hope you get to experience some of the magic the area has to offer. It’s worth a return visit from me.