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Ottawa > Travel Guide > Ottawa Guide > Forty-Eight Hours in Ottawa
Forty-Eight Hours in Ottawa - What You Need to Know By Jennifer McCarthy

Your mother calls late Thursday night and tells you that your third cousin, Kerri, from Calgary –you know, the one who pushed you into that mud puddle during a family reunion when you were both three—is coming into town on Friday for a job interview with a high-tech firm. Her plane doesn’t leave until Sunday night, and she wants to get a feel for what might be her new hometown. Could you play tour guide for the next 48 hours?

No problem. Grab your wallet, sunglasses and a good pair of walking shoes and meet her in the lobby of her downtown hotel at 8:00 pm. And don’t worry I’m sure she grew out of that mud puddle stuff sometime during university.

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Friday, 8:03 pm—To the Market
You meet Kerri at her hotel and then walk north to Wellington Street, making your way past the Supreme Court and Parliament Buildings headed for the Byward Market. Kerri mentions how exciting it is to be in the capital of Canada, and how she would love to take a tour of Parliament. Having lived in Ottawa all your life, you’ve experienced the dreaded tour once for every year of grade school. Still, her enthusiasm is catching, and you figure it might be fun to check it out now that you’re an adult. You stop to look at the Centennial Flame, a monument that sits at the bottom of the promenade leading to the Peacetower. Two children in matching maple leaf hats crawl along the ledge trying to figure out how the flame continues to burn on top of all that water.

Back out on the street you point out the War Monument at Elgin Street, and the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa’s fanciest hotel. CBC Radio actually has newsrooms and broadcast booths on the top floor, and lots of famous people have stayed there—Prime Ministers, heads of state, even pop singer Ricky Martin. Kerri is duly impressed.

8:32 pm—The Market at Night
You enter the ByWard Market from the Rideau Street mall, and walk over the 150-year time capsule buried under the sidewalk. It’s a beautiful night, and everyone is out. The stores are closed and the street vendors have packed up, but every restaurant patio seems full and no one’s heading for home just yet. You take Kerri past the rows of motorcycles parked on York Street. Every weekend Ottawa bike enthusiasts gather here to socialize and show off their hogs. Kerri starts up a conversation with the tough-looking owner of a teal-blue Harley Davidson. It turns out her dad’s a fanatic. She snaps a quick photo and you head off in search of some empty patio space.
9:13 pm—Eat, Drink and Be Merry
The Brig Pub is just a short way down York Street, and you squeeze into the last few chairs on the patio. You order beer and nachos, and watch the people go by. Just after 11:00, you decide to move next door to Zaphod Beeblebrox for the Electric Ballroom. There’s no cover after 11:00, the music is good and the people are young and always a little eclectic. You drink Galactic Gargleblasters, and crush onto the dance floor to shake your stuff until late into the night.
Saturday, 9:34 am—To the Info-Tent
They say the best time to get tickets for summer tours of Parliament Hill is between nine and ten o’clock in the morning. You grab breakfast at Bagel, Bagel in the market, and then head up to the Hill. The white canvas “info-tent” is located just behind the West Block of the Parliament Buildings, and you can’t really see it until you are almost to the front door of the Peace Tower. You walk over and after a short wait, get your tickets for a Centre Block tour.  Kerri was hoping to catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at 10:00 am, but the woman at the tent tells you they don’t start until June 24th, and today’s only the third. You head off for a quick walk around the grounds instead.

10:02 am—Cats and Canadians
You lead Kerri north from the info-tent towards the tree-lined paths that circle Parliament Hill. There are lots of things to see, and a great view of the Ottawa River and Chaudiere Falls from the Summer Pavillion. We pass statues of Queen Victoria (who chose Ottawa as Canada’s capital city) and Lester B. Pearson (1960s prime minister who started the idea of an UN peacekeeping force). Next, we hit the Cat Sanctuary, a slightly bizarre, but completely unique sight-to-see. This was always the most exciting part of your childhood tours. The Cat Sanctuary has been housing stray cats since the 1970’s. Rene Chartrand, the seventy-year old guardian of the cats has created a kind of condominium complex of wooden houses in the bushes behind the fence. Each cat has their own bowl, and some even has pictures of themselves above the entrances to their homes.

You drop a couple dollars into the donation box, and follow the path up to the Library of Parliament and Summer Pavilion. You stand there enjoying the view and point out the Museum of Civilization across the river and the top of the Notre Dame Basilica which has recently been renovated. The tour time is 10:30, so you run back to the front of the Centre Block and find the guide inside. The tour includes the House of Commons, Senate and Library of Parliament. The architecture is beautiful, and Kerri loves it. At the end of the tour, you go up into the Peacetower, and get a bird’s eye view of Ottawa from the observation deck.

11:15 am—Sparks St. and the War Memorial
You walk out the front gates of Parliament, and down Metcalfe to the Sparks Street Mall. Kerri checks out the souvenir shops and buys a T-shirt for her little brother. Sparks Street is closed to traffic, and the “Mall” is actually the road between the stores where everyone walks. At the end of the street is D’Arcy McGee’s, an Irish pub named after the Canadian forefather who was assassinated on Sparks in 1868. Every night, except Wednesday, at 8:00 pm they run a “ghost walk” through the downtown. Despite being relatively young (about 150 years), Ottawa has a surprising number of ghosts. Kerri says she’d like to take the trip, so you offer to point some of the ghost spots out, as you travel along.

Before returning to the Market, you head into the Rideau Centre (downtown’s largest shopping center) to buy bottled water and sunscreen. Next you walk Kerri down the Mackenzie King Bridge, and pass the Youth Hostel and Arts Court. You explain how the building used to be a jail where criminals were actually hanged. In fact, the ghost of the last man to be sentenced to death in Canada still haunts some rooms in the building.

12:13 pm—The Farmer’s Market
You walk back into the market, and Kerri can’t believe it’s the same place as last night. Once again, it’s teeming with people, but this time there are street musicians, buskers and sidewalk artists as well. A complete farmer’s market runs down one side of the Market Mall building, and an array of street vendors line the other. You check out some of the  jewelry and crafts, and then squeeze through the crowd at the vegetable and fruit stands to grab some lunch from the Budapest Deli. Armed with sandwiches so big you can barely get your mouths around them, you head down York Street to Major’s Hill Park and have an impromptu picnic overlooking the Rideau Canal.
2:04 pm—Sussex and the Art Gallery
Feeling crispy from the sun, you head into the National Art Gallery to cool off. Wandering through the modern and Aborignal art, you decide to check out the special Monet/Renoir exhibit. But tickets are sold out for the day, so you just continue through the rest of the building. Later, refreshed, you head back out into the sun and past the Peacekeepers Monument to Sussex. Keeping with the Art Gallery theme, you pop into the Nicholas Hoare Bookshop to soak in the classy atmosphere, complete with a fireplace  in one corner and big fluffy cat strolling through the store. Kerri grabs a book from the children’ section for her little niece, and then it’s back outside through Market to Elgin Street. On the way, you stop for Beavertails, an Ottawa delicacy. These large flat pastries covered in cinnamon and sugar are made in the little shack on the corner of George and William. They’re hot and very sweet, making them especially popular in the winter when the Canal becomes a giant skating rink.
4:45 pm—Elgin Street
Elgin Street begins at the War Memorial and extends south to the Queensway overpass near the Museum of Nature. You walk down past the courthouse and Friday’s Roast Beef House, which houses another Ottawa ghost—a woman who peers out the top floor window into the street. Today the curtains are drawn so you keep walking, window-shopping along the way. Near Somerset Street, you coax Kerri into the Elgin Street Video Station. The owner of the video store is a big collector of movie memorabilia and all through the store are costumes and props from Hollywood films. Next, it’s onto the  restaurant area with lots of outdoor summer patios and big open windows on the restaurants and bars. Kerri, it turns out, is a big seafood fan, so you stop at Big Daddy’s Crab Shack for supper. The food and atmosphere is New Orleans. Kerri orders a combination plate and you, feeling daring, order the blackened gator. You eat on the patio, resting your feet and watching people go by.
9:13 pm—Bank Street at Night
After Big Daddy’s, you make a quick stop to drop off your purchases, grab a quick nap and get dressed for the night. You arrive at Barrymore’s on Bank Street while the opening band is still playing. The inside of the bar is huge and still looks a lot like the theatre it once was. The stage and dance floor face four levels of tables and chairs, and a large chandelier hangs from the ceiling. You grab drinks from the bar next to the dance floor, (there’s another one on the top level), and then nab some seats on the second level to enjoy the music. When the bands finish, you run over to Babylon’s and dance.
Sunday, 9:25 am—Bike Tour Along the Canal
It’s another beautiful day and you’re feeling energetic, so you borrow some bicycles from a friend—you can also rent them downtown—and head out for a tour of the Rideau Canal. On Sunday mornings in the summer, the parkways running next to the Canal are closed to traffic, so you hop on Colonel By Drive near the Queensway and follow it along. You stop and watch the rapids at Hog’s Back Falls, and then begin following the bike path on the other side. Next, you decide to detour through the Experimental Farm and Arboretum. It’s a beautiful drive and Kerri is impressed with this greener, more peaceful side of Ottawa. You even stop at the Farm to look at the animals, but there are lots of parents there with excited little kids. After a quick peek, you decide to keep moving. You travel through the Arboretum to Dow’s Lake, and then stop and to watch the families sloshing around in pedal boats and rented canoes. It looks like fun, but you’re starving, so you grab the bikes and head up Preston Street into Little Italy.
12:15 pm—Little Italy
In Ottawa, “Little” Italy is a very appropriate name. If the street signs didn’t suddenly change along the way, you might miss it entirely. Still, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in spirit and good food. You walk the bikes several blocks and then lock them up in front of Trattoria Caffe Italia near Gladstone (or Marconi) Avenue. This restaurant started as a billiard and card-playing hall in 1958, but has been a full-fledged restaurant since the 1980s. It has, what a friend of yours calls—a  “real” feel. With checked tablecloths, a dark, candlelit atmosphere and homemade food served in huge quantities, it’s always a great place to eat. You order half-size dishes of pasta, but then scarf down bruschetta, calamari and dessert as well. Stuffed to the eyeballs, you wander back into the sunlight, then head down to the Somerset Heights.
1:47 pm—Somerset Heights
Somerset is the most ethnically colourful street in Ottawa. It’s lined with video stores, restaurants, hairdressers and authentic food shops specializing in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, and even Latin American products. There are a number of acupuncturists and herbal medicine shops along the way, and we stop to look at one store to find out what’s in the jars of dried herbs and treatments stacked in the window. No matter how many times you walk down this street, you always find something new. At Percy Street you stop, and follow the bike lanes into the Glebe.
2:30 pm—Shopping in the Glebe
You bike up Glebe Avenue to Bank Street, where the “Glebe” begins—a trendy area with a kind of “hippie” flavour. The shops are unique but pricey, and tend to be yuppie paradise. You wander around for a couple hours, browsing through the used bookstores, and looking over the unusual gadgets and crafts in every store. Kerri picks up no-tree paper and hemp lip balm from Arbour, an environmental shop, and you get some funky shot glasses at the Glebe Emporium. Realizing Kerri has to pack up and get to the airport for her flight out, you grab a couple falafels from Kamal’s and ride the bikes home.
5:56 pm—Airport
You get to the airport forty-five minutes before Kerri’s plane back to Calgary is scheduled to leave. As she goes to leave Kerri says she’s keeping her fingers crossed about the job. Ottawa might be a nice place to live after-all.
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