Day-tripping outside the capital

| June 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

A visitor to Ottawa has a wealth of choice – lots to see and do in the city, of course, but also a wonderful selection of sites worth seeing on myriad daytrips from Canada’s capital.

Montreal is Canada’s second-largest city — and one of its most reminiscent of Europe. And it’s an easy day trip away.

Montreal is Canada’s second-largest city — and one of its most reminiscent of Europe. And it’s an easy day trip away.

Place: Montreal, only two hours east of Ottawa
Why go: Canada’s second largest city, Montreal offers amazing energy and great cuisine, cultural activities, architecture and people-watching.
What to do there: Mount Royal Park, famous for the 31-metre illuminated cross at its peak, is one of the city’s most beautiful green spaces. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a co-designer of New York’s Central Park, there are two belvederes from which to view the city itself and winter visitors will want to use the groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. St. Joseph’s Oratory, a basilica on the edge of Mount Royal, is Canada’s largest church and its dome is the third largest in the world. Toured by two million visitors a year, the oratory was the project of Brother André, a humble munk and healer who was declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church four years ago. The Olympic Park, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, has a number of exhibits including a biodome, which presents four ecosystems found in the Americas, from lush forests to the harsh and severe Arctic. The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, one of North America’s finest art museums, has everything from Old Masters to contemporary art, including many early Canadian paintings donated by leading Montreal families. Old Montreal, the oldest part of the city, dating back to New France, is a small neighbourhood on the St. Lawrence River just a short walk from downtown. Declared a historic site by the province, Old Montreal has preserved the cobblestones and many of the buildings of a bygone era. There are fine markets, preserved colonial mansions and even horse-drawn calèches that give a sense of having stepped into a time machine. Along Rue Saint Jacques one finds old bank buildings dating back to Montreal’s days as Canada’s financial centre.
When to visit: Year round

The bohemian town of Wakefield in Quebec boasts this charming covered bridge.

The bohemian town of Wakefield in Quebec boasts this charming covered bridge.

Place: Wakefield, 20 minutes from downtown Ottawa across the Ottawa River in Quebec
Why go: This small, charmingly bohemian community, one of the more bilingual in Quebec, offers a little touch of utopia only a few stones’ throws north of Ottawa.
What to do there: The Wakefield time travel experience offers many funky little cafés and pubs in which to pass an agreeable afternoon; several galleries reflecting the rich artistic life of the community; small shops selling fresh baked goods, home décor, and local crafts; a picturesque covered bridge over the Gatineau River; and The Black Sheep Inn, a venue offering some of the best live music in the region. History aficionados might visit the grave of former prime minister Lester Pearson in the MacLaren Cemetery. Children in particular love the Wakefield Steam Train, one of the last authentic steam trains in Canada, which runs from May to October between Wakefield and the city of Gatineau. Recreational activities include horseback riding, skiing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, canoeing and kayaking.

The Diefunker is a fascinating Cold War relic from the 1960s.

The Diefunker is a fascinating Cold War relic from the 1960s.

Place: The Diefenbunker in Carp, 30
kilometres west of Ottawa
Why go: The four-storey underground bunker, now a Cold War museum, gives a fascinating glimpse into how governments prepared for nuclear attack.
What to do there: There are guided tours at the Diefenbunker, though you can also explore on your own. The facilities were built to house 535 Canadian government officials and military officers in the event of a nuclear war. Named after John Diefenbaker, who was prime minister during construction in the early 1960s, the structure features massive blast doors at the surface designed to withstand nearby nuclear explosions, special air filters to protect from radiation and massive underground storage for food, fuel, water and other supplies needed to sustain people for several weeks. Visitors can see the prime minister’s sleeping quarters, the War Cabinet Room, a radio studio for broadcasts to the people, and even a Bank of Canada vault. Many of the original furnishings are still in place.
When to visit: Year round

Kingston is a city rich in history and culture.

Kingston is a city rich in history and culture.

Place: Kingston/Thousand Islands
Why go: Kingston is rich in history and culture, and the Thousand Islands are a fascinating archipelago of more than 1,800 islands, many of them inhabited, divided between the U.S. and Canada.
What to do there: In Kingston, also known as the Limestone City, there are 21 National Historic Sites and 24 museums. Must sees include the Royal Military College of Canada, the Queen’s University campus and Fort Henry, built during the War of 1812 to protect the city from American attack. Kingston has many wonderful restaurants and an active cultural scene. The Thousand Islands begin at Kingston and stretch 80 kilometres downstream in the St. Lawrence River. Two of the islands, Heart Island and Dark Island, have actual castles. There are fine beaches on the archipelago and several opportunities for fresh-water wreck diving. Visitors from Canada will require passports to visit the American islands.
When to visit: Year round
Place: Gatineau Park fall foliage tour
Why go: The turning colours of the leaves as summer ends and winter approaches is one of the most beautiful sights in the area. And Gatineau Park’s display is one of the most magnificent.
What to do there: The entire park offers vistas of vividly coloured deciduous trees. One of the best views is at Champlain Lookout, which offers a breathtaking panorama of the Ottawa River Valley, but the park’s 200 kilometres of winding trails offer many options for exploration. While in Gatineau Park, take in the Mackenzie King Estate, built by Canada’s 10th prime minister, with picturesque ruins, a tea house, and a museum dedicated to the country’s longest-serving leader.
When to visit: Late September through mid-October.

The fall colours in Gatineau Park are not to be missed.

The fall colours in Gatineau Park are not to be missed.

A FESTIVAL PRIMER
Canada Day Celebrations (July 1): Ottawa has the largest celebration of the country’s birthday. Activities on Parliament Hill include concerts at noon and in the evening, and a fireworks display as soon as night falls. Other events take place across the national capital region.
RBC Bluesfest (July 3-13): This festival offers a smorgasbord of musical genres, from blues to rock and pop, country, indie rock and electro dance music. Lady Gaga, The Killers and Queens of the Stone Age are among the main headliners this year.
Music and Beyond (July 5-17): This festival offers classical music performed by orchestras, choirs, bands, wind ensembles, instrumental and vocal recitals as well as a multidisciplinary arts festival showing music’s connection to drama, poetry, dance and other arts genres.
Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (July 24-Aug. 7): The largest chamber music festival on the planet, this festival presents more than 100 concerts, including major performers from around the world, in churches and performance venues in Ottawa.

The crowds at Bluesfest

The crowds at Bluesfest

Capital Pride (Aug. 15-24): This festival supports the spirit of pride in the national capital region’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual communities. Events include a parade, live music, comedy and a beer garden.
Ottawa Folk Festival (Sept. 10-14): This festival offers a lot of folk music, but also indie and alternative artists. Headliners this year include Lorde and Blue Rodeo. A beer garden will offer Ontario craft beers.
Oktoberfest Ottawa (Oct. 2-5): This festival offers a chance to sample a huge range of beers and experience the traditional dance and music of Bavaria, hear many local performers and taste great food.
Ottawa International Film Festival (Oct.  15-19): OIFF is a highly regarded event, where filmmakers from all corners of the world showcase their latest offerings. Held at the Mayfair Theatre, the festival offers tastes of less-encountered filmmakers, all hoping to achieve large-scale recognition.

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