Ottawa’s Capital Charm

On his way to this year's World Pride in Toronto, Nigel Robinson took some time off and was charmed by the city of Ottawa. He chooses his ten favourite things about the Canadian capital.

On 1 July every year Ottawa is the only place to be as the whole city comes out, every man, woman and child wearing red and waving Maple Leaf flags to celebrate Canada's national day. Other cities celebrate the day too, of course, but Ottawa does it the best: just imagine the FA Cup Final, New Year's Eve and Saint Patrick's Day all rolled into one. The festivities start early on Parliament Hill with the flag-waving ceremony and Changing of the Guard, and then it's time for Canada's biggest, wildest and friendliest party with free entertainment throughout the day. Most of the fun is centred on Parliament Hill and Major's Hill Park, while nearby Jacques-Cartier Park is aimed at families and kids. The day ends with a spectacular firework display.

One of Ottawa's hippest and most happening neighbourhoods, the Byward Market is not only the site one of Canada's oldest and largest public markets but also the bustling home to funky independent designers and boutiques, art galleries and quirky craft shops. Here you'll also find scores of restaurants as well as trendy bars and clubs which keep the Byward buzz going way into the night.

Ottawa's gay scene is laid back and welcoming with the main "official" gay area around Bank Street comprising bars, restaurants and gay stores, like the Centretown Pub (340 Somerset Street West) which caters for the 30-plus male crowd, or Venus Envy (226 Bank Street), an award-winning sex shop and bookstore especially for the girls. You'll also find gay and gay-friendly bars in the Byward Market area, including the Lookout which has Ottawa's only licensed balcony giving great views over York Street (41 York Street) and the Mercury Lounge (55 Byward Market Square) which caters for the younger crowd. Ottawa was the site of Canada's first ever LGBT demonstration way back in 1971, and Capital Pride celebrates the gay community over a ten-day period every August.

Overlooking the Ottawa River and the parliament buildings this city landmark, with its grand turrets and elaborate masonry, looks like a French country château. The hotel's elegant interior — beautiful Tiffany stained-glass windows, towering marbled columns and handsomely furnished public rooms filled with antiques — has played host to everyone from the Queen and Winston Churchill to Marlene Dietrich, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. Acclaimed Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh lived in the hotel for almost twenty years before his retirement and some of his photographic portraits line the wood-panelled walls. Zoé's Lounge and Bar with its chandeliers and glass atrium is noted for its fantastic cocktails and is generally held to be one of the chicest bars not just in the capital, but in the country. (They do a great afternoon tea as well.)
Fairmont Château Laurier, 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa.

You could spend all day wandering around this bright and airy modern building which holds the most comprehensive collection of Canadian art in the world as well as works from around the globe. Not to be missed is the beautiful stained-glass Rideau Street Chapel, previously part of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart which was demolished in the 70s but rebuilt within the Gallery in the late 80s following public appeal. Forty speakers set at strategic places around the chapel feature artist Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet sound installation, each speaker emitting a single voice singing Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium, and making for a haunting and ethereal experience. The Gallery also plays host to some big name and must-see exhibitions, currently including Gustav Doré: Master of Imagination, a definitive look at the work of the influential French artist and illustrator (till 14 September).
National Gallery of Canada, 380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

Almost as much a symbol of Canada as the Maple Leaf, BeaverTails are fried dough pastries hand-stretched to resemble a beaver's tail, and topped with butter and a choice of fillings. Try them at the dedicated stall in Byward Market at 69 George Street.Go on, you know you really want one. And another.

The Rideau Canal is the only UNESCO World Heritage in the state of Ontario and winds it way through the heart of the Canadian capital. In the summer it's the perfect way to see the city on one of the many sightseeing cruises. However, it's in the winter when it freezes over that it really comes into its own and becomes the Skateway, at 7.8km (4.8 miles) the largest ice-skating rink in the world. During Winterlude which is held every February, hundreds of activities take place both on and around the Skateway.

The grand Gothic Revival buildings on the Hill form the seat of the country's government, and the site of all the pomp and ceremony of events such as Canada Day and the Changing of the Guard in the summer. There are free daily tours of the buildings and a ride to the top of the 92.2 metres high Peace Tower offers a fantastic 360-degree view of the city.

dinosaur_diorama_lgCANADIAN MUSEUM OF NATURE
A 19-metre blue whale skeleton is a highlight of one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Over five floors are devoted to the history of life on this planet, with galleries, dioramas and interactive exhibits dedicated to dinosaurs, birds, insects, and mammals. Kids love it, so if you don't want to be surrounded by lots of hyperactive schoolchildren, it's best to go later in the afternoon. Creatures of Light, a spectacular exhibition of nature's bioluminescence, runs until 9 November.
Canadian Museum of Nature, 240 rue McLeod Street, Ottawa.

Yes, we know it's a cliché but Canadians are just some of the friendliest, most welcoming and politest people on the planet, with a huge capacity for fun, and, as members of the Commonwealth, they have a particular affinity with we Brits.

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