In fall, Ottawans pull on their sweaters and head outside to savour the crisp air and see the spectacular fall leaves changing colours. It’s a perfect time for a stroll, cycle, museum visit, or foodie festival, made all the better with a steaming mug of hot apple cider afterwards. Join the locals and take advantage of the season. Here are the top things to see and do in autumn:
1. Shop and nosh at the ByWard Market
Colourful, bustling, eclectic: the ByWard Market is a year-round, outdoor market that has been operating since 1826. One hundred and seventy-five vendors offer fine teas, artisan chocolates, bouquets, fresh produce, small-batch cheeses, charcuterie, unusual arts and crafts, and so much more. ByWard’s vintage brick-building neighbourhood is filled with trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques, and galleries. Really, you could spend an entire day shopping and noshing. Why not?
2. Take in the city sights on bikes
Cycle the flat, 22-kilometre Osgoode Pathway, a renovated 1854 railway bed turned multi-use rec path. It’s a relaxing forest ride starting at Leitrim Road and heading south towards Osgoode Village. Another scenic cycle is past Parliament Hill west to the Canadian War Museum. Pick up wheels at RentABike across from the Fairmont Château Laurier and start exploring some of Ottawa’s hundreds of kilometres of pathways.
3. Bite into a BeaverTail
A BeaverTail is pure Canadiana: a hand-stretched, fried wheat dough pastry in the shape of the animal’s tail (roughly). It’s rolled in cinnamon-sugar, or topped with Nutella and bananas, or fruit and whipped cream. Pick one up at an outdoor stand (at William and George Street or after skating the Rideau Canal) or at the ByWard Market and enjoy it with hot chocolate.
4. Dare to try one of the Haunted Walks
Cloaked, lantern-toting guides take you on a Haunted Walk of Ottawa, a popular nighttime walking tour of the city's haunted locales, including the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Château Laurier, and HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel. In addition to the ghosts and spooky stories, they offer special tours for Halloween.
5. Feast at a foodie fest
Celebrate the local harvest with wine tastings, seasonal chef dinners, kitchen demos, and a 510-square-metre cheese vault at the Ottawa Wine & Food Festival. Each November, the city hosts 200 purveyors in an emporium of fine wines, confections, artisan breads, gourmet condiments, and delectable edibles. Learn from mixologists or craft beer masters at Prep School seminars, which are free with a Tasting Floor Pass, stomp grapes barefoot, or just meet, greet, sip, and swirl.
6. Revel in culture at the National Gallery of Canada
You’ll can’t miss the National Gallery of Canada on the Ottawa skyline: an eye-catching, tiered glass atrium on Parliament Hill. One of Canada’s premier art galleries and an architectural landmark, the National Gallery contains a comprehensive collection of 40,000 artworks spanning contemporary, international, and Indigenous works, from classics to avant-garde. Don’t miss it.
7. Explore the Rideau Canal
Ottawa’s heart is its beloved Rideau Canal — for ice skating in winter walking, jogging, rollerblading, cycling, and paddling in warmer months. You’ll want to stroll downtown’s portion of this 202-kilometre, picturesque series of connected lakes, rivers, and canals — a UNESCO World Heritage Site that runs from Kingston to Ottawa. Wander the green banks or take a guided boat tour.
8. Join in on an animation celebration
Pixar or Disney fan? Don’t miss September’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, the most important gathering of indie animators and filmmakers for decades running. Screen a few of the nearly 100 short films, classics, features, and past winners, sit in on a showcase or talk, meet the talent, or attend the Nightowl party, a late-evening blow-out of gaming, drawing, and music.
9. Dig into the dining scene
As the nation’s seat of government, Ottawa is for movers and shakers. Understandably, the dining is as glamorous as it is superb. Try a trendy new eatery in The Glebe, ByWard, or Centretown neighbourhoods. Chef Michael Moffat is making waves right now, as are his three stellar restaurants: the more casual, small-plate-format Play Food & Wine, critically-acclaimed Beckta, or gezellig for a splurge.
10. Stop by and enjoy a show
You’re in the big city, why not see a show? How about “The Book of Mormon” or an arthouse drama? Take in a musical, play, dance performance, or concert — rock, classical, pop, you name it — at the National Arts Centre, which is getting a big makeover in 2017 in time for Canada’s 150th birthday. Other outstanding production venues are the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa Little Theatre, and The Gladstone.