Grew up in Canada but never visited Ottawa… That is generally the story for most people. We take our hometown or home country for granted and don’t explore too much because there is always tomorrow. Well, for me, after growing up, I left Canada and have only been a visitor since. So, this past spring, when I had a chance to travel with my kids, we decided to change that and visit Montreal and Ottawa. We traveled by train from Toronto to Montreal and then rented a car to travel around the cities and back to Toronto. We traveled at the end of April.
Day 1: Traveled by train from Toronto to Montreal. Reached late in the afternoon. After checking into the hotel, which was in downtown, we decided to walk to Mount Royal. Being spring time, the weather was perfect as we walked up the hill. We reached there around sunset and the views from the top were amazing. After spending some time exploring the area, we walked down and grabbed dinner on the way back to the hotel.
Day 2: Explored Montreal. Walked around and explored downtown Montreal and visited several cathedrals along the way including: Notre-Dame, Marie-Reine-du-Monde and St. Patricks. We also visited the MCA, explored Rue St. Paul and the old port area. After lunch we headed to the Olympic Stadium. There we had an opportunity to explore the stadium through the tours they offer. My younger one had a blast… he sprinted across the floor of the main stadium and for the adults there, it was amazing to watch his excitement.
Afterwards, we returned to the hotel for a short rest. Later, we decided to explore the shopping and restaurant area. We couldn’t decide what to eat. We stumbled upon a Korean restaurant and went in. My husband has been to S. Korea several times on business and wanted us to experience some of the amazing vegetarian food they make. We had a wonderful meal and had an opportunity to watch the Korean MTV channel while eating (the kids now think S. Korea is on the cards for a place to visit!).
Day 3: The next morning, after breakfast and checking out, we picked up our rental car and headed to Ottawa. The drive was beautiful… we had an opportunity to enjoy the countryside. We reached Ottawa around 11:30am. After parking the car, we headed to Parliament Hill. At the visitor centre, we picked up free tour tickets for Parliament Hill and Peace Tower. We were extremely lucky… we picked up the last tickets for the day. Unfortunately, the Hill tour tickets were for the French tour (and the guide is not allowed to speak any other language unless for safety reasons), but we thought at least we get to see the inside of the building… so we gratefully took them.
Since we had time before the tours, we decided to grab lunch. We found some really cool eating places and we thoroughly enjoyed trying the different options.
After lunch we headed back to Parliament Hill and explored the Peace Tower. We then joined the Parliament Hill tour group and enjoyed peeking into the different rooms where important decisions about the Country are made.
After the tours, we explored the area some more and then headed to our hotel which was located in Kanata. The drive along the river gave us an opportunity to view pretty sites on the way. Unfortunately, the tulips had not started blooming yet (just saw patches). Once we reached the hotel, we called it a night.
Day 4: After breakfast, we headed back into Ottawa. We had tickets to visit the Canadian Mint. Although this particular mint makes only special coins, it was amazing to see the process of making these coins. The million dollar coin which we saw in Toronto at the ROM was made here in 2007. We were surprised to learn that Canada makes circulation coins for other countries as well. We had an opportunity to purchase some really cool coins.
After the mint visit, we walked to the Rideau Canal locks close by. UNESCO Heritage site!! It was fun walking up close to the locks and actually walking across one. The kids enjoyed the lesson on how they work.
Soon it was time to head back to Toronto. We grabbed lunch along the way and made it back by dinnertime.
Good or Bad?
Time of the year: End of April is part of the shoulder season and a quiet time to visit these two cities. A lot of the touristy places work on a light schedule. If you do not have your own car and were thinking about taking tour buses, the options are limited. For example, we thought about taking a tour bus to Quebec City but it was not possible.
. Staying in the downtown area offers a lot of options for evening activities. We did not venture into clubs but during a previous visit I had an opportunity to visit nice jazz clubs. We did make the mistake on the first day of going to a pub/diner which did not work out too well… the service was extremely slow and the kids were really hungry.
. The Cathedrals charge entrance fees in some cases. Be prepared.
. The museums are very nice. But, be aware of the special exhibitions. Some of the displays may not be appropriate for the young ones (luckily the folks at the ticket counter warned us before entered).
. End of April is not the right time to see tulips : (. If that is on your list, then please pick your visit dates accordingly
. Kanata is actually a bit far to stay. The hotels are definitely more affordable, so, you have to make time vs. money decision
. If you want to take a tour of Parliament Hill, arrive early for the free tickets
. Don’t miss the Mint tour. It is cool to see how coins are made!