Someone commented to me on social media this week that they had been told there was absolutely nothing to see in Ottawa, and it was best on a trip to Canada to skip over our nation’s capital because it’s a big bore. I was, naturally, appalled (though simultaneously amused at the gross generalizations people can make about cities they’ve never seen). Ottawa is chock-full of wholesome, patriotic activities for even the most over-educated Canadian history student to enjoy. And for the common folk like me, there are still things to do! A major shock, I’m sure. So, for all you international budget travellers who have read your Lonely Planet guide and learned that CANADA, of all places, is the top tourist destination of 2017, I am here to offer the surprising information that a visit to Ottawa is not a waste of time, can in fact be a cheap addition to your travels, and both fun and interesting! (Don’t fall off your chair).
One of the major attractions in Ottawa is, of course, Canada’s Parliament, home to the House of Commons, the Senate, and Canada’s government, where laws are made and gargoyles roam free. Centre Block, the most noticeable and symmetrical building on Parliament Hill, houses the Peace Tower, the tall, flag-bearing, clock-wearing structure marking time for the entire country. The Peace Tower is open to the public, and is a great place to start a tour of Ottawa, as you can orient yourself in the city with the picturesque view.
Admission to the Peace Tower is FREE (as is access to all Parliament Buildings), however, you must obtain a ticket before accessing the Peace Tower.
In order to acquire your ticket, head directly across the street from Parliament to 90 Wellington Street, where a smiling Canada Parks student will equip you with a same day ticket, allowing you self-guided access to the Peace Tower, as well as the Memorial Chamber. Tickets are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
In some cases, a time stamp will appear on your ticket. While it is not necessary to leave the Peace Tower by the time listed, you must be starting your visit before the latest time listed on the ticket.
* If you are taking the full tour of Parliament, both the Peace Tower and the Memorial Chamber are included, so you would not need to tour them separately, nor obtain separate tickets for each.
The elevator to the top of the Peace Tower accommodates approximately 7 people, and is an 18 second ride each way. Prior to accessing the elevator, you will be required to pass through security screening. A coat check is available at 90 Wellington if you wish to expedite this process. Otherwise, an RCMP officer will gently handle all of your belongings (and laugh at anything odd you might have hiding in your bag…) and you will pass through a metal detector just like at the airport, though with no risk of being confronted by a disgruntled flight attendant at the other side.
The elevator ride includes a narrated history of the tower – if you have a funny guide like ours – and a description of the view. The student accompanying our elevator reminded us not to get too dizzy trying to catch sight of the bells, somewhat visible through the elevator window.
While there is no hurry to move quickly at the top of the tower, it is a small space. The entire visit would generally take no more than an hour.
Learn about the original clock mechanism, and play I Spy a Gargoyle from the windows at the top of the tower.
Be sure to take time to peer across the Ottawa River to view Quebec on one side and Ontario on the other, and take in views of the Ottawa skyline, and the funky roof of the National Gallery of Canada.