A student’s guide to living in Ottawa
Ottawa is a beautiful city located in the eastern region of the province of Ontario. It’s Canada’s capital and home to the Prime Minister and Parliament – but that doesn’t mean it’s boring and stuffy!
There’s a huge student population because of the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Algonquin College campuses, as well as several other schools.
The city is filled with history, has tons of ongoing festivals, a great night life and is home to some of the greatest poutine (French fries with gravy and meat) that you will ever eat!
Ottawa’s bike paths
Ottawa is a city filled with bike paths. In nice weather, you’ll constantly see people cycling, running, jogging and skateboarding beside the canal and throughout the streets of the downtown core.
In the winter, street cycling lanes are plowed following 2.5–5 cm of accumulation, as well as raised bike paths which will also be plowed the same amount.
In the summer, the city truly comes to life and generates a lot more traffic than you would expect.
The bike paths consist of signals and signs to help things run smoother.
If you’re thinking of cycling when you come to Ottawa you can rent, buy or use a city bike –check out their city-wide bike path map.
Some popular destinations with scenic routes along the way include:
- Rideau Canal Pathway
- Corktown Footbridge
- Ottawa locks
- Bytown Museum
- Ottawa River
- Bridge to Gatineau Quebec
- Canadian Museum of History
- Fairmont Chateau Laurier
- Westboro, Britannia
- Hampton Park Aylmer Marina
- Petrie Island
- Old Chelsea
These bike rides can be done on your own personal time and at your own pace, or you can book a guided tour on the City of Ottawa’s cycling tourism website. Either way you’re in for a treat with the beautiful views.
A Guide to Ottawa’s Festivals
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is a city that attracts a lot of tourists. To accommodate that, the city hosts several festivals all year round.
Here’s a few cool festivals you should check out while in Ottawa.
This festival was established to celebrate the gift of tulips that the Dutch gave Canada during World War II. There are options to be a volunteer, sponsor, host an exhibit or buy a giant tulip.
The festival runs for two weeks in mid-May and has Dutch Theatre performances, heritage walks, fireworks and much more.
The Bluesfest festival is something you definitely want to check out. Over 50 artists perform in Ottawa every year for the first two weeks of July.
If you volunteer (since you’ll be off from school in the summer), you can even watch the performance for free. Despite the name, there are a lot of different genres of music being showcased as well. Tickets range in price depending on how many days of the festival you wish to attend.
Help Other People Everywhere (HOPE) Volleyball Festival is held one day during July every year. The event is run by volunteers and all proceeds go towards not for profit organisations in Ottawa.
The day is filled with performances, food, events and a lineup of volleyball games. Teams can be comprised of individuals, as well as employees of corporations who want to support a good cause. If you’re in the mood to give back on a summer day, take the weekend to come out and support Ottawa.
A suburb in Ottawa called Orléans hosts an annual beer festival that’s on every year during the second weekend of June. The festival is basically a street party filled with food vendors, beer tents and live music.
Take the weekend to try out 35 different kinds of beer and enjoy the sunshine with some friends. Tickets are $20 per day or $35 for the full three-day festival.
Museums not to miss in Ottawa
Ottawa is a history buff’s dream city. As a student, you should check out some of Ottawa’s museums (plus you’ll most likely get a discount or free admission if you bring your student card).
A great time to visit museums (to avoid the weekend rush) is on your days off from class, break after first semester, reading week and summer vacation.
This amazing gallery is filled with all kinds of exhibits, classes and tours happening all year round.
They’re constantly adding new exhibits, so even if you visit once, you should most definitely go back and check it out again. Tickets for adults are $16 and for students $8. If you become a member, it’s free admission.
This museum best captures Canada’s history in terms of international and domestic battles.
They have exhibits including: Highland Warriors, Battle of Normandy and The Wounded and many more.
You can check their website (which is updated daily) for a list of activities. Tickets for adults are $17 and for students $13.
Now if you’re into science, or just want to experience one of the coolest days ever, you must check out this museum.
They have interactive rooms and exhibits, research that’s on display and educational activities you can take part in. Tickets for adults are $17 and for students $13.
Once again, another super cool museum experience in the city. Regardless of whether or not you like astronomy, convince your professor to bring you here or just make a trip yourself with some friends.
You have access to a planetarium, you can go on helicopter rides, and participate in interactive exhibits. Tickets for adults are $15 and for students $13.
The buildings in this museum have a unique architecture that will make you want to start taking pictures before you even take a step inside.
There are Arctic, fossil, water, earth, nature, mammal and bird galleries, as well as seasonal events (for example, ‘Butterflies Take Flight’, which runs in the first two weeks of October). The museum is home to some interesting research publications, and also has several ongoing research projects which you can ask staff about if you’re interested. Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for students.
Best parks to chill out in
Ottawa boasts more than 1,300 parks, perfect for lazing around with friends, cramming for a spring final, or just going for a walk or jog.
Here are some of the best parks to hang out in.
Major Hill’s Park
The park has beautiful views of the Ottawa Locks (a bridge where people keep locks) on the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River and the Parliament Buildings. Fun fact: This was the first ever park in Ottawa, established in 1826 (before Canada was an official country).
Always promoted as being ‘the closest lake to the city”, Meech Lake is in Gatineau Park in the province of Québec. It’s across the border from Ottawa, Ontario. There are beaches on the corners of the lake with many pathways to trek, as well as the chance to soak in the sun, tan and go for a swim.
Hog’s Back Park
Hog’s Back Park is at the point where the Rideau Canal splits into the Rideau River. There are falls that make for some beautiful Instagram summer adventure shots. Hog’s Back Falls is officially known as the Prince of Wales Falls.
A beautiful, giant garden and Canada’s oldest Aboretum. There are over 1,000 tree species and many unique and picturesque plants. From the garden you can see Rideau Canal, Carleton University, Dow’s Lake and the surrounding city.
Where to take your parents when they visit
Once you become an expert with the Ottawa lifestyle, you’ll have plenty of additional sights to take your parents when they come to visit you.
If they come to help you move in though you may want a list of must-see places to get you started.
This is a place you’re going to end up visiting with your friends, but you should check it out with your parents too. It’s a mix of farmers markets, speciality food stalls, and art stands. Take your parents out to buy some souvenirs, grab a snack and a drink.
Most of Canada’s most important decisions are made in that building and this city. Show your parents the place where the action happens and in the summer, take a free audio tour.
You will most likely pass by Parliament every day on the way to campus (it’s en route to both University of Ottawa and Carleton), so it makes sense to take a look inside!
This is definitely one of the cutest breakfast diners you will ever visit. Located on Bank Street, it recently re-vamped itself and has become a huge spot among tourists and students. Treat your parents to brunch and enjoy a mimosa to celebrate their visit.