A hipster weekend in Ottawa
Ottawa might be a government town, but its growing food and art scene caters to young people spending a weekend in the capital.
Keep reading for a two day itinerary featuring the city’s best food and local hangouts. The two days are organized by neighbourhood so you don’t have to jet between areas between lunch and dinner.
If you have feedback or anything to add, please let me know in the comments!
When to visit: Come in the summer or fall if you can. There’s festivals, patios, an outdoor light show at Parliament, and lots of green space to explore. Some people come for Winterlude in February. Prepared for your tears of regret to freeze on your face.
Where to stay: Ottawa has a relatively small downtown area. Get a hotel or Airbnb in Centretown, the Glebe, Little Italy or Hintonburg for easy access to transit and restaurants. See this map for neighbourhood boundaries.
How to get around: You don’t need a car to get around Ottawa unless you’re leaving the downtown core. Bike rentals are available in the summer and early fall in the Glebe, Byward Market and Centretown. Uber is also affordable due to Ottawa’s small size. If you want to take the bus, you need to buy OCTranspo tickets or carry exact change.
Day 1: Centretown/Byward Market/Glebe
Start your weekend in the downtown core, which is mainly up of Centretown and the Byward Market. The Market is touristy during the day and filled with club hoppers when the sun goes down. Both neighbourhoods have museums, landmarks and views to entertain locals and tourists alike.
In the summer, you can bike or walk between the Market and Centretown. You can walk in the winter but might prefer to Uber.
Need a cup of coffee to start your day? Centretown has several local cafes.
Ministry of Coffee — My favourite cafe serving the best vanilla latte you’ll ever get your hands on. Grab a seat at the window counter and do some people watching on Elgin Street.
Arlington Five — A small cafe owned by Wilf & Ada’s (more on them in a second). Snap a picture of the storefront for your Instagram.
Bridgehead — Ottawa’s local coffee chain offering fair trade drinks and eats. You’ll spot several of them around the downtown area.
There are lots of brunch spots in Centretown to fill you up until dinner time. If none of the options below appeal to you, head over to Elgin Street for a quick brunch at any pub.
Wilf & Ada’s — Ottawa’s most popular brunch spot. Leave your phone number with the host, grab a coffee at Arlington Five, and wait.
The Manx — A basement restaurant and bar popular with the creative crowd. Get there before 11 or wait awhile.
Union 613 — Union’s brunch offers southern comfort food with generous portions. It’s also a good dinner spot and known for its cocktails.
Now that you’re caffeinated and fed, head north toward the Byward Market. Walk up Bank Street or Elgin Street for the best views of Parliament and the War Memorial.
Once you hit Wellington, take Sussex towards the National Gallery and hoof it up to the Nepean Point for panorama views of Ottawa and Gatineau. For an easier walk, go across the Alexandra Bridge for an uninterrupted view of the Library of Parliament and Ottawa River.
The Byward Market is also the best spot to rent a bike if you plan on riding the canal or Ottawa river. It’s also the first stop for skating in the winter. If you bike alongside the canal, I recommend taking a detour to Ottawa South for Stella Luna gelato.
If you’re hungry in the Market, pop into La Bottega for a made-to-order deli sandwich that’s bigger than your head but comes to around $5. Eat it on the lawn of Major Hill’s Park in the warmer months.
Play, part of the Beckta restaurant empire, offers a more upscale option in the Market. Pro tip: Lunch dishes are priced 2 for 1. This makes the small plates more affordable (about $30 for two plates and a glass of wine).
Centretown has a lot of options for people looking to kill a few hours. You can visit the Museum of Nature, War Museum, or go on a free tour of Parliament Hill. The Museum of History is across the Alexandra Bridge and has some cool exhibits as well.
There are lots of dinner spots in Centretown catering to any taste or huger level. Try to sit outside in the summer for people watching perks.
Hooch — The best chicken and waffles in Ottawa and some cajun dishes. Great cocktails. (Offers reservations)
El Camino — Ottawa’s hippest restaurant serving tacos and tequila. If you’re set on eating before 8:00 p.m., get there when they open at 5:30 p.m. Otherwise, the host will take your phone number and text you when a table is ready. Grab a drink at a nearby pub while you wait.
Whalesbone — A seafood restaurant with locations on Bank Street and Elgin Street. Get the oysters and work your way down the menu. (Offers reservations)
Pure Kitchen — If you’re looking for a healthier option, check out Pure Kitchen on Elgin Street. Their food is vegetarian but so good you don’t miss the meat. Get the cauliflower wings and thank me later.
Ottawa has a cocktail scene that could rival Austin. If you’re looking for a drink after dinner, check out these spots.
Union 613 — The best cocktails in Ottawa with a menu that changes each season. They won’t take reservations for drinks, but if you come after 10:00 p.m. you should be seated immediately. If you’re upstairs, ask to be added to the Speakeasy waiting list and for the downstairs cocktail menu.
Guest Room — A hidden gem tucked away in the upstairs of an Italian restaurant. If you’re feeling lucky, ask the bartender to make you something that isn’t on the menu.
Erling’s Variety — Technically in the Glebe but worth the short walk. An Instagram-perfect restaurant serving great cocktails just outside of Centretown.
Bonus: If you’re in Ottawa during the summer, see when Northern Lights is playing. It’s a light show projected on Parliament Hill that takes you through Canada’s history.
Day 2: Little Italy/Hintonburg/Westboro
Little Italy, Hintonburg and Westboro are close to downtown but feel miles away from the tourists and public servants of Centretown. These neighbourhoods are popular with locals due to their bars, restaurants and boutiques.
Still need a cup of coffee to start your day? You’ll find a Ministry of Coffee location at Wellington St W and Fairmont Ave, plus a few Bridgeheads dotting the street.
You can also skip the coffee shop and head straight to Art-Is-In for brunch and cappuccinos. The bakery is known for creative breads but it also has a large selection of pastries and sandwiches (I’m a big fan of the Pickle Melt). Order at the counter, then keep your eyes peeled for a table. You might need to get those elbows out on a busy Sunday.
For a more savoury option, check out EVOO on Preston Street. Their brunch options are tasty, but their lunch plates are my favourite.
EVOO and Art-Is-In are both on Preston, so walk to Somerset Street and start heading west. Somerset becomes Wellington Street (the start of Hintonburg), which eventually becomes Richmond Road (Westboro). This is one of Ottawa’s hippest neighbourhoods, boasting the normal gentrification spots like DavidsTea and Lululemon. Walk this stretch (about 50 minutes) and take breaks at the Preston Farmer’s Market or the many boutiques and cafes along the crawl.
Ottawa also has a great craft beer scene. You can go to local breweries like Tooth and Nail or Beyond the Pale (BTP) for a pint. Brew Donkey offers brewery tours that take you out of the downtown core, giving you a great reason to see other areas in the capital region.
If beer isn’t your thing, head to Dow’s Lake in the warmer months. You can rent a kayak, canoe, etc. or take a short hike through the Arboretum and see Hartwell’s Lockstation.
Westboro/Hintonburg/Little Italy have more restaurants than anyone could enjoy in a month, never mind an evening. My favourite four are listed below, but most restaurants in the area are good finds.
Tennessy Willems — Wood oven pizzas are the star of the show. (Offers reservations)
Supply and Demand — The bread is salty and warm with a pork fat infused butter that changed my life. Lots of seafood on the menu, house made pasta and great cocktails. (Offers reservations)
Gezellig — Another of Beckta’s restaurants around town. Expect expert food with a matching price tag. (Offers reservations)
Two Six Ate — Cocktails and wine pairings are stellar. Start with their charcuterie, which features house made meats and local cheese. (Offers reservations)
Hope you’re not tired of cocktails yet, because the Hintonburg and Little Italy neighbourhoods have some of the city’s most creative drinks. Any good restaurant in the area will have a creative cocktail list, but head over to Moonroom after dinner for a special treat.
Entering Moonroom is like stumbling upon a secret club hideout. The space is intimate and dimly lit. Ambient music offers some privacy from your closest neighbours. Order from the menu or ask the bartender for something unique.
I hope my itinerary helps plan your trip to Ottawa. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below. Bon voyage!