Archive for September 11th, 2011

September 11, 2011

Ottawa travel tips to help you plan your visit to the nation’s capital

Zak's Diner in Byward Market

Lots of good times and some great shakes can be enjoyed in Zak's Diner.

OTTAWA — Sure, Ottawa doesn’t have the natural beauty of Vancouver, the big-city energy of Toronto or the artistic vibe of Montreal. It may not even have the charm of Halifax. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included among the best travel experiences in Canada. In fact, it’s one of the most underrated travel destinations in North America. As one American recently told me, “Ottawa is a gem.”

She was won over by the Gothic architecture of the Parliament buildings, the cleanliness of the city, the Rideau Canal’s attractiveness and the lively atmosphere of the Byward Market. I spent a couple of weekends in the city this summer and found that its winning qualities continue to endure. Ottawa is an easy city to get around, has a tremendous amount of cultural attractions to enjoy, a growing number of quality restaurants, and citizens who are pleasant and laid-back (including some of those who are politicians).

Next time, you’re in the nation’s capital, consider planning your visit around these activities, restaurants and lodgings.

WHERE TO STAY

Ottawa has been criticized, and rightly so, for not offering enough outstanding hotels. Aside from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier and the Lord Elgin, there aren’t enough five-star accommodations, and the chains in town, while reliable, don’t offer much in the way of personality. Hotel Indigo, I was happy to find, is a mid-priced boutique hotel affiliated with Holiday Inn that offers what a good hotel should: a marvellously comfortable bed and pleasant customer service. It’s also reasonably priced. You can reserve a room for a weekend night in October for $140 or less on the hotel’s booking engine.

Hotel Indigo room in Ottawa

Plush beds make a stay at Hotel Indigo a treat.

At this price range, the room was the second-best I’ve ever stayed in (the best being the abundantly delightful Le Petit Hotel in Montreal). At Indigo, the hardwood floors add warmth, the bathrooms are spacious and the plush beds easy to sink into. Room-darkening curtains, flat-screen TVs and complimentary WiFi access are other plusses that made this an enjoyable stay. The hotel, at 123 Metcalfe Street, is also a five-minute walk straight north to Parliament Hill.

On the minus side was the breakfast in the hotel’s Phi bar. The food is mediocre and the service tedious. The biggest drawback, though, is parking. The lot, beneath the adjacent Marriott, is typical of Ottawa underground garages: dark, frighteningly tight and desperately in need of renovation. If you’ve got a big car, you’re going to be in for a potentially stressful experience trying to get in and out of a spot.

WHERE TO EAT

Smoque Shack – Recently opened in August, the Smoque Shack is a barbecue joint that hooks you the minute you walk into the dining room and smell the flavour of the food wafting in from the kitchen. It’s a casual place with fair prices and some seriously tasty stuff, including a wonderfully spiced Jerk Chicken for about $12. Numerous side dishes range from $3-$5. 129 York Street.

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