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Château Laurier | © Michel Rathwell / Flickr
Château Laurier | © Michel Rathwell / Flickr

Off the Beaten Path: Ottawa's Best-Kept Secrets

Picture of Hayley Simpson
Updated: 2 May 2017

Canada’s capital city usually gets missed by visitors who choose to travel to Montreal and Toronto instead. But they’re missing out on seeing Ottawa, a beautiful yet small city with plenty of attractions on offer. Step away from the popular places and check out these secret spots.

After dark at Canadian Museum of Nature

On the last Friday of every month, Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Nature hosts an adults-only themed night called Nature Nocturne. The night includes dancing, a karaoke zone, hands-on activities, artists, and performers. Take a selfie with a blue whale while dressed in an aquatic outfit (just one theme in 2017). As the website suggests, “Come party with the creatures of your planet at Nature Nocturne!”

Canadian Museum of Nature, 240 McLeod Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada, +1 613 566 4700

Dundonald Park

A relatively small yet peaceful green space in downtown Ottawa, Dundonald Park hosts many summertime events. Centretown Movies uses the park for family-friendly outdoor film screenings every Friday and Saturday night from mid-July to the end of August. There’s also yoga and tai chi classes in summer, and checkers board games are available with seating. Dosa, a local food truck, sets up at Dundonald Park as well and serves delicious Indian dosas. These are light and crispy crepes made from rice and lentils, which are filled or topped with a variety of vegetarian toppings.

Dundonald Park, 516 Somerset Street W, Ottawa, ON, Canada, +1 613 580 2595

Château Laurier

The beautiful castle-like Fairmont Château Laurier in downtown Ottawa is a well-known destination. However, the secret is within the hotel. Visitors don’t have to stay at the luxury hotel to enjoy its views of Parliament Hill and Rideau Canal; they can visit Wilfrid’s, an award-winning restaurant that’s open all day. The menu features regional Canadian dishes created with local and sustainable ingredients. Wilfrid’s also has an extensive wine list and drinks menu, which is an inexpensive way to wind down from a day of exploring Ottawa while taking in the golden hour over Parliament Hill.

Fairmont Château Laurier, 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada, +1 613 241 1414

Wellington Street West

Once known as an undesirable neighborhood with high crime rates, Wellington Street West has turned itself around to become one of the city’s trendiest areas today. It’s brimming with boutiques, art venues, and fine dining restaurants and is only 10 minutes from Parliament Hill. The revitalization is in part thanks to the local government, which invested $25 million in improving the area in 2008.

Wellington Street West, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Mayfair Theatre

“Ottawa’s home of stuff you won’t see anywhere else.” The Mayfair Theatre is Ottawa’s oldest active movie theater. Its architecture outside is Spanish Revival style, while the interior features balconies, large windows, and comfortable seating. The theater offers very inexpensive tickets to independent and classic films, family matinees, and local movies, plus it hosts many special screening events too. A popular monthly film screening is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada, +1 613 730 6552

The Staff Room

Ironically, The Staff Room is Ottawa’s most famous secret bar. It’s a speakeasy hidden behind a bookshelf inside Union 613, which is known for its Southern comfort food menu. Patrons have to tug a book in the false bookcase to gain entry into the bar, which seats only 20 people. But once inside the low-lit room, guests can enjoy a drink from the creative cocktail menu and an extensive whiskey list.

Union 613, 315 Somerset Street W, Ottawa, ON, Canada, +1 613 231 1010

Little Italy

Preston Street is the main thoroughfare in Little Italy, which is an inviting inner city neighborhood. Visitors sometimes skip the area, but it’s home to award-winning international and Italian restaurants and locally owned boutiques. The community also acts as the link between two of Ottawa’s cycling paths: the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River Pathways. Little Italy hosts Italian Week in June and GrapeFest in September too, but it’s a must-visit any time of the year.

Little Italy, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Benny’s Bistro

Known as Byward Market’s best-kept secret, Benny’s Bistro is a small 30-seat restaurant located behind the market’s The French Baker. Benny’s “seasonal menus of Canadian-French fusion cuisine are complemented by a daily special.” The bistro, which uses fresh and local products, is open all week for both breakfast and lunch. Some of the standout dishes on the menu include Benny’s salmon gravlax, the hand-cut beef tartare, and confit albacore tuna.

Benny’s Bistro, 119 Murray Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada, +1 613 789 6797 

Nepean Point

Although most visitors enjoy the view of Parliament Hill from the Rideau Canal, just behind the Byward Market is Nepean Point. At the top, take in the panoramic vistas of Ottawa’s key buildings, and then turn around and look towards the Quebec side of Ottawa. The government is currently running a competition regarding the redesign of Nepean Point and its Astrolabe Theatre, which is a popular viewing point for Canada Day fireworks.

Nepean Point, Alexandra Bridge, Ottawa, ON, Canada