Sitting high above Ottawa River on the edge of a limestone cliff, Canada’s Parliament buildings in Ottawa have a regal look. Many visitors to Canada include a visit to Ottawa to see these impressive heritage buildings in person.
After driving through Northern Ontario’s lake country we continued east on the Trans-Canada Highway to reach Ottawa. Between Sudbury and Ottawa the highway runs through thick boreal forests as it passes Algonquin Provincial Park. When we drove this stretch of the highway on Our Great Canadian Roadtrip the weather was not the best. We had a mix of rain and fog but in some areas the small lakes took on a mystical feel as they were shrouded in fog.
Overall, it’s a peaceful drive, much quieter than taking the southern route on busy Highways 400 and 401.
Ottawa was selected to be the permanent capital of Canada in 1857 partly because of the protection offered by the steep cliffs above Ottawa River. Before that, the capital had been located in Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto. This cliff side location is now called Parliament Hill and houses Canada’s Parliament buildings. Unfortunately, the buildings are undergoing major renovations that aren’t expected to be completed until 2028. When we visited all of the buidings except West Block were behind construction walls and surrounded by cranes.
Beside Parliament is the stately-looking hotel Fairmont Chateau Laurier. It is one of the many palace-like hotels built by competing railway companies in Canada in the early 1900s. The hotels were built to encourage tourists to travel across Canada on their passenger trains. Chateau Laurier was built to compliment the neighbouring Parliament buildings and together these buildings add grandeur to the street.
Between Chateau Laurier and Parliament Hill are the locks of Rideau Canal. Eight locks connect Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River, an impressive 24 m (80 ft) below. Viewing from Pedestrian Bridge you can overlook the locks, but to appreciate the height difference there is a better vantage point. Alexandra Bridge has a pedestrian corridor and allows great views of the locks, Parliament Hill and Chateau Laurier.
Not far from Parliament Hill are a few other notable buildings. Notre-Dame Bascilica with its towering twin spires stands a block away from the castle-like building of the Royal Canadian Mint. On the other side of the Parliament Buildings are the equally impressive Confederation Buildings.
South of Ottawa is the original capital of Canada. Located at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River, Kingston is steeped in history. Originally settled by the French as a fort, Kingston was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada by the British in 1841. Its time as capital was short lived, only 3 years, but the history of this city can easily be seen.
The streets of downtown Kingston are dominated by wonderfully restored 19th century brick and limestone buildings. This vibrant area is a great spot to spend an afternoon wandering the streets and admiring the lovely old buildings that are now shops and cafes.
The streets of historic downtown lead to Kingston City Hall. It is a beautiful old limestone building located across from a small harbour on Lake Ontario. In between the sailboats and tour boats in the harbour is a reminder of Kingston’s history. Shoal Tower was once used by the British to protect Kingston and its harbour. Now it stands idle among modern boats.
A few blocks away from downtown is Queen’s University. It’s not a typical tourist site, but we stopped to look at a few of its many heritage buildings.
Tips for visiting Ottawa and Kingston
- The most difficult part in visiting both cities is parking. Both have street parking as well as public and private lots, but since they are busy tourist sites there seems to be more cars than parking spots. You can check on both the cities’ websites for up to date information. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll likely have to walk a few blocks.
- Getting into either city by plane is easy. Ottawa has an international airport and Kingston has a regional one. But they’re also easy to reach by car. Ottawa is on the Trans-Canada Highway and Kingston is near the 401 in southern Ontario.
- Ontario has HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). Therefore an additional 13% will be charged to most items in addition to the ticket price.
Coming Next – The Charming Old Towns of Montréal and Québec
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