Sunday, January 23, 2011


Ottawa is an excellent place to travel with kids. It's a very family oriented city, but provides a flair of urban vibe, making it interesting for Mom and Dad too. 

My husband is originally from Ottawa, and I spent seven happy years in that wonderful city. Despite having friends and some family that we can stay with, my husband and I prefer to get a hotel when we are visiting Ottawa with the kids. We love our kids, but, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, they are like sleeping with a chihuahua trapped in a laundry bag. Since not one of our friends or family live in a mansion with multiple guestrooms, it means getting a hotel room with a separate bedrooms for parents and kids. OK, I know that sounds like a ridiculous expense, but Ottawa is a government town with many people coming in for short term contracts, so there are a variety of inexpensive hotels to stay in with suites and kitchenettes.

The Minto Suites Hotel is our favourite family friendly hotel in Ottawa. The two bedroom suites are typically around the $200 - $225 a night range. They consist of two bathrooms, a large sitting area with dining room, kitchenette and laundry. The rooms are not very modern, but they are clean, well maintained and very comfortable. The Minto also has a large pool which is always a plus when travelling with kids. There is also a very good convenience store and a wine shop located at the bottom of the hotel.

Other great hotels for families include: The Delta Ottawa Hotel and Suites, which is a little more modern than the Minto but has smaller rooms and a smaller (and more gloomy) pool and The Albert at Bay, which has very large rooms but no pool.

The Minto Suites, the Delta and Albert at Bay are not in my favourite area in Ottawa (the neighbourhood consists mostly of government buildings), but it is in walking distance to the Byward Market and Parliament Hill (aprrox. 15 minutes).
It is not an area that is full of kid friendly dining establishments (compared to other areas of the city), but we do visit a fairly good Thai place, called Som Tom Thai Restaurant, every time we are there. Eating from Som Tom Thai has become part of our tradition when visiting Ottawa. The kids really enjoy the Pad Thai, and my older son loves what he calls "spicy chicken".

Other hotels that have suites include:
The Chateau Laurier: Part of the Fairmont chain of hotels, the Chateau Laurier is one of those grand hotels from a bygone age. It's located right beside Parliament Hill and the Byward Market. It also have one and two bedroom suites for the comfort of you and your children. Chateau Laurier provides babysitter services through a private company called In a Pinch, a reputable private babysitter service with another location in the Greater Toronto Area.

 The Lord Elgin: This hotel is also located in the same area as the Chateau Laurier. It also has suites.

There is a lot to do in Ottawa, in alphabetical order, here are some of my favourite activities for kids:

The beauty of Ottawa is that it has all the amenities of an urban centre, but easy access to the great outdoors. There are several amazing beaches all within the city limits. Check out this great article from Savvy Mom describing the Best Beaches for Families in Ottawa.

Ottawa is covered with safe and family friendly bike paths. Take a picnic and explore the trails. You can purchase or view an online map of the bike paths from the City of Ottawa. Several roads are also closed on Sundays during the summer months for biking and in-line skating, known as Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikeday. These roads include: Colonel By Drive and the Ottawa River Parkway, among others.

The Byward Market is one of Canada's oldest public markets. Throughout Spring, Summer and Fall you will find local farmers selling their fruits and vegetables and flowers. You will also find local crafts people selling their wares. In Winter, the market typically features sweaters, mitts and toques (hats) and, back when I lived in Ottawa, local meats. There are many clothing stores, restaurants, nightclubs and speciality shops. This area of Ottawa always has a lively feel to it, particularly on the weekends, and especially during Winterlude or the warmer months. On a recent trip in December 2010, My Mum and I took the kids for a walk through the market to people watch, look at the horses and carriages and for a delicious chocolatine at Le Moulin de Provence, which is also famous for its Obama cookies.

Canadian Agriculture Museum (locally known as the Experimental Farm)
Is a working farm located right in Ottawa, where your kids can explore the sights and sounds of a typical farm.

The Canadian Museum of Nature has recently been through an impressive renovation. It's an amazing place to bring children to discover their natural world. Exhibits include: a fossil gallery, water gallery, earth gallery, mammalian gallery, and a bird gallery. It also includes a Discovery Zone, where your children can make crafts, examine specimens are participate in a variety of hands-on activities. At the trading post, kids can also bring in their own personally collected natural specimens for trade.

Museum strollers are available for use, free of charge. There are also family washrooms and change stations in every washroom (because Dads takes turns too) as well as a nursing station on the ground floor.

Is Canada's Museum of military history and includes exhibits of the wars of the First Peoples, the French and the British, the South African and First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, Canada's role in peacekeeping, among others. The Canadian War Museum has changing stations throughout.

Every day in the summer, you and your family can experience the changing if the guards at Parliament Hill. It's a wonderful display of pagentry that will thrill your children.

Gatineau Park is 361 square kilometres of trails and wilderness northwest of Ottawa. There are lots of trails to take the kids on, including stroller friendly ones like: Sugarbush Trial (for strollers with hardier wheels) and the paved Hickory Trail. Larriault Trail is also a great trail to take your kids on as it's only 40 minutes, but not stroller accessible. For more adventorous trails, check out the Pink Trail. Also worth a visit is Lusk Cave, a marble cave situated in the Lac Philippe area. It's probably not a good place to visit with young children, but older kids will enjoy the adventure -- just make sure you bring bathing suits or a change of clothing, non-skid shoes and a flashlight.  Lac Philippe is also a great place to take the kids, particularly Parent Beach for the little ones. Gatineau Park is also an excellent place for snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter.

The Museum of Civilization is located in Gatineau, Quebec (what used to be known as Hull). It is located directly across the Ottawa River, and is only a short drive or bike ride from Ottawa. The museum is mostly dedicated to Canadian history, but often hosts travelling exhibits showcasing world history. However, the best exhibit to visit at the museum, if you have kids, is the Children's Museum. It is a kid's fantasy land -- it allows them to explore the world in an afternoon. They can be bus drivers in Pakistan, tulip sellers in Amsterdam or Japanese origami makers. They can also explore many different occupations -- bricklayers, cafe owner, filmmaker,  stevedore just to name a few. Every time we visit, we spend most of our time at this exhibit.

The Museum encourages parents to check their strollers to limit congestion on busy days, so this might be a good day to bring the baby bjorn. However, if you do need to bring the stroller with you, you'll be fine with a smaller stroller (leave the SUV stroller at home). There are also lots of nursing and diaper changing stations located throughout the museum. 

The National Arts Centre (NAC) is the only multidisciplinary, bilingual performing arts centre in North America. It showcases contemporary and classical music, English and French Theatre, dance and community programming. The NAC often has a family performance.

Take the kids to visit Parliament Hill, where federal decisions are made. Your children will learn about Canadian history and politics, and will also enjoy exploring the beautiful grounds. 

I think it's important to know where a good playground is when travelling with small children. It's a great way for your kids to play with other children their own age, and to blow off a little steam. Check out this great article from Savvy Mom describing the Best Playgrounds in Ottawa.

The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site. If visiting in the winter, the Rideau Canal is a great place to take the kids as it's the world's longest skating path! Skates are available for rent and there are several rest stops along the path to stop for hot chocolate or Beaver Tails, a special Ottawa treat. There are several locations with access ramps to the skating path, for easy access with a stroller, please refer to the detailed map on the National Capital Commission website for their locations.

Saunders Farm
Saunders Farm, located just west of Ottawa in the town of Munster, is a great place to take kids. Kids will enjoy the acres of greenspace, the incredible mazes, the tractor rides, and in October -- picking their own pumpkins.

Other activities for you and the kids include: 
Camp Fortune (skiing)
Rideau Hall (the official residence of the Governor General of Canada)
Whitewater Rafting: there are several tour companies in Ottawa

Some of my favourite restaurants for families include:

If it's a nice day, choose a spot on the back patio. Your kids can run around the fountain in the courtyard while you enjoy a lovely dinner. Located in the Byward Market
15 Clarence Street.

Yummy big flat fired bread, with various toppings. An Ottawa delicacy
Located throughout Ottawa, most famous location in the Byward Market.

Fairtrade and Organic Coffee shop.
Various locations.

Chain of brunch restaurants. Your kids will love the kid's waffles with fresh fruit and English creme.
Various locations. Check out the downtown location at:179 Rideau Street

The place to go to for poutine.
374 Elgin Street 

Try their chocolatines! Located in the Byward Market
55 Byward Market

The Manx
The Manx is an Ottawa legend, and what might be consider a gastro-pub. It's small, so there will be a line-up at busy times. Go early. Board games available to entertain the kids.
370 Elgin Street 

Thai Restaurant.
260 Nepean Street

Yummy brunch, and dinner! Located in the Ottawa's Little Italy.
416 Preston Street

The Works (note: can be long waits)
Ottawa chain of gormuet burgers. Please note that the burgers are thick so cooking time can take awhile.
Various locations throughout Ottawa, check out the ones in Westboro or the Glebe, two family oriented downtown neighbourhoods.

Looking for babysitters? Baby Rental Companies? Here they are:

Private babysitting service. Used by high end hotels like the Chateau Laurier.

Baby equipment rental company. Has toys, strollers, winter outfits, cribs. car seats and more. We have used this company on several visits to Ottawa and have found it to be very reliable

Ontario Car Seat Laws
Please read by blog about car seats laws here.

Want to explore Ottawa through books and movies with your kids before going? Here are a few:

By Eric Wilson 
Tweens (9 - 12)

Who Runs this Country, Anyway?: A Guide to Canadian Government
By Joanne Stanbridge
Tweens (9 - 12)

A Bloom of Friendship: The Story of the Canadian Tulip Festival
By Anne Renaud
8 - 10 year olds

*book photos are from the linked site.


  1. Thank you so much for having taken the time to write about your trip to Ottawa. We have three little kids and found your blog so helpful in planning our upcoming trip.

  2. Thank you Kim. We enjoy visiting Ottawa!

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