48 hours in Ottawa

48 hours in Ottawa

Eschew the ho-hum Ottawa of middle-school tours past. Here are a few strategically chosen gems of the lesser-known city

Ottawa is known for many things: Parliament Hill, Winterlude, the Rideau Canal, more museums than you can shake a Beaver Tail at. But the city offers far more than its most obvious tourist attractions. There are loads of unexplored pockets of culture to be found, from boutiques to farm-to-table restaurants to offbeat adventures on the outskirts of town. Not to mention the opportunity to seek out unsung gems among the National Gallery of Canada’s truly epic collection.


Upscale History

The Metcalfe, Centretown
With a long and winding pedigree (the site dates back to Confederation and was once a YMCA), the Metcalfe is unfussy, unorthodox and community-oriented—which is not to say it’s downscale. The hotel has a start-up’s industrial-chic decor:  reclaimed wood fixtures, exposed brick, statement wallpaper, Edison bulbs and oak floors. There’s also a sweet indoor pool crowned by cathedral skylights, an in-house restaurant with a refined diner vibe and a 24-hour gym. 123 Metcalfe St., 844-871-6555, themetcalfehotel.com


Chic Comfort

Le Germain Ottawa, ByWard Market
The Germains, Quebec’s boutique hotel dynasty, unveiled their Ottawa outpost in the summer of 2018. True to the family’s reputation, Le Germain Ottawa balances creature comforts—rainfall showerheads and a Bluetooth-equipped Tivoli stereo in each room—with the restrained aesthetic of a contemporary gallery. The hotel is so art-forward, even the headboards are curated: cool images by Québécois photographer Julie Couture hang above each bed. 30 Daly Ave., 833-503-0030, legermainhotels.com/ottawa



Mod Middle Eastern

Fairouz, Centretown
This Somerset Street restaurant is the type of place that gets pinned on a thousand kitchen-reno mood boards: it’s flooded with natural light and decked out in patterned tile, Moroccan-inspired prints and tasteful filigree, with comfy tufted banquettes throughout. Thoughtfully executed Middle Eastern standards include tender sumac chicken and freekeh-stuffed eggplant. On Sundays, Fairouz offers a meze sharing menu. 343 Somerset St. W., 613-422-7700, fairouz.ca


Oz Kafe, ByWard Market
About three years ago, this seasonal stalwart ditched its closet-sized digs on Elgin Street, reopening a year later in a rustic 19th-century stone building in the ByWard Market. The revamped location has a hearty, Old World–inspired menu befitting its new environment, but the food is still gloriously bold and creative, with European-inspired plant-based options alongside carnivore-friendly fare. 10 York St., 613-234-0907, ozkafe.com


Stofa, Hampton Park
As a special-occasion spot, there’s much to recommend at Stofa: unexpected flavour combos and hybrid influences (miso-sake caramel in a tarte tatin over oven-dried Roma tomatoes and oyster mushrooms), beautifully plated dishes, a formidable blind tasting menu. But the pièce de resistance is the awe-inspiring seafood tower, a two-tiered stunner adorned with innovative cooked and raw offerings. 1356 Wellington St., 613-722-6555, stofarestaurant.com



Winter Soak

Nordik Spa-Nature, Chelsea, Quebec
Along with its signature Scandinavian saunas and plunge bath, Nordik Spa-Nature offers a five-metre-deep salt-water floating pool, a Russian-inspired banya (a vigorous whipping with birch brooms gets the blood flowing) and numerous dining options. 16 Chemin Nordik, 866-575-3700, chelsea.lenordik.com

Country Escape

The Opinicon, Rideau Lakes, Ontario
A recently restored, gloriously old-timey, Dirty Dancing–style resort about an hour and a half outside Ottawa. It’s worth the trek just to watch boats pass through the nearby locks on the Rideau Canal. Overnight stays in impossibly cute cottages come with access to the amenities, which include a pool, a hot tub, snowshoeing, hiking trails and nearby rentable snowmobiles. 1697 Chaffeys Lock Rd., 613-359-5233, opinicon.com

Underground Siege

Escape the Diefenbunker, Carp, Ontario
This four-storey underground former military base is the last place anyone would want to get stuck—which makes for a major adrenalin rush when visitors willingly choose to do so. On Thursday through Sunday nights, “Canada’s Cold War museum” gives over an entire floor to a massive escape room. Participants, equipped with walkie-talkies, are tasked with solving a series of puzzles. Expect uncanny Dr. Strangelove flashbacks. 3929 Carp Rd., 613-839-0007, diefenbunker.ca