The Ultimate Tourist’s Guide to Exploring Ottawa’s ByWard Market

The Ultimate Tourist’s Guide to Exploring Ottawa’s ByWard Market

If you’re a first-time visitor to Ottawa, you definitely need to visit the ByWard Market. It is one of the capital city’s most famous and beloved locations and for very good reason. 

Before you go, there are a few things you may want to know about the place. Let me give you a local perspective so you have a clearer picture of what to expect when visiting this lovely location.

What is the ByWard Market best known for?

The ByWard Market is best known for its fresh produce and local products made by small businesses owned by Ottawans. There are also plenty of branded shops in the area. 

Besides shopping, the district is also quite famous for its nightlife and food. 

Culinary Delights 

The ByWard Market’s culinary scene is nothing short of legendary and is considered by many to be a food lover’s paradise. Needless to say, its fame in the gastronomic world is well-deserved. 

What sets it apart is the remarkable diversity of dining options it offers. You’ll find a tantalizing mix of restaurants, eateries, and food stalls that cater to all tastes and preferences. 

But what truly makes the market such a great place for foodies is its commitment to showcasing Canadian and international flavors. 

You will be able to find just about anything here, from savory poutine, mouthwatering shawarma, and classic Canadian butter tarts, all the way to exotic sushi. This market features a global palette of tastes right at your fingertips.

And while you’re here, you absolutely must not miss out on trying the world-famous BeaverTails pastries. These sweet, doughy delights are an iconic Canadian treat, and the ByWard Market is where it all began. 

Another delightful aspect of the district’s culinary scene is the availability of fresh produce from local farmers. 

With the Farmers’ Market operating on weekends, you can stock up on locally grown fruits and vegetables, ensuring that your meals are not only delicious but also sustainably sourced.

Shopping Galore

The ByWard Market is renowned for its vibrant and eclectic retail scene, featuring a wide array of boutique shops, art galleries, and artisanal stores.

The distinctiveness of these items is what makes the district such a popular destination for tourists. Here, you can find unique clothing, jewelry, and handicrafts that you won’t discover anywhere else in Ottawa.

For boutique shops, the market is a treasure trove that caters to a wide range of tastes and styles. 

High-end fashion and bohemian chic are just a few styles that are featured in clothing stores, and they each carry one-of-a-kind pieces that are bound to catch your eye.

Many of these boutiques showcase local designers and artisans, making your shopping experience even more special.

Art enthusiasts, on the other hand, will appreciate the market’s thriving creative scene. There are numerous galleries featuring works from both emerging and established artists.

It’s the perfect place to discover original paintings, sculptures, and other artistic creations that can add a touch of creativity to your life.

Finally, you will also find that the ByWard Market is dotted with artisanal stores that offer an impressive variety of handmade goods. These shops perfectly show off the local craftsmanship and talent. 

You can pick up handcrafted jewelry, pottery, textiles, and other unique items that make for exceptional gifts or personal keepsakes.

Nightlife and Entertainment

The market is the go-to spot for nightlife in the city, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a dynamic hub that comes alive after the sun sets, and it’s dotted with lively bars, pubs, and clubs, making it perfect for a night out on the town.

The ByWard Market has an exciting live music scene. Many venues regularly host awesome gigs by local bands, solo artists, and DJs. 

Whether you’re into rock, jazz, electronic, or anything in between, you’ll find a spot where you can tap your feet to some great tunes.

If you’re in the mood to dance, you’re in the right place. The market boasts numerous clubs and dance floors where you can groove to your heart’s content. 

There’s a genre for pretty much everyone, with salsa and hip-hop being a few examples. 

Sometimes, a relaxed evening out with friends is what you’re looking for. 

The market offers a variety of cozy pubs and bars where you can unwind with a craft beer, a cocktail, or your beverage of choice. The laid-back atmosphere and friendly locals make it a fantastic place to socialize.

The fun doesn’t have to stop when the clock strikes midnight. Many eateries in the ByWard Market stay open late, ensuring you can refuel after a night of entertainment. 

From poutine joints to gourmet hot dog stands, there are options to satisfy those post-night-out cravings.

Historical Charm

As one of the oldest and most iconic parts of Ottawa, the ByWard Market dates back to the early 19th century. Its roots are deeply intertwined with the development of our city, making it a living testament to Ottawa’s past.

One of the most striking features of the ByWard Market is its architecture. The streets are lined with heritage buildings that reflect various architectural styles from different eras, providing a visual journey through time. 

From elegant Victorian structures to stately Georgian facades, these structures tell stories of Ottawa’s growth and evolution.

The cobblestone streets that wind through the market add to its historic allure. They harken back to an era when horses and carriages traversed these very lanes.

As you walk on these cobblestones, you can’t help but feel a connection to the past, a sense of timelessness.

The historic charm of the ByWard Market is not just limited to its buildings and streets; it’s also found in the numerous plaques, monuments, and landmarks that offer insights into Ottawa’s history.

The Market Square, with its iconic fountain and bustling atmosphere, is a focal point that has been a gathering place for generations of Ottawans.

So, when you visit the ByWard Market, you’re not just exploring a bustling modern neighborhood; you’re stepping into a living museum of Ottawa’s history. It’s a location with a distinctive and endearing atmosphere that both locals and visitors adore.

Outdoor Markets

Throughout the year, the ByWard Market hosts a variety of outdoor markets that have become a cherished tradition for locals and a delight for visitors. 

These stalls offer an array of fresh produce, flowers, and artisanal goods, adding a touch of freshness and color to the neighborhood.

One particular bazaar you should not miss is the Farmers’ Market. It’s held on weekends, and it’s a must-visit for anyone looking to savor the flavors of locally grown products. 

Here, you’ll find a cornucopia of seasonal fruits and vegetables, just-picked herbs, and farm-fresh eggs. The stalls brim with goodies like homemade preserves, honey, maple syrup, and other artisanal treats that highlight the region’s culinary bounty.

While strolling through the lively stands, you’ll be greeted by friendly farmers and producers who are more than willing to share their knowledge and passion for their products. It is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the people who cultivate the food you’re about to enjoy.

Depending on the season and the day of the week, you might stumble upon specialty bazaars selling everything from flowers and crafts to antiques and vintage treasures. These markets add an extra layer of charm and character to the neighborhood.

Festivals and Events

The market embraces the city’s diversity by hosting a wide range of cultural celebrations that highlight the traditions, cuisines, and arts of various communities. 

Throughout the year, you can immerse yourself in different events, from the lively Chinese New Year festivities to the vibrant Latin American festivals.

It transforms into a global village, providing opportunities to learn, celebrate, and appreciate the rich tapestry of Ottawa’s cultural heritage.

With numerous galleries in the area regularly hosting art exhibitions, the market is a bona fide haven for fans of the craft. These exhibitions showcase a variety of artistic works, from contemporary paintings to avant-garde sculptures. 

It’s a place where you can explore and appreciate various art forms, often featuring both local and international artists who contribute to the vibrant arts scene.

The ByWard Market knows how to celebrate each season in style. To spice things up, you can expect the district to transform to align with the spirit of the season.

These themed events and festivities draw both locals and visitors, creating a lively and spirited atmosphere that’s a joy to experience.

Finally, music and entertainment are integral to the market’s festive ambiance. Live music performances, street buskers, and outdoor concerts provide a delightful soundtrack to your visit.

You might stumble upon a jazz ensemble, a folk band, or even a surprise performance by a local artist. The market is a place where you can discover new sounds, tap your feet, and enjoy the magic of live performances.

Useful Tips When Visiting the ByWard Market

With how big of a place the ByWard Market is, you will definitely need to prepare accordingly so you can enjoy and make the most of your visit. 

Here are a few pieces of advice that I can give to you based on my own personal experiences when visiting the district.

Visit the ByWard Market early to find the best selections. 

If you’re looking for the widest selection of fresh produce, it’s a good idea to visit the Farmers’ Market early on the weekends. The best goods tend to go quickly, so arriving before the crowds can help you snag the freshest and most sought-after items.

Have both cash and cards on hand. 

Have both cash and cards on hand

While many vendors accept credit and debit cards these days, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash. 

There are smaller stalls that might prefer cash transactions, and it can be a convenient way to make purchases from multiple sellers without having to swipe your card repeatedly.

Bring reusable bags to your shopping trip. 

Bring reusable bags to your shopping trip

It’s eco-friendly and practical to bring your own reusable shopping bags. You’ll likely end up with quite a few items, and having your own satchel will make it easier to carry your goodies home.

Dress comfortably so you have a great time. 

The market is a place for walking and exploring, so wear comfortable shoes. Depending on the season, you might want to dress in layers, as the weather can change throughout the day. 

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and bring a water bottle in the summer, as you’ll be exposed to the elements.

Prepare to go haggling with some of the shops.

While haggling is not a common practice in most stores, you might find some stalls at the market where negotiation is acceptable, especially for artisanal goods. Polite and friendly bargaining can sometimes lead to a better deal.

Try an item first before you decide to buy it.  

Try an item first before you decide to buy it

Plenty of vendors offer samples of their products, whether it’s fresh produce, artisanal cheese, or baked goods. Don’t be shy to ask for a taste before making a purchase; it’s a great way to ensure you’ll love what you’re buying.

Plan your visit well to see more of the market. 

The market is quite large, and it’s easy to get lost in the maze of stalls and shops. To make the most of your visit, consider planning ahead by checking out the market’s website or picking up a map when you arrive. 

This way, you can prioritize what you’d like to see and do.

Keep an eye out for events that are happening in the market.

The ByWard Market often hosts special events, such as themed markets or cultural festivals. Keep an eye on local event calendars or the market’s official website to see if there’s something unique happening during your visit.

Pace yourself properly while exploring. 

The market offers a lot to see and do. It’s a good idea to pace yourself and take breaks when needed. 

You might want to stop at a café for a coffee or enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants and eateries to recharge.

Support the local shops in the market. 

Lastly, remember that the ByWard Market is a place where you can support local businesses and artisans. 

Many of the vendors are small and independent entrepreneurs, and purchasing their products goes a long way toward helping them thrive.

Where to Eat in the Byward Market

A delicious meal always follows a long day of shopping. There are a lot of great food choices that you can pick from, and the huge selection can make it a bit difficult to decide.

Here are a few places that I recommend you eat at in the ByWard Market that are worth every dollar you spend. 

Chez Lucien

Address: 137 Murray St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5M7, Canada
Contact number: 613-241-3533
Social media: 

Operating hours: Monday-Sunday: 11:00 AM–2:00 AM
Must-try dishes: 

  • Entrecôte Café de Paris
  • Tartare de Boeuf
  • Salade Chèvre Chaud

Price: $$ – Average

The Chez Lucien has a cozy and rustic ambiance, adorned with vintage posters that give the place character and charm. It’s the kind of spot where you can unwind and savor some fantastic food and drinks.

If you’re a fan of a good piece of meat, the Entrecôte Café de Paris is the way to go. They serve up a beautifully cooked cut of steak, and that Café de Paris sauce is the real deal. 

It’s buttery, herbed, and slightly tangy, just the perfect complement to the beef. You can pair it with some crispy French fries or a fresh green salad for a meal that’ll leave you craving more.

The Tartare de Boeuf is another beloved dish. It’s finely chopped raw beef, seasoned to perfection, and mixed with capers, onions, and a touch of mustard. 

With a side of fresh greens and maybe some toasted baguette slices, it’s a delightful dish for those who appreciate the nuances of raw beef.

If you’re in the mood for something lighter but equally satisfying, the Salade Chèvre Chaud won’t disappoint. 

You’ll enjoy warm, crispy slices of goat cheese on a bed of mixed greens. The contrast of creamy, tangy cheese with the fresh salad is simply divine. 

Sometimes, the chefs top it off with nuts or honey for that sweet and nutty kick.

Zak’s Diner

Address: 14 Byward Market Square, Ottawa, ON K1N 7A1, Canada
Contact number: 613-241-2401
Social media: 

Operating hours: 

  • Monday-Thursday, Sunday: 7:00 AM–12:00 AM
  • Friday-Saturday: Open 24 hours

Must-try dishes: 

  • Boneless Wings and Fries
  • Zak Attack
  • Tater Tot Poutine

Price: $$ – Average

Zak’s Diner is a beloved restaurant that’s been serving up some classic diner fare with a retro flair ever since its founding. 

Zak’s knows how to do comfort food incredibly well, with the Boneless Wings and Fries being a perfect example. These little bites of heaven are tender and juicy, with just the right amount of crispiness. 

It comes in a range of sauces to suit every palate, from mild to spicy. Served alongside a generous helping of perfectly golden fries, it’s a no-fail choice for a satisfying and tasty meal.

The Zak Attack is the kind of burger that legends are made of. Stacked high with layers of flavor, it’s a hearty combination of bacon, pulled pork, coleslaw, and a top-secret sauce. 

It’s an absolute bomb of tastiness that will leave you craving another bite. If you’re looking for something substantial and oh-so-savory, this is the sandwich to go for.

Poutine is practically a Canadian culinary tradition, and Zak’s Diner gives it a fun twist with their Tater Tot Poutine. Instead of traditional fries, the cooks use tater tots as the base. 

These golden, crispy nuggets are smothered in rich, savory gravy and topped with cheese curds. It’s the perfect marriage of comfort food and classic Canadian flavors, making it an irresistible choice for those looking to indulge in a uniquely delicious dish.

Beckta Dining & Wine

Address: 150 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1L4, Canada
Contact number:  613-238-7063
Social media: 

Operating hours: 

  • Monday-Thursday: 5:00 PM–9:00 PM
  • Friday-Saturday: 5:00–10:00 PM

Must-try dishes: 

  • Smoked Duck Margaret
  • Pan Seared Branzino
  • Marinated Mussels

Price: $$$ – Expensive

Beckta Dining & Wine is the restaurant to go to if you desire something high-end that exudes class. This fine establishment is a place where food enthusiasts gather to celebrate the art of gastronomy.

Let’s start with its Smoked Duck Margaret. This dish is simply a masterpiece, with the succulent duck breast being expertly smoked. 

This infuses it with a delightful smoky flavor that’s perfectly complemented by the natural richness of the meat. 

If you’re a fan of seafood, the Pan Seared Branzino is a must-try. Branzino is a delicate white fish, and when pan-seared, it achieves a crispy skin while maintaining its moist and flaky interior. 

Beckta’s rendition of this dish is typically paired with a medley of fresh and vibrant ingredients, such as citrusy sauces or herb-infused oils. The flavors are thoughtfully balanced, allowing the natural taste of the fish to shine through.

Then you have Beckta’s Marinated Mussels, a seafood lover’s dream. Plump and tender mussels are marinated in a flavorful sauce that could range from a delicate white wine and garlic broth to a more complex and aromatic blend. 

These dishes are a testament to the chef’s skills and dedication to bringing out the best in every ingredient.

The Grand Pizzeria & Bar

Address: 74 George St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5W1, Canada
Contact number: 613-244-9995
Social media: 

Operating hours: 

  • Monday-Thursday, Sunday: 11:00 AM–11:00 PM
  • Friday-Saturday: 11:00 AM–12:00 AM

Must-try dishes: 

  • Italian Pepperoni
  • Burrata Pizza
  • Ravioli Alla Grand

Price: $$ – Average

The Grand Pizzeria & Bar in Ottawa is a local favorite, renowned for serving up some of the most authentic and delicious Italian cuisine in the city.

To kick things off, you have the Italian Pepperoni pizza. This is a slice of heaven for all pepperoni lovers out there. 

The pizza typically features a thin, crispy crust that’s just the right amount of chewy. It’s generously topped with traditional Italian pepperoni, which tends to be spicy, robust in flavor, and slightly greasy in all the best ways.

Combined with high-quality tomato sauce and gooey melted cheese, it’s the kind of pizza that satisfies your cravings and leaves you wanting more.

Burrata is a soft and creamy cheese that’s like mozzarella’s more indulgent cousin and The Grand’s Burrata Pizza showcases it in all its glory. This pizza usually starts with a perfect thin crust, then is topped with a generous amount of rich, velvety burrata. 

Fresh basil, ripe tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil frequently accompany it to create a harmonious combination of tastes and textures.

Now for some pasta. The Ravioli Alla Grand is a signature dish that really shows off the restaurant’s commitment to authentic Italian flavors.

These plump, delicate ravioli are often filled with a flavorful mixture, such as ricotta and spinach. The sauce, which can vary, is typically rich and savory, adding a layer of depth to the dish. 

It’s a comforting and classic Italian favorite that highlights the kitchen’s expertise in pasta craftsmanship.

Corazon De Maiz

Address: 55 Byward Market Square, Ottawa, ON K1N 9C3, Canada
Contact number: 613-244-1661
Social media: 

Operating hours:

  • Monday-Saturday: 11:00 AM–8:30 PM
  • Sunday: 11:00 AM–6:00 PM

Must-try dishes: 

  • Burrito Bowl
  • Quesadilla
  • Nachos

Price: $ – Affordable

If you’re craving some delicious Mexican cuisine, you should check out Corazon De Maiz. It’s a place that really knows its way around the flavors that define Mexico.

The Burrito Bowl is a delightful creation that brings the essence of Mexican street food to your plate. Typically, it starts with a base of rice and beans, followed by your choice of protein, like succulent grilled chicken, marinated beef, or flavorful vegetarian options.

Then, it’s topped with a vibrant medley of fresh veggies, creamy guacamole, and tangy salsa. The combination of textures and flavors is a fiesta for your taste buds, and it’s a popular choice for those seeking a hearty and satisfying meal.

Next up on the list are the quesadillas, a cheesy, mouthwatering delight. These folded tortillas are filled with gooey melted cheese and your choice of fillings, which can range from tender shredded beef to sautéed vegetables.

They’re grilled to perfection, creating a crispy exterior and a warm, oozing interior. Served with sides of salsa and guacamole, it’s a dish that’s simple yet incredibly satisfying.

For a crowd-pleaser, you have nachos that are perfect for sharing with friends. It typically features a generous mound of crispy tortilla chips, smothered in melted cheese, and adorned with a variety of toppings.

These include delicious ingredients such as jalapeños, sour cream, and a choice of proteins like seasoned ground beef or tender pulled pork. It’s a communal dish that’s perfect for a casual get-together, and the flavors and textures are pure comfort food.

Best Time to Go 

The best time to go to the ByWard Market is based purely on preference. Though consider the day and time you visit. 

Weekends are much more crowded when compared to weekdays, especially during peak hours like lunch and after-work rush. Summer and holidays often attract the largest crowds. 

If you want to see more details, here’s a full breakdown of what it’s like to visit during different times of the day, including peak hours and holidays. 

Weekdays

Mornings (9:00 AM – 12:00 PM) are generally good times to visit if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy the market at its most peaceful. You can take your time strolling through the stalls or enjoy a quiet coffee in one of the charming cafés. 

This is also an ideal time to find parking easily and secure a table at the restaurants without the usual wait.

The afternoon (1:00 PM – 4:00 PM) is ideal for a visit if you want to experience the market’s lively atmosphere. During this time, the lunchtime crowd starts to filter in, adding to the energetic ambiance. 

The variety of food options is also at its peak as more stalls open up, so you can indulge in diverse culinary experiences. 

Keep in mind that the market gets busier throughout this time, so be prepared for larger crowds and potentially longer wait times at eateries.

Now if you want to enjoy the market’s nightlife and take advantage of happy hour specials, you should definitely visit during the evening (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM).

Many bars and restaurants start to offer enticing happy hour specials during this time. The atmosphere becomes more dynamic as locals and visitors come to unwind after a day’s work or exploration. 

Pro Tip: 

Keep in mind that some shops and vendors may start closing down earlier in the evening, so be sure to plan your shopping accordingly.

Weekends

Saturdays are the market’s busiest days. If you’re looking for an energetic atmosphere and a chance to soak in the full buzz of the market, this is the day to visit. 

You’ll find a wide range of events and activities taking place, adding to the eclectic vibe. Be prepared for larger crowds and potentially longer lines at popular stalls and restaurants.

Sundays are generally less crowded than Saturdays. It’s an ideal time to visit if you prefer a more relaxed experience. 

Many people choose the weekends to browse the market’s unique shops and boutiques, as it’s a day when some select vendors sell their wares. It’s a good time to explore at a more leisurely pace and discover a few hidden gems.

Peak Hours

During lunchtime (12:00 PM – 2:00 PM), be prepared for longer wait times at restaurants as people will be flocking to the ByWard Market for their meals. If you want to avoid these long lines, you should arrive at your restaurant of choice early. 

During the after-work rush (5:00 PM – 7:00 PM), the market can get crowded after work, especially on Fridays.

Holidays

During peak seasons such as the summer and major holidays, the ByWard Market sees a surge in visitors. The energy here is livelier than usual with a festive atmosphere, but the lines are also much, much longer. 

Another thing to consider is the limited parking and higher prices. While it’s a fantastic time to experience special events and the district’s full energy, it’s wise to plan ahead as it can quickly become difficult to manage.

During the winter and spring, the ByWard Market transforms into a quieter place. It’s an excellent time to visit if you prefer a serene experience. 

The market is less crowded and more affordable, making it perfect for leisurely exploration or a cozy meal in a local eatery.

Parking and Traffic

With the ByWard Market’s popularity comes plenty of traffic and limited parking spaces. It’s very important that you decide in advance how you want to get to the district as it could make a huge difference 

Parking

Parking in the ByWard Market area can be a bit of a challenge for those not in the know. Limited spaces and high costs are the norm, but there are some savvy ways to navigate the situation.

First, there are a few public lots and garages available, but they tend to be on the pricey side. Street parking can be even more elusive, especially when the market is buzzing during peak hours. 

Parking

Because of this, you may want to consider commuting to the area. Fortunately,  The ByWard Market is well-served by public transportation, including the OC Transpo bus system and the O-Train LRT. 

Traffic

Now, let’s talk traffic. The ByWard Market area can be congested, especially in its peak hours. 

If you can, try to avoid going to the district during this period. This will help you keep away from traffic jams and make it easier to find parking.

Again, it’s important to remember that the popularity of the ByWard Market makes it a rather busy area. Patience is key here, especially for the traffic congestion.

Alternatively, you can consider walking or biking. The ByWard Market is a pedestrian-friendly area, and it’s also a great place for cycling. 

If you’re staying in downtown Ottawa, you can easily walk or bike to the location.

FAQs