Whether you’re a local or a visitor, Ottawa is undeniably more than just Canada’s capital city. From its rich and colorful history, diverse culture, thriving art scene, spectacular cuisines, and towering monuments, there are many reasons why it’s a special place.
For me, it’s Ottawa’s ability to find unity in diversity that reminds me just how truly special this city is. How so many cultures from around the globe can come together and make this city into what it is today, which, for me, is what makes Ottawa so special.
As a certified and proud local, I’ll gladly take you through some of the top reasons that make Ottawa a special place. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!
1. Ottawa boasts a rich historical significance.
First things first, Ottawa was specially chosen by Queen Victoria to become Canada’s official capital in 1857. Ottawa is also deeply intertwined with the nation’s story, adding to its significance in our national history.
One of the most iconic symbols of Ottawa’s historical significance is Parliament Hill. Overlooking the Ottawa River, this grand complex houses the Parliament of Canada and serves as the place where the nation’s democratic processes happen.
The stunning Gothic Revival-style buildings, such as the Centre Block with its iconic Peace Tower (What to do in peace tower in ottawa), stand as testaments to Canada’s political history and grand architecture.
Another prominent historical site is the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built during the early 19th century as a strategic military route, it has since transformed into a scenic waterway and a popular recreational attraction.
During winter, the canal freezes over and becomes the world’s largest skating rink, which attracts many people to try out its icy paths.
Ottawa also takes pride in its many museums and cultural institutions that reveal the nation’s history. The Canadian Museum of History, located across the river in Gatineau, showcases exhibitions highlighting Canada’s past.
It helps display the local Indigenous cultures and key moments in Canadian history to more people. The Canadian War Museum provides a comprehensive exploration of the country’s military heritage, paying tribute to the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers.
Beyond the grand landmarks and museums, Ottawa’s neighborhoods are also filled with stories. By strolling through Byward Market or the historic district of Lower Town, visitors can witness charming heritage buildings, cobblestone streets, and lively markets.
Ottawa has certainly witnessed many milestones in Canadian history, such as the signing of the Constitution Act in 1867, which established us as a federal dominion.
Ottawa’s rich historical significance is evident in many aspects and reflects much of this great nation’s heritage.
2. Ottawa has a thriving arts scene.
Ottawa’s thriving arts scene is visual proof of the city’s vibrant cultural fabric and plays a significant role in making Ottawa a truly special place. It’s got world-class museums, galleries, bustling theaters, and innovative festivals.
This allows the city to offer a diverse range of artistic expressions that captivate and inspire all.
One of the cornerstones of its art scene is the National Gallery of Canada, an architectural masterpiece that houses an extensive local and international art collection.
Whether it’s renowned masterpieces to contemporary installations, the gallery provides a captivating journey through various artistic movements. This, in turn, lets it show visitors the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Canada and the world.
Additionally, Ottawa is home to numerous other art institutions that contribute to its vibrant arts scene. The Ottawa Art Gallery showcases contemporary art by local and national artists, providing a platform for innovative and thought-provoking exhibitions.
Then there’s the Bytown Museum, which explores Ottawa’s history through art and artifacts, shedding light on the city’s evolution and cultural heritage.
The performing arts also thrive in Ottawa, with several theaters and performance venues hosting a wide range of productions. The National Arts Centre stands as a premier performing arts facility, offering theater, dance, and music performances.
The Great Canadian Theatre Company and the Ottawa Little Theatre are both renowned for their captivating stage productions. What’s more, they help serve as a stage for the talents of local actors and playwrights.
But if you were to ask me or most other locals, Ottawa’s arts scene truly comes alive through its vibrant festivals and events.
The Canadian Tulip Festival, held annually, celebrates the city’s connection to the Netherlands and showcases stunning displays of multi-colored tulips across the city.
Then there’s the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which brings together animators and enthusiasts from around the globe.
But beyond the established institutions and festivals, Ottawa also embraces grassroots artistic initiatives. Neighborhoods like Hintonburg and Westboro are known for their vibrant arts communities, with numerous independent galleries and studios.
The city’s street art scene adds a vibrant and dynamic touch to its urban landscape, with colorful murals and installations adorning buildings and public spaces.
Ottawa’s arts scene contributes to the city’s special character by fostering creativity, fostering cultural exchange, and nurturing a sense of community.
It provides a platform for artists to express their unique perspectives, pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms. The arts scene also enriches the lives of everyone by offering opportunities for engagement, dialogue, and personal growth.
This is why, for me, Ottawa’s thriving arts scene is a display of the city’s cultural richness and creative spirit. From prestigious institutions to grassroots initiatives, the city provides a platform for artists to thrive and engage with diverse audiences.
It adds depth, vibrancy, and a sense of belonging to Ottawa, making it a special place where artistic expressions contribute to the cultural landscape of the city.
3. Ottawa is a diverse, multicultural city.
Ottawa is truly special because of its diversity and multicultural nature. As the capital of Canada, it serves as a melting pot, bringing together people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities.
This diversity is celebrated and embraced throughout the city, creating an inclusive and vibrant atmosphere.
You can see this multiculturalism in Ottawa’s neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, which offers a taste of Asian culture with its restaurants, specialty shops, and lively festivals.
Then there’s Little Italy which showcases the city’s Italian heritage through its charming streets, traditional eateries, and cultural events.
The Somali and Middle Eastern communities have also left their mark, contributing to Ottawa’s diverse fabric through their cuisine, markets, and cultural celebrations.
Ottawa is home to numerous cultural institutions that promote and showcase its multicultural heritage. The Canadian Museum of History, for example, explores the stories and contributions of Indigenous peoples, early settlers, and immigrants.
The Ottawa Chinese Cultural Centre offers a window into Chinese history, art, and traditions through its exhibits and events.
The city’s multiculturalism is also celebrated through a wide array of festivals and events. The Ottawa International Film Festival brings films from around the world, offering diverse storytelling and cinematic expressions.
Festivals like the Ottawa Lebanese Festival, Festival Latino de Ottawa, and Winterlude highlight the multicultural fabric of the city, showcasing different cultures and traditions.
Ottawa’s commitment to multiculturalism extends beyond festivals and cultural institutions. It is home to numerous diplomatic missions, embassies, and international organizations, fostering international connections and collaborations.
This global presence enhances Ottawa’s status as a city that values diversity and embraces cultural exchanges.
Furthermore, Ottawa’s multiculturalism contributes to the city’s social fabric and sense of community. The diversity of languages, customs, and traditions creates an environment where different perspectives are valued and respected.
This helps encourage openness, tolerance, and acceptance among residents, creating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
The city’s culinary scene is also a testament to its multiculturalism, as Ottawa offers a diverse array of restaurants and eateries representing cuisines from around the world.
Whether you crave Ethiopian injera, Indian curries, Vietnamese pho, or Lebanese shawarma, Ottawa has something for every palate. The dining options reflect the global flavors and culinary traditions brought by the city’s diverse communities.
Ottawa’s multiculturalism and diversity are key aspects that make it special. It helps foster a sense of community and offers countless cultural experiences that contribute to the city’s vibrant and inclusive character.
4. Ottawa is abundant in green spaces & natural beauty.
Ottawa is a city that’s not just rich in history and culture, but it’s also abundant in green spaces and natural beauty, which is one of the reasons that make it so special.
The city is blessed with an extensive network of parks, gardens, and natural areas that provide residents and visitors with a refreshing escape from the urban hustle and bustle.
One of the standout features of Ottawa is its stunning location at the confluence of three rivers—the Ottawa River, the Gatineau River, and the Rideau River.
These waterways, along with the picturesque Rideau Canal, offer breathtaking views and opportunities for paddling activities such as boating, kayaking, and canoeing.
The Ottawa River Pathway and the Rideau Canal Pathway provide scenic trails for walking, jogging, or cycling along the water’s edge. This allows people to immerse themselves in nature while still being within the city limits.
Beyond the rivers, Ottawa is home to an impressive collection of parks and green spaces that cater to various recreational activities and offer tranquil retreats.
Gatineau Park, located just across the Ottawa River, is a vast wilderness area of over 361 square kilometers. It has a diverse range of landscapes like forests, lakes, and rolling hills, providing ample opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife observation.
The park’s iconic Champlain Lookout offers panoramic views of the Ottawa Valley, showcasing the region’s natural beauty.
In the heart of the city, the expansive and beautifully landscaped Major’s Hill Park (What to see in Major’s Hill Park) offers a serene oasis with its lush greenery, manicured gardens, and stunning views.
Commissioners Park is renowned for its annual Canadian Tulip Festival, where thousands of tulips bloom in a vibrant display of colors.
The Dominion Arboretum (Is visiting Dominion Arboretum free?), located adjacent to the Central Experimental Farm, showcases a vast collection of trees and plants, making it a peaceful haven for visitors.
Ottawa’s commitment to preserving and maintaining its green spaces is evident in the extensive network of urban parks that dot the city.
Places like Andrew Haydon Park, Mooney’s Bay Park, and Vincent Massey Park offer opportunities for picnicking, barbecuing, sports activities, and leisurely strolls.
These parks provide residents and visitors with spaces to unwind, connect with nature, and enjoy recreational activities year-round. Furthermore, Ottawa’s green spaces are not limited to parks alone.
The city is home to several beautiful gardens that showcase a stunning array of flora and fauna. The ornate and meticulously maintained Parliament Hill Gardens offer a picturesque setting for leisurely walks and guided tours.
The Central Experimental Farm’s Ornamental Gardens, with their vibrant flower beds and manicured lawns, create a peaceful and enchanting atmosphere as well.
The abundance of green spaces and natural beauty in Ottawa also contributes to the city’s overall livability and well-being. The availability of such spaces promotes a healthy lifestyle, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, exercise, and relaxation.
The connection to nature and the ability to escape into peaceful surroundings within the city boundaries contribute to a sense of balance and harmony in daily life.
Moreover, Ottawa’s commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in its such as tree-planting programs, urban reforestation projects, and protection of natural habitats.
These efforts not only enhance the city’s visual appeal but also contribute to cleaner air, improved biodiversity, and a healthier ecosystem. So it’s safe to say that this closeness to nature is one of the major reasons why Ottawa is so special.
5. Ottawa celebrates various kinds of festivals and events throughout the year.
Ottawa’s festivals and celebrations are a vital part of what makes the city special. These events bring excitement and a sense of community to Ottawa throughout the year.
There are festivals that celebrate art, culture, music, food, and more, creating a diverse and vibrant atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.
One famous festival is the Canadian Tulip Festival, which showcases beautiful tulip displays, live music, and cultural exhibits. It’s a celebration of beauty, heritage, and the arrival of spring, filling the city with a burst of colors and delightful fragrances.
During Winterlude, which takes place in February, Ottawa transforms into a winter wonderland. People can skate on the Rideau Canal, admire intricate ice sculptures, slide down snow slides, and enjoy outdoor concerts.
It’s a fantastic way to embrace the magic of winter and indulge in the warmth of the community despite the cold temperatures. Personally, I like having a BeaverTail as a treat after skating along the canal for a good amount of time.
Music enthusiasts flock to the RBC Bluesfest, where they can experience performances by renowned artists from various genres like blues, rock, pop, and folk. I’m a bit of a rock fan myself, actually.
The festival features multiple stages and creates a lively atmosphere that brings people together through the power of music. And don’t even get me started on the number of new friends you’ll probably end up making during these music fests.
Ottawa also celebrates its multicultural diversity with festivals like Ottawa Lebanese, Asian Night Market, and Greek Festival. These events provide a platform for different communities to share their traditions, cuisine, and music to help promote unity.
On Canada Day, Ottawa bursts with patriotism as fireworks light up the sky, concerts fill the air with music, and parades showcase the nation’s pride. It’s also a great excuse to meet up with family or friends and pig out on some great food and cold drinks!
Events like the Changing of the Guard and the Sound & Light Show on Parliament Hill offer a glimpse into Canada’s history and culture, creating a sense of national identity. And who doesn’t love a free show, right?
These festivals not only bring joy and entertainment but also support the local economy, attract tourists, and showcase the talents of Ottawa’s artists and performers. They reflect this city’s vibrant spirit, rich heritage, and commitment to inclusivity.
Growing up, it was a way for me to bond and learn more about my fellow Ottawans, even if they all came from far-off places before settling here. Regardless of their origins, we’re all Ottawans, and that’s what these festivals remind me of at the end of the day.
6. Ottawa is home to several prestigious universities and colleges.
In Ottawa, you’ll find top-tier educational institutions like the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Algonquin College, to name a few.
These schools attract students from all over the world and create a lively community of learning and innovation. Having these educational institutions in the city promotes a culture of growth, research, and creativity.
Ottawa is also well-known for its strong academic programs and groundbreaking research in fields like technology, engineering, social sciences, and health sciences.
These educational institutions also have a significant impact on Ottawa’s economy. They collaborate with local businesses, government agencies, and research organizations.
This then results in the development of startups, innovation centers, and research partnerships. These sorts of activities actually help drive Ottawa’s knowledge-based economy forward.
Moreover, the academic community actively contributes to the city’s cultural scene. They organize public lectures, exhibitions, performances, and community engagement activities, enriching the intellectual and cultural landscape of Ottawa.
The diverse perspectives and ideas brought by students and faculty help enhance the city’s vitality. Ottawa’s commitment to education and research is evident in its investment in modern facilities, research grants, and scholarships.
The city provides a supportive environment for students, researchers, and scholars to thrive and make significant contributions to their fields of study. So whether you’re a local or international student, learning in Ottawa is something you should think about.
Its dedication to education, combined with its other exceptional qualities, makes Ottawa a truly special place to learn, grow, and make a difference. And hey, it’s certainly one of the reasons I’m so grateful to be able to grow up and study here!