photo of Ottawa

A parliament building in Ottawa, Canada. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Ottawa

The Canadian capital Ottawa is an attractive, accessible city with great museums, natural beauty, and bountiful year-round recreation, much of it centered on the Rideau Canal. Located one hour's drive north of the U.S. border at Ogdensburg, New York, and a two-hour drive west of Montréal, Ottawa has much to offer families.

In winter, the 125-mile Rideau Canal, connecting the Ottawa River and the city of Kingston on the St. Lawrence River, turns into the world's longest ice-skating rink as locals and tourists glide along the 4.8 miles that meander through downtown Ottawa. In summer, canoe the canal or bike and hike along its banks.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, across the river from Parliament Hill, is Canada's largest and one of its most popular museums. The Grand Hall, shaped like a native canoe, showcases totem poles and six homes of Pacific Northwest native peoples. On weekends and throughout the summer, guides open up touch carts so kids can handle a bear's tooth and pat eagle feathers. Along with an IMAX theater, the museum has its own live actors who bring 1,000 years of history to life. "Lace Up: Canada's Passion for Skating," running through March 4, 2007, details the country's love affair with hockey, as well as figure and speed skating. The museum also houses the Canadian Children's Museum. Kids pick up a passport, then travel the world getting it stamped while exploring a North African market, a traditional Japanese house, or an Egyptian pyramid. At the Museum of Civilization's Adventure World, an exhibition park located behind the museum, kids can play a game of checkers on a giant board, build a boat, and climb aboard the tugboat once pictured on Canada's one-dollar bill.

At the Canada Science and Technology Museum, take a virtual tour through space, find out how rockets work, test your susceptibility to motion sickness, and discover the stars at evening telescope workshops. Float on a virtual reality hang-glider and see vintage aircrafts at the Canadian Aviation Museum, or learn about Canada's military history at the Canadian War Museum. "Clash of Empires: The War That Made Canada 1754-1763," through November 12, 2006, a joint Canadian-American effort, tells the story of the Seven Years' War. (France and Britain didn't officially declare war until 1756.) Along with modern, Inuit, and contemporary art and photography, the National Gallery of Canada displays a large collection of Canadian art. On weekends at the Artissimo kiosk in the Great Hall, kids age three and older are invited to create their own masterpieces.

Just 15 minutes from downtown, enjoy the outdoors at Gatineau Park, an 88,000-acre wilderness conservation area with 40 lakes, great fishing, and also hiking and biking trails. In winter, cross-country ski or snowshoe through the park. Get lost in the 11 hedge mazes and labyrinths growing at Saunders Farm, in Munster west of downtown, or get wet by running through the 100-acre farm's Water Spray Zone. In Morrisburg, about one hour south of Ottawa, time-travel back to the 19th century at Upper Canada Village, whose 40 buildings include a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith, a shoemaker, farmsteads, and houses. Costumed interpreters bring the era to life.

Tip: The popular Canadian treat, the "beaver tail," a wholewheat pastry sprinkled with sugar, originated in Ottawa. Especially popular in winter, you can buy the sweets year-round in the Byward Market neighborhood.

Recommended Side Trips: Montréal, Québec City, Toronto

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