Have you caught the news lately? If so, it should come as no surprise that Eastern Canada is under a blanket of snow. This isn’t a rare occurrence. The opposite actually, winter is a familiar visitor to these parts. The irony of the situation? The fact that as this blast of cold travelled from the West to the East, so did we.
24 hours ago we arrived in Ottawa amidst Everest size piles of snow. Ok, I might be exaggerating, but we too get a lot of snow and these piles put us to shame. What’s more, is only hours after a blizzard, the roads were plowed right down to the pavement. A totally foreign concept to us. We were in awe of our cab driver navigating without any fear of playing bumper cars with the other vehicles. Also, not a common concept where we come from. Consequently, our first impression of Ottawa was sheer glee.
Canada’s capital was our first stop on an eight day tour of Eastern Canada. It initially gained its position in the itinerary because there are no direct flights into Quebec City. And because the alternative was a ten plus hour layover in an airport. No one needed to twist our arms to opt for a night in the capital. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, here are our tips and tricks to maximize your stopover.
Stay in the middle of it all
Depending on the city, choose an accommodation that is near all of the things you want to see. This will speed up transportation time between attractions and will make it easier to head out on foot. Staying in the tourist zone however can also sometimes mean paying more. To avoid this, make reservations ahead of time to take advantage of early booking discounts. Use sites like hotels.com and utilize their rewards programs (if you use frequently you can collect points towards a free night stay). And travel in off season to score deals on top accommodations when they are less likely to be sold out.
For Ottawa, knowing that we wanted to explore the Parliament buildings we chose the Alt Hotel. Not only did we get a great rate because well, it’s February! But the hotel is also just a few blocks from the action. We were able to check off multiple must sees in a short amount of timeand still had time for dinner. Stay tuned for a more detailed review of the hotel.
Grab something quick to eat
If trying the food is a priority then definitely do some research, choose a great restaurant and spend a few hours enjoying. However if well known sites are more your jam, pop in to a low key, quiet restaurant so that you can eat quickly and continue on your way.
By staying right downtown multiple dining options were close at hand. Half a block from the hotel we came across Bier Market (a popular chain across Eastern Canada) and seeing that it wasn’t too busy hopped in. While the atmosphere is somewhat sports bar generic, the service is friendly and the food is good. We left with happy bellies in under an hour and had just that much more time to explore.
Prioritze your must see activities
Before arriving make a list of the top things you want to see or do. This will help to narrow down what you don’t want to miss and will ensure that you can maximize your time. It will also prevent you from leaving feeling disappointed.
For our own lists we always start with Google. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I couldn’t quickly search my every thought. Google as you know can find anything. This will give you a great overview of the content available for a particular city. Next, we use Pinterest and other travel blogs to narrow down and compare what the most popular topics are. These types of sites also often showcase the less tourists things that make a city unique. Lastly, we stop by our local bookstore and pick up a lonely planet copy of the city we are visiting. This might also be because I have a habit of collecting travel books but they are great to have on hand once you arrive at your destination.
Kevin has wanted to see Ottawa for as long as he can remember. So, we knew it was important to prioritize what he wanted to see most. This ended up being an evening with the Parliament Buildings followed by a morning at the War Museums. Both great choices and both doable within our short time frame.
Take a train
If your next stop is accessible by train, then take the train! We can’t begin to tell you how much we love travelling this way. Tickets are easy to purchase, boarding is a total breeze, travel is often more comfortable then on a flight and you have the added bonus of being able to see the landscape outside your window. Train stations are almost more commonly located in the center of a city and therefore easier to access from popular areas.
We’ve used the European rail system extensively however train options where we live in Western Canada are almost non existent. So, with ViaRail at our disposal in Eastern Canada it was a no brainer to connect our destinations by train. Writing this from the comfort of our train, we are currently somewhere between Ottawa and Quebec City. Our exact location unknown, since everything outside looks the same… very white. Alas, it is February!