Being from the Detroit area, I’m a huge Red Wings fan (see my love letter to their old arena here). My boyfriend got a crazy idea to take a long roadtrip to spend a weekend in Ottawa that included watching the Wings play the Senators. I say “crazy idea” because it’s an eight-hour drive each way and plane tickets there are cost-prohibitive.
Our weekend in Ottawa
As luck would have it, Toronto falls almost exactly halfway between Detroit and Ottawa, so we hit the road Friday night after work and drove about four hours to a hotel in the Toronto suburbs. Both of us have low-mileage leases on our cars, so I used Enterprise points to rent a car for the weekend. I also used IHG points for the two nights in hotels, so thanks to my endless work travels, we ended up with a pretty cheap getaway.
Once we made it to Ottawa, we spent our time exploring Parliament, checking out the famous Rideau Canal, and of course cheering on our hockey team (spoiler alert: they lost). Even though it’s cold during the winter, there’s still plenty of fun things to do in the Canadian Capital.
We started off our weekend in Ottawa by exploring the area around Canada’s Parliament. We wanted to see as much as we could in the few short hours before the hockey game, so we headed straight to Parliament Hill.
Parking was a challenge, but we ended up with a space not too far away that was free but required climbing through mid-calf deep snow to get in and out of the car. I was ok with it.
The Parliament Hill buildings were gorgeous. I loved the Gothic revival architecture style. They looked especially gorgeous with snow covering the ground in front of them.
When we were done taking pictures, we went into the visitor center across the street to see if we could grab a couple of the free tickets to tour inside the building. All they had left was one ticket to the French language tour that was departing in about 45 minutes, but the lady at the desk was nice enough to overbook the group by one so we could both go.
Unfortunately, neither one of us speaks French. I thought we might be able to pick up on a little since there are plenty of cognates between the two languages, but I was sorely mistaken. Having English speakers thrown in on the tour must be fairly common though because right at the start, our tour guide announced that if anyone who didn’t speak French had questions in English about something, she’d be happy to answer them one-on-one after she got through her main dialogue.
If the French language tour is your only option, it’s still worth going even if you can’t understand the guide. I made mental notes about things I was curious about and either asked the guide individually, found the answers in brochures, or googled them later. I would’ve been disappointed if we had missed out on touring the building because we skipped the French tour.
Despite the language barrier, I loved the tour. I have a weird thing about visiting capital cities and seeing seats of government, and this was no different. The architecture was gorgeous inside.
We got to see both houses of Parliament. We could only peek through the windows at the House of Commons, but got to enter into a small viewing gallery in the Senate.
The government chambers were neat, but the most spectacular part for me was the Library of Parliament. I have a thing for gorgeous libraries and this one did not disappoint. The huge round room was ringed with tiers of books on beautifully carved shelves and decorated with coats of arms for the seven provinces that existed when it was built. I wanted to go full-on Belle and find a ladder to swing along the shelves on, but we couldn’t actually touch any of the books. I would’ve happily sat in a corner and just admired the beauty all day if I was allowed to.
I also loved walking through the corridors in the Centre Block. It felt vaguely like Hogwarts in some of the areas.
After we finished our guided tour, we visited the Memorial Chapel. The details in it were astounding. The level of care and dedication that went into designing it with brass shell plating and stones brought from battlefields where Canadians had lost their lives was incredible. The names of all Canadians who have died in the service of their country are listed in books whose pages are turned daily so that every name is shown at least once a year.
Our final stop was the top of the Peace Tower. A quick but cramped elevator ride took us to the top for a great panoramic view of snow-covered Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec across the river.
Before we headed out into the suburbs to go to the hockey game, we walked over to the Rideau Canal. We had missed the Winterlude Festival by one week, which was a huge disappointment, but we wanted to at least walk out onto the frozen canal. Unfortunately, there was some sort of filming going on, so we weren’t allowed to go near the ice. I’ll have to come back for another winter weekend in Ottawa so I can get out on the ice someday.
We walked back toward the Chateau Laurier and looked down on the canal from there. There was a bridge that I’m still not 100% sure I was supposed to climb out on, but there were tons of footprints in the snow leading up to it and going across, so I went for it. It was a little wobbly and slippery, but there were guardrails and I didn’t feel unsafe. My boyfriend chose not to join me though.
Once our historic adventures in Ottawa ended, we hopped back in the car and headed out to our hotel in Nepean, the city where my hockey idol Steve Yzerman grew up. The location was coincidental and chosen only for proximity to the Canadian Tire Centre, but I was pretty excited about it.
Parking at the arena was a horrific mess. I’m sure repeat visitors have the routine down, but the signage was terrible and we spent almost 40 minutes sitting in traffic, passing by full lots expecting to find other places to park only to discover that there was nowhere to make a left turn or a U-turn beyond that, getting back on the highway to circle around the arena and try again. We barely made it for puckdrop, but once we were in our seats, all of the frustration was forgotten.
Well the parking frustration disappeared only to be replaced by the frustration of two people who grew up in the Wings’ era of excellence and are still struggling to come to terms with their current mediocrity. They ended up going to overtime (yay, a point!), but lost in the shootout (I still hate shootouts). I guess heading to OT and the shootout got us a few extra minutes of “free” hockey, but an actual win would’ve been nice. Having something to cheer about would’ve been a perfect way to end our weekend in Ottawa.
We grabbed poutine from Smoke’s Poutinerie, a Canadian chain that I is opening its first Midwestern locations in the metro-Detroit area soon (!). We each ordered our own, but easily could’ve shared an order. Even my 6’4” boyfriend who usually eats twice as much as I do barely made a dent in his. I got the bacon cheeseburger flavor and it was delicious. I fundamentally don’t understand why poutine hasn’t become more popular in the US, as it’s exactly the kind of diet devastation that we Americans love.
After the game, we headed back to the hotel and crashed so we could get up early the next morning. The 8-hour drive wasn’t fun, but we broke it up with a couple roadside stops and dinner in the Toronto suburbs. And I won a free drink from Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim promo! All in all, we had a great winter weekend in Ottawa.
Check out more posts about Canadian adventures here:
- A Weekend in Niagara Falls
- Visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame