What to pack when visiting Ottawa

What's New — By lpaquet on July 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm

So you’ve booked your ticket or gassed up the car, and you’re ready to head to the nation’s capital. What merits room in your suitcase…and what isn’t worth the baggage fare? Here’s my decidedly unscientific packing guide.

Necessary items

  • Sports gear. Bike shorts, inline skates, bathing suits–whatever your sport, if it’s appropriate to the season (no skis in July, please!), bring the equipment along. Ottawans love to get outside, and with scores of parks and over 160 kilometres (100 miles) of recreational trails, there are lots of places to play.
  • Sunscreen. Sure, it’s one of the world’s coldest national capitals, but summer temperatures often top 30ºC (86ºF) and things can get toasty. In the winter, sunshine reflecting off snow can give people a nasty sunburn.
  • Walking shoes. The downtown core is compact, and anyone in moderately good shape can easily walk between major attractions such as Parliament Hill, the Byward Market, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
"Parliament Hill Ottawa"

Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River, from the grounds of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Photo by MPD01605, Flickr.

Unnecessary items

  • Reading material. To use an old expression, it would be like bringing coals to Newcastle–in other words, carting something to a place that already has tons of it. Ottawa has thousands of students, policy wonks, journalists and other folks who consume lots of books, so the city has a number of great bookstores. Try Octopus Books for lefty tomes (vegan cookbooks, socialist history and the like); the bookstore at the National Gallery of Canada for gorgeous art and photography books; or Nicholas Hoare, across the street from the gallery, for literary British fare.
  • Stilettos. Unless you’re a diplomat or a die-hard clubber, you likely won’t need the gladdest of your glad rags here. Ottawa is a pretty laid-back town, fashion wise.

Things you might not think to pack…but come in pretty handy

  • Pocket rain poncho. The weather can change on a dime, and if you’re at one of the city’s many outdoor festivals when the skies open up, the folks behind you won’t be happy if you put up a giant umbrella.
  • Insect repellent. It’s handy for summer evenings in town, but crucial if you’re planning to explore Gatineau Park or other wilderness areas near the city.
Tags: "Byward Market", "Canadian Museum of Civilization", "National Gallery of Canada", "parliament hill", bookstores, ottawa


  • Treena Grevatt says:

    You’ll need a big case/car/truck for all the sport toys, it’s fun to drive around the city and see how many sports you can see happening in one day within the area. Here are some outdoorsy ones I can think of.
    Summer: sailing, kayaking (flat & white water), kite surfing, windsurfing, canoeing. Road cycling, mountain biking (xc & downhill), rock climbing.
    Winter: ice fishing, ice climbing, x-c skiing, downhill skiing, skating, snow-kiting, snowshoeing

    We are blessed in this city, great outdoor sports and the cultural, food and artistic events befitting a capital. It’s a great place to live and work!

  • lpaquet says:

    Thanks for the comment, Treena! You’re right–we’re really lucky to have so many outdoorsy choices here. I’m looking forward to a bike ride tonight myself!


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