It’s a destination we don’t hear much about, so let’s go exploring. Eastern Ontario is home to Canada’s capital, Ottawa…but so much more.
Ottawa top attractions
Let’s touch down in Ottawa to begin. I spoke with David Leonhardt, a Canadian writer I know. He used to work in one of Ottawa’s top attraction, and skate to work on another.
In summer, the world-famous Rideau Canal is a recreational beltway that runs from the heart of downtown Ottawa right through the city. It winds its way through Eastern Ontario, through Merrickville and on to Kingston. It features two museums, one in Ottawa and one in Merrickville.
In winter the Ottawa section of the canal becomes the world’s longest skating rink, and the focal point of the popular Winterlude Festival. Yes, Ottawa is a fun place in winter.
David skated the canal to work at Canada’s Parliament Buildings. They feature an incredible library and the famous Peace Tower. But don’t expect to visit them any time soon. They are two years into a 10-year renovation that might take 20 years to complete.
Being a capital city, Ottawa features some great national museums. The National Gallery features Canadian art, which you are unlikely to see much of outside Canada. David particularly recommends its collection of the quintessentially Canadian artists, the Group of Seven. Budget two – six hours, depending on your museum visiting style.
The Canadian Museum of History is also impressive. Formerly the Museum of Civilization, this is definitely will take at least a couple hours. It also houses a separate children’s museum.
What these three museums share in common is being acclaimed as much for their architecture as for their exhibits.
If you are in the neighbourhood in December, stop by picture-perfect Merrickville. You know all those Hallmark Christmas movies. That’s what Christmas in Merrickville does in real life each December.
Eastern Ontario’s second biggest city, Kingston was Canada’s first capital city. It was also home to Canada’s first Prime Minister. Its rich history includes Fort Henry, built during the War of 1812. Fort Henry has more to see and do than other forts along the St. Lawrence River.
Princess Street is the main shopping street. It looks and feels like what Main Streets of big cities looked and felt like 50 years ago.
It’s OK if you can’t pronounce this town’s name. What is key is that you can buy boat cruise tickets. Double decker boats take you around the 1,000 islands in one-hour or 2.5-hour cruises. The longer cruises land at Boldt Castle on Heart Island. This fairytale structure was built on a sadly romantic story.
Rural Eastern Ontario
The best-known attraction in rural Eastern Ontario is Upper Canada Village. In the summer, it is a re-creation of a 19th century village. It features a working saw mill, old-fashioned bakery, cow milking and more. If you are in the neighbourhood in December, A Light at Night is spectacular. “It’s been getting better each year,” David reports, having taken his family to see it on numerous occasions.
If you happen to be travelling in October, mix with the locals at two regional farms for some seasonal fun. Cannamore Orchard hosts the Acres of Terror (spooky wagon ride and haunted village). And Saunders Farm has been serving up its Fright Fest for over three decades.
There is so much to see in Eastern Ontario. It’s worth booking a flight and renting a car when you get there.