Canada

How to Spend a Weekend in Ottawa (During a Pandemic)

If you would’ve asked me a year ago where I thought my boyfriend and I would be spending our one year anniversary, I probably would’ve told you somewhere international. However, with the ongoing pandemic, a few months ago we decided on a weekend in Ottawa instead.

I want to start off by saying that when we booked this trip we were not in our second wave here in Canada. Cases were pretty minimal in both Toronto (where I live) and Ottawa. When the cases started to rise in both these cities in the recent weeks, at this point we could not get our money back on our Airbnb, so we decided to go anyway and just have a different weekend than we originally planned, given the added restrictions in the area.

Note that Ottawa is a hot spot right now, just like Toronto, Peel, and York, and non-essential travel should be minimal, especially between hot spots, to non-hot spots, and vice versa.

How to Get There

Ottawa is located about 400km from Toronto. Normally you would have a few options to get there:

  1. Plane (Porter Airlines flies to Ottawa from downtown Toronto, however, Porter has paused their services since March)
  2. Train (Via Rail is still running trains to Ottawa)
  3. Car

Since I wanted to travel the safest way without potentially exposing myself to more germs than I needed to, I opted for renting a car. Renting cars has been my go-to for the first time ever this year. I can trust they are fully sanitized, and I like the idea of just me and my germs being inside of it.

Where to Stay

I find hotels and hostels questionable in terms of cleanliness during normal times. I know they have regulations, but there’s something about staying in an Airbnb that I find more comforting. Plus, with restaurants being limited to take-out or patio only right now during COVID, it’s nice to have a full kitchen to prepare meals in, and a real apartment to hangout in during the evenings when we can’t go out.

Here is the Airbnb we stayed in which was fantastic. It was large, was in a great neighbourhood, and very clean. However, there are a ton of beautiful ones located in central, downtown Ottawa to choose from.

Where to Eat

As mentioned, restaurants currently are doing take-out and patio dining only. This may change by the time you read this, so please confirm with the restaurant directly what their options are.

The issue with this during the fall is that the weather starts to get cold fast, and some patios have already closed, or do not have the luxury of having a covered or heated patio. Make sure to call in advance if you are looking to eat out and double check if they are recommending to make a reservation.

Check out Little Miss Ottawa’s helpful guide on covered and heated patios in the city here.

Some of the recommendations we got for dining were as follows:

We ate at Meat Press near our Airbnb. They offer take-out only of amazing sandwiches. Seriously worth a visit here! We also had dinner at Clockworks which is just a basic pub and brewery with a large heated and covered patio. We didn’t make a reservation for anywhere, and everywhere we called was booked solid. So we opted for here because we were just hungry and needed something to eat. However, full transparency, it is just basic pub food.

What to Do

Day One

Day one we had a bit of a gloomy, drizzly day. Thankfully though, the rain held off for most of the day and wasn’t torrential. We had a slow morning because sometimes it’s nice on vacay to not rush out of bed. Complete with breakfast made in our Airbnb, SuzyQ donuts we picked up from down the road, and mimosas.

Canadian War Museum:

After our slow start to the day we headed to the Canadian War Museum. The museum is still open, and you can buy tickets online in advance. Full transparency here, I hate museums. I usually always avoid them unless it’s something really quirky or unique. However, I was traveling with my boyfriend who loves them so hey, it’s all about compromise (or so they say).

Lunch To-Go:

We spent about three hours at the museum, as it does take quite some time to get through, then we headed to Meat Press to grab some sandwiches for a late lunch before heading to Chelsea, Quebec to Le Nordik.

Massages at Le Nordik:

Le Nordik is an incredible spa located just across the border from Ottawa in Quebec (about a 30ish minute drive). The spa is famous for its thermal cycle which you go around to different hot tubs and pools, alternating from hot to cold, combined with saunas and relaxation rooms. I’ve come here before and I absolutely love it. In fact, I spent 12 hours there on my first visit. However, with COVID, unfortunately their thermal cycle had to close a week before our visit this time. The spa is still offering services like massages which we decided to still go for and was still worth it even though we were bummed we couldn’t do the full experience.

Post-massages, we ended the night with snacks and wine in our Airbnb. The weather wasn’t fantastic, so sitting outside on a patio wasn’t really appealing to us.

Day Two

A hike in Gatineau Park:

Day two we got sunshine! Yay! We took full advantage of it by waking up early and heading to Gatineau Park in Gatineau, Quebec for a hike to enjoy the fall foliage (this is also a great park to visit in the summer and winter too). During the pandemic they have closed off a lot of the roads around the park to provide pedestrians and bikers with a safe, socially distanced place to enjoy the area. This means that several roads are closed until noon most days. However, there are still a ton of access points open if you want to visit early in the morning.

Check Gatineau Park’s website or their Twitter account for the most up-to-date closures.

The most popular trails in the park are Pink Lake and King Mountain. Since this is a busy time of year, we opted for the less popular trails that still had their parking lots and roads open to access them during the road closures mentioned above. We went on Wolf Loop Trail which is around 8.5KM and is a challenging hike. We arrived at around 8:45am and there was only one parking spot left. So plan to arrive early if visiting during peak season (fall).

If you’re looking for a more central place in Ottawa to hike, Pine Grove Trail also comes recommended. If you’re okay to drive a little further out of the city, try Rock Dunder in Lyndhurst (1.5 hours away), Blueberry Mountain in Lanark Highlands (1.5 hours away), or Eagle Nest Lookout in Calabogie (1.5 hours away).

Brewery hopping:

If there is one thing I love to do, it’s go to new breweries in the cities I visit. Thankfully since we had a nice day, lots of breweries had their patios still open. Alternatively, our backup plan was to go purchase beer from all these breweries and do our own tasting at our Airbnb. So after our hike, we headed out on a little brewery crawl.

Stay tuned for a full blog post on all these breweries coming soon, but we visited the following breweries in the city. There were a ton more outside of Ottawa but we only selected ones that were in town and easily accessible for us.

The National Gallery of Canada:

We broke up our brewery crawl with a visit to the National Gallery of Canada which is also still open during COVID. Allow yourself at least three hours to visit the gallery, unless you are going only for specific exhibits.

Dinner on a (heated) patio:

Before heading home after a jampacked day, we headed for dinner on a patio with a local friend at Clockworks. As mentioned above, this was pretty basic pub food. Had we planned further in advance and thought to make a reservation, I would’ve definitely chose somewhere different to eat. But if you’re looking for just a simple dinner, paired with craft beer, this is your place.

Day Three

Our last day wasn’t a full day in Ottawa as we also had to drive back to Toronto on this day. But we did find time to do a few things on our way back.

One World Bazaar:

First off, we made a stop at One World Bazaar that is located just outside the city centre. This market is only open during the fall (until November 8 in 2020), and is a curated market full of items that the owners collect around the world on their travels. This place gave me serious wanderlust. I miss traveling so much and it was full of treasures found abroad. Even some things that I’ve picked up while traveling abroad.

Hike at Eagles Nest:

Our last stop before continuing onto Toronto was at Eagles Nest Lookout for a quick hike (around 1 hour). This hike was easy, but busy. You will likely need to park along the highway when visiting on the weekend during peak season. However, the hike itself was great and had a spectacular view. You were also easily able to social distance from people, and despite the trail being busy, you only really saw people at the top lookout.

Like any trip, 3 days never feels like enough but during COVID, this was the perfect (safe) escape from Toronto for a weekend. Even though there were a lot of things we couldn’t do on our visit, we still made the best of it and found enough things in the city to keep us busy. Also, since I’m also living in a hotspot in Ontario, I didn’t find Ottawa felt that much different to Toronto. We have the same restrictions at home as they do there, so for us it was an easy adjustment.

For those that aren’t aware, the current restrictions (as of October 2020) in Ottawa are:

  • No indoor dining, only on the patio, or take-out is allowed
  • Gyms and fitness centres are closed
  • Masks must be worn anywhere inside, plus anywhere you can’t socially distance
  • It’s encouraged to stick with only the people that live within your household
  • Movie theaters and bowling, or other indoor recreational activities similar are on hold

More details on Ottawa restrictions and updates during the pandemic can be found here.

Do you have any Ottawa recommendations? Share below in the comments!

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