Spring guide in Ottawa: Taming off-season travel

A person from behind, holding a bicycle, pink flowers
© Ottawa Tourism

Spring in Ottawa is a perfect choice for anyone who loves off-season travel. The snow has melted (usually!), the grass is turning green and flowers are blooming. Best of all, the flow of tourists is minimal and everyone is feeling refreshed and excited.

There are exciting festivals and events, parks perfect for lounging, trails to hike or cycle, and sumptuous foods to eat. The trick to enjoying your time in Ottawa is to wander through local neighbourhoods beyond the ByWard Market. The Glebe, Old Ottawa South, Wellington West, and Centretown are the best places to begin your Ottawa love affair.

Spring into these festivals and events

Ottawa is a great city for festivals and events, and in spring they are filled with happy locals (hello, new friends). Saint-Patrick’s Day is a huge day of partying, and there is no shortage of pubs participating. Aulde Dubliner & Pour House in the ByWard Market is one of the best, and a short walk from Saintlo Ottawa Jail.

Find friends and venture out to a sugar shack for maple-soaked adventures from March to mid-April, and Ottawa Poutine Fest in early May. The biggest and brightest festival in spring is the Canadian Tulip Festival at Ottawa Commissioners Park on May 10 to 20, 2024. It’s like being in the Netherlands, but on a smaller scale. It’s a must-see, and free!

Tulip Festival

Breathe in fresh spring air with these outdoor activities

Spend a couple of hours walking the paths along the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to Dow’s Lake for a lazy afternoon or head over to the trails at Lansdowne Park. The Rideau River Trail, Ottawa River Pathway, and Trans Canada Trail are ideal for hikers and cyclists.

On a nice day, take a free walking tour, check out the hydrant sculptures in Wellington West, visit the Ottawa sign, and try to find all of the public art in the ByWard Market. Go to Mādahòkì Farm to learn about Indigenous culture, visit the marketplace, and if you’re lucky, see rare and endangered Ojibwe Spirit Horses.

Young Aboriginal woman performing with hoops
Madahoki Farm © Ashley Fraser
©Ottawa tourism
canal rideau

Indoor fun, perfect when it’s a rainy spring day 😉

Ottawa is home to several amazing museums and galleries. On Thursday nights, admission is free at the National Gallery of Canada (It’s the one with the big spider sculpture out front), and the Canadian Museum of Nature is fascinating. 613flea is an amazing flea market at Lansdowne and the Eco Market on April 20th is great for finding sustainable souvenirs.

Go to Absolute Comedy in Little Italy for a night filled with laughs (tickets are 10-23 CAD), and the Ottawa Art Gallery (behind the Saintlo Ottawa Jail) is always free. The gallery’s café (not free), Jacksons, has amazing coffee and croissants. For a night of culture that won’t break your travel budget, check out the schedule at the National Arts Centre, they have everything from drag queens to Indigenous performers, dance, plays, and more. Touring Parliament Hill is an interesting activity, too.

©Destination Ontario
©Destination Ontario
©Destination Ontario

Explore Ottawa’s food scene on a dime

Beaver tails

The ByWard Market is close to the hostel, and an easy choice, but not the only choice. Grabbing a build-your-own Italian sandwich at La Bottega is always a good idea, and it’s hard to resist a BeaverTail. Hopping on a bus (3.85 per trip or 11.75 for a day pass) and venturing into Ottawa’s local neighbourhoods opens a delicious world of affordable possibilities.

Devour delicious pierogies and play pinball at House of TARG in Old Ottawa South, and enjoy 24-hour eats at Elgin Street Diner in Centretown (the cherry milkshakes are thic and dreamy). Wellington West is home to several yummy gems; Fil’s Diner, BiBi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen, Paradise Poké, and Luisa Bakery. The Great Canadian Poutinerie on Bank Street is the best of quirky poutines.

Relax in a café

Cafes are found in almost every neighbourhood. Ottawa’s top café chains are Happy Goat Coffee Co. and Bridgehead. Instagram girlies will love Luxe Blooms Flower Cafe, and La Catrina is a great Mexican cafe with churros. Wise Town Cafe in Centretown is another beautiful spot with great coffee (the sandwiches are a tad pricey at $16 a pop). In Sandy Hill, a short walk from the hostel, is Safi Fine Foods, a superb little grocery with a small café area and amazing Halal foods.

Iced coffee

Dressing for spring in Ottawa

Spring is slow to start in March, with occasional snow flurries mixed in with warm sunny days and periods of rain. The temperature ranges from -7ºC to 19ºC in spring, with an average of 9 days of rain each month. It’s an exciting time, winter is finally leaving, but figuring out how to dress is a challenge.

The good news is that there is no need for a heavy winter jacket, and clunky boots. A warm sweater and light jacket will work most days, and shoes with a good tread (and waterproofing if possible!) will get you through a myriad of weather conditions. Pack clothing that is lightweight and dries quickly; a travel umbrella is also a good idea.

Ottawa is delightful in spring. It’s a time when you can wander and engage without fighting crowds of tourists. If you’re looking for more suggestions on interesting activities, bar events, and things to try, chat up the staff at Saintlo Ottawa Jail, they’re full of ideas! Ottawa is an intriguing city, and there is a good chance you’ll want to return for more. So, what will you do first in Ottawa this spring?

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