The One With a Brit’s Guide to Byward

Here we are again; another blog post, a different park.

This time I’ve fled university campus (which I’m becoming a bit too familiar with – we’re one month in and I’m already spending evenings in the library trying to get caught up on work!! Not on!!) and traded it for the centre of town. I’m currently sitting on a bench in Major Hill Park, overlooking the Parliament buildings and ornate library. It is a stunningly beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky and incredible autumnal colours everywhere you look.

On a slightly less attractive note; I am sweating a fair bit, as I’m currently wearing an ‘appropriate fall outfit’ (apparently not, as Ottawa has decided to have a second stab at summer) and walking boots. The boots were not a choice, rather a necessity. I bought them yesterday and desperately need to wear them in in time for this weekend’s adventure – hiking and camping in Algonquin Provincial Park. Despite a less-than-reassuring pre-departure meeting (I honestly shouldn’t have expected anything better from the International Office at this point) I’m so, so excited; both to escape town and university for a bit, and to properly witness a North American fall.

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I mean, look at this

Although, saying I’m glad to be escaping it, I do believe I’m starting to fall in love with Ottawa. Truly. I think it’s taken a while, but regardless of what other difficulties I’ve faced and continue to face in moving here, I am positive I made the right decision choosing Canada and choosing this city. Ottawa is compact but culturally thriving; walkable but hugely varied; architecturally beautiful and naturally stunning being on the river; politically centred but far from boring, and with enough food and shopping choices to keep anyone busy for a year. In essence, it’s the sort of city I could see myself living in back home. It’s a wonderful compromise in my mind to be in a business and thriving hub of a capital that’s nothing like the overwhelming vastness of London.

I am beginning to learn my way around, although there’s definitely still so much to explore more off the beaten track. But considering my experiences so far, I thought I’d offer up my recommendations and guide to the central hub of Ottawa – Byward Market. There’s heaps to do in terms of touristing in Byward and the surrounding area (Parliament Hill is a 5 minute walk away, and there’s Notre Dame and the National Gallery on the doorstep) but I thought I’d focus on the less touristy things. I’ve been here over a month now; this is what I do in the city that’s becoming home:

  • For brunch: Cacao 70. I was honestly a bit concerned for Emily’s mental health after she went into complete raptures at the menu offered in Cacao 70. It’s the chocolate café in Ottawa, and just go okay, if you like chocolate half as much as I do you’ll love it. Fondues, crepes, waffles, milkshakes, hot chocolates, everything you can think of chocolate-related and right in the middle of town. I first went at the end of the worst day I’ve had since arriving in Canada and it cheered me up no end, it was amazing. The powers of food guys.
  • For a food shop: Metro – So it’s right next to the LCBO and 2 minutes down the street from the far fancier Loblaws (which to me is Waitrose without the self-identity of being posh), but will honestly have everything you need for a decent supermarket shop in the middle of town, at very decent prices. Ottawa students seem to be anti-Metro for some reason but I haven’t found a major flaw yet really. Plus I am biased because they have all their veggie alternatives in one place which just makes sense.
  • For everything else (and I mean everything): Giant Tiger. What a find. Bit weird for food (and definitely not the place for fresh stuff) but you can get some proper Walmart-style bargains on things like canned pulses and biscuits. More than that it’s about as close to Wilkos as you’re going to find in Canada, with three floors of clothing, shoes, household stuff and odd bits and pieces. Between that and Dollarama it’s going to cover pretty much all student needs.
  • For lunch-time: La Botega – the place for a cheap, nutritious and filling lunch. It’s an Italian inspired shop with fancy cheeses and meats, but if you head to the back of the store you’ll find a sandwich counter that allows you to try said-fancy cheeses and meats with a plethora of toppings in a sandwich for just $5.75. You won’t find much better value for such a good sandwich here, and it’s been endorsed by every native Ottawanian I know.
  • For an ice cream: Two words: Sweet Jesus. SO GOOD. It’s the combined power of a whippy ice cream with crunchy additional goodness and it’s just fab. I’ve only ever had a ‘mini pimp’ because the full size ones look staggering but either way it’s seriously good ice cream.
  • For a rainy day: The Loft – This is such a cool concept and I’m not sure if there’s a similar set-up in the UK but there should be. Basically you go in, pay your $5 then have unlimited access to 900+ board games for as long as you like. The selection includes all your classics, Cluedo, Trivia Pursuit, Cards Against Humanity, but also some fabulously random ones like Greys Anatomy Trivia or a card game called ‘Exploding Kittens’. It’s a really fun, chilled vibe, so get comfy, turn off your phone and wow your buddies with your Monopoly prowess.
  • For a sunny day: There’s really a lot to be said for just wandering around Byward, but one of my favourite walks in the city is just outside of the market, from the National Gallery through Major Hills Park and round Chateau Laurier to the famous Rideau Locks. Beautiful views over the river to Gatineau, and a wonderful whistlestop sample of the best sights of Ottawa.
  • For an afternoon snack: Oh So Good!– the coffee house and dessert cafe in Ottawa- oh my goodness these cheesecakes are so good! They change all the time and sometimes I’m tempted to go in to just see what they’ve made that week. Definitely good for wowing friends and eating away your essay woes with an enormous slab of chocolate marble cheesecake or rhubarb crumble pie.
  • For dinner: Zaks – A little pricey for the humble student, but an awesome 50’s-esque diners experience, complete with the decor. There’s a huge amount of choice, from omelettes to nachos, but it’s my personal go to for a decent veggie burger – apparently the milkshakes are incredible (though I haven’t had one yet), but I can’t recommend the sweet potato fries enough.
  • For an evening drink: Andaz Hotel has only recently opened up and I only became aware of it thanks to the mass amount of promotion it’s had from the Ottawa photographers I follow on Instagram. Around 4pm the rooftop bar opens and it’s the most incredible view over the market and out across the river. It’s not cheap, $4.50 for a ginger beer not cheap, but once you’ve got your drink and found a spot by the window or outside by a fire, you won’t be leaving for hours as the day turns to sunset turns to night.
  • For the sunset: Nepean Point. There really is no better place to watch the sun set over the river (apart from maybe Andaz’s rooftop). Just up from the National Gallery on a good day you’ll probably join a small throng of people going up for the evening spectacle because it’s just that beautiful. Pick a relatively clear day with a few clearly defined clouds for the best shots of the sun dipping behind Gatineau Park on the horizon.

So that’s that! I’m aware this list is a bit biased (towards food and affordable student recommendations) but hey, I’m afraid I just don’t have the dollar to be hitting up the classy boutiques of Canada’s capital. Rideau Centre is full of them and just round the corner from the Market but I honestly get lost everytime I try and find a shop in there so I tend to steer clear. It’ll be super cool to come back to this at the end of the year and add all my recommendations that I’ll have learnt since then!

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