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A Local’s Guide to the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

A Local's Guide to the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

For as long as I can remember, the Rideau Canal was more than just a waterway to me; it was a playground, a refuge, and a constant source of inspiration. 

Countless weekends were spent skating on its frozen surface, feeling the crisp winter air against my cheeks and the thrill of gliding past historic landmarks. 

Even now, as an adult, bundling up in layers, grabbing a hot chocolate, and hitting the ice with friends or family remains magical.

But the canal’s charm isn’t confined to winter; it shines in every season. During the warmer months, you’ll find me strolling along its banks, basking in the sun, and watching boats lazily drift by. 

There’s a tranquility that settles over the canal in the summer — a peacefulness that’s hard to find elsewhere in the city. 

In this guide, I’ll take you on a journey through this place, sharing insider tips, favorite spots, and must-see attractions. So lace up your skates or grab your bike, and let’s explore this iconic waterway together!

About the Rideau Canal 

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Address1 Rideau St. Beside The Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, ON K1N 8S7 
Phone819 246 3855 
Operating hoursMay 17 – June 20 
Monday to Thursday: 10 – 4 pm 
Friday to Sunday: 9 – 7 pm 

June 21 – September 2 
Monday to Thursday: 9 – 6 pm 
Friday to Sunday: 9 – 7 pm 

September 3 – October 14 
Monday to Friday: 10 – 4 pm 
Saturday and Sunday: 9 – 5 pm 

The Rideau Canal, also known as the Rideau Waterway, is a 202-kilometer waterway snaking its way through Canada, connecting Ottawa all the way down to Kingston and Lake Ontario.

There’s so much history behind it — it was built way back after the War of 1812 and was originally meant as a secret military path, a sneaky way to get supplies around without anyone noticing. Pretty smart, if you ask me! 

It was one of the first canals ever designed for those steam-powered boats, all cutting-edge for the time.

But the Rideau Canal isn’t just some dusty relic of the past. It’s a fully functioning canal even today, and Parks Canada keeps it in tip-top shape from May to October. 

You can actually cruise along it in a boat, soaking up the scenery. Plus, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which basically means it’s incredibly historic and totally worth checking out.

Best Time to Visit the Rideau Canal

The best time to visit the Rideau Canal depends on what you want to do. For warm-weather activities like cycling or boating, aim for spring (mid-May to late June) or fall (September). 

But if you want to experience skating, go in the winter (January to early March) when the ice is thick enough. 

Things to Do at Rideau Canal 

1. Cycling, walking, or skating

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One of the things you can do here is ride a bike or walk around. As you glide along, you’ll be treated to some seriously Instagram-worthy sights, like the majestic Parliament Building and the elegant Fairmont Château Laurier.

Now, here’s the kicker: be it biking or walking, this activity will allow you to explore the area at your own pace. And if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, why not strap on some skates and go to the frozen canal in the winter months?

Here’s a little insider tip: if you’re worried about gear, fear not! Rental spots are scattered around, offering everything from bikes to skates. 

So, even if you didn’t come fully equipped, you can still enjoy the Rideau Canal experience.

2. Boating 

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You can experience the canal from a different perspective by renting a boat at Dow’s Lake Pavillion Marina. Here, you’ve got options galore, from classic canoes and kayaks to fun pedal boats and trendy stand-up paddleboards.

It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book but with paddles!

Whether you’re in the mood for a serene solo paddle or itching to join a guided tour and soak up some canal history, the choice is all yours.

3. Picnicking 

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Picnicking is another great activity to do here on the Rideau Canal. 

Imagine having your basket packed with all your favorite goodies — maybe some crusty baguettes, a selection of cheeses, some juicy fruits, and perhaps a cheeky bottle of wine tucked away. 

Now, you’re strolling along the canal, scouting for that perfect spot. Maybe you’ll settle under the shade of a weeping willow, its branches gently swaying in the breeze. 

Or perhaps you’ll opt for a spot right by the water’s edge, where you can dangle your feet over the side and watch the boats glide by. Pretty relaxing, isn’t it?

But, of course, no outdoor adventure is complete without a bit of preparation. So, don’t forget to slather on that sunscreen and arm yourself with some bug spray – pesky critters have a way of sniffing out a good picnic! 

But once you’ve got all your bases covered, it’s nothing but smooth sailing (pun intended).

Sights to See at the Rideau Canal  

1. Ottawa Locks 

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This incredible series of eight locks is like a giant staircase for boats. They lift and lower boats by almost 20 meters (that’s over 60 feet!) over a distance of about 1.5 miles, allowing them to navigate the difference in water levels. 

It’s like watching these giant metal boxes slowly climb up or down a hill of water. The whole thing is powered by gravity and these massive wooden gates, which seem crazy when you think about how much water they hold back. 

It’s a testament to the engineering ingenuity of the early 1800s!

You can stand right there by the canal and watch the whole process unfold. It’s pretty mesmerizing! 

There’s also a bunch of spots to grab a coffee or ice cream nearby while you wait for your turn on a boat tour if that’s your thing.

2. Dow’s Lake 

Dow’s Lake is a cool little man-made lake right on the Rideau Canal. 

There’s this awesome loop trail around the lake, perfect for a walk, jog, or bike ride. It’s not too crowded, so you can zone out and enjoy the scenery.

Plus, it’s not super challenging, so it’s a great option for all levels!

Speaking of scenery, have you heard of the Dow’s Lake Pavilion? It’s this big pavilion nestled on the edge of the lake, with restaurants and a marina. 

They even have rentals for canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats in the summer – perfect for a lazy afternoon on the water. 

In the winter, things get even cooler (literally!). The lake freezes over and becomes part of the world’s longest skating rink!

It’s also a big part of this massive winter festival called Winterlude. They have ice sculptures and skating races.

In the spring, the park around the lake explodes with tulips. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of tulips in all different colors! 

Where to Eat Near the Rideau Canal  

1. 1 Elgin Restaurant 

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Address 1 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5W1, Canada
Phone 613 594 5127 
Operating hours Tuesday and Saturday: 5-9
Wednesday to Friday: 11:30 – 2 pm, 5 – 9 pm
Must order menu items Herb Crusted Halibut
Beef tartare
1 ELGIN charcuterie
Price range $$ – average 

1 Elgin Restaurant is the ultimate spot to cure your hunger if you happen to be around the Rideau Canal. Their Herb Crusted Halibut is what people keep raving about!

You’ve got this succulent halibut, perfectly cooked and coated in a crust of herbs. They also throw in some East Coast mussels, giving you that taste of the sea that you didn’t even know you were craving. 

And as if that’s not enough, they bring out this colorful medley of veggies – heirloom carrots, Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes – each adding its own unique twist to the party on your plate.

2. Evoo Greek Kitchen

Address 438 1/2 Preston St, Ottawa, ON K1S 4N4, Canada
Phone 613 695 3860
Operating hours Tuesday to Thursday: 11:30 – 2:30 pm, 5 – 10 pm
Friday: 11:30 – 2:30 pm, 5 – 11 pm
Satuday: 5 – 11 pm
Sunday: 12 – 10 pm
Must order menu items Premium Lamb Chops
Spicy Baked Feta
Price range $$ – average 

If you’re craving some Greek cuisine, go to Evoo Greek Kitchen. Their famous Premium Lamb Chops is a must-try!

This dish features mouthwatering loin or rib chops, lovingly marinated in a secret Latholemono sauce, with hints of lemon, garlic, and herbs playing in perfect harmony. 

After marinating, they’re grilled to perfection over medium heat (typically for 4-5 minutes per side), giving them that irresistible charred exterior while keeping them juicy and succulent on the inside.

Then, once it’s grilled, the finishing touches include a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of dried Greek oregano. 

Canal Ritz

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Address 375 Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Ottawa, ON K1S 5M5, Canada
Phone 613 238 8998
Operating hours Monday to Friday: 11:30 – 10 pm
Saturday to Sunday: 11 – 10 pm
Must order menu items Mushroom Ravioli
Grilled Atlantic Salmon
Canal Ritz Fettucine
Price range $$ – average 

Canal Ritz is one of the go-to’s when you’re fond of Italian eats! One of their best-selling dishes here is Mushroom Ravioli. 

It’s tender pasta pockets stuffed with a mix of sautéed mushrooms, onions, and a sprinkle of magic (also known as ricotta and parmesan cheese).

But here’s where it gets exciting. The sauce! 

They start by crisping up some pancetta bacon until it’s golden and irresistible. Then, they toss in spinach and onions, letting them soak up all that smoky goodness. 

A splash of white wine joins the party, simmering away until it’s just right, adding a zing that elevates the whole dish.

And to top it all off, they crown this masterpiece with a generous sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese. 

4. Play Food & Wine 

Address 1 York St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5S7, Canada
Phone 613 667 9207 
Operating hours Sunday to Tuesday: 5 – 9 pm 
Wednesday to Saturday: 11:30 – 2 pm, 5 – 10 pm 
Must order menu items Smoked Pork Ribs
Grilled Beef Striploin
Ramp Gnocchi
Price range $$ – average 

It’s worth coming to Play Food & Wine just for their Smoked Pork Ribs alone. Just hearing about it makes my mouth water!

These ribs aren’t your average ribs; they come with a unique combination of flavors like scape gribiche, melon kimchi, crispy potato salad, roasted acorn squash, and a jalapeño and haskap glaze. 

And what makes this even more commendable is that it’s designed to be shared. So you can gather around with your friends or loved ones and dive into this appetizing dish together! 

Where to Stay Near the Rideau Canal 

1. The Westin Ottawa

Address 11 Colonel By Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9H4, Canada
Phone 613 560 7000 
Operating hours Check-in time: 3 pm
Check-out time: 12 pm

The Westin Ottawa is the bee’s knees! This hotel is straight-up modern, with all the bells and whistles.

First off, if you want something to eat in the middle of the night, they have this restaurant, Shore Club, that everyone raves about.

Plus, there’s an indoor saltwater pool – perfect for those days when the Canadian chill gets to you (which, let’s be honest, is most of the time!). They even have a gym and squash courts, so you can stay on top of your fitness game.

And the rooms? They’re all fancy and refined, with views of Ottawa that would make anyone say, “Wow.”

And if you happen to have your furry friend along with your adventure, no worries because this is a dog-friendly hotel, too!

2. Lord Elgin Hotel

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Address 100 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5K8, Canada
Phone 613 235 3333
Operating hours Check-in time: 3 pm
Check-out time: 12 pm

This place oozes Ottawa history, right in the heart of downtown. As soon as you step out the grand doors, Parliament Hill is practically waving at you across the Rideau Canal.

Inside, it’s got this classic elegance, but with all the modern perks you crave. 

We’re talking about a swanky 24-hour gym to keep you on your toes, a lap pool for those post-sightseeing aches, and even a cute little gift shop in case you forget your maple syrup souvenirs.

Here’s the best part: They’ve got options for every kind of traveler – some overlooking the pretty Confederation Park, others looking out onto the bustling Elgin Street.

3. Sheraton Ottawa Hotel 

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Address 150 Albert St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5G2, Canada
Phone 613 238 1500 
Operating hours Check-in time: 3 pm
Check-out time: 12 pm

This hotel isn’t just some stuffy old building downtown. It’s got this cool, relaxed vibe, but with all the amenities you could ask for.

Their location is really commendable. You’re well-appointed in the center of everything, so exploring the city is a breeze. 

Plus, they have this amazing indoor saltwater pool, perfect for unwinding after a day of sightseeing. 

And let’s not forget the fitness center, because vacation shouldn’t mean giving up on your workout routine (or those delicious poutines you’ll be devouring; no judgment here).

But seriously, the best part? They welcome your furry companions with open arms! 

Ottawa’s a super dog-friendly city, and the Sheraton gets that. So, you and your pup can have an epic Canadian adventure together.

4. Hampton Inn by Hilton Ottawa 

Address 100 Coventry Rd, Ottawa, ON K1K 4S3, Canada
Phone 613 741 2300 
Operating hours Check-in time: 3 pm
Check-out time: 11 am

I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s like they took everything you want in a hotel and put it all under one roof!

The Hampton by Hilton isn’t just about a comfy bed (although, trust me, those beds are dreamy). Their main goal is to give you a fantastic stay.

You can fuel up for your Ottawa adventures with hot meals every morning. Yes, they offer a free breakfast! 

And speaking of adventures, parking is totally free, so you can ditch the car and explore the city without any worries. Plus, with free WiFi, you can stay connected and share all your awesome Ottawa finds with your friends back home.

And if you’re like me and can’t imagine a vacation without your furry best friend, they’ve got pet-friendly rooms too!