Everything You Need To Know To Plan Your Ottawa Getaway This Fall

Fall in Ottawa is beautiful but fleeting. So you need to act fast to make the most of it!

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Presented by Ottawa Tourism

Field surrounded by autumnal trees, with a glass building in the background: things to do in Ottawa in fall
Photo, James Peltzer.

Fall in Ottawa is all about fire and a hint of ice. It’s hot. Then it’s cold. Autumn leaves are ablaze in yellow, orange and red and there’s a you-can’t-deny-it crispness in the air that has you reaching for a jean jacket and craving an escape before winter snows us all in. Canada’s capital city easily answers this call. It’s got the winding forest paths, gatherings of the best craft brewers and cultural events ranging from indie craft makers to literary fests. Here are 11 reasons to visit Ottawa right now, in all its festive fall glory.

Play Outside

Fall is the perfect time in Ottawa if you’re in need of a dose of the outdoors, thanks to the wonders of Gatineau Park. The expansive yet-easy-to-access preserve of Quebec forests and lakes just across the Ottawa River is a short drive from downtown. There are trails that lead to historic estates and crumbling ruins, but this time of year, venture out on one that offers a peak autumnal view, such as the King Mountain trail or the Champlain Lookout trail that follows the Eardley Escarpment. During the capital’s Fall Rhapsody festival (Sept. 29 – Oct. 21) free shuttles run on weekends from Ottawa’s Byward Market to Camp Fortune in Gatineau so you can leave the car behind.

Made up of literally thousands of hand-carved jack-o-lanterns, Pumpkinferno (Sept. 28 – Oct. 28) is not your run-of-the-mill pumpkin patch. The outdoor exhibit is more art show than farm field, and it runs Thursdays through Sundays on the historic grounds of Upper Canada Village, about an hour from Ottawa. To satisfy any cravings incurred by the kilometre-long walk, the Harvest Barn Restaurant is open during regular Pumpkinferno hours for dining after dark, and specialty treats can also be bought at the Village Store Café on site. This is the perfect family outing for those who love Halloween, but are looking for more treat than trick.

While the city’s shared road-and-cycle pathways are still a work in progress, Ottawa has a network of scenic dedicated bike paths, and fall is a beautiful time to explore them. You can do so right from downtown: follow the Ottawa River Pathway below Parliament Hill toward the Portage Bridge, and continue along the Voyageurs Pathway toward the Museum of History, looping back across the Alexandra Bridge in a route that allows you to cross provincial boundaries and gain stunning views in one 10-kilometre go. Rent bikes (of all sizes, including children’s trailers and tandems) at RentABike or Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals, both of which offer rentals, maps and guided sightseeing tours.

Eat and Drink

As the temperature drops, find comfort, and comfort food, in Ottawa’s culinary scene. Dine in a cozy, heated garden dome by the Rideau Canal in the Récolte: Fall Harvest Dinner pop-up event (Sept. 27- Oct. 28) centred around the word “harvest.” Food sourced from Mariposa Farm, specializing in chemical-free vegetables and sustainably raised ducks, geese and pigs, will be transformed by the talents of Ottawa chef Rene Rodriguez. The invitingly lit atmosphere, situated along the Rideau Canal’s Terrace on the Canal, will surely offer Instagram-worthy pics, along with the chance to sample a four-course meal from Rodriguez, known for his lead in several Ottawa restaurants, as well as his victories on Top Chef Canada and Beat Bobby Flay.

And while there are many lively dining scenes in the city, opt for Elgin Street, an easy walk from downtown that boasts a wide range of local favourites. Find a table at the bright and veg-and-vegan friendly Pure Kitchen where dishes such as Korean BBQ cauliflower wings do not sacrifice on flavour. Or pop into Citizen, a few steps off Elgin, where minimalist style, small plates and a big drink menu will fill you up whether you’re a little bit hungry (smoked trout dip) or a lot (prosciutto fried chicken sandwich). Meanwhile to celebrate the return of the city’s university and college population, sample KD-gone-wild at nearby Ottawa City Hall’s Festival Plaza with the Mac My Cheese Fest (Oct. 12-14), #Sweetcheesus indeed.

A man on a laptop in a glass room surrounded by empty tables, looking out at fall trees and Parliament buildings in the background: things to do in Ottawa in fall
Photo, Dwayne Brown.

Field Trip

Societal pressures. Marriage. Glass ceilings. There were and continue to be pressures that steer girls and women away from careers in science. But “Courage and Passion: Canadian Women in the Natural Sciences” (until March 31, 2019) at the Canadian Museum of Nature, explores trailblazers from the 17th century to the present who pursued their passions in botany, zoology, geology and more. The exhibit at the museum (already a perfect fit for families with its galleries on dinosaurs, Canadian wildlife and marine life) profiles 20 outstanding women. This includes Harriet Brooks, Canada’s first female nuclear physicist who had a hand in discovering radon in the early 1900s, up to the museum’s own research scientist Kathy Conlan, who has studied marine biodiversity while diving under the Arctic and Antarctic ice. It all makes for perfect back-in-school inspiration.

Sure, there’s summer-time yoga on the front lawn, light shows reflected off the buildings and, of course, plenty of space for placards and protests. But why not explore Parliament Hill the old-school way, with a guided tour? Fast-talking and cheerful guides will move you through the Senate, library and green-seated House of Commons itself (depending on whether Parliament is in session), where you can cap it off with a view from the Peace Tower. Now is the time to go as the Centre Block is expected to close in January 2019 for a decade of renovations (you thought your kitchen reno was never-ending!). Tours will follow the politicians to their temporary digs in the Government Conference Centre and West Block. Tickets are free, but line up early at Capital Information Kiosk as time slots are quickly doled out. Fortunately there’s plenty of nearly places to wander about while you wait.

Culture Club

Combine the fresh fall air with an al fresco exploration of the city’s urban arts scene. Follow the Downtown Rideau Culture Walk (download the map or app) to find galleries, sculptures and mural boxes. This latter award-winning project transformed electrical boxes into works of art by Ottawa artists that range from mid-century glam (Auntie Mame series) to bright creatures of the wild (Kingdoms Crossed series). Ottawa is also becoming home to more permanent graffitti works – scratch that, “large city canvases” – and you can spy some notable ones along the walk, including at the Laurier Avenue underpass, which features the work of three artists’ interpretation of the changing Rideau Canal.

Look no further for your fall dose of literary action. The semi-annual Ottawa International Writers Festival (Oct. 25-30) features a luncheon with global bestseller and award-winning author Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime writer behind the whodunnit Inspector Rebus series. Other events to bookmark this festival include panels, poetry readings and award ceremonies with acclaimed and thought-provoking writers like George Elliot Clarke and Dionne Brand.

Two girls looking at gourds at a market stand: things to do in Ottawa in fall
Photo, Ottawa Tourism.

Shop Local

Canadiana treasures are easy to find at upcoming fairs in Ottawa, and with this in-between season, it’s the perfect time to find something just for you. And no trip to the capital city is complete without a visit to Ottawa’s ByWard Market, freshly made BeaverTail pastry in hand. With over 600 shops, artisan boutiques and restaurants spanning a four-block radius, this 192-year-old market is truly the heart of the city. Looking for great eats? The 3rd annual Ottawa SausageFest (Oct. 1-14) will be taking place at participating restaurants in the market. If it’s one-of-a-kind wares and trinkets you’re after, try The Crystal Dawn for spiritual stones, Tickled Pink PopShop for Canadian-made kids’ clothing, or Eclection for locally sourced accessories.

Meanwhile the Fall for Indie Craft Market (Oct. 13-14) at Makerspace North, an industrial area turned community hub at Ottawa’s City Centre, features workshops and more than 55 local and regional vendors including crafters and makers of artisanal food such as raw-nut Hippie Mylk. Petal & Pipe will be there with their steel pipe-fittings candle sticks and apple-pie soy candles, as will Ask yo Mother with its sweet millennial-messaging wall hangers, along with the delicate micro-macrame-inspired jewellery of Montreal’s Raiz.