a peek inside the fishbowl

21 Jun, 2011

Ottawa attractions: a peek inside Parliament Hill

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Ottawa

I was trying to think of a clever tourist slogan for this post. What about: “Ottawa, What a Great Place To Be! /  Ottawa, quelle ville merveilleuse !”

Or: “Ottawa: fun, not frustrating! (Unless you’re talking about transit)”

(Ha. Feel free to add your own in the comments. I would LOVE to hear them.)

Do you want to know what I was thinking as we strolled away from the Ottawa Marriott (see yesterday’s post), towards Parliament Hill? Holy cats, do we ever live in a pretty city.

Peace Tower, Parliament Hill Ottawa

I’ve lived in Ottawa since I moved here in 1991 (eep, has it really been that long?) to study journalism at Carleton University. I met Mark when I was going into my fourth year. We bought a house in 1997, married, had babies, and never budged.

I’ve only been inside Parliament Hill three, maybe four times tops, and once was for work, to research a script I was writing for an educational video. (Now THAT was cool.)

So here’s my question: Why is it, that people who live in touristy cities rarely do tourist-like things?

I think “the touristy thing” is one of the best things we can do with our kids. Not only goes it help instil some civic pride, but it’s a neat way to learn about our collective history. And about other things! For example, some of the things we talked about during our walkabout included:

  • How the Rideau locks work
  • The great fire on Parliament Hill
  • How government works
  • Gargoyles
  • Bilingualism
  • Black groundhogs (which may or may not have included a word or two about genetics)

With kids, the walkabout often turns into a learnabout, and although not every single thing needs to be turned into An EducationL Moment, I kind of like that.

Thank goodness my husband is a walking encyclopedia.

We began our tour on Parliament Hill where they’re getting ready for Canada Day festivities. On the East side there’s a white info-tent that’s set up during the summer season. This is where you go to sign up for a tour of Centre Block and where the tours begin. Tours are free. (Yay!) We got our tickets and were given a booklet which contained a self-guided tour of the Hill, which was handy because we had about 30 minutes to kill. No prob. There is lots to see on the Hill, and surprisingly, much of it was stuff I’ve never seen before. Also, the views are fantastic from behind the Hill. There are interesting statues of famous folks to look at too. And a cat hotel! All are listed on the map.

The tour of Centre Block was short and sweet. The Peace Tower was closed that day (it’s a great thing to see, so check the hours beforehand) so I think our whole tour was about 45 minutes long. It’s totally manageable with kids, security lines and all (which is reminiscent of what you’d experience at the airport, but without the stern looks and he attitude).

Inside, we got to see where all the action happens and admire the art and architecture. We especially loved the library.

If you’re planning a visit you might want to check out the visitor information page. There is a lot of great information there.

After the tour we peeked at the first of two wedding parties having their wedding photos taken (the second group was kind of unique!), and took a flight of secret stairs down to the Ottawa River. The stairs – located in behind a black iron gate near the Summer Pavilion – are a pretty easy decent if you’re in tolerably good shape.

The path by the river is really pretty. We’ve been there on our bikes before, and it happens to be part of Mark’s route to work. Did you know there are some ruins down there, as well as a mysterious black groundhog who has been known to graze nearby? (We didn’t see him, but he must be real because he’s been seen by others.)

We checked out the locks and eventually made our way down Sparks Street and back to our hotel. It was a long day, but totally worth it. Have you done the tourist thing on the Hill? Any tips or must-sees you’d like to share? I’m all ears!


Want to see all the pics from that day? You can watch the slideshow below or jump straight to the Flickr set.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

This post is part of a summertime series about Ottawa Attractions. Would you care to share your favourite Ottawa place? It can be a well-known destination or a hidden treasure, but it must be family friendly! Please drop me a line.

5 Responses to "Ottawa attractions: a peek inside Parliament Hill"

1 | Bob LeDrew

June 21st, 2011 at 2:18 pm


Ottawa: we’re not all condos. Yet.
Ottawa: where the pizzerias are all Lebanese.
Ottawa: where Bridgehead isn’t an odd fetish involving dental work.
Ottawa: Don’t be fooled, City Centre isn’t in the centre.
Ottawa: those aren’t potholes — they’re cycling tests.
Ottawa: Entering our second century without a transit strategy.

2 | Sasha

June 21st, 2011 at 8:43 pm


I love playing tourist at home, and don’t do it nearly enough. But the Hill is definitely a favourite. Last time the grandparents were in town we went down and blew bubbles on the front lawn. It was a blast. The pictures are in the flickr sidebar on my homepage.

Something I really want to check out is the whispering gallery behind the library. The spot where I think it is was blocked by construction. Will have to check out the ruins, too, have never noticed them!

3 | Carla

June 21st, 2011 at 9:49 pm


I love being a tourist in my own town. And it helps that I love living in Ottawa because of it is small enough but being the capital it is also big enough for so much.
When my now-husband and I were dating we did a number of ‘let’s be tourists in Ottawa dates’ and found things we would never think of doing in Ottawa but we would totally if we were visiting another city. This is how we went to the Science and Tech museum for example. It was a great way to organise dates.

4 | julie

June 23rd, 2011 at 1:20 pm


I pulled the kids out of school Tuesday (8, 5 and 3) to toodle about downtown as we live and work in Kanata. We took the bus, stopped off at Lebreton Flats for Aboriginal Education Day, went thru the Rideau Centre, along the canal to the Byward Museum (used our Library Museum Pass) stopped at the NAC to admire the building and get pamphlets for next season, did the tour of the Peace Tower and got fries from a chip truck.
Iwas far less stressed than I thought I would be with the three-we packed lots of water, snacked at every location and did it on a work/school day to keep from being overwhelmed by the crowds.

5 | Welcoming a new patron: the Ottawa Marriott >> a peek inside the fishbowl

June 5th, 2012 at 12:05 pm


[…] may remember the epic stay we had at the Marriott last summer. (Part one is here, part two is here.) It was such a fantastic staycation that I seriously considered booking a room for myself and […]

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