Your Perfect Weekend in Ontario
As the birthplace of Drake, Biebs, and other Canadian artists, Ontario — the province just north of Michigan — is fast emerging as a must-see destination thanks to a wave of red-hot restaurants, slick bars and and one-off boutiques in its cool capital, along with a booming wine region in Prince Edward County. Here's your weekend game plan.
Kick off the weekend by bunking down in the brand new Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market. Just opened this summer, the 200-room hotel is the country’s first Andaz property. The main areas and suites designed by the Toronto-based Mason Studio all have sweeping city views, minimalist decor (simple white bedding, grey accent walls and blond-wood furniture) and original artwork by Canadian artisans.
After settling in, take off for a free tour of Parliament’s Centre Block. The gorgeous Gothic structures overlook the Ottawa River, and inside you can see the Senate, House of Commons and the Library of Parliament, dubbed “the most beautiful room in Canada.” If you plan it right, you can even join a morning yoga session on the front lawn.
Loop back to the ByWard Market neighborhood for an afternoon of shopping. As the oldest and largest farmers’ market in Canada, the four-block area is now home to more than 200 restaurants and bars, plus a mix of one-off boutiques. You’ll also find 175 outdoor stalls selling fresh produce, flowers and handmade crafts from local artisans and vendors. Our favorite stops: House of Cheese and Lapointe Fish as well as newcomers like Origin Trade, a coffeehouse-meets-late-night-lounge, for a cup of coffee by day or a craft beer (try Beau’s and Kichesippi) by night. But the one thing you must get while you’re in the capital is a cinnamon sugar pastry from BeaverTails.
While you’re exploring the neighborhood, swing by the cute cobblestoned courtyards with casual al fresco cafes and quirky public art. With the low exchange rate (everything’s 30 percent off for Americans!), buy some boho-chic threads at Milk, leather items at Roots Canada, and Ottawa-made accessories at Goods Shop. Or, for more international brands, browse through CF Rideau Centre, which is fresh off a $360 million renovation and expansion that added stores such as Nordstrom, Kate Spade and Tiffany’s.
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On the way to dinner, stroll past Rideau Canal, North America’s oldest operating waterway and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the winter, it turns into a massive ice skating rink that stretches through downtown Ottawa — at 4.8 miles, it holds the Guinness World Record (only in Canada). Run by chefs Matthew Carmichael and Jordan Holley, the just-opened Riviera is the duo’s third restaurant and was reimagined from a former bank. The original details (metal safe doors, towering ceilings) remain, but now there’s an open kitchen where you can watch the staff whip up tuna crudo with puffed quinoa, chili, tomato and argan oil as well as cocktails such as Grapefruits of Wrath (tequila tromba blanco, Campari, IPA, lemon, hopped grapefruit bitters).
Ready for a road trip? Take a three-hour drive to Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s emerging wine regions with 45 vineyards connected by 86 acres of railroad-tracks-turned-bike-trails. Start at Norman Hardie Winery — once the former sommelier at the Four Seasons Toronto, the eponymous founder quit to travel the world for six years visiting wineries from New Zealand to South Africa before coming back to Canada to start his own. The laid-back outdoor patio is known for its wood-fired oven that cranks out delicious pizzas (paired perfectly with a glass of chardonnay). We also love the “100-yard tomato salad,” made from tomatoes that are picked fresh each morning just steps down the hill.
Continue the tour with some sparkling wines at Hinterland, before settling down with a picnic of pinot noir, fresh bread, cheeses and red wine jelly (made by the owner’s son) at the gorgeous 60-acre Grange Vineyards. The mother/daughter-run tasting room is housed inside a rustic barn (built in 1826) with exposed-wood beams and a striking stone fireplace.
After drinking the day away, refuel with a country-cozy dinner at East and Main Bistro. You can’t go wrong with the salad of heritage field greens, veggies, goat’s milk feta, toasted pumpkin seeds and a roasted garlic & apple vinaigrette, followed by the 28-day aged beef striploin with benedictine blue cheese and a red wine onion sauce (as if we needed more vino). Top it off with a nightcap at the hipster-favorite Drake Devonshire across the street — the brown butter maple old fashioned is a favorite.
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The Manse Boutique Inn is one of the most charming B&Bs around. Inside the 1906 limestone building, the seven guestrooms feature gas fireplaces, mahogany furniture and bathrooms with heated floors and rainfall showers. The manicured grounds are just as inviting with a koi pond, saltwater pool and hot tub.
On Sunday morning, don’t miss the Ottawa Farmers’ Market , which sets up shop outside of Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park. Rows of colorful peppers, carrots, tomatoes line the tables, and regional vendors sell gourmet goods to crowds of locals.
Back downtown, save time to explore the art exhibits at the National Gallery of Canada and the adjacent Major Hill’s Park, which overlooks the river. For spot-on views of Parliament, cross Alexandra Bridge to the Canadian Museum of History, then make your way west for lunch.
Foodies will love the C’est Bon walking tour of Wellington West, a hip nabe just a few minutes from the city center. First stop: Holland’s Cake and Shake, a malt shop that bakes six rotating desserts that are cheeky nods to popular culture (on a Willy Wonka themed week, there’s violet and blueberry bubblegum ganache on the menu). But the two out-of-this-world creations it’s known for are the cake cone (homemade soft serve blended with a cake then poured into a cake-batter cone) and the Overlord, a 16oz shake with cake, cookie, brownie, truffle, whipped cream and a lit sparkler.
A few steps down the road, you’ll find one of the region’s top specialties: Canadian bagels. At Ottawa bagelshop and deli, the dough is hand-rolled, dunked in honey water and then toasted in a wood-fired oven (the first in Ottawa). If you dig the classics, get the sesame, or go for a wacky flavor like lemon cranberry or rosemary sea salt. Next door is Saslove’s Meat Market, where a local Lebanese woman sells lamb, elk, bison and wild boar sausage. Vegetarians, on the other hand, will adore The Table’s vegan and gluten free buffet and Thyme & Again’s healthy options in its cafe/photography gallery. For a quick trip to France, there’s A Thing for Chocolate. The owner, Omar, is a one-man show, making homemade cakes, crepes and chocolates from scratch, and his latte brûlée (espresso, milk and cinnamon topped with torched sugar) is to die for.
When you need a pick me up, hit up Urban Juice Press for smoothies and kombucha — try the Hot Pink! (strawberries, banana, beet, dates, cashews, cinnamon, maple syrup). Prefer hops? Beyond the Pale craft brewery does the trick. The father/son pair pours a variety of beers, including the Drink Me Now harvest ale.
Get a bird’s-eye view of the capital by booking a flight on an open-cockpit 1939 vintage biplane at Canada Aviation & Space Museum. The museum has an impressive collection of aircraft, as well as interactive activities, films and demonstrations. Once your feet are back on the ground, retreat back to the Andaz for happy hour at the swanky outdoor terrace, Copper Spirits & Sights. The 16th-floor rooftop lounge is the tallest in the city and sets the bar high with marble tables, leather seating and concrete fire pits, not to mention the all-important drink menu (don’t miss the 1826 cocktail, a smoky-sweet concoction of maple tea-infused Crown Royal whisky, Amaro Lucano, rosemary mist and sugar maple candy).
Indulge in one last meal downstairs at the hotel’s restaurant feast + revel (think: braised Ontario lamb shoulder, rosemary jus, potato fondant and whipped curd, plus cavatelli pasta with roasted beets, sumac, pistachios, ricotta and mint). Talk about a grand finale.
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