Rink outside the box

Lisa Perkovic packs all the highlights of Canada's buzzing capital city into one action-filled weekend.

Canada's capital city is home to plenty of pollies but there's more to see in Ottawa than government monuments. Heritage markets, world heritage ice rinks, boutique microbreweries and popular contemporary art make for an activity-packed weekend.

Friday 5pm drinks

Work's done for the week so join the locals for a drink. Pollies, lobbyists and the media walk across the road from Parliament Hill to the Parliament Pub. Caricatures of Canadian cabinet ministers line the walls, while the real ones like to sit at the bar. The pub's entrance on Wellington Street is virtually in the shadow of the Peace Tower and Parliament Hill - keep an eye out for sound and light shows projected on to the buildings during summer. If that's not your scene, walk east to Elgin Street, where underground The Manx pub has an extensive Scotch selection and several Canadian microbrews on tap.

Late-night dinner

Downtown Ottawa sits at the confluence of the Gatineau, Rideau and Ottawa rivers. Cross over the Ottawa River on the Alexandra Bridge into Gatineau and you're in Quebec. French is the official language of this former French colony. In Gatineau's old town of Hull you'll find plenty of Ottawa's young population taking advantage of the lower drinking age (Ontario's legal drinking age is 19, Quebec's is 18) but you'll also find restaurants serving traditional French and French Canadian food.

Morning market

Start the day early and beat the crowds at the ByWard Market. Established in 1826, the market comprises more than 200 stalls sprawled along the streets behind the Westfield-like Rideau Centre. Everything from farmhouse cheeses and fresh produce to hand-knitted beanies and moose-patterned mittens are sold from 6am to 6pm. Duck into fair trade coffee house Bridgehead for a cappuccino but save morning tea until you reach the BeaverTail shop on George Street. The flat pastry rolled into the shape of Canada's national critter is fried and covered in brown sugar and cinnamon. Just as patriotic is a visit to Smoke's Poutinerie on Dalhousie Street. Poutine is a Quebec specialty but here the soggy cheese curd and gravy-topped French fries are given a few more calories, with extra toppings such as pulled pork, sour cream and Montreal smoked meat.

For a souvenir you can take home, visit the Roots store in the Rideau Centre. Ontario's home-grown label is stocked around the country; its maple leaf and beaver logo is worn by all the cool outdoor kids.


Outdoor adventures

Get some use out of your new outdoor gear. This isn't the Canadian wilderness but there are more than 180 kilometres of cycle paths between Ottawa and Gatineau. The Capital Pathway system marks out paths through the city and along both banks of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Rideau Canal. Bike rentals are available just east of the canal swing bridge. During winter, trade your wheels for skates when the canal freezes over to become one of the world's longest ice rinks. From downtown to Dow's Lake, the 7.8-kilometre stretch of ice is a rink like no other. Pick up a BeaverTail and hot chocolate for afternoon tea.

Saturday night sport

To see some serious ice skating, head to Scotiabank Place to watch National Hockey League side the Ottawa Senators carve up the ice. Or head to one of the ByWard Market pubs to watch a game live. The Aulde Dubliner & Pour House and The Highlander Pub are two popular watering holes.

A cultural Sunday

The National Gallery of Canada's towering glass-and-stone home is the pride of Ottawa's modern architecture. Its glass-walled Great Hall has a stunning view of Parliament Hill and the Gatineau Hills. Inside, a cutting-edge contemporary collection is worth a look, too. The impressive Inuit wing is home to some of the most intriguing items from Canada's indigenous people, including antlers carved into artworks and bears chiselled from rock.

Afternoon tea and a place to sleep

Ten minutes' walk west of the gallery is Ottawa's luxurious Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel. Celebrating its centenary this year, the hotel is an ode to old world glamour. Find the time to take afternoon tea in the opulent Zoe's Lounge, where waiters in white gloves serve tea and scones under the crystal chandeliers. The guest rooms are also an elegant affair, graced by kings, queens, presidents, artists and enough politicians for the site to be dubbed "the third chamber of parliament". Check in before heading down the street to see the official home of parliament.

The striking green turrets of Parliament Hill's buildings stand high above Ottawa River. There are free guided tours of the chambers and you can ride the lift right to the top of the 90m-high Peace Tower. The lift stops en route so you'll catch a glimpse of the giant 10,000-kilogram bells, which are said to have been made from melted World War I cannons. The 360-degree panorama from the peak is well worth the ride.

Trip notes

Getting there

Qantas flies from Sydney to Ottawa through Los Angeles and Chicago from $2258. 131 313, qantas.com.au.
Virgin flies to Ottawa through Los Angeles and JFK from $1998.98. 136 789, virginaustralia.com.
Air Canada flies from Sydney through Vancouver from $2635. 1300 655 767, aircanada.com.

Staying there

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is Canada's very own castle, right next to the Rideau Canal. Guest rooms start at $C239 ($231) a night. fairmont.com/laurier-ottawa.
Swiss Hotel is just south of downtown Ottawa on historic Daly Avenue. Rooms from $C128 a night. swisshotel.ca.

See + do

Parliament Pub, parliamentpub.com.
Smoke's Poutinerie, smokespoutinerie.com.
BeaverTails, beavertailsinc.com.
Roots, canada.roots.com.
Rideau Centre, rideaucentre.com.
Canada Cycling, canadascapital.gc.ca/things-to-do/cycling.
The Highlander Pub, thehighlanderpub.com.
National Gallery of Canada, gallery.ca/en.

More information