Fall is a magical time in Canada's capital. So much so that gaping at the crimson, gold, and mint-green leaves is basically a sport and even has its own word: leafing.
The season offers a lovely backdrop for romantic photos. In Ottawa, autumn has some of the year's best weather- not too steamy or too chilly. It's also accompanied by the harvest, with a bounty of apples and pumpkins ripe for the picking at farms around the city.
Here's what to do in Ottawa in the fall and where to wind down after a day well-spent crunching through colorful leaves.
Leafing in Ottawa's downtown core
Get started at the heart of Canadian democracy: the 19th-Century neo-Gothic Parliament Hill buildings, which provide the quintessential subject for leafing photos, especially from nearby Major's Hill Park. But don't stop there; exploring the sights around the capital buildings — and finding unique angles to photograph them — can easily fill an entire day. Worthy stops are the 70-foot-tall National War Memorial, dedicated to veterans from the first and second World Wars as well as the Korean and South African Wars and the mission in Afghanistan; the historic Fairmont Château Laurier; and the Ottawa Locks that join Canada's pre-Confederation capital, Kingston, through the 126-mile Rideau Canal.
If enticed by the water, there are many pathways to explore along the Ottawa River. Pick up the Ottawa River Pathway at the bottom of Parliament Hill. This is a portion of the larger Trans-Canada Trail, which is a 15,000-mile network of waterways, greenways, and roadways that stretches across the entire country, the largest such network in the world.
No trip to downtown Ottawa is complete without visiting the ByWard Market, an indoor/outdoor market with fun shops and must-try bites, including the city's most renowned dish, BeaverTails. These vegetarian-friendly fried dough treats are served with toppings like Nutella or cinnamon sugar and a spritz of lemon.
Ottawa's fall outdoor activities
Ottawa prides itself on being one of the most active cities in North America, especially when it comes to hiking and cycling, thanks to an impressive network of bike paths.
Another fabulous place to walk is in the Dominion Arboretum, which covers 86 acres and has its own tropical greenhouse. Outside of downtown, the Greenbelt, a halo that surrounds the city, has plenty of pathways.
For adrenaline seekers, Ottawa is the proud host of a new 1,400-foot zipline across the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Quebec, Interzip Rogers. At 25mph, the zipline carries passengers about as fast as Canadian Olympic gold medalist Andre DeGrasse ran the 200-meter dash in Tokyo. If you're hoping to take a spin on the zipline, don't hesitate- it closes for the season on October 31st.
Fun fall events
The leaves changing in Ottawa is also the inauguration of the Halloween season, and there are plenty of ways to get your spook on. Downtown, Haunted Walk (offered daily in October and on November 5th and 6th) reveals the ghoulish side of the city. Under an hour's drive from downtown is another popular haunt, Saunders Farm, a playground of corn mazes, creepy haunted walks, and a seriously freaky hay-wagon ride. The fun here wraps up October 31st. Historical-reenactment site Upper Canada Village also hosts a Halloween fest called Pumpkinferno, which runs from September 24th until October 31st and features 7,000 handcrafted pumpkins as well as an illuminated night tour.
For something less spooky, many farms around Ottawa allow visitors to pick their own apples or pumpkins. Some worthwhile spots are Proulx Farm and Mountain Orchard. Call or check their websites for details on when pumpkin and apple seasons begin and end.
If visiting in November, check out the 3-day Crave Food and Wine Festival (November 19-21) or pin a poppy to your shirt and attend a moving Remembrance Day memorial ceremony on November 11th at Beechwood Cemetery. Beechwood Cemetery also hosts historical tours every fourth Sunday of the month that are extra special during autumn.
Winding down in Ottawa
All that leaf crunching can be exhausting, and there's no better place to relax every cell of the body than Le Nordik Spa-Nature, North America's largest Scandinavian spa. It offers ten outdoor baths, nine different saunas, and an infinity pool that overlooks the Gatineau Hills. The scenery is incredible in fall with all the colorful leaves. After the spa, nearby Les Fougères, found in wonderfully wooded surroundings in the quaint town of Chelsea, Quebec offers one of the area's best culinary experiences.
Back in the city, the National Arts Centre’s onsite restaurant, 1 Elgin, serves modern cuisine using seasonal and local ingredients. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a taste of autumn while enjoying the views of the Rideau Canal from their covered patio. For excellent seafood, Whalesbone is the place to be. And for something a bit more dialed down, don't miss the city's prized Lebanese wraps at Shawarma Palace or hip taco spot El Camino.
Warm the cockles of the soul with a tasty latte or hot chocolate from The Art House Café in Ottawa's Chinatown or Little Victories Coffee Roasters, which has locations downtown on Bank and Elgin streets.
To cap off a fall visit to Ottawa, try one of the city's many breweries, which are helping to usher in Canada's craft beer renaissance. Try Tooth and Nail in the hip Hintonburg neighborhood or Stray Dog Brewing Company, a dog-friendly microbrewery serving up pale ales and IPAs located in the heart of the Orléans neighborhood.