best neighbourhoods in ottawa

The Best Neighbourhoods in Ottawa

The best neighbourhoods in Ottawa are filled with music, art, theatre, delicious food, museums, and luscious green spaces. They are the heart and soul of Ottawa.

Last Updated on December 21, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan

Searching for the best neighbourhoods in Ottawa was one of the ways I fell in love with the city. My first couple of trips to Ottawa in the early aughts were fun, but I stayed mostly within downtown and the ByWard Market, and soon became bored. When I returned over five years later, I branched out into some of the neighbourhoods surrounding the downtown core, and I was captivated.

The heart and soul of Ottawa can be found within its neighbourhoods. From neighbourhoods teaming with live music venues or theatres to ones packed with artisans, delicious restaurants, and boutiques that can put a dent in your bank account.

In my opinion, the best way to enjoy your time is to categorize your desired things to do in Ottawa by neighbourhood, then focus on two or three at most.

let’s dig into the best neighbourhoods in ottawa

Best neighbourhoods in Ottawa: Parliament Hill in Downtown Ottawa
Parliament Hill in Downtown Ottawa

wellington west

Wellington West is trendy and vibrant, packed with restaurants serving mouth-watering foods, bars and microbreweries, cafés, sweet spots, and boutiques. Wellington Street West is the neighbourhood’s main artery, but there are gems to be found on the neighbourhood’s quieter residential streets, too. When walking around, keep your eyes peeled for miniature food art attached to building surfaces and crevices.

The Ottawa Bagel Shop and Deli have tasty Montreal-style wood-oven bagels, and Suzy Q is well known for its doughnuts. I always make time to stop at Lusa Bakery for bola de berlim and pastéis de nata. Chesterfield’s Diner is a popular gourmet breakfast spot, and The Ministry of Coffee is a hip place for a caffeine break. Shop for maps and guides at the World of Maps, and vinyl records at The Record Centre.

See a theatrical performance at the Great Theatre Company, knock over pins at West Park Bowling, and grab beers at Tooth and Nail Brewing Company.

Supply and Demand is an award-winning restaurant, and Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern is known for oysters and live music. BiBi‘s serves yummy Middle Eastern foods, and Heartbreakers Pizza is a must. Ice cream lovers should make a b-line for The Merry Dairy, and Hello Dolly has fancy iced sugar cookies.

The Best Neighbourhoods in Ottawa: Wellington West
Suzy Q Doughnuts in Wellington West

the glebe

South of downtown Ottawa is The Glebe, a neighbourhood best known for its small shops, restaurants, and outdoor spaces. The Rideau Canal borders the neighbourhood on the east and south, to Bronson Ave (the few residential streets east of Dow’s Lake, and Commissioners Park, too), and the Queensway (HWY 417) across the top. In the early 1800s, this neighbourhood was part of the clergy reserve of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, which is where the name Glebe stems from (it’s Middle English for church lands).

The Glebe is one of the best neighbourhoods in Ottawa for beautiful green spaces. Lansdowne Park often tops the list, with scenic walking paths, a skatepark, a children’s area, and a view of the Rideau Canal. There’s Patterson’s Creek Park, and picturesque Central Park, too. Commissioners Park is home to the annual Canadian Tulip Festival. TD Place in Lansdowne is home to the Ottawa RedBlacks (CFL) and Ottawa 67s (OHL), and watching their games is always a good time.

Bibliophiles will enjoy shopping at Octopus Books, and Beandigen is a wonderful Indigenous-owned café. Aberdeen Pavillion in Lansdowne is home to the 613flea market and the Ottawa Farmer’s Market, and in winter, the Christmas market is here, too. Chickpeas have tasty vegetarian eats, and Wild Oat Bakery is a great breakfast and lunch spot. The St Rita has wood-fired pizzas, Erling’s Variety serves gourmet home-cooked dinners, and Hareg Cafe & Variety is a go-to for Ethiopian food.

old ottawa south

Old Ottawa South is a small neighbourhood sandwiched between the Rideau Canal and the Rideau River, with Bronson Ave as its west border and Avenue Road as the east. In the early 19th century it was home to American and British settlers, and today many of its residents are upper middle class. The neighbourhood is known for its vintage buildings, coffee shops, and entertainment venues. It’s also home to Brewer Park and community garden, and fabulous street art under the George Dunbar Bridge.

Mayfair Theatre opened its doors in 1932, and it’s one of the only independent movie theatres in the city. Continue your night of retro fun across the street at House of TARG with vintage pinball machines, pints of beer, and perogies. Yes, perogies! Bibliophiles will love Black Squirrel Books, and Haven is a comfy cafe with a small bookshop.

Kick things off with gourmet oatmeal (sweet or savoury) at Oat Couture, and try the jalapeno popper pizza at Pizza Nerds. You can build your own fancy grilled cheese sandwich at Life of Pie, and Ten Fish has great takeaway sushi. Go to The Belmont for brunch, Malak Pastry for Lebanese desserts, and Paper Tiger for Dan Dan noodles and tuna crudo. For dessert, pop over to Stella Luna Gelato.

centretown

Between Gloucester St (then Lisgar St) and the Queensway, Bronson Ave and the Rideau Canal is Centretown. It’s home to quiet leafy residential streets, several embassies, shops, restaurants, and spectacular murals. Spend a few hours exploring the Canadian Museum of Nature, which is in a gorgeous baronial building, and has one of the best natural history collections in the world. For kitschy touristy fun, Oh, Canada! Dinner Theatre is a good time. There’s an Escape Manor escape room, too!

For amazing Italian sandwiches, hit up Subito Sandwiches. On Kent St, Falafel Scoop is a yummy quick meal option, and Pure Kitchen has a great vegetarian menu. Elgin Street Diner is open 24 hours, and I’m addicted to the cherry milkshake. Splurge for a steak with all the fixings at Harmons Steakhouse, or Northern Italian food at North & Navy. Honestly, there are so many great restaurants in Centretown: Wilf & Ada’s, On Rice, The Great Canadian Poutinerie, Gongfu Bao, and Meow! That’s Hot.

Shop for all things camera related (new and vintage) at Galaxy Camera, and Myths & Legends has a ton of comic books. Wallacks is a must for artists. Bellwethers Vintage is a glorious clothing shop, and The Red Apron is one of my favourite gourmet food shops. While away the evening at Flora Hall Brewing, Charlotte cocktail bar, or The Manx Pub.

Grounded Kitchen in Downtown Ottawa - Best Neighbourhoods in Ottawa
Barbecue from Grounded Kitchen

downtown

Downtown Ottawa is the main business center of Ottawa and is home to Parliament Hill (take the free tour) and the Supreme Court of Canada. Two iconic Ottawa hotels can be found here: Fairmont Château Laurier and Lord Elgin, but they are not the only accommodations in downtown Ottawa. You’ll find the Bytown Museum here, as well as the Ottawa Locks and the scenic Ottawa River Pathway. The National Arts Centre is the best performing arts centre in Ottawa, and the Bank of Canada Museum is intriguing.

Sparks Street, between Elgin St and Lyon St N, is a pedestrian street and the site of many food festivals and events – such as Poutine Week and the Asian Festival Night Market. For laughter, Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club can be a good time. Skip the franchise coffee shops and restaurants. In the morning, go to The Scone Witch or Little Victories Coffee Roasters.

If you’re looking for quick affordable eats, go to Gooneys Sandwichworks, Paradise Poke, or the Mad Radish. slurp up noodles and soups at Sansotei Ramen, and have sticky barbecue at Grounded Kitchen. The Metcalfe Hotel recently re-opened, and the restaurant, Cocotte, serves rich modern French cuisine. For fine dining, Aiana has luscious art nouveau vibes, and Beckta Dining is trendy and retro. Both serve upscale Canadian cuisine. For drinks, hit up Rabbit Hole and Stolen Goods for cocktails. Swizzles is a super fun gay bar with karaoke nights, drag, and an overall good vibe.

lower town

This is the oldest neighbourhood in Ottawa. Rideau Street acts as the southern border, the Ottawa River is to the north, and the Rideau River is to the west. In the early days, it was home to French Canadians and Irish settlers. Today, it’s an artist hub, as well as one of Ottawa’s top tourist attractions, the ByWard Market. The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is gorgeous, and there are a lot of murals and sculptures to see throughout the neighbourhood. It’s also home to several embassies.

ByTowne Cinema is a historic movie theatre with an eclectic mix of movies, and Bingham Park is a lovely place to relax, and go swimming or ice skating in winter. Shopping around the ByWard Market is highly recommended. Irving Rivers is a delightful kitschy souvenir shop, Paper Papier is a notebook addict’s dream, and International Cheese is… cheese! Oh, and let’s not forget Wedel, a gourmet European food shop.

There are a few great places to eat here. La Bottega has build-your-own Italian sandwiches for under 10 CAD. There is Fatboys Southern Smokehouse for barbecue, Fairouz Cafe for Middle Eastern mezze, and Chez Lucien has great burgers. First Bite Treats is the only place you’ll find croffles (part croissant and waffle), and For God Shakes has insane milkshakes. The first-ever BeaverTails is here as well. For coffee go to Luxe Blooms Flower Cafe or Lollo Salads & Coffee. Grab drinks and have some fun at The Loft Lounge, The Brig Pub, or The Hyde. The Lookout Bar is a fab gay bar and neighbourhood icon.

Best neighbourhoods in Ottawa: Royal Arch in Chinatown
Royal Arch in Chinatown

chinatown

The first Chinese to settle in Ottawa arrived around 1911, and by 1931 they established Chinatown on Albert Street, between Kent and O’Conner. As the city grew and office buildings began to pop up downtown, Chinatown businesses began to close. In the 1970s an influx of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants arrived, and a new Chinatown started to emerge on Somerset Street W, between Bay and Preston. The Royal Arch (a joint project with Beijing), the gateway to Chinatown, was erected on Somerset, just after Bronson Ave, in 2010.

In June, Ottawa Chinatown Night Market is an event not to be missed. It’s three days of live music, dragon and lion dance, and truly amazing eats. The best Asian food shops are Lim Bangkok Grocery, Shiraz Food Market, and Ping Fat Lee. Grab a coffee at Drip House or Ten Toes Coffee House and Laundry, or go to Hangout for bubble tea.

Eat traditional Burmese food, and head over to Rangoon Restaurant. For yummy Vietnamese food, go to Saigon Boy Noodle House, Co Cham, or Pho Tuan. Delicious dumplings can be found at Ha’s Dim Sum Noodle House. Ramen is best at Koichi Ramen, and Korean House is a go-to for Korean barbecue. The best Chinese restaurants are Cafe Orient, So Good Restaurant, and Royal Treasure. Microbrew at Spark Beer is highly recommended.

little italy

Preston Street, from Albert Street to Carling Avenue, is Ottawa’s Little Italy. This area was first settled around 1900, and between the world wars a second wave of Italians arrived in the area, along with Ukrainian and Polish immigrants. The Little Italy archway is down by Preston St and Carling Ave, a gateway to a neighbourhood of fabulousness. There is an abundance of Italian food shops, cafes, and restaurants here, as well as other cuisines. Green Payaya has good Thai food, and Laheeb Shawarma to name a couple.

Catch a show at Absolute Comedy or play some pool at Orange Monkey Bar & Billiards. See a performance at the iconic Gladstone Theatre. One of the best food shops is Luciano Foods, closely followed by Mercato Zacconi. Delicious Italian sandwiches from Sanguiccio Deli are filling, and Umbrella Burger is quite good, too! Dreamland is a cutesy place for pasta. Carmelito has really good desserts, Roberto or Farinella Rochester are perfect for pizza, and Pub Italia is a quirky and lively place for beers and all kinds of fun.

Splurge on some of Ottawa’s best fine dining restaurants and make reservations at Atelier, Alice, or Giovanni’s. Honestly, the best way to experience Little Italy is to walk around and try as many foods as you possibly can.

Enjoy the summertime patios, and chat with locals. In fact, that is the best way to experience any neighbourhood in Ottawa (or any city for that matter). This post covers some of the best neighbourhoods in Ottawa to get you started. The further out you go, the more residential the neighbourhoods become, but that doesn’t mean they should not be explored. In fact, some of the strip malls have great restaurants and shops.

Safety: for the most part, Ottawa is a safe city. That being said, be smart, and don’t flash your valuables. Pickpocketing can happen, so be aware of your surroundings. Many of Ottawa’s homeless population can be seen in Lower Town, especially around the Rideau Centre and ByWard Market late at night and in the mornings. They’re human, and it’s important to be respectful.

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