The fall is a great time to visit our nation’s capital. It’s a reasonable drive from Toronto along the Trans-Canada Highway to Ottawa and can all be done under 5 hours and that includes at least one pit stop! Or take a little detour and visit a quaint little hotspot called Prince Edward County – we’re sure you’ve heard of it? I’d never been to Ottawa before, so I wanted to plan a trip that was as educational as it was fun for every member of the family. If you’re planning a road trip to Ottawa, here are our top recommendations with kids:WHAT TO DO:
Saunder’s Farm:—This was by far one of the biggest highlights of the trip. About a 30-minute drive from downtown Ottawa, you could spend a whole day here. There were several corn mazes for the kids to explore, a trampoline to bounce on, a Barn of Terror and a Haunted Hayride, plus tons of good food to eat. The hayride was the most unexpected surprise. As we hurtled down the dirt path in a tractor-pulled wagon, costume-clad demons jumped out at us, pulled chain saws and chased us. We screamed in delight. It was a fantastic way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon.
Byward Market: On Saturday morning, we wandered through the vendors at Byward Market, stopping for Beaver Tails and a cookie at the Le Moulin de Provence. President Obama visited the bakery in 2009 and they’ve been selling a special “Obama Cookie” ever since. There was tons to see in the historic pedestrian-only market, including souvenir stores galore. It was a great chance to sample all things Canadiana—from art to maple syrup—and talk about Canadian history and politics.
Haunted Walk Ottawa, the Ghosts and the Gallows Tour: Another spooky highlight was a Haunted Walk Ottawa tour. With tours in Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston, we chose the spookiest walk of all, called the Ghosts and Gallows, a 1.5-hour tour in the dark through the old Carleton County Jail (now HI Ottawa Jail Hostel). Said to be one of the most haunted buildings in North America, this was a well organized and completely scary evening. Our guide retold the story of the 1869 murder of politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee and the wrongful conviction and hanging of Patrick Whelan. We retraced his steps, peeking into the jail cells, solitary confinement and death row. The kids were terrified—in a good way—and loved hearing the ghost stories and history throughout the evening. I’d definitely recommend this particular tour for kids 10 and up, especially if they’re brave!
The Royal Canadian Mint: We bought tickets for a 45-minute tour that gave us a glimpse into how coins are made in Canada. The kids thought The Mint was cool—especially the bar of gold in the gift shop. They each had a chance to hold the gold and have their photo taken. The RCMP officer guarding the shop was very friendly and the kids got to learn about his job while we hung around and looked at the collector coins. We bought a holographic coin from the haunted jail tour and it looks like a new coin celebrating the Toronto Raptors NBA victory is now for sale!
Diefenbunker Cold War Museum: I was curious to see this museum- the underground bunker built by Prime Minister Diefenbaker during the Cold War. I was even more curious to try the world’s largest escape room, so we combined the two activities. The Diefenbunker Escape Room was another “must” on our trip. My family and I ran through the entire building solving clues to prevent the world from disaster before time ran out. We loved stepping back in time to the 1960s and working together to solve the mystery and save the world. By the end of our 60-minute experience, we were two clues away from winning. It was a ton of fun.
Canada Science and Technology Museum: The kids were pretty excited to try this museum. There were tons of cool hands-on exhibits and demonstrations geared toward the kids. It was very kid-friendly (and all done in English and French) but also great for adults. The kids especially loved the crazy kitchen exhibit. I loved looking back at the toy exhibit to see how much progress women have made in the last several decades. No more toy broom sets or vacuums for us!WHERE TO STAY:
There are lots of hotels to choose from in Ottawa but we loved the historic, elegant Lord Elgin Hotel . The rooms were modern and spacious, but also really comfy. The hotel was centrally located and a close walk to the shopping malls, restaurants and Byward Market. The kids loved swimming in the pool while I relaxed in the hot tub. The staff were very friendly, especially the folks at the valet desk. One employee even rushed down to my car late at night to retrieve my son’s cold medicine. I couldn’t say thank you enough times!WHAT TO EAT:
Beaver Tails: No trip to Ottawa is complete without trying a warm beaver tail—it’s not a real beaver tail but it’s fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar in the shape of a beavertail. There are lots of other toppings to try, too (S’Mores anyone?), but cinnamon and sugar is a classic. It was the most popular treat with people lining up at several outlets to try this Canadian delicacy.
The Scone Witch: Conveniently located a block from our hotel, we happened upon a restaurant called The Scone Witch. This might have been the biggest foodie find of all. I had no idea how much the kids and I would love scones and jam. There were tons of flavours to choose from so we went back two days in a row. The eggs and coffee were delicious, too!Feast + Revel: I heard about this restaurant in Byward Market that was a little bit upscale, but I wanted the kids to try real Canadian food, and by this, I don’t mean hot dogs and french fries! They tasted bannock with spruce and maple butter, seared sea scallops, salt and sugar cured and roasted Nagano pork belly with grilled peaches, and—the highlight—a dessert called Pouding Chomeur, a cake with maple caramel and vanilla gelato. Go early-ish for happy hour appetizers and drinks.HOW WE GOT THERE:
As luck would have it, I was asked to test drive the new Hyundai Palisade, an eight-seat luxury vehicle that became available for sale in spring 2019. It would have been easy enough to fly from Toronto to Ottawa or to take the train, but with all the outings we had planned, we opted to drive. This was the perfect opportunity to test drive the car. It was honestly an impressive ride, both looks wise and in terms of safety and size.
Here are the features I really loved:
- Tons of room for the kids to settle down with pillows and blankets for the road trips. There were enough charging outlets for all their electronics.
- The CarPlay feature enabled me to easily listen to music on my phone, follow directions and have my text messages read aloud for me.
- When the kids were watching their devices in the back, I could adjust the speakers to the front, so that only my husband and I could hear while the kids could have some quiet.
- The car had so many great safety features, too, like cameras in my blind spots, back-up cameras that showed me the entire street view when I was trying to parallel park. The car would also beep at me and steer me back to the centre of the lane when I got too close to any white lines.
We drove in “sport mode” (at my son’s request) and it was a fast, smooth ride all the way there and back. It’s definitely a car I will check when I’m in the market for a new family car.