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Ottawa is defined by two factors: its role as Canada's capital, and its proximity to nature. As a result, there is a wealth of major attractions -- such as the national museums, Parliament Buildings, and cultural festivals -- and an abundance of opportunities to explore the historic Rideau Canal, bike, in-line skate, or ski in the nearby Gatineau Hills.

You could build a jam-packed itinerary for each day of your vacation and still not see and do everything, so take the time to plan well and create a mix of activities that will allow you to sample the best the city has to offer.

If you're in Ottawa for only a short break, concentrate your sightseeing in and around the downtown area. You'll find that many of the major attractions are within walking distance of one another along Wellington Street and Sussex Drive, or on streets leading off these two roads. Visit www.virtualmuseum.ca for a listing and brief description of some of Ottawa's museums and heritage attractions.

Don't forget that Ottawa is a year-round destination, despite the harsh winters. Officially recognized as the world's largest skating rink, the Ottawa portion of the Rideau Canal becomes a focal point for outdoor activities in winter, especially during Winterlude in February. Once spring comes, each week brings a new festival or cultural celebration.

If this is a family vacation, keep in mind that many museums put on special programs and workshops for children and families on weekends and during school holidays (1 week in mid-Mar, the months of July and Aug, and 2 weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's Day). Call the Capital Infocentre (tel. 800/465-1867 or 613/239-5000) for exact dates, as they vary from year to year.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.