As a native of Ottawa, I've seen this city evolve over the past 5 decades from a sleepy civil-service town to a national capital that can proudly hold its own with any city of comparable size.

The official population is more than 800,000, but the central core is compact and its skyline relatively short. Most Ottawans live in suburban, or even rural, communities. The buses are packed twice a day with government workers who live in communities like Kanata, Nepean, Gloucester, and Orleans, which were individually incorporated cities until municipal amalgamation in 2001. Although there are a number of residential neighborhoods close to downtown, you won't find the kind of towering condominiums that line the downtown streets of Toronto or Vancouver. As a result, Ottawa is not the kind of city where the downtown sidewalks are bustling with people after dark, with the exception of the ByWard Market and Elgin Street.

One could make the case that Ottawa would be very dull indeed were it not for Queen Victoria's decision to anoint it capital of the newly minted Dominion of Canada. Thanks to her choice, tourists flock to the Parliament Buildings, five major national museums, a handful of government-funded festivals, and the Rideau Canal. Increasingly, tourists are spreading out beyond the well-established attractions to discover the burgeoning urban neighborhoods like Wellington West and the Glebe, and venturing into the nearby countryside.

For visitors, Ottawa is an ideal walking city. Most of the major attractions -- and since this is a national capital, there are many -- are within easy walking distance of the major hotels.

After visiting Ottawa, you may wish to explore eastern Ontario for a few more days. Kingston, an appealing lakefront town, is the principal gateway to the Thousand Islands district of the St. Lawrence River. East from there is Prince Edward County -- a tranquil region of farms, orchards, quaint villages, and a burgeoning wine and culinary scene.

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