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Ottawa on a Budget

Where Ottawa intern Dana Carman does a day in the city with just $30 and a sense of adventure.

In a town with a large population of students (and their visiting friends), lavish galas, gourmet restaurants, and pricey festival tickets can run a little deep in the linings of your pockets. But what is there in the capital for the purse-string-clasping visitor? Come with me on a day to see the best of Ottawa for under $30. Seriously.

Breakfast at Mello’s – $10
Ottawa seems to be perpetually in the throws of development, its neighbourhoods expanding with new fair-trade coffee shops or trendy stores. In this constant growth, a place like Mello’s should not be taken for granted. Located on Dalhousie, Mello’s is an oasis for early morning risers and late night barflies. What some may write off as just another greasy spoon is actually a hidden gem. The simplicity of their menu demands fast action and surety. Order, receive, eat, and go. The restaurant is always flush with regulars who know the prestige menu items and would be happy to offer suggestions. Sure, I guess you could go to any diner in the city, but Mello’s stamina as a downtown staple makes it a must. 290 Dalhousie St., 613-241-1909.

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"Maman" at the National Gallery of Canada. Photo credit: © Louise Bourgeois Trust/ © Fiducie Louise Bourgeois.

Viewing “Maman” and the National Gallery of Canada site – $0
By now, you’re full and content but Ottawa is a bustling town and there’s no time to get lazy. Hitch up your britches and saunter the 10 minutes up to Sussex drive to behold Louise Bourgeois’s “Maman.” Everyone who visits Ottawa should take a tale back home of the bronze, nine-metre-tall, egg-carrying spider. Beyond “Maman” awaits a breathtaking view from Nepean Point. Look out and see the Rideau Canal, the Alexandra Bridge, and the shores of Gatineau. The National Gallery of Canada also has great grounds for strolling and viewing other outdoor artworks.

Parliament Hill. Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism.

Parliament Hill – $2
A visit to Parliament Hill may seem a little predictable, but it’s predictable for a reason: the property is riddled with hidden treasures and tidbits (and you don’t even have to go inside the Parliament Buildings!). Wander to the back of the grounds, beyond the library, for a dose of the warm fuzzies. The Parliamentary Cats’ estate rests behind a wrought iron fence where, at any given time, five to 25 cats live throughout the year (a wooden house was actually built for the felines to look like a mini version of the Parliament Buildings). Thought to have originally been imported by the hundreds for pest control purposes in the 1800s, the cats that are here today mostly spend their days lounging on the grounds. These independent kitties are taken care of by a group of volunteers who visit them regularly, which means most of the cats are pretty friendly. There’s a donation box to keep these cats happy; drop a toonie in for good karma. If you’re lucky, while visiting The Hill you may come upon a group of protesters. Form an opinion or become enlightened, but peaceful protests on the front steps of Canada’s capital is a pretty cool thing to see, no matter what your stance.

The City Hall Art Gallery – $0
Let’s take another walk over to the City Hall Art Gallery to really wake you up. Located on Laurier Avenue (literally inside City Hall), the gallery offers free admission to professional exhibits for art aficionados. Exhibitions change throughout the year and always offer an extraordinary experience.

Late Lunch In Chinatown – $10
You’re probably tired of walking, so dig out change for the #85 Bayshore bus on Waller Street. Make sure to get a window seat; sights on this busy route include the Rideau Centre, the new Ottawa Convention Centre, and Constitution Square. When you arrive in Chinatown you’ll be greeted by the new Royal Arch; a monument commemorating 40 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China. Lunch is at Raw Sugar, just beyond the arch on the corner of Somerset Street West and Cambridge Street. It’s a small restaurant that offers local events — from film to music — on many evenings. Their furnishings are made up of mismatched seats and tables, low couches, and even a little library. They have an extensive menu with unusual culinary delights (try a grapeleaf-wrap for $0.75) at reasonable prices, which means you can get lunch for under six dollars. Try their vegetarian chili for a familiar and delicious dish.

Little Italy. Photo credit: Dustin Botelho.

From The Orient To The Little Boot – $7.08
At the bottom of Chinatown, turn left on Preston Street to make your way to Little Italy. Along this strip, you’ll be tempted again and again by authentic Italian bistros and quaint linen and textile shops. On another day, you might even find your way to Di Rienzo’s grocery and deli for an awesome sandwich under $5 (111 Beech St., 613-729-4037). But, this day, you’re on a mission. Under the Little Italy Bridge, which is painted with scenes of homage to old world Italy and steadfast Preston establishments, and down the road, you’ll come upon Pub Italia. The décor’s inspired by a monastery, with solid and heavy religious art and statues placed throughout and stained-glass windows separating tables and rooms. Fine Italian food doubles as pub fare and their Beer Bible offers over 200 different beers from all over the world. But you aren’t in Canada’s capital to turn your back on their brew! Get locally made, organic Beau’s ale for a true taste of Ottawa.

Feeding the birds at Dows Lake. Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism.

Dows Lake – $0
Ottawa’s urban environment is lucky to have veins of lush nature throughout the city. Dows Lake is a man-made lake located at the end of Preston Street. It has a surprisingly abundant eco-system and sustains beautiful trees and other vegetation on its shores. Mosey over to the other side of the lake, to Commissioner’s Park — a main site of the annual Canadian Tulip Festival — to check out “The Man With Two Hats” monument: a symbol of the enduring friendship between the Netherlands and Canada. Plenty of visitors and locals alike use the banks along the lake as a place to exercise, pack a picnic, or sit and read a good book.

My daylong outing cost just $29.08 and I got to see many sites from one of the country’s most beautiful cities. I encourage you to see what you can do in Ottawa with $30 and a free day.