Ottawa thrives on cosmopolitan culture, but the city’s most enduring traditions live in its dozens of yearly festivals. From award-winning music to cutting-edge art, a world of unmissable celebrations is just a short flight away.
For Down-Home Music: Capital Hoedown
Since its 2010 beginning, Capital Hoedown has quickly become the largest country music festival in North America. Though the event has seen its share of troubled waters — legal issues have delayed announcements about the upcoming installment — it’s still among the most beloved of Ottawa’s celebrations thanks to performances by musicians like Kenny Chesney, Dwight Yoakam and Sara Lambert.
For Avant-Garde Performance: Ottawa Fringe Festival
Designed to celebrate artists who work at the outer edges of mainstream culture, this 10-day festival is a fantastic way to see the city’s creativity in action. Performances are held both indoors and out, and you’ll see cutting-edge work by local playwrights, performance artists and forward-thinking troupes.
For LGBT Art: Inside Out Film and Video Festival
Ottawa’s annual Pride Festival is an incredible experience, but this fest offers a different take on awareness and support. Created by a non-profit charity of the same name, Inside Out showcases lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema as a way to foster local pride and support the creative community. Though the organization maintains a constant presence in Toronto, this four-day celebration is the pinnacle of its efforts in Ottawa. If you’re in the area in October, make sure to catch a screening or two.
For Bluesy Tunes: Ottawa Bluesfest
Every July, downtown Ottawa hums with the energy of this festival, and it’s a must-do experience for travellers of all types. Known as Canada’s largest blues celebration — and North America’s second largest — Bluesfest plays hosts to an eclectic mix of traditional blues artists and mainstream rock acts. Pack your bags, purchase Amex’s travel insurance for Canadians, and hit the road: This is one local party you simply can’t miss.
For Literary Chats: Ottawa International Writers Festival
Writers, theorists and lit lovers the continent over flock to this twice-yearly event to attend lectures, take part in workshops and listen to readings from some of the world’s most prominent authors. Even kids can join the fun with a standalone event that promotes children’s books in libraries and schools.
For Younger Crowds: Ottawa International Children’s Festival
Of course, children’s literature isn’t the only thing that little ones can celebrate in Ottawa. During the early summer months, the International Children’s Festival descends on the city, and this vibrant event has won numerous awards for its innovative programs. Canadian artists abound here, but you’ll also get the chance to see performers from Europe, South America and Asia.
For Floral Landscapes: The Canadian Tulip Festival
Tulip festivals tend to conjure images of pastoral Dutch landscapes, but one of the world’s most expansive events takes place right here in North America. With more than a million tulips gracing the city’s streets and waterfronts, the Canadian Tulip Festival is alive with colour. Plus, it features talks with world-renowned thinkers and performances by a variety of musicians.