Forgo parking meters and flashing streetlights for quiet streets and scenic roadways. Ottawa is surrounded by many quaint small towns in Ontario and Quebec worthy of at least a day trip.
It’s easy to escape the busy city and find new adventures within an hour’s drive. Here are nine charming small towns near Ottawa and what you can discover in each.
This quaint village is technically a part of Ottawa but visiting it will make you forget you’re in the city. There is something for everyone, whether you want to grab a patio beer after a hike or enjoy shopping and a tasty lunch.
On Saturdays, from May to October, you can browse a massive farmers’ market, finding anything from meats and dairy products to soups, pies and hard ciders, as well as pottery and knits. It is also the location for the annual Carp Fair each September.
If you are hungry, the market space is within walking distance of other local businesses, including Alice’s Village Café, a cute spot to grab lunch, and Carp Custom Creamery, a must-try ice cream shop.
Another top pick is drinking award-winning wine as you watch the sunset over a lush vineyard at KIN Vineyards. This winery has a spacious outdoor patio where you can eat Pinsa, Romana-style pizzas and other Italian dishes from Joe’s Italian Kitchen, a sister location to their Almonte spot. You can sip by the bottle, glass or enjoy a flight tasting, learn about the wine-making process, and book a private winery tour.
Canada’s Cold War Museum, Diefenbunker, is also in the village. You can venture 75 feet underground to experience the exhibitions at the museum or try to break free of the world’s largest escape room.
You’ll feel like you stepped back in time in Perth, a beautiful small town full of historic stone buildings. There are many attractions, restaurants, shops, landmarks, and seasonal festivals, so there’s always something new to discover.
Fun fact, the town of Perth is where the last fatal duel in Canada took place. You can visit where the fight occurred at Last Duel Park, and then sip on the easy-drinking Last Duel Lager from Perth Brewery and check out the original pistols, among other artifacts, at the Perth Museum.
If you’d rather mix history and treats, go to Code’s Mill, a 19th-century stone mill that is now home to multiple businesses. Inside, you can sample chocolate from Perth’s Chocolate Works, indulge in donuts from Blackfly Grub Hub or enjoy pub eats from Fiddleheads Bar and Grill. Then cross the street toward the picturesque Stewart Park to relax.
There are many other places to find food and gifts around town, including Mex & Co., a Mexican eatery featuring a multi-level patio on a canal and Perth Cheese Shop, where you can create an epic charcuterie like the snack-size charcut-a-cone.
If you love outdoor adventures, you can hike through the Perth Wildlife Reserve or rent a kayak from Perth Major Outfitters to paddle along the Tay River.
A historic jewel along the Rideau Canal, Merrickville offers unique shops, photo ops, historic landmarks and tasty eats throughout the town. Within walking distance of St. Lawrence Street, the main street has plenty of businesses to browse and restaurants where you can grab a bite.
Don’t miss the many local shops in town; Gourmet mustard from Mrs. McGarrigles Fine Food, handmade ice cream from Downtown Ice Cream Shoppe, artisan candles from Wick Witch Apothecary, salted caramels from Pickle and Myrhh or home décor from Country Bumpkins. You’re sure to leave with something special. Another gem is the red phone booth outside the Goose and Gridiron pub for a fun photo that looks like you’ve travelled to England. You can also eat lunch on the lush garden patio at Yellow Canoe Café.
Or, if you are searching for something free to do, head to the Merrickville Ruins. You can walk around the historic site, see the impressive stone ruins, and sit on Adirondack chairs overlooking the water.
The Merrickville Blockhouse is another stone, historic building, and this once-defensive structure is also a seasonal museum. However, old buildings aren’t the only thing preserved in this town; there are multiple antique stores where you can hunt for treasures and a glass studio, maintaining the art of glass blowing. At Gray Art Glass, you can shop for unique glassware and learn new skills at a glass-blowing workshop.
Referred to as the friendly town, you’ll feel like you’re walking through the set of a Hallmark movie when visiting, and rightfully so since many have actually been filmed here. From historic landmarks like the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum to a scenic riverwalk that features waterfalls and fine casual dining at The Sterling, your small-town dreams are sure to come true.
Coffee lovers will want to visit Baker Bob’s, where you can grab a coffee, baked goods, and vintage candies. Also, keep your eyes peeled around town for Equator Coffee since their head roastery is nearby.
You can’t miss the bright yellow door of the gift shop Cheerfully Made. The shop carries an incredible assortment of jewellery, bath and body products, and clothing, plus they host markets throughout the year where you can shop even more local makers.
Almonte is home to many unique businesses, including Dairy Distillery, which creates Vodkow, a vodka-like spirit, and cream liquors made from milk permeate. The lactose byproduct is recycled from local dairy farmers.
Another must-stop in town is Hummingbird Chocolate. You can taste some award-winning chocolate — bars, peanut butter cups, salted caramels and more — which often feature other local treats in their sweets.
About 25 kilometres from downtown Ottawa, Manotick is overflowing with small-town charm. Its most recognized landmark is Watson’s Mill, a seasonal museum and historic site. It holds some spooky ghost tales and makes for a stunning photo backdrop. Dickinson House is across the square, a heritage home worth visiting. Admission is free on weekdays and by donation on weekends.
Enjoy a morning coffee with a scone from 692 Coffee and Bar or a midday donut from Mimi’s Donuts and Dairy Barn. With a tearoom and a pub nearby, you’re covered for any meal you want while visiting. Or, if you’re craving delicious Italian food, you’re in luck. Angelina, Babbos Cucina Italiana and Pizza All’Antica are just a few places to eat in town.
Manotick also offers a great selection of shops, from gifts at Lasting Impressions Gift Boutique to footwear at Mansfield Shoes.
Stop at Miller’s Farm if you’re looking for fresh fruit and vegetables. Known best for their pumpkin season, you can also find June strawberries, raspberries and snap peas in July and garlic and sweet corn in August, among other produce.
Wakefield is the ultimate small-town destination in summer. The most recognizable thing in town is the Wakefield Covered Bridge, a bright red pedestrian bridge where you can get a beautiful view of the Gatineau River. In addition, the surrounding river area has large, flat rocks where you can spend an afternoon sunbathing and swimming.
The river is also a popular spot for other water activities. Bring your kayak, canoe or paddleboard or rent one from Expeditions Wakefield. Or you can even float the day away on a Mega SUP board that holds six people.
The sparkling water views aren’t restricted to the river either; behind the Wakefield Mill is a rushing waterfall seen by the nearby bridge or from the hotel restaurant patio. You can spend the night at this historic mill hotel, enjoying fine dining and spa treatments overlooking the falls.
When you visit, walk by the river’s edge and along a set of old train tracks. Along the walking path, you’ll find plenty of restaurants like Le Hibou or The Village House, where you can dine by the water. But make sure to save room for dessert. Two top picks are ice cream from Wakefield MaBoule or chocolate treats from La Confiserie Wakefield.
You can hike on nature trails or head to Éco-Odyssée’s water maze for more outdoor adventures. At Éco-Odyssée, you can choose your watercraft rental to navigate an incredible wetland maze.
Chelsea is home to North America’s largest thermal spa and Canada’s highest bungee jump. You could easily spend an entire day going from hot pools to saunas at Nordik Spa-Nature or jumping over blue water with Great Canadian Bungee before relaxing at Morrison’s Quarry swimming hole.
There is something for everyone: picturesque restaurant patios, local shops, nearby mountain biking trails, a microbrewery, watercraft rentals, and Gatineau Park hiking trails.
Next to La Cigale ice cream shop, the blue Paddlefit bus offers stand-up paddle board (SUP) rentals and classes. Then, it is a short drive to Meech Lake, where you can SUP board surrounded by vibrant trees and a nearby beach. They also have a location at Lac-Leamy so that you can take the board directly on the water.
There are many options when it’s time to dine. Sit on the twinkly garden patio of the Chelsea Pub, built in 1875. The restaurant is a Chelsea institution serving comfort food and fresh cocktails. Or an upscale meal on the edge of a forest at L’Orée Du Bois. It serves gourmet French cuisine and has been named one of the best restaurants in the country.
Don’t forget to do a little shopping while in town. You can browse local gifts at La Petite Grocerie or walk down the street to find handmade artisan candles at Doozy Candle.
Arnprior is at the meeting point of the Madawaska and Ottawa Rivers, making it a great water destination. Here you can spend the day at the beach or rent a kayak or SUP board. Robert Simpson Park is a beautiful spot to paddle, relax on the shore or watch the kids play on the splash pad.
Explore John Street North and the adjacent streets to check out most shops and restaurants. Browse gourmet preserves and accessories at Bee Savvy Fine Foods, treasures new and old at The Vintage Crate, clothing and plants at John Street Shop and boutique clothing at Jade & Laney. In addition, there are tasty cafés and restaurants, including Krave Bistro, Lumbertown Ale House, Negi Indian Cuisine and Mighty Fine Bakehouse.
The town has a rich history and is an ancestral land for the Anishinabewaki and Algonquin people. You can learn about the history of the Arnprior, including the role Scottish immigrants had at the District Museum, noticeable by the stunning clock tower.
One unique surprise is that the town is home to the largest tree in Ontario. If you take a nature walk along Gillies Grove, you’ll notice old-growth forests, including a 47-metre-tall pine.
If you want a more thrilling activity, you can go skydiving nearby. Parachute Ottawa offers tandem skydiving from 9,000 and 13,500 feet.
Whether looking for a day in nature, staying in a log cabin, or seeing cute animals, you’ll find it in Montebello. The top hotel is the Fairmont le Château Montebello, the world’s largest log cabin. The hotel offers spacious patios where you can dine, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa, bike paths, and a long list of other activities like mini golf or relaxing next to the fire.
Nearby you can take a tour of a castle-looking estate, Manoir Papineau National Historic Site. It’s a real-life fairytale with magical gardens and old-world décor. The manor is just off the main road, where there are many places to shop and eat.
Grab a craft beer and sushi at Les Brasseurs de Montebello, browse artisan chocolates at Chocomotive, indulge in wood-fired pizza at Le Bistro Montebello and find quality cheeses at Fromagerie Montebello.
Another popular experience in town is the Canadian safari at Parc Omega. Drive the 12-kilometre car route, where you’ll discover over 400 wild Canadian animals. Bring giant carrots or buy some on-site to feed the deer from your windows.
Or visit Kenauk Nature for hiking, paddling, fishing and overnight stays. In addition, you can rent a private floating sauna with select cabin bookings.