At the confluence of the majestic Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau rivers stands Ottawa, Canada’s capital city and political nerve center. Canada’s seat of power is also a thriving business and technology hub and is home to several major national institutions and numerous foreign embassies.

This incredibly cosmopolitan city offers the best of urban living and rural comfort. Ottawa's downtown center is hugged by a latticework of cozy neighborhoods that quickly give way to picturesque farmland and fields. It is not surprising that Mercer recently ranked it the second-nicest city in the Americas. Ottawa is also officially one of the world’s cleanest cities.

The city is characterized by water. From the stunning Rideau falls to the Rideau Canal which, in winter, freezes over to become the world’s longest skate way, the city’s picturesque waterways offer an abundance of activities all year long.

Ottawa prides itself on being a global center of learning, and the caliber of its schools, colleges and universities is testimony to that. Children are primarily offered the choice of an English, French, or bilingual (English-French) education, while a host of other foreign language schools can be found in this multicultural city.

In recent years Ottawa’s gastronomic scene has really kicked off; these days you can find anything from oyster bars to burger bars, Vietnamese food to French forestière. The real clincher is that Ottawa’s culinary community has collectively eschewed food miles in favour of sourcing locally. The aptly named ‘Savour Ottawa’ initiative is providing a huge boost to local farmers and the local economy.

Life in Ottawa offers the whole spectrum: whether you crave rural serenity, urban vibes, pedestrianized shopping districts, or the passion of politics, this city has it all.

What is special or unique about your city?

Ottawa is one the most beautiful G8 capitals in the world. It is highly ranked in terms of quality of life, based on many factors, including low crime rates, environmental cleanliness, public services, political stability, and socio-economic conditions. Being the capital city of Canada, Ottawa is home to 126 embassies and High Commissions from around the world.

With a population of over 1.2 million people, Ottawa ranks as the fourth-largest urban area in Canada.

Ottawa is rich in culture and home to:

  • Twelve national museums devoted to Canadian art, nature, science and technology, aviation and war and civilization

  • The Byward Market -- covering an area of four square city blocks is one of Canada's oldest and largest public markets, where you'll find cafes, boutiques, restaurants, pubs, and aesthetic salons

  •  National Arts Centre -- the only multidisciplinary, bilingual performing arts centre in North America

  • Rideau Canal -- designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, the canal becomes the longest outdoor skating rink in the world in the winter, and can be enjoyed by boat in the summer. There are recreational paths lining the canal that are enjoyed by walkers, joggers and cyclists.

What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?

Ottawa is a bright and beautiful city that places high priority on green spaces, parklands and trails. While it is large enough to support the finest amenities, such as world-class entertainment venues and shopping districts, Ottawa retains the warmth and charm of a quaint European city.

Are these impressions likely to change?

No; the character of the city is likely to change.

What is the local language?

The primary language in Ottawa is English (50 per cent) followed by Canada's other official language, French (32 per cent). There are also a host of other languages spoken including a significant amount of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic. Terms that are used commonly in Ottawa are Anglophone and Francophone. An Anglophone is a predominately English-speaking person, whereas a Francophone is predominately French speaking.

How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?

Without working knowledge of English or French, a newcomer may face some difficulty. With help from English speakers, a person may be able to get by in their native tongue. Street signs are in both English and French.

What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?

The best way to avoid offending residents of Ottawa is to abide by the Canadian Human Rights Code and Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. These are the national and provincial laws that provide everyone with equal rights and opportunities in specific areas such as jobs, housing and services. And, of course, just keep your eyes open -- you can learn most of what you need to know about local etiquette by just watching it in action.

Some other tips to avoid offending residents of Ottawa are:

  • Canadians usually hope that visitors will recognize how different their country is from the United States.

  • Canadians quickly move to a first-name basis, although you should wait until you have been invited to do so.

  • The order for Canadian names is first name, middle name and last name.

  • A firm handshake makes a very good first impression.

  • Keep a distance of several feet when talking to another person.

  • Do not show emotion in public.

  • It is okay to use the "O.K." sign and the "thumbs up" sign, but the "V" sign with the palm inward and pointing are considered offensive.

  • Holding doors open for the person behind you is appreciated and often expected.

  • Being punctual should be a priority especially for business-related meetings. However, being 15 minutes late for an evening social engagement is acceptable.

  • Some professions allow for casual dress, but if you are not sure, dress on the formal side.

  • Canadians in general do not wear any type of scent in a business setting. Perfume, aftershave and heavily scented personal care products such as shampoo and hairspray should be avoided.

  • It is considered rude to speak in a foreign language in the presence of others who don't understand what is being said.

  • If you see someone you know at a distance, a wave is an appropriate acknowledgement.

  • People using the ATM machines expect the next person waiting in line to stand a few feet behind them.

  • Restaurants in Canada often have smoking and non-smoking sections, although rules on smoking are becoming more intense. In an increasing number of Canadian communities, however, there are bylaws in effect prohibiting smoking in restaurants and even bars. With the exception of the streets, you will find that smoking is restricted in most public places. In private homes, you should always ask permission from your host to smoke.

How might the local weather affect my daily life?

Most of Canada has four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Canada measures temperature using the Celsius thermometer expressed as degrees Celsius (C). The best way to cope with Canada’s changing weather is to be prepared. Read or listen to weather reports in newspapers or on the radio and television. If you have cable television, you may have a channel that broadcasts weather information 24 hours per day.

Ottawa's four seasons are welcomed and are an integral part of living in the city with numerous recreational events and festivals throughout the year.

Spring (March 21 to June 20) is cool and sunny. Early spring can still bring snow and temperatures below freezing, especially at night, but by late spring temperatures can reach the mid-20s with occasional rain causing the flowers to bloom.

Summer (June 21 to September 20) is wonderfully warm and can be swelteringly hot during heat waves. Temperatures hover in the mid- to high-20sC (68F) during the day and at night, but can reach high 30sC during heat waves.

Autumn (September 21 to December 20) is when green leaves on trees turn into luscious reds, oranges, yellows and browns before falling to the ground. The cool, crisp air combined with the colors is what makes fall breathtakingly beautiful. Temperatures can range from high 20s at the beginning of the season to just above freezing by the end.

Winter (December 21 to March 20) in Ottawa is cold. Temperatures usually stay below freezing. The wind-chill temperature tells you how cold the air feels when it is windy. Ottawa tends to get quite a bit of snow, and during storms, this can make travelling difficult. The city is well prepared for this however and in most cases, business continues as usual.

Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?

Residents of Ottawa take a lot of pride in the appearance and cleanliness of their city.