The National Gallery is one of my favourite places in Ottawa.
One of my favourite ways to wile away a day in Ottawa is to visit the National Gallery of Canada. When I first moved to Ottawa, nearly a decade ago, I spent about a year as a volunteer at the Gallery, passing every Tuesday in the volunteer office where I compiled statistics from the prize entry cards left by thousands of visitors. Even after I started to work full time, the Gallery continued to feel like a home away from home for me.
Coffee and Parking
There are several fantastic coffee shops around the Gallery. Ideal Coffee (176 Dalhousie) is best for coffee purists, who will appreciate the minimalist offerings and hipster-retro-dive-diner atmosphere. They offer some of the best beans in town, but experience has taught me to skip on the lattes and the baked goods. If you're looking for more than the solid cup of joe offered at Ideal Coffee, head down the road to Bridgehead. This Ottawa based chain offers gourmet cups on the futuristic Clover machine at their location at 224 Dalhousie location and there's a wide variety of gourmet cafe fare to start the day off right.
If you see complimentary street parking anywhere in your coffee search, grab it! Otherwise, it's best to swallow the cost and park directly underneath the Gallery to avoid running back and forth to feed the meter.
Tickets and Tours
If it's just a few hours with the permanent collection that you crave, your best bet is to visit on a Thursday evening when the Gallery (and most other Ottawa museums) are gloriously free! (The Gallery also offers free admission on Canada Day, International Museum Day, Doors Open Ottawa, Remembrance Day, and other special occasions) But if you are planning on a longer visit or looking forward to seeing a special exhibit, you'll have to buy tickets. General admission costs $12 for the permanent collection or $16 for a combined ticket that includes exhibits.
If purchasing a membership is something you're considering, keep an eye out for Groupon offers. We obtained our membership last year for about half the regular price through Groupon.
When purchasing your tickets, be sure to ask about Docent Talks and special events that might be happening that day. There are often special art film screenings and workshops. Sadly, the Gallery no longer seems to offer complimentary daily tours of the permanent collection but tour tickets can be purchased for an additional fee.
Canadian, International, Or....?
The National Gallery has collections in Canadian, Indigenous, International, Asian, and Contemporary art, as well as prints and drawings, silver, sculpture, and photography, so there really is something for everyone. For first time visitors, I recommend starting with the Canadian collection and either attending a docent's talk or paying extra for a tour or audio guide. This is the premier collection of Canadian art in the world and, for international visitors, likely one of the few times they will ever see such a large collection of Canadian art. The more you see and the more you can learn, the better.
My second stop is usually the European masters in the International collection. This is a perfect stop for visitors who are a bit lukewarm about art. There are many well known, popular pieces by famous artists and even the most philistine among visitors will be happy to see Van Gogh and Monet on the walls.
While I'm normally not drawn to modern art, the Contemporary gallery has always been a bit of a favourite of mine and I always take the time to quickly walk through on every visit. There are some spectacular pieces by Jackson Pollock that I just love!
A Meal with a View
The market area is filled with some great restaurants but your first stop should be to check out the cafe inside the National Gallery. They feature a small, high quality buffet of build- your-own-salad and several hot food options each day (including a vegetarian meal). There are also prepackaged meals to go (like fruit and sandwiches) and absolutely delicious desserts. The prices are very reasonable and the views from the back of the Gallery overlooking the Ottawa River and the Parliament buildings makes the cafe perhaps the most beautiful place to have lunch in the entire city.
If you do want to step outside for lunch, my favourite spots include the Blackthorn Cafe (15 Clarence Street) for innovative, thin crust pizza, while La Bottega Nicastro (64 George Street) sells made-to-order, massive deli sandwiches for a mere $5 and is my favourite spot for a cheap eat downtown.
Time to Head Outside
The inside of the Gallery is beautiful but the outside is just as much fun to explore. There's amazing sculpture, public spaces, and a performance amphitheater that is often host to lively exhibitions. Grabbing an iced coffee and sitting outside the National Gallery is the perfect way to pass a sunny afternoon, with superb people watching.
No trip to Ottawa would be complete without a visit to the National Gallery of Canada. It's one of the places that always makes me feel happier after I've visited and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this special building to anyone visiting the National Capital region.
I'd love to hear from you! Where is your favourite gallery located?
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