5 Inspiring Writing Spots in Ottawa
As someone who both writes for other businesses for a living as well as works on fiction regularly, I’ve made it my goal to find places to work comfortably and quietly. This is essential to me because, like many of you, I don’t have a place to really focus and become invested in my writing at home - it’s cramped where I live and I’m hardly left alone, but such is life.
People have a hard time understanding the importance of space and atmosphere as a writer, but it’s a must. You need to will that must into reality if your current surroundings aren’t beneficial to your work. The trick is to be creative not just when you write but also when you search for a place to work. I figured some of you out there - writers, students, professors or just people in need of a personal retreat - might be interested to learn where in Ottawa to find such places. From experience, here are a few that stand out to me personally. They may not all be suitable for your needs or working style, but hopefully the ones I list below will point you in the right direction at least.
Suffice to say, Rockcliffe Park is one of the most beautiful places in the city yet a well-kept secret, especially to those who don’t live in the area. Connected to a plethora of biking and walking trails – some of which take you down to the waterline or soaring along the cliffside hugging the Ottawa River – this scenic spot can sometimes get a little crowded, but it’s worth the trip. Along with public washrooms and water fountains, there is a splendid stone gazebo full of wrought-iron patio furniture. Grab a table and chair and move them over along the North railing for a view through the trees that reveals the river and hills beyond. I personally recommend taking a stroll through the upper-class neighbourhood of Rockcliffe and New Edinburgh themselves when reaching and leaving the park, which can lead to a fantastic Ottawa Public Library branch, Rideau Hall and plenty of smaller green spaces.
National Gallery of Canada / Nepean Point
Depending on where you wander there may or may not be fees for doing so, but a visit to the National Gallery of Canada is a great way to find peace, quiet and inspiring surroundings. There’s a Second Cup now onsite, though a bit cramped, that can keep you from dying of starvation, as well as a cafeteria that can sometimes be a great place to work. Otherwise, the courtyards and various seating areas throughout this sprawling complex showcasing fine arts from various ages is a wonderful place to hunker down and pitter-patter away at your manuscript. I’ve seen many writers at work here, undisturbed and evidently focused. If you need fresh air, then don’t forget that the gallery’s cafeteria has a little patio area, and the building itself sits perched upon Nepean Point. Though a bit windy at times, usually it’s a great place to be. You can easily spend a fully day immersed in culture, arts and inspiring surroundings by visiting the gallery, working quietly and contemplating your surroundings, and then heading out to the vista views of Nepean Point that provide a breathtaking view of Parliament Hill and beyond. It’s a breeze to get there from Rideau Centre, and the walk along Sussex from Rideau to Green Island is simply mesmerizing.
Okay, now I know this isn’t everyone’s ideal place to reflect and write, but there are actually quite a few excellent cafes and coffee shops in Ottawa that make for a good place to work that isn’t full of noisy teenagers. Red Door Provisions on Beechwood Avenue in New Edinburgh is bright, cozy and very comfortable, with excellent snacks and drinks to enjoy. It can get a little crowded on occasion, being one of the most popular coffee shops in the area, but it’s a nice place to stop in for an hour or two. Other places to check out include Bluebird Coffee on Dalhousie, which has sumptuous décor and a really charming atmosphere. There’s also The Scone Witch, which has several locations across the city and offers a great place to read the morning paper, study or work in an inviting environment with great food. There’s also the usual suspects: Starbucks, Second Cup and Bridgehead. However, some of their locations are outright horrible with service to match, many of them designed to funnel people in and out like a slaughterhouse. If you find one with ample seating and a calming atmosphere, consider it a rare gem and enjoy it to the fullest.
Along the Rideau Canal
If you can find a vacant bench in a quiet area, there are quite a few nice places to work away on your writing along the Rideau Canal – it’s particularly lovely during the summer and early fall around there. Off the top of my head, some standout spots include Confederation Park, the green space near the locks and ByTown Museum, and some of the public spaces around the National Arts Centre (though it is a little busier there right now due to ongoing construction). Nevertheless, I’m sure there’s a comfortable spot or two along the water that I haven’t found or thought of yet, so go on out there and find them! Just note that shade can be hard to come by along the canal, but otherwise, it should be a nice place to work as long as you stay away from high-traffic or low-income areas.
Green Island Area
My personal favourite place to work – where I first began diving deeper into long-form fiction writing – is the Green Island area. Going along Sussex and across the street from that tremendous eyesore of an ex-city hall, you’ll encounter sprawling parklands with benches and rest areas, bridge walks over the Rideau Falls, and spectacular views aplenty. Moving further upriver and towards Beechwood and New Edinburgh, you’ll follow bike paths that hug the water and weave between lush trees, meeting ducks and many dog walkers along the way. There’s a tennis club nearby as well, not to mention a beautiful white truss-style bridge that leads behind the ex-city hall to more park space back towards downtown. There’s a little bit of parking, but be aware that there isn’t much in the way of coffee shops or snack stops around here. Pack a lunch and grab a coffee before heading out, and don’t forget that Rideau Hall is just a hop, skip and a jump away for even more peaceful solitude to work in natural surroundings.
These are just a paltry few of the many wonderful places to write in Ottawa, with a mix of outdoor and indoor spots to help you get through every season (though I wish there was more in the way of indoor options as the cold weather begins to set in). Mind, these are also great locations to bring the family for a fun afternoon out or take your spouse for a little getaway from everyday monotony. Whether you’re a student, sightseer or bestselling novelist in need of escapism, Ottawa has plenty to offer. The trick is to get out there and really open your eyes when you look!