Ottawa vs Toronto

Ottawa vs Toronto: Which is Best for You? (2023)

Planning to move to or visit Canada, and considering Ottawa or Toronto? You’re in the right place.

I was born near Toronto and have lived nearby all my life. Also being only 6 hours from Ottawa, I’ve been there many times over the years. The two cities are in the same province, but their atmosphere and character is very different.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada (not the capital as many believe) and with 6 million people, its a large metropolitan area. However, Toronto is also short drive to many scenic landscapes – from living about an hour north of Toronto, I can tell you that there are many scenic areas like waterfalls, camping, hikes, cliffs, unique tourist spots, and UNESCO World Heritage sights within a 2-3 hour drive of Toronto.

Downtown Toronto by night

Ottawa on the other hand, has a population of about 1 million, which makes it a much smaller city than Toronto. It’s the capital of Canada, and while it is multicultural as well, it has more of the feel of what is stereotypically seen as Canadian – smaller, slower paced, colder weather and bilingualism.

Both Ottawa and Toronto are some of the best places to live in Ontario. But between the two – which should you move to, or visit? Which is safer, prettier, more affordable or more worth your time, or has more opportunities?

We’re going to go through each of the categories below so you can come to a clear conclusion by the end of this article of which city is better for you, between Ottawa and Toronto.

So let’s jump in!

Tourist Attractions in Ottawa vs. Toronto

Which city, between Ottawa and Toronto has more tourist attractions? It depends what you consider an attraction and what you’re interested in. Lets’ look at some examples below.

The most prominent tourist attractions in Toronto are the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Casaloma, the Distrillery District and Ripley’s Aquarium. There are a lot of unique neighbourhoods, such as the Kensington Market and Chinatown. You can take a ferry to Centre Island, where there’s an amusement park. There’s also a big amusement park north of the city called Canada’s Wonderland (the largest amusement park in Canada.)

Toronto

Ottawa has the historic Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal (largest outdoor skating rink in the world) and many interesting Canadian-history based museums, as well as the largest tulip festival in the world.

Parliament Hill Ottawa Ontario

Ottawa Highlights

-Parliament Hill
-The Rideau Canal, the largest ice skating rink in the world
-Museum of National History
-The Canadian Tulip Festival, held every May
-The Diefenbucker, Canada’s Cold War Museum
-The Canadian Museum of Nature, featuring dinosaur fossils
-Ottawa is much more bilingual
-Ottawa is only 2.5 hours from Montreal, the foodie capital of Canada, and less than 5 from Quebec City, the “Europe of North America”

Toronto Highlights

-The CN Tower (11th tallest free standing tower in the world)
-Royal Ontario Museum, the largest museum in Canada
-Canada’s Wonderland, the largest amusement park in Canada
-Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world with maybe distinct neighbourhoods, and cultural festivals
Niagara Falls is only 1 hour away

Algonquin Park
Algonquin Park

Fun Fact: Both Toronto and Ottawa are almost equally close to Algonquin Provincial Park, which is the largest piece of protected natural reserve in Ontario. Its especially gorgeous there in fall. It’s a 3-hour drive from both cities, but there are many places to stay overnight.

Food in Ottawa vs. Toronto

Here’s how Ottawa and Toronto differ when it comes to food; what kinds of food they specialize in

Ottawa, while not as multicultural as Toronto, still has a great diverse food scene. You can find sushi restaurants, Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, pizzerias and anything you’re looking for. Ottawa is also only a 2h 30 min drive to Montreal, which as mentioned above, is considered to be the foodie capital of Canada. Montreal makes a great weekend trip from Ottawa.

Karine's, one of the family-friendly restaurants in downtown Toronto

Toronto, being the most multicultural city in the world, has the more diverse foodie scene, and lots of food festivals. What sets Toronto apart is its distinct ethnic neighbourhoods, like Chinatown, Little Italy, Little India and Koreatown where you can find mouthwatering authentic food from all over the world. Foodies feel truly spoiled in Toronto being able to find so many delights from worldwide. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly restaurants, or hole-in the wall ethnic restaurants, its all in Toronto.

If you like plant based food in particular, Toronto is the place to be – it has more vegan restaurants, and options than any other city in Canada. (I love vegan food and can tell you from experience that the plant based options are endless and very exciting in Toronto!) 

Which city is prettier?

Between Ottawa and Toronto, which is the prettier city?

Ottawa and Toronto both have very different atmosphere. In Toronto, you will find tall buildings and skyscrapers on a lake, and in Ottawa, you’ll find parliament buildings with the classic river flowing through it. There are some tall apartment buildings in Ottawa, but you won’t find massive skyscraper condos like you would in Toronto.

Toronto is located right on Lake Ontario, which although not an ocean, is a very large body of water. The harbourfront area is nice to walk along, and if you take a ferry to Centre Island, you can get a great panoramic shot of the city. Ottawa is a picturesque city as well.

In terms of ‘pretty,’ I think Ottawa would win the prize. Toronto’s vibe and atmosphere makes ‘pretty’ the wrong word to describe it. There are some amazing photos to be taken of the buildings and skyline, but Ottawa is the more photogenic city.

Weather and Temperature in Ottawa vs Toronto

Being only 6 hours apart from each other, the weather in the two cities is similar, but not exactly the same. Here’s what you need to know about the weather in Ottawa and Toronto.

Winter in Toronto

When it comes to winter, the two cities have pretty different temperatures.

Average temperature in JanuaryAverage temperature in July
Toronto High – 0°C 
Low– -7°C 
High – 27 °
Low– 18 °
OttawaHigh– -6°
Low– -14°
High– 27°C 
Low– 16 °C 

So overall, Ottawa is much colder, with more snowfall in the winter. But in the summer, the two cities are fairly similar. If the cold really bothers you, then Toronto would likely be a better option, because Toronto in winter has more mild weather.

Which city is Safer?

Let’s look at both cities when it comes to crime so you can determine if there’s one you’d feel safer in

Crime Rate in Ottawa vs Toronto

The crime rate in both Ottawa and Toronto has risen, especially since the pandemic.

According to Statistics Canada as referenced by the Canada Crime Index, Ottawa has a higher rates for break and entry, and human trafficking. Human trafficking in fact, according to statistics, is much higher in Ottawa than in Toronto.

Toronto on the other hand, according to the statistics, has a higher rate for homicide, and drug-related crimes. In other areas of crime (sexual assault, arson, theft, etc) Toronto and Ottawa are roughly the same statistics-wise.

Even given the surge in crime rates after the pandemic, Toronto was listed as the second safest city in the world in 2021, (second to Copenhagen) by the Economist Safety Index. As a local, I was a little surprised when I heard this, but when I think about it, it makes sense – for a city of its size, Toronto is fairly safe. We do hear about shootings, and attacks, but cities with similar size populations often have higher crime rates than Toronto does. Even smaller cities in Ontario, such as Thunder Bay, have a higher crime rate than Toronto.

Areas to Avoid in Toronto and Ottawa

There aren’t any ‘bad’ areas in Ottawa, and most of the city is safe. There are some neighbours that may appear ‘dingy’ to someone passing through. Vanier South, especially Montreal Road are known by some for not feeling as safe, and for having higher instances of muggings and theft than other parts of the city. However, many locals live in this area, and have never experienced any crime. Ottawa is a safe place overall.

Downtown Toronto, where you’d be visiting as a tourist or living as a student, is fairly safe. I’ve never personally felt unsafe anywhere in Toronto. Most of the crime that exists tends to be in the outskirts of the city. The intersection “Jane and Finch” was notoriously known for crime when I was growing up, and still is.  Having said that, as long you’re not involved with drugs or apart of any gangs, you are statistically pretty safe in Toronto.

Bottom Line: Toronto is safer in some ways, and Ottawa is safer in others. Overall, both Toronto and Ottawa are safe, especially given the sizes of their cities.

Nathan Phillips square

Homelessness in Toronto and Ottawa

Homelessness, like crime, has also increased in Ottawa and Toronto since the pandemic.

Toronto has the highest homelessness rate in Canada, with somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 people identifying as homeless. While this is only roughly 0.1% of the city’s population, it is something you notice when you walk around. When walking down the streets or in any of the larger main parks during the day in the warmer months (May through October mainly) you will surely see people there who are without homes. 

In Ottawa, there are over 2,000 people every night who spend the night in shelters. The shelters are currently at overcapacity, according to news sources, and staff are working to find a solution.

People experiencing homelessness do not generally pose a threat or a danger to others, but the amount of homelessness in a city might be a reflection of the city or the society in some way. When a city has a high homeless rate, we want to know if it says anything about the city- what services there are in place to support people?

Good to Know: Toronto and Ottawa both have several shelters specifically for women seeking refuge from dangerous situations.

Both cities, Toronto and Ottawa have homeless services; shelters and food banks. There are over 50 city-funded shelters in Toronto, as well as several food banks. Ottawa has shelters and meal services, and the amount of food they serve has doubled over the years. Oddly, in 2023 it was reported that Toronto received 60x more funding to support people experiencing homelessness than Ottawa has. This inevitably leads to more services and better care. However, the mayor of Ottawa has asked for that decision to be revisited, since its very unfair.

Healthcare in Ottawa vs. Toronto

Healthcare in Ottawa and Toronto is organized very similar, since they’re both in Ontario. Toronto, being the bigger city, is home to more of the world-class hospitals and medical research. In fact, the top four hospitals in Canada are all located in Toronto. If you’re a medical student, or involved in medical research, Toronto is likely the city with more opportunities – but Ottawa is of course home to several hospitals as well.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto

The access to healthcare for an individual will be virtually the same in Ottawa as it would in Toronto. You will need to show your Ontario healthcare to access the free healthcare services that are covered by the provincial health insurance plan (OHIP.)

Education in Ottawa vs. Toronto

Like healthcare, education are run similarly in both Ottawa and Toronto. Here are the key differences to note about education in both cities

Elementary and Secondary Education

Both Toronto and Ottawa have:

  • an English-speaking public school board with French taught as a second language (either in French immersion, or Core French which is 250 minutes per week)
  • English speaking Catholic school board with the similar French as a Second Language learning opportunities as the public board
  • French-speaking public schools
  • French-speaking Catholic schools

In Ottawa, there are more French immersion opportunities, as there are more teachers that speak French so they can staff more French programs. As you get closer to Toronto, the school boards can sometimes lack the staff that can proficiently teach French (I know from experience as a French teacher at a school board near Toronto) so sometimes access to French education for students is harder to come by. Bottom line: Ottawa is a fantastic place if you’re hoping to learn French, or have your kids learn French.

If learning French isn’t a priority for you, then you will find the education opportunities very similar in both Toronto and Ottawa.

Post Secondary Education in Toronto and Ottawa

Toronto is home to five universities, and five colleges. Ottawa is home to two universities, Carlton University and six colleges.

So there are a few more post secondary options in Toronto, but its also a much larger metropolitan area. Your choice would likely depend on the program you hope to take. Living as a student in Ottawa would definitely be cheaper than Toronto when it comes to housing.

Ottawa vs. Toronto: Transportation

The ease of getting around is apart of what makes a city a good place to live in. Not only how easy those options are, but also, how safe they are too. You want to know that you can get around easily, without risk to your safety.

Getting Around Toronto

You can get to and from downtown Toronto and the international airport easily via an express train. Once you’re in the city, TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is the main way to get around Toronto. It involves the subway (metro) and streetcars. Combining the subway and street cars allows for pretty good reach around the city.

Subway in Toronto

If there’s a safety issue, they shut down service to that station, which can cause some disruptions in some cases. But mostly, the TTC makes for an affordable, fast and easy way to go anywhere you want in the city.

Some parts of Toronto are also very walkable, especially the downtown core. I wouldn’t recommend driving around Toronto if you have other options, it can be very congested with bad traffic. There are also a lot of one-way streets, which can be confusing.

Getting Around Ottawa

Unlike Toronto, Ottawa does not have an underground system. There is public transportation that includes buses, and the light rail (a train) operated by OC Transport. You can pay by cash right on the bus, or book your trip ahead online.

Walking around Ottawa

The downtown core of Ottawa is also highly walkable. There are several pedestrian-only streets that allow you to walk from one area to another. Most of the attractions and things to do in the immediate downtown are all within walking distance as well.

A Note on International Travel

It’s worth it to mention that Toronto has an international airport, while Ottawa does not. So for travelling internationally, Toronto might be more convenient. If you live in Ottawa, you might sometimes need to fly from Ottawa’s airport (YOW) to Toronto (YYZ), for an international connection from there, depending on where you’re going.

Buying a Home in Ottawa vs Toronto

If you’ve Googled “Ottawa vs Toronto” because you’re wondering about which is the better city to live in, then the cost of the average house may be of interest to you. Toronto and Ottawa differ greatly when it comes to house prices.

House prices in Ottawa have dropped quite a bit since 2022. As of March 2023, the average house price in Ottawa is $708, 960 CDN.

In Toronto, however, the average house price is $1.1 million CDN.

So there’s no contest here – buying a house in Ottawa is significantly cheaper than in Toronto. You can expect to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by buying in Toronto vs. Ottawa.

Renting a Home in Ottawa or Toronto

What about short-term rentals? Let’s look at the cost for a 1-bedroom apartment in Ottawa and Toronto to see how they compare.

As of May 2023, the average price for a 1-bedroom apartment in Ottawa is $1,750. In Toronto, the average price for a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,500. So renting in Ottawa is also definitely cheaper than renting in Toronto.

Entertainment

Here’s what you need to know about seeing big performances and sporting events in Toronto and Ottawa -there are more in Toronto, but it can be more affordable to see some of them in Ottawa

Toronto being the bigger city comes with some perks – the access to entertainment. If there are any travelling music tours, they will almost always come to Toronto: Stars on Ice, Cirque du Soleil, Disney on Ice, any musicals, concerts for world-famous bands, the list goes on.

Many of these performances take place at the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto, which is near the CN Tower, or at the Budweiser Stage in the summertime. You can grab a bite to eat nearby and watch some of your favourite celebrities, sports stars, musicians, authors and other stars.

Nutcracker performance in Toronto

Toronto is home to the National Ballet, which makes a lot of opportunities for seeing these big performances.

Ottawa, being less populated, doesn’t have as many of these large entertainment options because its not always big enough to warrant a stop from some of these travelling tours and shows.

One exception for Ottawa entertainment however, is if you’re looking to see an NHL Hockey Game – its much cheaper and easier to see it in Ottawa vs Toronto. I personally have driven to Ottawa (5 hours) just to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play, because seeing them in Toronto is triple the price!

NHL Hockey game at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa

Job Opportunities

Depending on your field and abilities and talents, one of the two cities might appeal to you over the other. Here’s what you need to know about employment opportunities in Toronto and Ottawa

Toronto has more job opportunities in the technology, engineering and business industries. With the availability of remote-jobs, the location may not be relevant. But for hands on jobs in these fields, there will be much more opportunities in Toronto.

In Ottawa, you will have many opportunities if you’re bilingual in French and English. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find a job if you’re not bilingual, but you have way more opportunities if you are. There are even retail positions in Ottawa that demonstrate a preference for proficiency in both languages. So if you’re bilingual and would love to get a well-paid government job, Ottawa might be a great option job-wise. (Of course, there will be bilingual jobs in Toronto as well.) I’m bilingual, and because of that I was able to get jobs with Service Canada, and Canada Boarder Services in Toronto.

Which city is for you – Ottawa or Toronto?

Let’s break down the biggest perks of each city so you can see which one pulls you more.

Toronto

Toronto might be better for you if:

  • You love the idea of living in a big, cosmopolitan, multicultural city
  • You’re a foodie who enjoys different ethnic foods, and/or plant based food
  • You’re going into a career in technology or business
  • You enjoy seeing world famous bands, authors, musicians, and athletes
  • You want to be closer to places like Niagara Falls and Chicago

Ottawa might be better for you if:

  • You like the idea of living in a smaller, laid back city
  • You want to be able to buy a single family house as affordably as possible
  • You speak French, or want to learn French
  • You want to watch NHL hockey games much more affordably
  • You want to be closer to places like Montreal and Quebec City

Affordable Places to stay short-term in Ottawa vs Toronto

Planning to stay for a short while to visit, or while looking for a place to live? Here are some affordably prices options in Ottawa and Toronto

Affordable Places to Stay in Downtown Ottawa

  • Holiday Inn Express Downtown Ottawa Comfortable place right near attractions in the downtown area, with all the amenities you need, including a free breakfast
  • ByWard Blue Inn This cozy property is located right down town, within walking distance of attractions, you’re provided with breakfast and afternoon tea, and all other amenities and comforts you need to make it feel like home

Affordable Places to Stay in Downtown Toronto

Ottawa Ontario
Toronto Skyline

Ottawa vs Toronto: Final Thoughts

Ottawa is smaller and prettier. Toronto is larger, but with more job opportunities, entertainment and diversity. Both of them are safe and beat each other out in different areas of safety.

It’s a tough choice between the two, because of how different they are. If you’re looking for work or study programs, then the city with the more opportunities in your field will be a deciding factor. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong with either Toronto or Ottawa. As a lifelong Ontarian who has spent extensive time in both cities, I think they’re both great cities with their own set of perks. It will depend on which of those perks resonates more with you.