Crowds in Ottawa warmly welcomed Canada's newlywed prince and his wife Thursday as William and Kate kicked off their first royal tour since their spring nuptials.

Thousands gathered at the National War Memorial and Rideau Hall, the two sites for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's public appearances on the first day of their eight-day tour.

The royal couple seemed to take their time with the people they met, smiling and engaging with veterans, children and other onlookers who lined metal security fences in downtown Ottawa.

The Rideau Hall audience, who heard William's first speech in Canada, cheered when he started his remarks in French, and laughed when he joked that he will improve in the language as the trip progresses.

William was last in Canada when he was 15 years old. The prince said he and Kate are "delighted" to be on their first trip together to Canada. William said they spoke before their wedding about their desire to visit a country their families love.

"We have been looking forward to this moment for a very long time. And before we were married, we had a longing to come here together," he said.

"The geography of this country is unsurpassed and is famous for being matched only by the hospitality of its peoples. We are so very excited about having this opportunity to experience both — and learn much more about this amazing country.‬‪"

The prince spoke in French for about half of his brief speech.

Kate is not expected to speak officially on this tour.

Rideau Hall broke, or raised, William's personal flag  for the first time during this appearance.

Kate and William, the second in line to the throne of Britain and the Commonwealth realms, were greeted by Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife, Sharon, who also hosted a barbecue Thursday evening with 120 youth.

The guests at the 6 p.m. ET barbecue were young Canadians who have made their mark serving their communities. It was supposed to be held outside but moved indoors because of rain in Ottawa.

The royal couple met and chat with the guests before sitting down for a meal presented by culinary students. Five people ages 17 to 31 formed a receiving line to greet William and Kate, who separated for more mingling over dinner. Kate went with Prime Minister Stephen Harper while William went with Johnston for the meal, which consisted of small plates featuring Canadian ingredients.

The savoury menu included Salt Spring Island goat cheese and rhubarb beignets, Quebec cheese and Saskatoon fruit wine fondue, potato-crusted Alberta yak tartar, and dried Ontario pear and bitter chocolate cream cups.

1st stop was war memorial

Upon their arrival, William and Kate went straight from the airport to the National War Memorial, where they laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Harper and his wife, Laureen, mingled with onlookers before the couple arrived.

The group stood at the base of the memorial, chatting until the playing of Last Post, then observed two minutes of silence. The crowd was quiet.

They then took a few minutes to walk down the line of veterans sporting berets and medals as people shouted "We love you, Kate."

The crowd cheered with excitement as the couple approached them and began saying hello and shaking hands on either side of the red carpet.

"This will never be erased from my memory," said Alice Hamid, 14, breathless from the excitement.

"I told him he was gorgeous and he blushed a little," Cecile Dumont said. "For me this is a dream come true. I've loved William since he left St. Mary's hospital in 1982.

"I'm a huge royal fan. I loved Lady Diana," she said. She said when she heard the couple were coming to Canada, she immediately booked the day off work.

Dumont is planning on spending the night on Parliament Hill so she can get a prime spot for the royal couple's appearance there Friday.

Crowds gathered early

After getting off a Canadian Forces plane just after 2 p.m., the couple talked briefly and comfortably with officials on hand to greet them, including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott and other dignitaries.

An official at Rideau Hall estimated there were 6,000 people waiting for William and Kate by the time they were due to arrive.

At the National War Memorial in Confederation Square, many in the crowd had arrived as early as 6 and 7 a.m. to get prime spots along the red carpet.

Wearing classic dark suits, the royal couple boarded a flight at Heathrow Airport at 6:20 a.m. ET Thursday. Kate was sporting a navy blazer from Toronto designer Smythe les Vestes over a dress by French label Roland Mouret.

She stepped off the plane at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier Airport in a form-fitting black and white dress and her hair pulled back casually. The BBC reported the knee-length dress is by Canadian-born, British-based designer Erdem Moralioglu.

The couple will launch Canada Day festivities on Friday with a citizenship ceremony.

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Laureen Harper; Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge; Sharon Johnston, wife of Gov. Gen. David Johnston; and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, acknowledge a crowd of onlookers before entering Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)