The Diefenbaker Museum Was A Great Dive Into History!
Are you in the Ottawa area and looking for something to do? Why not deep dive into Canadian history at the Diefenbunker Museum! This Cold War-era bunker turned museum is a top thing to do in Ontario – and for good reason!
We actually decided to explore the Diefenbunker on a whim while visiting Ottawa. We drove out to Carp, Ontario – and are so glad that we did! The museum and tour were super interesting and we had a great overall experience at the Diefenbunker.
That said, the Diefenbunker makes a great day trip from Ottawa – and you could even drive up from Kingston if you really wanted to. From their onsite museum and tours to the gift shop and popular Escape Room, here’s our experience visiting the Diefenbunker and everything you need to know to plan your visit!
Friendly Disclosure: We paid for our Diefenbunker Museum tickets ourselves and were not sponsored in any way.
If you’re exploring the Ottawa area (or Eastern Ontario, in general), check out these other posts:
- Top Things to Do and See in Ottawa
- Where to Stay in Ottawa – Our Hotels and Areas Guide
- How to Spend One Day in Ottawa
- Awesome Things to Do in Kingston
- Doing a 1000 Islands Boat Cruise
What is the “Diefenbunker”?
For those that aren’t quite sure about the backstory, the Diefenbunker was Canada’s response to possible nuclear war during the Cold War. In short, between 1959 and 1961, a four-level, 100,000 square foot underground bunker was built just outside of Ottawa. Actually, a number of bunkers exist across Canada – but this was the most important.
This is because of the location: The Diefenbunker was meant to be the place where important people (including top officials of the government) and other important items – gold – were to be taken if the world did go to nuclear war and/or Ottawa was targeted. It was named after the Prime Minister who was in office at the time – John Diefenbaker.
Technically a functioning military base for decades, it was kept in secret until it was decommissioned in 1994. Today, the Diefenbunker has been opened as a museum for the public to learn about Canadian history and experience what was a period of global tension. It’s basically a very, very cool “time capsule” that takes you back to a different point in time and we are so glad we visited!
Where is the Diefenbunker?
Because it was intended for the Prime Minister, the Diefenbunker is located a short drive from downtown Ottawa, the nation’s capital. We actually did this drive because we were staying right in downtown Ottawa the night before. The drive only took about 25 minutes – it would be more with traffic. There is no simple and/or good option for public transit to the Museum, unfortunately.
Generally speaking, you head west out of Ottawa on Highway 417 and drive until Exit #144 for Carp Road. Turn right and then drive for about 10 minutes through the little village of Carp. There’s a cafe, restaurants, creamery, and a brewery to check out in Carp (and we will be back to visit and write about it).
After the town, drive for a little bit longer and you’ll see a sign to turn left into the driveway. You’re there! The parking lot is pretty big and parking is free so that’s always nice. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the main entrance.
Address: 3929 Carp Road, Carp, ON K0A 1L0
Once you arrive at the entrance door, it can be a little confusing as to where to go. It was open when we visited and so we walked all the way down the “Blast Tunnel” and turned right to see the reception. This is where you buy the tickets, book a tour time, meet a guide, etc. If it feels like you are breaking into an abandoned military base it’s because you are – in fact – entering a once abandoned military base.
As for admission, they have various rates for adults, kids, students, and families. We think the price was a good value for the overall experience. You can learn more about Diefenbunker admission prices here.
It should also be noted here that you can do a self-guided tour at any time and/or catch a specific time for a guided tour (included in your ticket price). In the summer, they can get busy and recommend booking your slot in advance because tours do fill up. We were just lucky to visit during a day in July when there were more tour slots but not as many people visiting – that allowed us to just show up and join an open tour!
Our Diefenbunker Tour Experience
For this post, we won’t give away everything you do and see on the Diefenbunker Museum tour. If you are wondering if the tour was worth it – we say absolutely, yes. At the reception, our tour began with an enthusiastic gentleman (we forget his name) introducing himself and laying out what to expect. Spoiler: he was an excellent tour guide who spoke passionately about the bunker and history – so hats of to him!
We actually walked back outside to start the tour with an introduction to the area and location. It was critical to set the stage for what that time in the 1950s was like (and the rationale behind the bunker) – and our guide absolutely nailed it.
From there, you basically follow the path that anyone visiting the bunker in an emergency would take: decontamination showers, medical rooms, etc. It was fascinating to see all the original equipment and gear preserved and on display. The exhibits really set the tone for the severity of the Cold War and what would have happened if nuclear bomb had targeted Ottawa.
We wandered through numerous smaller rooms with guided commentary from the guide about the Cold War, in general. All this history and these rooms can be revisited later if you want – and there is A LOT to see post-tour so we recommend coming back to the rooms you find most interesting if you have time.
We proceeded through places like living chambers and communication rooms FULL of old radios and equipment and even descended down more levels to the massive cafeteria, food cellars, and the canteen with old-time sweets and tobacco on display. One of the highlights is the Vault – a massive concrete vault that was free-standing in a room inside the bunker itself which is where the Bank of Canada would have brought the gold reserves!
One of the coolest rooms to visit was a room with a scale model of the bunker (shown in an above photo). All four levels are placed on top of one another in a staggered fashion so you can see how the whole thing fits together. Along with multiple stories from the guide, it was so easy to get sucked into the history of the place and Canada’s role in such a global conflict.
We ended off with a tour of the top-level communication and “situation” rooms where officials would have run the country from in the event they were held down there for weeks or more.
At the end of the tour, we were brought back to the entrance/exit – but you’re invited to go back and explore on your own if you choose. There’s loads of information on the walls and in the exhibits to read and see like military uniforms, artifacts, and more.
As we mentioned, you could also check out the Diefenbunker on a self-guided tour. There are numbers and arrows to follow through the massive complex. You can borrow an audio guide (free with your admission) if you like. For a great visit, we’d suggest the real tour with guide and then a self-guided because the stories and guide knowledge are what made the place come really alive, in our experience.
Other Things at the Diefenbunker
Aside from the Museum and tour, there are a few other uses for the Diefenbunker that you might want to know about. There’s a cute little gift shop where you can find retro gifts and other fun vintage takeaways from your visit. Likely the most popular thing besides the Museum is the fact that they host an Escape Room called “Escape the Diefenbunker”.
It’s considered the world’s largest escape room because you’ve got 60 minutes to potentially cover one whole level – or 25,000 square feet – for clues to complete your mission. We haven’t done it but it’s apparently an award-winning experience. You can learn more about booking the Diefenbunker Escape Room here.
Besides the Escape Room, the Diefenbunker also puts on different events linked to holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter (a massive egg hunt), and more. You can check the Events Calendar for things going on at the Bunker. You can also rent out parts of the bunker – they do weddings/receptions/concerts in the Bank of Canada vault!
The Bunker also prides itself on its programs for kids. They hold March Break Camps and Summer Camps called “Spy Camp” where kids are led around the place completing various activities to complete spy missions. We had multiple kid groups wandering about (with a leader) while we toured and they sounded like they were having an absolute blast. You can learn more about the Diefenbunker Kids Spy Camps here.
If that wasn’t enough, the Diefenbunker also sometimes hosts what would be an EPIC game of laser tag on a level you usually can’t explore on the normal tour. So we want to return for that because it sounds AWESOME. You can book a slot for Laser Tag here.
And there you have it – a little rundown of our experience at the Diefenbunker Museum! We honestly don’t have much more to say other than we would highly recommend a visit. Even if you aren’t interested in Canadian history, military history, or global conflicts – it’s fascinating enough to find it worthy a visit. It’s so authentic, detailed, and interesting!
As always, Keep Exploring, eh?