How To Spend One Day In Ottawa: An Itinerary For First-Time Visitors

Links in this article may earn us a little money if you book/ order stuff. More here

Want More Tips? Like our Facebook Page, check out our Instagram.

Got One Day in Ottawa? Here’s What To Do, See, Eat, and Drink!

Interested in exploring Ottawa but a little short on time? Whether you’re visiting Ottawa on a day trip from Kingston, have a stopover flight, or are spending a day and a night in the city passing through, we’ve got you covered!

We really like Ottawa and – having explored the city many times now – we have a pretty good idea of what a first-time visitor might be looking for if they are exploring Ottawa in a day.

There are top attractions like ByWard Market and Parliament Hill, plenty of activities and museums to visit, lesser-known places to eat and drink, and much more.

So, here’s our version of an Ottawa day itinerary (for both the summer and winter seasons)!

Oh, and if you are staying one night, check out the ByWard Blue Inn or The Business Inn. Both are very popular accommodations in good, central areas.

Ottawa Tour Options

Being the capital of Canada, Ottawa is a popular destination to explore. Luckily, there are several tour options to help you discover Ottawa in different ways!

Breakfast at Wilf and Ada’s

Navigation Address: 510 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1Z4, Canada

man walking across street towards brunch diner in ottawa.
We actually walked PAST Wilf and Ada’s at first.

Alright – so it’s breakfast time in Ottawa. You’re going to need a big breakfast to fuel up for this day. 

We got up from our accommodation in Centretown, did a quick Google search, and walked right to Wilf and Ada’s. We are very, very glad we did!

two plates of brunch food on wooden table with mug and condiments around.
Breakfast = VERY GOOD.

This tiny diner near Highway 417 is on Bank Street, so it’s really easy to get to from downtown.

Inside, we found a small diner that was already packed (it was like 9 am on a weekday!). Luckily, we were only two people, so we got seated at what was the last table. 

The menu is really good – with brunch classics that are sweet and savoury to meet all tastes. Eric had a Classic Breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, beans (and more) while Lisa had an Eggs Benedict Florentine.

She HIGHLY recommends hers if you go because she really liked it. The server was also super nice, so that’s always a plus!

In any case, head there for breakfast – coffee was a free refill and the food was delicious!

Getting Around Ottawa

The city of Ottawa is pretty spread out, but the best attractions are basically all within walking distance close to downtown (a few exceptions apply).

Also, the city is relatively flat – with hillier areas if you walk down towards the Ottawa River from Wellington Street or if you walk down to ByWard Market from Parliament Hill. 

You can check out the Ottawa Transport (OC Transpo) website for city buses and look into different rates. They have a day ticket available if you want to rely on the bus.

Cycling is also an option – bike rentals are available and popular in the warmer months. We wouldn’t recommend using a car to get around Downtown as parking and re-parking would be a hassle.

Morning Activities: Explore Canadian History, Culture, and Art

Okay, so once you are done with breakfast, it’s time to head back downtown along Bank Street. Basically, walk as far as you can and you’ll hit Parliament Hill.

This is where we started the morning – and we basically checked out the following attractions/hot spots downtown or close to downtown. Read below for the things that we got up to – all before lunchtime!

Parliament Hill

Navigation Address: 111 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4

tall clock tower with green roof and stage in front and blue sky above.
The Centre Block with the Peace Tower – and a stage in front from Canada Day!

Of course we visited Parliament Hill first thing so that we had enough time. As the centre of Canadian politics, the whole area is full of history and things to see.

We actually visited right after Canada Day, so they were just disassembling the stage from the concerts and celebrations.

In any case, there is a lot to see on Parliament Hill such as the Centennial Flame and many statues.

We also walked behind the Centre Block along a pathway that gives you great views of the Ottawa River and other attractions below.

Even though renovations were happening all around, that path was still open to freely enjoy so be sure to do so.

You get great shots of the Library of Parliament – the historic circular structure at the rear of the Centre Block. It’s stunning to look at!

iron fence with points with river and greenery behind above ottawa river.
Be sure to walk behind Parliament Hill for great views!

The buildings on Parliament Hill are the Centre Block with the clock tower called the “Peace Tower” and then the East and West Blocks flanking the middle building.

You can tour the buildings – but they are currently under extensive renovations for many years so the tours are all moved around. 

If you want to learn more about Canadian politics and history, you can check out the updated tour schedule here. Tours of the Senate and House of Commons are free but must be reserved in advance.

National War Memorial

Navigation Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A4, Canada

large stone arch monument with statues under in ottawa.
Please remain quiet and respectful when visiting!

We walked down from Parliament Hill down Wellington Street towards the top of Elgin Street.

Here you’ll find the famous Locks of the Rideau Canal. We only took a quick photo of them because we explored them later in the day but you could check them out now.

Instead, we headed to the square across from the Locks to the large monument that you cannot miss.

This is the National War Memorial – a tribute to those Canadians who have served in armed conflicts. It also includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It’s interesting to look at and a quiet, respectful place – we even caught it at a time when the guards were changing their posts.

To the south of the memorial, you can find Confederation Park – a large green space by the Rideau Canal.

It was a nice place to relax because we were waiting for our tour which started in the area!

Lady Dive Amphibus Tour

Navigation Address: Lady Dive leaves from 44 Sparks St., Ottawa, ON K1A 0R7

The next thing we did was a guided tour – but not just any tour: the Lady Dive “Duck Boat” Tour!

Yes, we went on the tour that drives you around on land and then drives into the water and becomes a boat tour!

red tour bus with wheels parked on city street.
That’s our tour bus/boat just after we got back!

We actually bought our tickets online beforehand but they have a booth close to the pick-up/drop-off so it would be easy to just show up.

The tour itself was actually really fun – the live guide spoke in both English and French and pointed out many attractions.

If you’ve never been to Ottawa before, it’s a great tour for orientating yourself.

boat in river with bridges and buildings behind.
Views of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill.

We then crossed into Quebec on the tour and drove into the Ottawa River – which was such a strange feeling but completely safe!

Exploring Ottawa from the water was a different perspective that you can’t get many other ways so we liked that, too. Kids on the tour got to take a photo with the captain which made for a fun atmosphere.

After a big loop, the boat left the water and became a bus again and we got to see places further out like Rideau Hall. Overall we’d recommend the Lady Dive Boat Tour for the experience.

blue and white boat in water with green trees behind in ottawa river.
You can also hop on the Capital Cruises tour!

We also decided to do a morning tour as it was not as hot yet. This ended up being a good decision.

If you want to explore the Ottawa River on a tour, but the Lady Dive doesn’t sound like something for you, you can also take a regular boat cruise with Capital Cruises.

This tour boat leaves from the bottom of the Locks down at the river level so it’s easy to get to/find from downtown.

We actually passed this boat while we were on our tour and it looked like a nice boat (see above).

Sparks Street

Navigation Location: 45°25’23.8″N 75°41’47.1″W

long pedestrian street with patios and people sitting.
A shot of Sparks Street – it’s a long street!

Once we got off the Lady Dive Tour, we were already getting hungry so we walked towards lunch through Sparks Street.

Sparks Street – fun fact – is considered the oldest pedestrian mall in Canada.

It crosses the whole downtown core from west to east (sort of) and is loaded with shops, stalls, restaurants, souvenirs, etc to check out.

Lisa bought postcards here to send to family – so wander through and see what you can find!

Lunch: The SconeWitch on Elgin

Navigation Address: 150 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1L4, Canada

scone sandwich on clear plate with two drinks in glasses behind.
Our scones with iced tea and iced coffee!

We only walked for about 10 minutes max from where we got off the tour before we got to lunch. Remember, everything in the downtown core is pretty close together.

Lunch was at another place we looked up online that had great reviews: The SconeWitch on Elgin.

Known for making their own scones and other fresh items, we went on an Ottawa workday just after 12:00 pm. It was BUSY – but the line moved surprisingly fast!

As for food, SconeWitch was awesome. We got one “SconeWitch”- it was with goat cheese and was really, really good.

We also got an iced coffee and a hibiscus iced tea – both of which were also great. We’d recommend checking it out for a lighter lunch that still fills you up.

Afternoon Activities: Explore Gatineau/The ByWard Market Area

Alright, so now it’s the afternoon – what do you get up to now? It was a hot summer day when we visited, so we decided to stay in the shade as much as possible and/or explore the water.

Since we had already seen the Parliament Hill area, we decided that the afternoon should be dedicated to the ByWard Market area and perhaps maybe some museums across/near the Ottawa River.

Here’s a handful of things we checked out and stuff that you might also be interested in adding to your one-day itinerary!

Rideau Canal/Bytown Museum

Navigation Address: 1 Canal Ln, Ottawa, ON K1P 5P6, Canada

white boats in canal locks with green trees and river behind.
The famous Locks 1-8 of the Rideau Canal!

One of the most famous sites in all of Ottawa (and Canada for that matter) is the Rideau Canal.

The Rideau Canal – and the Ottawa Lockstation (shown above) – are Ontario’s only UNESCO Heritage Site for the category of “Culture”.

The whole waterway is over 200 km long and stretches all the way to Lake Ontario in Kingston!

stone house with people beside pathway to river.
The Bytown Museum near the riverside.

In Ottawa, stretches of the waterway are great for boating in the summer and it turns into the famous ice skating rink in the wintertime.

Close to the Ottawa River entrance to the Locks, you’ll find the Bytown Museum, which takes visitors through the history of Ottawa as it developed over the decades!

If you want to cross the river and head to the Canadian Museum of History in Hull/Gatineau, you could do so at this point.

To get there, you can walk across the bridges – but if you are already at the Locks, you might want to take the water taxi to Gatineau.

Tickets are cheap and it’s an eco-friendly way to get across (it has an electric motor)! You can check schedules and prices on their website.

If you don’t want to head for the Museum of History, then you can just walk to the National Gallery of Canada (see both below) on the same side of the river as you are now. You’ll still have more than enough to keep you busy.

Canadian Museum of History

Navigation Address: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada

Across the river from the Locks and Parliament Hill, you’ll find one of the most famous museums in all of Canada – the Canadian Museum of History.

This museum is huge, features a massive Grand Hall with incredible works by Indigenous Peoples, and walks visitors through over 20,000 years of Canadian human history!

We didn’t get a chance to visit on this trip but Eric went years ago and we want to go back next time. If you want to visit, you can get your Museum of History ticket here

National Gallery of Canada

Navigation Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada

large metal spider in front of glass building with blue sky above.
The National Gallery is hard to miss!

If you don’t want to cross the river, you can also check out the National Gallery of Canada.

Known for the beautiful glass structures and the very large spider out front, you can see loads of Canadian art inside!

The Gallery has an inner courtyard and a cafe onsite. If you want to visit, make sure you have a few hours to spare!

It’s also a great place to visit if it’s too hot out or too cold in the winter! Here is the official website to learn more.

ByWard Market

Navigation Address: 55 Byward Market Square, Ottawa, ON K1N 9C3

market hall from above with flowers and people in front in ottawa.
Beautiful ByWard from above!

After you finish up at the Gallery, a final area that you have to explore in Ottawa (if you are only around for a day) is ByWard Market.

If you are staying late, you can have dinner here and even go out for drinks here, so don’t worry if you don’t visit during the day. 

That said, ByWard Market is full of things to do, see, eat, and drink at all hours of the day!

canadian caesar drink with pint of beer behind on wooden table.
Nothing like a Canadian Caesar drink to cool down at Furniture Warehouse!

The market area is packed with bars, restaurants, and shops that surround the original Market Building – which has a few food places and shops itself.

In the summer, stalls fill some streets and sell everything from fresh produce to flowers.

We wandered around and ended up stopping for a drink at one of the many bars in the area (El Furniture Warehouse). You could have a sweet treat and opt for a “BeaverTail” which is deep-fried dough covered in sugar and more!

In any case, you can just hang out in ByWard for a little bit and take in the sights and sounds, do some window shopping, eat something, and even have a beverage. Up to you!

Afternoon Break: High Tea at The Chateau Laurier

Navigation Address: 1 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 8S7, Canada

white old hotel with pointed roof peaks and blue sky behind.
The fancy Chateau Laurier in Ottawa!

Now that you’re done with the main part of your afternoon wander, you might need a break.

You can stay in ByWard Market for longer and have a beer or a sweet treat – or you can have a truly Ottawa experience: Afternoon Tea at the Chateau Laurier! (If high tea is not for you, then skip to the next section.)

This historic hotel is an Ottawa landmark and a very popular place to stay, too. That said, it’s also known for its food/dining experiences – and Zoe’s Lounge is where you head for a lovely high tea experience. Tea, sweets, mini sandwiches – what’s not to like?!

It’s important to book a table online in advance – especially for afternoon tea since it can fill up. You can learn more about tea and reservations at Zoe’s Lounge here.

Early Evening Activity: Explore Major Hill’s Park

Navigation Address: 1223 Alexandra Bridge, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada

old parliament buildings with trees green in front and ottawa river below.
The views from the Hill are lovely!

Once you’re done at Afternoon tea (or in ByWard Market), there’s one more place you should visit because of the amazing views: Major’s Hill Park.

You could even have a drink at Tavern on the Hill which is located here.

Our local buddy said that we had to stop by and we are very glad we did. The park was a great way to rest for a bit before walking over to where we were having dinner. 

red umbrellas over patio area with green grass in front.
Tavern on the Hill is a great little spot.

We went to the park at the end of our day but didn’t have a drink since we had just had a beer in ByWard.

In any case, you come here for the views over the river and the setting sun (depending on the time of year).

You COULD also just have dinner here if you wanted to. Check out the website for hours and menus for Tavern on the Hill here.

Dinner at the Aulde Dubliner & Pour House

Navigation Address: 62 William St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7A3, Canada

outside corner of pub with flowers and patio umbrellas.
The outside of the Aulde is beautiful!

Now it’s dinner time – and you must be pretty hungry given that you’ve covered quite a bit of ground today!

For dinner, we headed back into ByWard (wasn’t far from the last stop) and went to the Aulde Dubliner & Pour House.

This classic Irish pub is huge and beautiful from the outside. We got a patio table overlooking the main part of ByWard Market which was so nice.

plates of fries and burgers on white plate at ottawa pub.
We were really pleased with the food at Aulde Dubliner!

The server was super friendly, the beer/drinks were local so that was nice to try, and our food (burgers and salmon grilled sandwich) were all really good.

If you aren’t in the mood for pub-style food, there are lots of other restaurants in the area. That said, the menu did have other non-pub food items! You can check the menu and hours for the Aulde here.

Evening: Drinks, Live Music or Evening Tour

Alright, so it’s the evening now and if you are still in Ottawa looking to round out the day, you’ve got options!

For this post, we wanted to provide you with a handful of options to match all interest levels.

So, at the end of the day in Ottawa, you just have to stay in the ByWard Market area for the famed Ottawa nightlife. However, you’ve got options for what you want to do: a night tour, live music, or rooftop terrace drinks.

Ottawa Night Tour

If you have a bit of explorer energy left, you might consider hopping on an Ottawa tour by night.

This tour starts at 6:30 pm so be sure to have dinner before but then you have the rest of your evening planned with a cruise, a light show, and more!

Live Music at Heart & Crown

Navigation Address: 67 Clarence St, Ottawa

old front of irish pubs with sidewalk in front.
There’s the famous Heart and Crown – at night it gets wild!

If live music is your thing, head into the heart of ByWard where there’s music (pretty much) every night!

The Heart and Crown is a very lively Irish pub with loads of seating and a great atmosphere – whatever the night of the week.

Eric has been there for drinks and music and it was super fun. You can check out who is playing on their website. They have live music every single night from 10 until close basically. 

Rooftop Terrace Drinks at the Andaz

Navigation Address: 325 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7G1, Canada

tall blue hotel with terrace overtop of smaller hotel below.
The towering Andaz offers amazing cocktails with views!

Finally, if you just want to sit, relax, and have a nice drink with a stunning view, then you should head to the top of the Andaz Hotel.

Here, you’ll find the famous terrace bar called Copper Spirits and Sights. Known for the views overlooking Ottawa towards Parliament Hill, a great cocktail menu, and the occasional live DJ, the Andaz is definitely a place to be in the evening.

You can book a table and learn more on their website.

Related Articles

We love exploring Ottawa – so check out our other Ottawa posts to help you plan:

And there you have it, our sample itinerary for one day in Ottawa. In the end, it’s impossible to see everything in Ottawa in one day – but you can definitely plan your visit to see lots of great attractions.

This itinerary covers lots of the things that we did during our time in Ottawa and we had a blast. Let us know what you get up to – we’d love to add great activities to this Ottawa itinerary!

As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
– E&L

Subscribe to Ontario Away!

Receive updates & our monthly Ontario Events Calendar straight to your inbox.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

You can unsubscribe anytime. No spam.

Pin it for later!

photo of old parliament building with text overlay One day in Ottawa Canada.
Eric Wychopen is a Canadian content writer who loves to share his passion for Ontario. Originally from a small town in Simcoe County, he has almost 50 countries under his belt - but Ontario will always be home. Having travelled thousands of kilometres across the province for work and play, Eric has a wealth of knowledge about the province and is always looking for new experiences in Ontario.