Here Are Some Of Our Favourite Things To Do In Ottawa, Canada!
Oh, Ottawa – our country’s capital. Ottawa is one of those cities that you might think is straightforward to discover. However, once you get there you uncover history, nature, and lots of other activities and realize you should have booked more time! Aside from the big attractions, there are loads of free (and often underrated) things to do to, too!
We really like Ottawa. Having grown up in Ontario, Eric has visited numerous times and he took Lisa to visit Ottawa in the winter one time. Let’s just say it was enjoyable – but COLD! That’s why we loved visiting Ottawa in the summer season – but it makes a nice weekend getaway in any season.
So, whether you are visiting Ottawa in the spring, summer, or the cold of winter, here’s our list of things to do in Ottawa! We’ve also included a few other tidbits of information to help you plan your Ottawa trip.
If you’re exploring the province, you might find these posts useful!
- How to Get from Toronto to Ottawa!
- Here’s Our One Day in Ottawa Itinerary!
- The Best Ottawa Bars and Pubs (Told by a Local)
- Where to Stay in Ottawa Guide (Hotels and Neighbourhoods)
- Great Day Trips from Ottawa (+ How to Get There)
- Explore the Very Famous Niagara Falls Region!
Things to Consider Before Travelling to Ottawa
Before you head off to explore Ottawa, there are a few things that you should consider. From when to visit to where to stay, we’ll outline them below to help you plan your trip.
Best Time to Visit Ottawa
The best time to visit Ottawa very much depends. It depends on what you want to do, what weather you like, and if there are any events happening. Ottawa is an interesting city in the sense that there’s always something going on – in any season.
They have a ton of events – from Bluesfest and Canada Day celebrations in summer to Winterlude in February and New Years celebrations at the end of the year. So, it’s best to check for any events before you plan because it can impact the prices and availability of things like rental cars, hotels, and parking!
That said, if you want to skate and enjoy the famous Rideau Canal, then late January and February pretty much guarantee that it’ll be cold, the ice will be good, and the sweet treats (like Beavertails) will be ready to eat!
Summertime – from late May to September – is basically all nice weather, with late July usually hottest and October showing off those Canadian Fall colours!
How to Get to Ottawa, Ontario
We’ve actually written a whole post on this topic (if you are driving from Toronto) – but Ottawa is located at the Quebec border in the eastern part of southern Ontario. It’s about 4.5 hours driving from Toronto. You can also take the bus, the ViaRail Train, or fly into Ottawa if you are coming from farther.
Need more details? Read How To Get From Toronto To Ottawa
Generally speaking, if you are exploring Ontario, it’s very car-friendly – which means that driving across great distances is usually the best way to get around. Having a rental car can be a huge benefit to seeing the most you can in such a vast province!
Getting Around Ottawa
Once you are in Ottawa, getting around is relatively simple. The downtown area is kind of compact and full of top attractions so walking would be an easy way to get you from A to B. It’s also pretty flat – with the Byward Market located more downhill from Parliament and the waterways requiring steps/pathways to get to.
To travel to museums (or get to the airport) outside the city centre, you can check out the Ottawa Transport (OC Transpo) website for buses and trains.
Where to Stay in Ottawa, Ontario
If you are looking for a place to stay in Ottawa, you will definitely have a few places to choose from. Ottawa is the capital so it’s more of an international business/diplomat city. Hotels are everywhere – and you can check here for hotels and accommodations in Ottawa.
Eric has stayed in a few places – check out the Novotel Ottawa City Centre for a great location. You could also go all out and stay in the famous Fairmont Cheateau Laurier right in the heart of the city by the Rideau Locks!
If you are looking for a hostel in Ottawa, there are only a small handful to choose from. Luckily, they are all highly rated. One of the most popular hostels is the Ottawa Jail Hostel – a hostel/budget hotel in an old renovated prison!
Things to Do in Ottawa, Ontario
So now that we have covered the basics about visiting Ottawa, let’s get into what you are here for – the things to do in Ottawa! Of course, this is not a complete list but it’s got the top things and then some. We will explore the city more and add to it as we go – whatever the season!
Visit Parliament Hill
If you want to learn all about Canadian democracy and a little bit of history, you can visit Parliament Hill. With the Centennial Flame always burning, there are plenty of points of interest to check out.
The buildings themselves are called the Centre Block, East Block, and West Block. The Centre Block is the main building and houses the House of Commons. Behind the block, facing the Ottawa River, you’ll find the enormous Library of Parliament (shown below).
The West Block is currently being used to house the House of Commons while the Centre Block is under renovations. The East Block is renowned for its Victorian High Gothic architecture which – along with the Parliamentary Library – is the most original of the buildings on Parliament Hill from first construction in 1859.
The grounds are much more than just government – there are even fireworks at Parliament and festivals with lights in the summer. As you can see in the first photo, there was a huge Canada Day celebration on the front lawn with a stage and everything. In the winter, there is usually a skating rink set up on the lawn for people to enjoy!
Aside from the buildings and enjoying the sun on the green grass, you can wander the grounds and check out the statues, great views, and other significant points of interest. There’s a great summer pavilion for a rest and views over the river, too!
As of early 2019, tours of the Centre Block aren’t running due to renovations but the others are open! If you want to reserve free tickets, check out the official Parliament website here.
Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A9, Canada
Explore ByWard Market
If you are in Ottawa, you have to explore the ByWard Market area. The historic market area is absolutely filled with whatever you might be looking for!
If you want food, you’ll find local restaurants, street food, and sweet treats. If you want to shop, you’ll find artisan crafts, boutique shops, and local goods.
If you want a drink, you’ll find lively clubs, authentic pubs, and even live music. We wrote a whole guide on Ottawa Pubs and specifically focused on ByWard! Basically – wander the ByWard Market area during the day and then again during the evening to experience a different side of the city!
Address: ByWard Market Area, Ottawa
Visit The Rideau Canal + ByTown Museum
Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the category for “Cultural”, the Rideau Canal is also a must-see. Built back in the 19th century, this 202 km long system of waterways, lakes, and locks was created before Canada was even a country!
The Canal was built to originally connect Ottawa with Kingston, Ontario – Canada’s original capital city on Lake Ontario. These days, the Rideau Canal makes for a great adventure in the summer season or the winter.
In Ottawa, a popular area to check out is the Ottawa Lockstation – a series of 8 locks. Here, you’ll find the ByTown Museum which walks you through the historical past of the waterway and the area.
The Rideau Canal in Summer
In the nice weather, the Canal is popular for recreational boaters. If you don’t have a boat, you can walk the Canal – there are green spaces and paths through much of the Ottawa section of the Canal.
The Canal eventually dumps into Dow Lake, which you can also check out. There are bridges – like the Corktown Footbridge (shown further down in this post) – that cross over the Canal and make for great photos, too!
The Rideau Canal in Winter
In the winter, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa becomes the famous skating rink – one of the longest and largest (by total surface area) in the world.
You’ll find sweet treats like BeaverTails (a deep-fried pastry shaped to look like a beaver’s tail and covered in whatever you want) and Maple Syrup snow candy (Maple Taffy)! Eric has been skating before but we haven’t been together so we will go and enjoy it soon!
You can rent skates if you are visiting – but if you are renting go early because they can and do run out! You can learn more about the Rideau Canal Skateway here.
Check Out the National Gallery of Canada
Known for the giant spider out front and the fact that you’ll see LOTS of Canadian art, the National Gallery of Canada is one of those must-see places in Ottawa!
Located along the Rideau River between the Royal Canadian Mint and the ByWard Market area, this beautiful glass building is full of amazing art done by Canadians (and a few other nations) over the decades. With an inner courtyard and cafe onsite, you’ll want to budget a few hours! Here is the official website to learn more.
Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada
Have a Drink at Tavern on the Hill
If you’ve had enough history for one day, why not sit back for a pint or a bite to eat at one of Ottawa’s best pubs with (arguably) the best viewpoint? Head to Tavern on the Hill for views over the Ottawa River and the back of Parliament Hill.
We had the chance to visit the park (Major’s Hill Park) and lookout nearby the Tavern on a hot Ottawa day. However, we had already had a pint in ByWard Market so we didn’t get one at the Tavern.
Even though our local connection told us we had to – we’ll have to have a pint next time! Check out the website for hours and menus here.
Address: 1223 Alexandra Bridge, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada
Do a Boat Cruise/Tour of the Ottawa River
If seeing the city from land isn’t exciting you enough, you can always opt for a boat cruise of the Ottawa River! To the north of the city (with amazing views of the Parliament) you’ll find the Ottawa River sandwiched between Ontario and Hull, Quebec. You check out the Lady Dive Tour we did here.
The river is known for many islands, bridges, and the Rideau Falls – another great photo spot you can check out. In any case, you can do a boat cruise with a guide to learn all about the river and the city.
We ended up booking the Lady Dive Tour bus – the “Amphibus” that drives you around on land and then drives into the water as a boat! We really liked the tour – it was informative and cool to see the city from the river. Here’s the Lady Dive Boat Tour we did.
Location for Lady Dive: Leaves from the end of Sparks Street near Elgin Street
However, there are other boat cruises you can do, too. If you are more into the boats that don’t drive into the water, this boat tour with Capital Cruises leaves from near the locks right in downtown Ottawa!
Location: Leaves from Docks Near the Entrance to the Rideau Canal
Visit the Canadian Museum of History
Okay, so this one is technically located in Hull, an area of Gatineau, Quebec – but it’s a pretty popular thing to visit if you are visiting Ottawa. The Canadian Museum of History showcases over 20,000 years of human history in Canada!
Eric went years ago but he’s really interested in going back because the exhibits change all the time. A highlight is the Grand Hall featuring works from Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. If you want to visit, you can get your Museum of History ticket here.
Address: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada
Visit the Canadian War Museum
Another popular museum in Ottawa is the Canadian War Museum. Located to the west of Parliament Hill along the Ottawa River, this museum was created in 1880 – but the current modern building is from 2005.
Recounting many times in Canadian military history – from past wars to modern conflicts – the museum is also a place where you learn about a forming of Canadian identity. If you want to visit, you can get your War Museum entrance ticket here.
Address: 1 Vimy Pl, Ottawa, ON K1A 0M8, Canada
See the National War Memorial
As a place to those who have served and fallen in the Canadian military, the National War Memorial is a beautiful place to stop by. The Ceremonial Guards are there to stand guard of the Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Originally built in 1939, the Memorial comes front and centre each Remembrance Day when ceremonies take place in Ottawa. The Memorial is very close to Parliament Hill (you can see it behind) so it’s easy to stop by for a peek.
Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A4, Canada
Relax in Confederation Park
If you’re looking for some green space to hang out and have a relaxing break without going too far, check out Confederation Park! Located near the National War Memorial and the Rideau Canal, this space offers a bit of peace and greenery while being located right downtown!
Address: Laurier Ave W & Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5J2, Canada
Discover the Fairmont Château Laurier
If you are curious about that massive Gothic Revival-looking building close to the Parliament – that’s the Fairmont Château Laurier! Built back in 1912, you can stay in this historic hotel if you like!
If you just want to wander in, you can head to Zoe’s Lounge – a top spot for upscale lunch, drinks, and even Afternoon Tea with desserts, sandwiches, and more!
Address: 1 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 8S7, Canada
Shop Along Sparks Street
If you’re downtown Ottawa, you’ll notice a pedestrian-only street that stretches for ages. This is Sparks Street – and you should definitely check it out!
Credited as being Canada’s first pedestrian mall, Sparks Street is absolutely loaded with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and more. These days, the street is also home to a bunch of events and festivals like the Ottawa Busker Festival!
Address: Sparks Street, Ottawa (downtown close to Parliament Hill)
Go on the Haunted Walk of Ottawa
If you are looking to explore Ottawa’s spooky past, you might be interested in joining the famous Haunted Walk of Ottawa.
This live guided tour around Ottawa has some of the best ghost stories around – and there are many! To join the tour, reserve a ticket here (especially in summer) since they are popular!
Address: 46 1/2 Sparks Street, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A8, Canada
Cross the Corktown Footbridge
This might be a small thing to do but it’s something Eric was introduced to years ago so we wanted to include it! You can walk across the Corktown Footbridge. This small bridge spans the Rideau Canal near the University of Ottawa.
While the bridge itself isn’t overly exciting – though very functional – it’s covered in “love locks” which make for a nice photo. The views from the bridge towards the downtown core and the Chateau Laurier also make for a great photo.
In the summer, the still water in the reflective Canal creates great shots. In winter, the skaters pass under the bridge, too! Overall, it’s quiet and peaceful if you need some time away from the main Ottawa attractions. You can just follow the Canal for a long walk back to the centre.
Address (near the University of Ottawa): Corktown Footbridge, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Explore the Canadian Science and Technology Museum
Renovated and reopened in 2017, this museum’s mandate is to highlight the scientific history of Canada. With permanent exhibits like the famous “Crazy Kitchen” which plays tricks with your senses, to temporary exhibits and plenty to see along “Artifact Alley”, there’s something for all interests! You can learn all about the museum here.
Address: 1867 St Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, ON K1G 5A3, Canada
Check out the Library and Archives of Canada
The Library and Archives of Canada is a massive building located just down from Parliament. Tasked with preserving and maintaining Canada’s history and heritage through documents, the LAC is actually the fourth largest library in the world!
Fun Fact: They have over 20 million books, 24 million photos, and 1 million gigabytes of digital content! That’s a lot!
Usually unknown to most, it’s open to the public and you can search through parts of the collection. You can also do a tour (offered on a limited basis) of the Library and Archives Preservation Centre in Gatineau. You can learn more about the LAC here.
Address: 395 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4, Canada
Go to an Ice Hockey Game
What better way to engage in Canadian culture than at an ice hockey game! In Ottawa, you’ve got two teams to choose from – one professional team in the NHL (The Senators) and one OHL – Ontario Hockey League team – the Ottawa 67s.
The Ottawa 67s play hockey at TD Place (the same place that the city’s football team -not soccer, like, Canadian Football – plays). You can learn more here.
Address: TD Place, 1015 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1S 3W7, Canada
The “Sens” play outside the downtown area in Kanata at the Canadian Tire Centre. As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Eric thinks the Sens suck. To be completely honest – in 2019 – they are in a “rebuilt phase” where they do actually statistically suck.
However, all that tough talk is just in good fun. Hockey is still fun to watch and experience – so visit the website to look into tickets.
Address: 1000 Palladium Dr, Ottawa, ON K2V 1A5, Canada
Check Out Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
If you’re exploring behind Parliament Hill and wondering what that shiny thing is behind the National Gallery – you aren’t alone! That’s Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica!
Built as is (kind of) back in 1846, the shiny towers were added later. The basilica is the oldest and largest church in Ottawa and is considered a “minor basilica” – but there’s nothing minor about it. The spires are covered in tin – a notable detail for French-Canadian churches – so that’s why it stands out!
You can pop inside to take a look or catch one of the guided tours that run in the summer months. The church was designated a National Historic Site in 1990 so it’s worth a look! You can learn more about visiting here.
Address: 385 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 1J9, Canada
Explore Rideau Hall
Located to the northeast of downtown Ottawa in the quiet area of New Edinburgh, you’ll find the stately looking Rideau Hall. In case you missed it, Canada is technically still tied to Britain (not really, more for show) and so the Queen needs to have a representative over here.
So, this massive building of Rideau Hall is the official residence of that person – called the Governor General – in Canada. Constructed started back in 1838 and there are over 175 rooms – so there’s loads to check out.
These days, you can visit the grounds and do guided tours. Eric did this when he was in grade school and even met the Governor General at the time! We ran out of time this time in Ottawa but Lisa wants to check it out so we’ll be back! You can learn more about a visit here.
Rideau Hall is actually near 24 Sussex Drive – the official residence of the Prime Minister. However, 24 Sussex is not open to the public.
Address: 1 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, Canada
Go to Court at the Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada building houses the highest court in the land – the Supreme Court. The current building – built in 1939 – started hearing cased in 1946.
Today, you can actually pop in in the summer months and get a guided tour by a knowledgeable law student. They actually come in both languages (English and French). Tours have to be booked in advance if you visit outside the summer months.
However, if there’s ever a trial happening when you visit, it’s possible to actually attend! You can learn more about visiting and doing guided tours here.
Address: 301 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0J1, Canada
Soar at The Canada Aviation and Space Museum
If taking to the skies while remaining on the ground is more your style, then you have to check out the Aviation and Space Museum. Founded in 1964, this museum is located to the northeast of downtown Ottawa – but it’s worth the trek.
Inside, you’ll be blown away by the real aircraft they have on display – either on the ground or hanging from the ceiling. The display of Canadian aviation history is actually fascinating.
Canada has also played a large role in influencing space exploration so the museum also has exhibits dedicated to exploring life in space and more! Eric visited as a kid and loved every second inside. You can learn more here.
Address: 11 Aviation Pkwy, Ottawa, ON K1K 2X5, Canada
Wander Through Jacques Cartier Park
Technically located in Gatineau, Quebec across the river, Jacques-Cartier Park is something you should know about. This massive and magnificent green space which trails along the Ottawa River serves as a great city escape in the summer.
In the winter months, however, the park explodes with life as the official home of the famous Winterlude festival in February! From ice slides to sweet treats, this park becomes a winter playground of epic proportions.
So, choose your season and enjoy the park! You can learn more about Winterlude in Ottawa here.
Address: 285 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC J8X 3W9, Canada
Check Out the Canadian Museum of Nature
Once called the National Museum of Natural Sciences, the Canadian Museum of Nature is definitely a great museum to check out when you’re in Ottawa. Eric has been and it was really, really cool! Think of it as Canada’s version of a “Museum of Natural History” you would see in other cities.
It not only has a stunning glass atrium, but permanent, and rotating exhibits on butterflies, dinosaurs, plants, and more. You can learn more here if you want to visit!
Address: 240 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON K2P 2R1, Canada
Check Out Laurier House National Historic Site
If you want to dive even deeper into Canada’s rich history, why not visit the house of some famous leaders? The Laurier House – located in downtown Ottawa – is this historic estate that served as the former residence of two very important Prime Ministers: William Lyon Mackenzie King and – of course – Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
The House does daily tours in the summer months where you get to learn more about the real lives of these important Canadian leaders. The House also has other activities/events in the summer months like afternoon Sweet Picnic Tea on the Veranda.
If you’re feeling adventurous, they even have an escape room called “Escape the Kitchen!” which puts you in a 1940s kitchen during World War II and you have to complete a recipe for the Prime Minister’s dinner party! You can learn more about visiting here.
Address: 335 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa, ON K1N 6R4, Canada
Visit the Royal Canadian Mint
If you want to get rich while visiting Ottawa (just kidding), then go to where the money is made! The Royal Canadian Mint is located very close to downtown in a small castle-style building. That’s a good thing – because inside the thick walls are some of the most expensive items in the country!
The Ottawa location of the Mint (compared to the Winnipeg location) is credited with creating hand-crafted collector and commemorative coins, as well as medals and medallions. The other facility makes the circulation coins – but this one makes all the dies for striking the coins!
In any case, you can do a guided tour – but a reservation is strongly advised especially in the summer since they can get busy. If you go on a weekday, you will see the place alive with action! Learn more about The Mint here.
Address: 320 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G8, Canada
Check out the Bank of Canada Museum
Do you like money? How about talking about money and learning about it? Well, then visiting the Bank of Canada Museum is for you!
Located downtown in the Bank of Canada Building, the museum is dedicated to teaching people about the economy, Canada’s role in global markets, and what the Bank of Canada does related to all of that.
They have a permanent exhibition which is interactive but they also have temporary exhibits like the history of Canadian money and the people featured on the notes.
Admission is free to enter the Bank of Canada Museum and they also give guided tours if you want to join in! You can learn more about a visit here.
Address: 30 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G9, Canada
Relax at Dow Lake
Looking to get back on the water without the hassle of boats in the Ottawa River? Why not head for Dow Lake? This man-made lake close to downtown is a great place to hang out.
There are many restaurants – and you can even rent a boat (canoe, kayak, or paddleboat) and hit the water in the summer! Check out more about Dow Lake here.
Address: Dow Lake, Ottawa
Bonus: Visit the Diefenbunker Museum
Located about 30 km outside Ottawa, you can explore “Canada’s Cold War Museum” at the Diefenbunker! Named after the Prime Minister of the time, Diefenbaker, this once top-secret bunker was built in 1959 to keep important Canadians safe in the event of nuclear war.
Now, the bunker is a National Historic Site that has been converted and opened in the 1990s to be a museum about its past.
We actually went to the Diefenbunker and will write up a whole post on our visit. In short: it was AWESOME and we would highly suggest the drive out to Carp, Ontario! To plan a visit, check out the website here.
Address: 3929 Carp Rd, Carp, ON K0A 1L0, Canada
And there you have it – 27 of the best things to do in Ottawa, Canada! In the end, there are certainly more things to check out – but we couldn’t include them all. We’ll update this post as we explore the capital more. Let us know if there’s anything you explore and end up loving!
As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
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