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 a lot of free (and often underrated) things to do, too!
We really like Ottawa. Having grown up in Ontario, Eric has visited numerous times and now Lisa has been to Ottawa many times – in winter, fall, and summer!
We love visiting Ottawa in any season – it makes a nice weekend getaway whether you’re skating on the Rideau Canal or soaking up the sun on an Ottawa River cruise.
So, here’s our list of things to do in Ottawa for any season. The city is packed with some of the best things to do and see in Ontario. We’ve also included a few other tidbits of information to help you plan your trip to Ottawa.
Ottawa Quick Guide
Best Time to Visit: Summer for nice weather, boat cruises & festivals, fall for lovely colours, winter is cold (but skating on the Rideau Canal!)
Table of Contents
Things to Do in Ottawa, Ontario
Let’s start with the top things to do in Ottawa, Ontario based on our experience. You’ll find a good mix of historical sites, a variety of tours (bike, walking, or boat), places to eat and drink, areas to explore nature, and much more!
Keep in mind that some places or activities are only open/available during the warmer months. For example, the boat tours do not run in the winter (usually they run from May to October). So we will mention winter alternatives, where applicable!
Visit Parliament Hill
Address: 111 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4
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 renovation.
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 its 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 some views of the river, too!
Due to the renovations, tours of the Centre Block aren’t running, but the other tours are running! If you want to reserve free tickets, check out the official Parliament website here.
If you want a guide to tell you lots of great information about Parliament Hill, you might consider a Private Tour with a Local Guide.
Explore ByWard Market
Address: ByWard Market Area, Ottawa
If you are in Ottawa, you have to explore the ByWard Market area. The historic market area is filled with some shops, restaurants and bars.
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.
Explore the tastes of the famous Market on a ByWard Market Food Tour!
If you want a drink, you’ll find lively clubs, authentic pubs, and even live music. We wrote a whole guide on Ottawa Pubs with a section focusing 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!
Visit The Rideau Canal + Bytown Museum
Address of Bytown Museum: 1 Canal Ln, Ottawa, ON K1P 5P6
As Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the “Cultural” category, 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 originally built to connect Ottawa with Kingston, Ontario – Canada’s original capital 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 visit is the Ottawa Lockstation – a series of 8 locks. Here, you’ll find the Bytown Museum, which walks you through the historic past of the waterway and the area.
The Rideau Canal in Summer
In the nice weather, the Canal is popular with 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.
You can also hop on the popular Rideau Canal Cruise if you want to explore the waterway without the hassle!
The Canal eventually dumps into Dow’s 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 winter, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa becomes the famous skating rink – one of the longest and largest (by total surface area) in the world. In fact, skating on the Rideau is one of the top things to do in Ontario in the winter!
You’ll find sweet treats like BeaverTails (a deep-fried pastry shaped to look like a beaver’s tail and covered with whatever you want) and Maple Syrup snow candy (Maple Taffy)!
Eric has skated on the Rideau Canal 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.
If you are visiting Ottawa in the winter, you also might be interested in a tour on a festive Vintage Bus!
Do a Boat Cruise/Tour of the Ottawa River
Address for Lady Dive Tour: Leaves from the end of Sparks Street near Elgin Street
Speaking of water, if seeing the city from land isn’t exciting enough, you can always opt for a boat cruise on the Ottawa River!
Just north of the city (with amazing views of the Parliament), you’ll find the Ottawa River sandwiched between Ontario and Hull, Quebec. You can check out the Lady Dive Tour we did here.
The river is known for its many islands, bridges, and Rideau Falls – another great photo spot you can check out. In any case, you can do a guided boat tour 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 liked the tour – it was informative and cool to see the city from the river. Here’s the Lady Dive Boat Tour we did.
However, there are other boat cruises you can do, too. If you are more into boats that don’t drive into the water, this boat tour with Capital Cruises leaves from near the locks right in downtown Ottawa!
There is also another company – Paul’s Boat Line – that will take you out for an Ottawa River Cruise on the “Paula D.” – their double-decker boat. The trip is similar to other cruises out on the river with the inclusion of seeing Rideau Falls!
Lastly, there’s another boat tour you can do – this one is on a Tiki boat! This floating boat/bar is Hawaiian-themed and you can enjoy the scenic views of the Ottawa River with a smaller group and a driver/bartender!
Check Out the National Gallery of Canada
Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, 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 created 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!
Explore the City on a Bike Tour
If you’re looking to get a bit of exercise while you’re sightseeing in Ottawa, a bike tour might be a great option for you.
Ottawa is a pretty bike-friendly city when you consider all the paths along the Rideau Canal, along the river in places, and through many quiet neighbourhoods of the regions (especially the Glebe and around Dow’s Lake).
We really like bike tours and have gotten more into them recently when we visit places.
They just make sense: you can cover lots of ground in just a few hours, you usually learn a lot from the local guide, you don’t have to plan the route yourself, and biking is fun – especially when the weather is good!
Luckily for you, Ottawa has a few top-rated companies that offer a variety of bike tours – some long and some shorter – to suit all interests and fitness levels.
Have a Drink at Tavern on the Hill
Address: 1223 Alexandra Bridge, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada
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 view?
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 beer 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 there next time! Check out the website for hours and menus here.
Visit the Canadian Museum of History
Address: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada
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.
Visit the Canadian War Museum
Address: 1 Vimy Pl, Ottawa, ON K1A 0M8, Canada
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 the formation of Canadian identity.
If you want to visit, you can get your War Museum entrance ticket here.
See the National War Memorial
Location: 45°25’26.3″N 75°41’43.9″W
As a place for 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 at the Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Originally built in 1939, the Memorial comes front and centre each Remembrance Day when ceremonies are held in Ottawa. The Memorial is very close to Parliament Hill, so it’s easy to stop by for a peek.
Relax in Confederation Park
Location: 45°25’19.5″N 75°41’32.8″W
If you’re looking for a 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 in the heart of the city!
Discover the Fairmont Château Laurier
Address: 1 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 8S7, Canada
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! During the high season, you should make a reservation if you want to stop there for tea.
Shop Along Sparks Street
Address: Sparks Street, Ottawa (downtown close to Parliament Hill)
If you’re in 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 number of events and festivals such as the Ottawa Busker Festival!
Go on the Haunted Walk of Ottawa
Address: 46 1/2 Sparks Street, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A8, Canada
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 features some of the best ghost stories around – and there are many!
To join the tour, reserve a Haunted Walk spot here (especially in summer) since they are popular!
Cross the Corktown Footbridge
Location: Check Google Maps here
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 also simply follow the Canal for a long walk back to the centre.
Explore the Canadian Science and Technology Museum
Address: 1867 St Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, ON K1G 5A3, Canada
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” that plays tricks on 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 on their website.
Check out the Library and Archives of Canada
Address: 395 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4, 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!
Most people don’t know that it’s open to the public and you can browse 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.
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 Ottawa Senators) and one OHL – Ontario Hockey League – team, the Ottawa 67s.
The Ottawa 67s play hockey at TD Place (the same place where 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 Ottawa Senators – or 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 they are in a “rebuilt phase” where they actually statistically aren’t amazing.
However, all that tough talk is just in good fun. Hockey is still fun to watch and experience – so visit the Canadian Tire Centre website to look into tickets.
Address: 1000 Palladium Dr, Ottawa, ON K2V 1A5, Canada
Visit Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
Address: 385 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 1J9, Canada
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 – which is why it stands out!
You can pop inside to take a look or catch one of the guided tours that are offered during the summer months. The church was designated a National Historic Site in 1990 so it’s worth a look!
Check Out the Canadian Museum of Nature
Address: 240 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON K2P 2R1, Canada
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 might see in other cities.
Not only does it have a stunning glass atrium, but it also has permanent, and rotating exhibits on butterflies, dinosaurs, plants, and more. You can purchase your Museum of Nature ticket here.
Explore Rideau Hall
Address: 1 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, Canada
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 still technically tied to Britain (not really, more for show) and so the King 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. Construction started back in 1838 and there are over 175 rooms – so there is a lot to see.
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 in Ottawa this time, but Lisa wants to check it out, so we’ll be back!
Rideau Hall is actually located near 24 Sussex Drive – the official residence of the Prime Minister. However, 24 Sussex is not open to the public.
Go to Court at the Supreme Court of Canada
Address: 301 Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0J1, Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada building houses the highest court in the country – the Supreme Court. The current building – built in 1939 – started hearing cases in 1946.
Today, you can actually pop in during 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.
Soar at The Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Address: 11 Aviation Pkwy, Ottawa, ON K1K 2X5, Canada
If taking to the skies while staying on the ground is more your style, then you need 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 truly 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.
Wander Through Jacques Cartier Park
Address: 285 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC J8X 3W9, Canada
Technically located in Gatineau, Quebec across the river, Jacques-Cartier Park is something you should know about.
This massive and magnificent green space with trails along the Ottawa River serves as a nice escape from the city 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, pick your season and enjoy the park! You can learn more about Winterlude in Ottawa on the Ottawa Tourism Website.
Check Out Laurier House National Historic Site
Address: 335 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa, ON K1N 6R4, Canada
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 offers daily tours in the summer months where you can learn more about the real lives of these important Canadian leaders.
The House also has other activities/events during 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 on the Laurier House website.
Visit the Royal Canadian Mint
Address: 320 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G8, Canada
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-like 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 take a guided tour – but a reservation is strongly advised especially in the summer since it can get busy.
If you go on a weekday, you will see the place alive with acitivity!
Check out the Bank of Canada Museum
Address: 30 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G9, Canada
Do you like money? How about talking and learning about money? 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 in relation to it all.
They have a permanent exhibit that is interactive, but they also have temporary exhibits like the history of Canadian money and the people featured on the banknotes.
Admission to the Bank of Canada Museum is free and they also give guided tours if you want to join in! You can learn more about a visit on the Bank of Canada Museum website.
Relax at Dow’s Lake
Location: 45°23’42.3″N 75°42’10.2″W
Looking to get back on the water without the hassle of boats on the Ottawa River? Why not head for Dow’s 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! Read more on the Dow’s Lake website.
Bonus: Visit the Diefenbunker Museum
Address: 3929 Carp Rd, Carp, ON K0A 1L0, Canada
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 wrote a whole post about our visit. In short, it was awesome and we would highly recommend the drive out to Carp, Ontario!
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 and 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 kind of 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 the summer to Winterlude in February and New Year’s 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 (except for 2023, sorry) 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 the 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 on the Quebec border in the eastern part of southern Ontario.
It’s about a 4.5 hours drive from Toronto. You can also take the bus, the ViaRail Train, or fly into Ottawa if you are coming from farther.
Read More: How To Get From Toronto To Ottawa
Generally speaking, if you are exploring Ontario, it’s very car-friendly – which means that driving long distances is usually the best way to get around.
Having a rental car can be a huge benefit to seeing as much as you want 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 from A to B.
It’s also pretty flat, but some areas can be a bit hilly. Byward Market is located more downhill from Parliament and the Locks require sloped pathways or steps 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 light-rail trains.
As mentioned above, renting a bike or taking a bike tour is a great way to enjoy the nice weather and stretch your legs.
Bikes are great for riding along the Rideau Canal paths and exploring further attractions like Rideau Hall or Rideau Falls (to the north of Downtown along the River).
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.
Eric has stayed at a few places like the Novotel Ottawa City Centre for a great location. Both the ByWard Blue Inn or The Business Inn are very popular accommodation options within walking distance of the heart of downtown.
You could also go all out and stay at the famous Fairmont Chateau 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 Backpackers Inn.
If you’re exploring the province, you may 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)
And there you have it – 29 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?