Here Are Some Of Our Favourite Things To Do In Ottawa, Ontario!
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 are looking forward to visiting Ottawa in the summer season (real soon).
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!
- Discover the Best Ottawa Bars and Pubs (Told by a Local)
- Where to stay in Ottawa Guide (coming soon)
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.
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 the 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.
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! You can check here for accommodation in Ottawa.
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.
Aside from 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 are even fireworks at Parliament and festivals with lights in the summer. In the winter, there is usually skating rink set up on the lawn for people to enjoy!
The buildings themselves are called the Centre Block, East Block, and West Block. The Centre Block has the Library of Parliament inside. If you are interested, you can do a free guided tour of the buildings on the grounds.
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. 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
Check Out The Rideau Canal
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 – that cross over the Canal and make for great photos, too!
The Ridean 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 – so 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
Do a Boat Cruise of the 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.
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. This boat tour with Capital Cruises leaves from near the locks right in downtown Ottawa!
Address: Leaves from Docks Near 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 in 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 learn more about the museum 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 learn more about the Canadian War Museum 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
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
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, the space offers a bit of peace and greenery while being located right downtown!
Address: Laurier Ave W & Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5J2, 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 cool! Think of it as Canada’s version of a “Museum of Natural History” you would see in other cities.
With a stunning glass atrium, 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
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!
Fun Fact: the Mint not only makes Canadian coins but creates currency for other countries, as well! You can do a guided tour – and 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
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 paddle boat) and hit the water in the summer! Check out more about Dow Lake here.
Address: Dow Lake, Ottawa
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 St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A8, Canada
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. To plan a visit, check out the website here.
Address: 3929 Carp Rd, Carp, ON K0A 1L0, Canada
And there you have it – 15 of the best things to do in Ottawa, Ontario! 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. Let us know if there’s anything you explore and end up loving!
As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
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