What to do in Ottawa
January 1, 1970
by Maude Pigeon
Less famous than its three big sisters, Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver, the capital of Canada is often forgotten by tourists visiting this huge country. But with its strategic location at the French/English border, its proximity to nature, and its opened arms to the whole world, Ottawa has nothing less to offer than the well-known metropolises.
Ottawa is stunning through the whole year. Various activities are meticulously planned to give the best out of the city. And here’s why!
The most famous attraction in Canada’s capital is without any doubt the Parliament. So here’s what the famous green roof building has to offer.
Free guided tour
You can visit the parliament all year long and get to know more about the Canadian history and its government. Daily free tours allow you to go inside the Center Block and/or the East Block. But don’t forget to also plan a visit to the Peace Tower and the stunning library.
This is THE place to be if you want to feel the local vibe! Every Ottawa citizen loves this place. From a small walk in the Prime ministers garden overlooking Ottawa River from the cliff to a meeting with all Canada at the centennial flame, and having a little break in the sun enjoying a good picknick, the parliament hill is for sure a must do!
Insider tip: Exchange some secrets with your friends, or with strangers, at the whispering wall monument. Sit on one side of the wall and whisper your message. The person on the other side will perfectly hear your little secret. Be careful of what you say!
Changing of the guard
Every morning during summer, at 10 am, you can attend the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament. All dressed in traditional costume, two whole divisions from the Canadian Armed Forces will defile under your eyes with precised movements rhythmed by the bagpipes music. An impressive (and a bit funny) show!
The gothic and neo-gothic buildings of the Parliament are carved with thousands of details that you can admire under daylight. But when the sun goes down, the whole center building lights up to give the visitors a wonderful colored show. During Christmas season, brave the cold weather to observe the festive light show on the building.
Insider tip: Add a sweet treat to that glowy night and bring some marshmallows to grill them on the fire of the centennial flame. Success guaranty!
There in the summer? You’ll get a sound and light show too! From July to September, Northern Lights, a 30 minutes multimedia show, is held daily to depict Canadian history on a creative and sens active way. Don’t miss it!
Culture is everywhere in the capital. Art galleries, theatres, without forgetting the several museums, you can spend your whole trip exploring the most cultural attractions of the city.
The Canadian Museum of History, Canadian most visited museum, welcomes visitors from all over the world just across Ottawa River, on the Quebec side. It shows impressive galleries about the events and people that made Canada this beautiful nation and illustrates well the life of the first natives and how their heritage is kept in Canadian culture nowadays.
The Canadian Museum of Nature, where you can see giant dinosaurs skeletons, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, showing a large collection of aircrafts, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, that allows you to experiment real-life science experiences, the Canadian War Museum, that details the Canadian war missions, and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, sits in an actual farm, are all interactive museums where you can learn about any topic and get closer to your host country, Canada.
Insider tip: Most of the museums offer a free admission schedule (e.g. Thursday between 4 pm and 8 pm), so plan your visit ahead and do some saving!
National Art Centre
The National Art Centre is the perfect place if you want to get the most accurate art performances in Ottawa. There, you’ll get all kinds of shows, starting from groups and singers, to comic shows, to dance performance, and more. Don’t be late and reserve your ticket online to enjoy a wonderful night at the NAC!
Probably the most famous area of the city after the Parliament, the ByWard Market is a local farmers market where you can find everything that is ‘’Made in Ottawa‘’. From the freshest food, to the delicate handcrafted jewelry, to the handmade house decorations, without forgetting the most typical Canadian product: the maple syrup! Don’t miss the chance to buy a little souvenir for your house or a gift for your beloved mom.
Insider tip: The day is over, and the night is starting? The ByWard Market metamorphoses itself into a trendy neighborhood where to have dinner. Bars, pubs, and clubs are every corner to finish the night the way it should be!
Nature and outdoors activities:
Canada, a wonder of nature! Everybody knows it. But nature in Canada is way more than just the majestic Rockies and crystal blue Lake Louise. It is hundreds of thousands of lakes and rivers, of forests and parks, and sites to let you enjoy all this natural beauty. And the capital is the perfect place to have access to all these magnificent sites within a few kilometers.
Rideau Canal – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, this man-made canal is a must for both locals and tourists. Either you cycle along its shore, or decide to paddle board on the calm waters, make sure to have a stop at Dows Lake, there is always plenty of activities to do. Landsdown Park is also a popular spot where to sunbathe on the grass and listen to the music of the street artists. Back to Cartier Castle, you can learn and see how work the locks that help the boats navigate the canal to reach the Great Lakes from Saint-Lawrence River.
During winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the biggest ice rink in the world with its 7.8km long. Grab some skates and jump on the ice! Want to be a real Canadian? Bring a stick and a puck and play a match of the national sport, hockey.
Insider tip: Treat yourself at the beaver tails stand. This delicious, puffy and crispy dough topped traditionally with cinnamon and sugar is a Canadian’s favorite. Add a hot chocolate to warm your body and you get the best little break on ice!
Located a few kilometers outside the city, in Gatineau, this huge park is a sacred place for outdoor lovers. With numbers of trails to hike or ski, you will find a path for you. Hike up to the Champlain Belvedere, have a look over the region and the perfectly aligned squared farmers lands, take a step back in Canada’s past at Mackenzie King estate and ruins, and visit Pink lake, a meromictic lake (layers of waters don’t mix), where you will learn a lot about ecology.
Nordik Spa Nature
Want to rest yourself, relax for the day, and spend some cozy moments with your loved one, Nordik Spa Nature is without any doubt the best place in town. This spa integrated in the forest offers you diverse types of cares. From the multiple thermal baths to the saunas, to the panoramic pool, to the massage room and to the hammocks, there is literally nothing missing to make you feel comfortable and stressless. End your day at the restaurant or at the fireplace, and get a healthy snack before heading back to the city.
And it is not over…
Still want to explore more the beautiful capital? Get the full calendar of events to not miss the Ottawa Bluesfest or the Winterlude. Grab some tickets for the Ottawa Senators and cheer like a real fan, play blackjack at Lac Lemay Casino and eat a tasty pho soup in Chinatown.
With this wide range of attractions and its warm welcome, Ottawa has everything to please!