13 Amazing Things To Do In Ottawa

Need some ideas on things to do in Ottawa? Then this post is for you.

But first, let’s know a bit more about this mesmerizing city, shall we?

Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is enriched with magnificent beauty and ancient history. The city is situated at a converging point of the 3 major Canadian rivers- the Ottawa river, Gatineau River, and Rideau River. Thanks to the European explorers during the 1600s, the city has a mix of French, Irish and Scottish cultures.

Like many capital cities, the nation’s capital Ottawa isn’t known for any one thing, and that’s what makes it so special and visitable. This capital city attracts people from all around the globe to explore its parliament buildings, fun places, natural history, and historical sites and enjoy its arts and cultural scene.

The Canadian capital is filled with some fun and free entertaining activities that should be on every traveller’s bucket list. The scourging heat and the cold temperature of the capital city don’t stop the thrill. Having jam-packed entertaining activities in this city won’t leave you feeling tired. Below are 13 things to do in Ottawa that will surely make you fall in love with this cool city.

13 Amazing Things To Do In Ottawa

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A treasured collection of various unique Indigenous art and modern contemporary Canadian art makes the National Gallery of Canada worth exploring. Inside this granite and glass building, you will find modern and historical artwork of various international and Canadian artists.

1988 is the year when the museum was shifted to a new building designed to behold the National Gallery of Canada.

Upon reaching the gallery, you will be greeted with a 30ft spider sculpture known as ‘Maman‘ designed by Louise Bourgeois. 

The National Gallery of Canada is located inside a glass and granite mansion on the edge of Sussex Drive, with an ecstatic sight of the Canadian Parliament buildings on the nearby Parliament Hill.

The building was penned by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and this was inaugurated in 1988.

Discover the artistic contributions of Vincent Van Gogh, Karoo Ashevak, and many great artists of the time.

The National Gallery of Canada has secured its name in the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (2000) among the top 100 Canadian buildings built over a millennium in history. They have installed QR codes and artifacts to help tourists get additional information.

If you have been blessed with a keen artistic taste, then a trip to the National Gallery of Canada should be one of your top items to do in Ottawa.

 2. Rideau Canal

Photo by: Dylan Phair via Unsplash

Did you know the Rideau Canal is a UNESCO world heritage site ? Which makes it to my list of things to do in Ottawa. The canal links the city of Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the Ottawa river.

History of the Rideau Canal

Established in the year 1832, the primary purpose of the canal was to use it for defence. The scenario today, however, has completely changed.

Canada has designated Rideau Hall, which was built in 1867, as a National Historic Site. It is a spectacular structure that is furnished with both antique and modern pieces.

With 24 manually operated lock stations, the Rideau system is one of the oldest continually operating canals in North America. It was recognized as a Canadian Heritage River in 2000.

In 2007, the canal received the UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The entire year, the mansion is available for public tours. As of January 14, 2022, the complete Rideau Canal Skateway is accessible for skating.

What to Expect at the Rideau Canal?

The Rideau Canal is now used for leisure activities and more. To know more about the canal’s inception, you must first head to the Bytown Museum for more insightful information.

You can bike, walk, ride on the walkways lining the canal, and even paddle or boat through the waters during the summers.

If you are on the lookout for cool things to do in Ottawa, visiting Rideau Canal is a must. Do include Rideau canal in your list of things to do in Ottawa.

The best way to explore this wonderful National Historic Site is by boat on the Rideau Canal. You can launch your own boat and travel the entire way, or you can rent a boat and go on any length of vacation with your friends and family.

Kayaking is a popular activity in the Rideau canal during the summertime. As summer approaches, the locals come to ride bikes or paddle boats as a way for a fun weekend trip.

Skate through the Rideau canal and see it transform into the world’s largest skating rink.

For those who love to catch up on some winter activities, January to early March is your ideal time to visit the city of Ottawa. And that too is for free; yes, there is no charge and has free admission, so enjoy your time with your loved ones and explore this opportunity.

3. Parliament hill

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Parliament hill, an architectural marvel, is located on the outskirts of the Ottawa river, right in the prime location of downtown Ottawa.

History of the Parliament Hill

Parliament hill plays an important part in regards to the Canadian legislature. ‘The Hill‘, as famously known, has free admission and is open to all. The tourist can have a wholesome tour of the complex, get to know more about Canadian history, and look at Canadian monuments.

Peace Tower is a tribute to all those fallen soldiers of World War I. The tower was built as the last part of the center block. As you get the tour of the peace tower, you are likely to see the memorial chamber. The chamber was specifically made to honor the fallen heroes. Stones used in the construction of the memorial chamber came from France, England, and Belgium.

As an ode to the fallen soldiers whose bodies never came back from the aforementioned places during World War I, you must not miss visiting a prime monument like this while visiting Ottawa, and add this place to your list of things to do in Ottawa.

What to Expect at the Parliament Building?

The Parliament Buildings are neatly arranged around the sides of Parliament Hill’s central lawn, and the management and use of the spaces within each building are taken care of by the speakers of each chamber of the legislature.

i) The Centre Block consists of the Senate and Commons chambers,

ii) The Peace Tower is situated in the front of the south facade,

iii) The Library of Parliament is situated at the rear side of the building.

iv) The East Block is filled with ministers’ and senators’ offices, along with several meeting rooms and other official spaces.

v) The West Block is seen to serve as the non-permanent seat of the House of Commons. 

vii) The building has a unique architectural style of a unifying manner which is also known as the Gothic Revival.

Fireworks Show on the Canada Day

If you are visiting Canada on July 1st (Canada Day), you are in for some crazy fireworks show. Changing of the guards, an official ceremony during the summer season, is a tourist attraction, one that cannot be missed.

Parliament hill has another attraction for tourists, showcasing Canadian history- through sound and light shows, projecting vibrant images onto Parliament hill. The best part of this 30-minute show is that it’s free of cost but with limited seating options. 

 4. Canadian war museum

Photo by: Robert Linsdell via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The Canadian war museum, situated in downtown Ottawa is filled with exciting historical artifacts and is known for its legendary architecture.

About the Canadian War Museum

This is why the Canadian war museum has placed its place on the things to do in Ottawa. Raymond Moriyama, the architect, decided to include energy-efficient features like the green roof for poppies to grow in summer and recycled items according to the museum’s theme of regeneration.

The Canadian War Museum was officially founded in 1942, however, portions of the museum’s belongings originate from a military museum that was functional from 1880 to 1896.

Why was the National Museum of Canada Corporation was formed?

The museum was administered by the Public Archives of Canada till the year of 1967, at this time the National Museums of Canada Corporation was solely formed to look after and manage the affairs of several national institutions, including the war museum.

Heaven for Military Enthusiast 

If you are curious to know about the military history of Canada, then this place is hard to miss.

The Canadian museum has more than three million military artifacts and artworks, even though the museum initially began with a modest collection. The fascinating tour of the museum will make you experience the blood, sweat, agony, and glory of the martyrs on the battlefield.

The Canadian museum is one of the most visited Ottawa monuments . Extensive galleries and exhibitions shed light on the military history of Canada. An important landmark like this museum sure falls on the list of things to do in Ottawa.

5. ByWard market

things to do in Ottawa
Photo by Michel Rathwell via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Formed in 1978, the popular attraction called McClintock’s Dream refers to the colourful market vendors from historic times in a huge cloud. The market is dotted with beautiful, handcrafted items that are exceptional souvenir options.

About ByWard Market

ByWard market was built by the same legendary architect who made the Rideau canal. To support the builders of the Rideau Canal, the adjacent area was designed as a commercial area.

This area consisted of many shops and restaurants and saw a steady increase in residential and industrial complexes, which led the labourers of the Rideau Canal to settle in.

The ByWard Market Square is a place where food vendors have indoor settlements and unique shops, as well as an all-season outdoor market filled with artists’ handcrafted goods and seasonal fresh farmers’ local products and flowers.

Places to Look For

The infamous York Street farmers market is a perfect place to pick up fresh farmers’ local produce on weekend mornings. Be it a craving for some gourmet hot dogs or street food, the Byward Market has it all.

A BeaverTail pastry should be on every sweet tooth person’s list of things to do in Ottawa. The Byward market is filled with boutiques and shops that are independently run.

For quirky designs, check out Northdale-(the northern end of Dalhousie street), where you may find Canadian brands’ exclusive boutiques.

Also, do not skip these places in the Byward market- Milk Shop on William Street and Librairie du Soleil on York Street. The Byward Market in Ottawa, Canada, is one of the most visited places by tourists, and rightfully so, and makes it on my list of things to do in Ottawa

6. Little Rays Reptile Zoo

Photo by: Marius Masalar via Unsplash

Unlike many other zoos you have probably visited, this zoo has Canada’s largest animal education outreach programs. The zoo has special programs to raise awareness of animal advocacy and science education.

About Little Ray Reptile Zoo

With more than 150 diverse animal species, the zoo provides additional information about the species’ natural habitat and their personal qualities.

Little Rays Reptile Zoo is certified by CAZA/AZAC (Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums), however, this organization does not source animals directly from the wild.

Little Efforts From the Little Ray Reptile Zoo

It is associated with the SPCA, and municipal, provincial, and federal authorities for the rehabilitation of captured animals, and they also work to ensure the safety of the endangered species through various breeding and release programs within Canada.

They also conduct events in order to educate the public on the conservation of wildlife by different means such as informative as well as interactive presentations and demos of wild habitats.

Alligators, pythons, and tarantulas are just some of the animals and reptiles on display at the zoo. It is one of the biggest reptile shelters in Canada, with several rescued reptiles and amphibians. Let your child have interactive kids’ activities that are fun and educational. Ensure you include this fantastic zoo in your list of things to do in Ottawa.

 7. Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

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Situated at the Ottawa Rockcliffe airport, this space museum is truly one of a kind in Canadian aviation history. The museum has an extensive display of Canada’s military and aviation history.

About Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

The collection includes aircraft from the pioneering era right to the present day and World War I and II. The Avro Arrow interceptors remaining parts are one of the priced exhibits of the space museum.

The museum’s collection and mission grew to incorporate space flight as Canada’s contribution to aviation expanded to include aerospace technologies.

What to expect at the Canadia Aviation and Space Museum?

More than 130 aircraft and artifacts (propellers, engines) from both civil and military service make up the collection itself. It makes specific, but the not exclusive, mention of Canadian accomplishments.

It is regarded as one of the best aircraft museums in the world and has the largest aviation collection in Canada.

Listed below are among the museum’s attractions:

  1. The renowned Avro Arrow’s nose portion and two wing tips
  2. The original Canadarm used on the Endeavour space shuttle
  3. The Lancaster bomber from World War II
  4. The Life in Orbit: The International Space Station exhibition

The Museum invites Canadians of all ages and from all parts of the country to learn about the wonders of flying and how aviation has shaped and advanced the country.

It accomplishes this through gathering, preserving, portraying, and exhibiting aeronautical artifacts while also explaining their significance to Canada and the rest of the globe in terms of science, technology, social development, and economics.

Primary Attractions

The primary attraction of the Canadian museum includes the military aircraft that flew during the first and second World Wars and the Cold War as well.

A huge collection of vintage planes from the period between the 1920s till 1940s is also an important tourist attraction in the museum. Canadarm- a robotic arm designed by Canada used on space shuttles is also a display item.

The museum is offering a music and aviation camp for children under the age group of 5-12. Collaborating with Sonart music school, the summer camp starts early July 4, 2022, to August 26, 2022.

The camp will include lessons on music, give a demo of aerodynamics and have fun outdoor activities. Check out their guided tours and interactive demographics for additional information about the museum and other artifacts.

Know more about Canada’s space ventures, and do add this museum to your list of things to do in Ottawa.

8. Ice Dragon Boat Festival

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Check out the world’s one-of-a-kind iconic boat race while visiting Ottawa. It’s one of the most celebrated boat festivals in the Ottawa region.

About the Ice Dragon Boat Festival

The Ice Dragon Boat Festival was launched in 2017 and is considered one of the coolest winter activities in Canada’s capital city. During the winter season, the Rideau Canal is usually frozen, and the season of the famous boat festival becomes one of the primary Ottawa attractions.

The boats are equipped with blades resembling skates, and the contestants are given spiked ice picks that help them steer ahead.

Ice dragon boating is gradually becoming a well-liked winter sport worldwide. It is becoming more and more well-liked as a team-building exercise for people of all ages, from families to businesses.

What do you expect to see at the Ice Dragon Festival?

The festival, a premier event, features free music, family entertainment, activities for all ages, First Nations dancers and drummers, as well as traditional Chinese lion dancers.

In this brand-new activity, teams of 10 paddlers, including a drummer and a steersperson, compete against one another over a course that is either a frozen lake or river.

Ice dragon boating offers a fun winter team environment while giving your core and upper body a wonderful workout.

The world’s largest Ice Dragon Boat Festival gives locals and tourists to Canada’s Capital Region the chance to partake in volunteer work, sports, the arts, and other cultural and historical pursuits, all of which have a positive impact on the region’s economy, tourism, and cultural diversity.

The Main Attraction of the Festival

Chinese lion dance accompanied by timeless indigenous drums is another attraction of the festival. This fun family activity should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Ottawa. The festival is a major tourist attraction during the winter season. The festival celebrates the Canadian spirit and brings together the people of Canada and tourists visiting Ottawa. 

The festival has numerous free concerts and sports demonstrations and has fun activities for all age groups and is a must-do thing to do in Ottawa. The Iceboat festival is a widely popular winter sports activity, and should you plan a visit during the winter, then it should be on your list of things to do in Ottawa.

9. Central Experimental Farm

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About the Central Experimental Farm (CEF)

In 1886, the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) was founded. It spans 427 acres of open space and is situated across the revered Rideau Canal in the heart of downtown Ottawa.

The Farm site was first built outside of Ottawa, but as the city grew, it was transformed into a distinctive element of downtown Ottawa.

Journey into Canada’s agricultural history by visiting heritage structures that give a glimpse of traditional Canadian farming practices. You will find a collection of 20th-century buildings in this heritage structure, from dairy barns to storage houses to observatories. Not only do you know more about the unique farming traditions of Ottawa’s history but it also depicts the architectural genius of early farm buildings.

Home to Major Departments of Canada

The farm is open for all tourists through the seasons and is an excellent place to enjoy a picnic time with children and family.

The Arboretum, ornamental gardens, and tropical greenhouse are some of the major displays on the farm. This is home to Canadian Agricultural Department and Food Museum as well.

The Ottawa Research and Development Centre‘s laboratories and research plots are located in The Farm, maintaining its commitment to science.

The National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes is also part of the research center of the farm. Do not miss the opportunity to visit this experimental farm and add it to your list of things to do in Ottawa.

 10. Major’s Hill park

Photo by Robert Linsdel via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

About Major Hill

The park is surrounded by a neighbourhood that was once the residence of people who were a part of the canal construction.

To be specific, the place where the park is now located used to be the official residence of the Superintending Engineer of the Rideau Canal named Lieutenant-Colonel John By till the time he lives here which happens to be till the year 1832.

The hill was popularly called at that period of time “Colonel’s Hill”.  In 1832 when John By left for England this place became the home of Captain Daniel Bolton who took up residence and responsibility. In 1838 Bolton was granted a deserving promotion to Major.

So, the time by which he left Bytown in 1843, the hill area had begun to be known as the Major’s Hill. Some plaques and statues are seen in this area in commemoration of Lieutenant-Colonel By, Major Bolton and their successors and these are seen well erected to date in Major’s Hill Park.

What do you expect to see at the Major Hills?

Major hill park is situated above the Rideau Canal, wherein the Rideau River meets the Ottawa river. The Major’s hill park spans over 5.06 hectares of land and is located in downtown Canada.

Major Attractions like Parliament hill, the National Gallery of Canada, ByWard Market, and the U.S. embassy are within viewing distance from the park. The scenic beauty and lush green gardens transport and relax the senses.

Places to Look For

The paved winding pathway surrounded by historical artifacts and seats is some of the park’s main attractions. A series of interpretational panels will give you insight into the park’s history.

Witness the incredible sight of tulips blooming if you visit Ottawa during spring.

This exceptional park also hosts Ottawa’s Canada day celebrations. Various other events are also held at this park all through the year. Make it into your list of things to do in Ottawa.

11. Gatineau park

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About the Gatineau Park

This 330-acre park is every nature and history buff’s dream come true park. Beaches, picnic venues, hiking trails, and campsites ensure that everyone visiting the park enjoys their time. With more than 180 kilometres of hiking trails with an additional 90 kilometres of mountain biking trails, this park is worth everything. 

Cross-country skiing, snow biking, and snowshoeing are just some outdoor activities here during the winter season. Go swimming, boating, hiking, and picnics during the summer season.

What do you expect to see at Gatineau Park?

Gatineau Park is a perfect paradise for nature lovers and individuals interested in and fascinated by history buffs. This is an all-year open destination that has a bunch of fun activities that can be included in the list of adventures one may plan.

Admission to the park is free, however, some fees may be applicable for pursuing some specific activities and passes.

Places to Look For

Tourists should start their journey from the visitor centre in Chelsea, Quebec, where they can have a look at the impressive displays, they also can rent outdoor equipment for more fun.

The 330-acre park is a true example of a wilderness site that is characterized by scenic lookouts, multi-use trails, beautiful lakes, interesting cave structures and even accommodations support for overnight stays. The park is a safe home for more than 100 species of plants and animals at risk, along with some common flora and fauna.

Moreover, one can get a better idea and knowledge about Canada’s history, as well as savour a meal or the refreshing tea available at the Mackenzie King Estate, which was the summer home of the wartime prime minister.

This beautiful heritage of Gatineau Park is maintained and administered by the National Capital Commission (NCC).

There are loads of recreational activities to do every season in this park. Do make use of this incredible park and enter it into your list of fun things to do in Ottawa.

12. Hog’s Back Falls

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About the Hog’s Back Falls

The Prince of Wales falls is the formal name of the otherwise commonly known Hogs Back fall. An artificially created series of waterfalls is located in downtown Canada. The park consists of various heritage structures like pavilions and historical exhibits with related information.

Spots to Look For

The time before the construction of the Rideau Canal, there were some pairs of rapids which was originally known as Three Rock Rapids.

The terminology of the Hog’s Back gained popularity shortly before the canal construction. The sets of these rapids were measured about 600 metres (2000 feet) in length along with a drop of about approximately 1.8 metres (6 feet).

At that time, in it was easily navigable by canoe and also to mention no portage was required.

Vast hiking trails and a picturesque picnic spot make this park a perfect place for a rejuvenating day amongst nature. If you are up for an adventure, check out unpaved nature trails in the park.

The best time to visit the falls is between May to December. Hogs Back Fall is a place worth visiting, and that’s why it must be on your list of things to do in Ottawa.

13. Canadian Museum of Nature

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About the Canadian Museum of the Nature

The Canadian Museum of nature is located in Ottawa, Canada. The museum gives a glimpse into multiple topics and educational information through tours and events.

Permanent exhibitions of the museum include the Birds gallery (this gallery contains more than 450 different bird species), Earth gallery (geological artifacts like the lunar sample which the U.S gifted are on display in this gallery), and Fossil gallery (fossils of extinct species like dinosaurs, mammals and marine species which are more than 60 – 80 years old are also a part of the permanent display.

Two other galleries which fall into the museum’s permanent exhibitions are –

  1. The Natural Live Gallery
  2. The Water Gallery

The Natural Live Gallery is home to live insects and other invertebrates, whereas the Water Gallery highlights the wide range of marine life and the study of hydrology. The interactive activities will help you learn more about the country’s wild spaces. Seeing all these different galleries is a must for every nature lover and should be on their list of things to do in Ottawa.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot many things to do in Ottawa besides sightseeing.

This list of things to do in Ottawa mainly focuses on traditional tourist spots showing the true Canadian history and culture that one must know while visiting Ottawa. Like giving yourself some relaxed time in the Nordik spa- Nature, indulging in some delicious mouth-watering gelatos from Stella Luna Gelato Café, or having a fine dining experience from the Courtyard restaurant.

If you have the time, do check out all these above-mentioned places, do try them out; they are so good! But if you are in Canada for just a couple of days and want to tick off the list of important places to see in Ottawa, Canada, and if, like me, you are a fan of museums, then this list should be enough for you.

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