This post includes a guide to all the best things to do in Ottawa. So if you are planning to visit Ottawa, read on.
Canada’s capital city Ottawa which sits on the south bank of the Ottawa River is a must-visit city if you are on a trip to Canada. The city alone is so great to explore that you can directly plan a trip here and nowhere else in Canada.
There are so many exciting things to do in Ottawa that it makes for an amazing vacation destination for families, couples, and even a group of friends. There are honestly many things to do in Ottawa, from exploring history and nature to enjoying the newest things. You have to find something to explore.
What is Ottawa Famous For?
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.
Ottawa has its cultural roots very deep. It is also best known for its bilingual character, which sets it apart from other major cities in Canada. One thing is for sure that you will never get bored of things to do in Ottawa. There is always one thing or the other to do, no matter what mood you are in.
What is Special About Ottawa?
Apart from its Canadian history, cultural aspect, and places to explore, Ottawa is known as the agricultural center of Eastern Ontario. In addition to that, Ottawa is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site- the Rideau Canal, which connects the city to lake Ontario. The city is filled with various museums and art galleries that showcase the place’s history, culture, art and evolution.
Ottawa also hosts amazing music festivals, which people find very amusing. And the best part about Ottawa is the city isn’t that big; most of the things to do can be found within downtown Ottawa and the inner-city neighbourhoods. . Ottawa is home to several rich cuisines and serves a large range of delicacies to the tourists as well as the locals.
Now, before we move on to the best things to do in Ottawa, how about learning some fun facts about Ottawa?
Fun Facts About Ottawa
The capital city of Canada has a lot to know about Ottawa, and the best way to do that is by learning some facts that would keep you in awe.
I. Ottawa is home to the largest ice skating rink in the world
Just about now, we told you about Rideau Canal, remember? Well, that UNESCO World Heritage site has a lot of wonders. When the canal freezes over during the winters, it becomes the longest and the largest skating rink globally, let alone in Canada.
It is a genuine Canadian feeling to skate over here.
II. “Maman,” the famous sculpture, is one of the seven replicas in the world
Right outside the National Gallery of Canada is a famous sculpture known as “Maman.” It is a giant mother spider who is seen protecting her 32 eggs. French sculptor Louise Bourgeois built the statue to symbolize motherhood.
This sculpture is now one of the seven permanent replicas in the world.
III. “Ottawa” isn’t the first name for the city
Did you know that this city has been named twice in its history? The city, known as Ottawa now, was originally called “Bytown” after Colonel John By.
Colonel By was the military engineer who was in charge of overseeing the construction of the Rideau Canal. In downtown Ottawa, you can still find places that start with “By,” like the Bytown Museum or the Byward Market area.
IV. Ottawa is the 7th coldest capital city
If you haven’t been to Ottawa in the winters, you haven’t known what Canadian winters are all about. Ottawa is known to play the winters right. It is recognized as the 7th coldest capital city in the world.
V. Ottawa is home to a haunted jail turned hostel
If you know anything about Ottawa, you must have heard about the Ottawa Jail Hostel. It’s a jail that has been turned into a hostel.
It was the Carlton County Jail, operational from 1862 to 1972, and after its closure, it was transformed into a hostel. During the operation, the jail was known as a cruel place and is rumoured to be haunted now.
Your wait is over; let’s check out the best things to do in Ottawa.
Top 10 Best Things To Do in Ottawa
Well, as I have told you before, this is a travel guide, and here you will find ideas on what to do in Ottawa, where to go, and what sites to check out. Ottawa accommodates the interests of all age groups starting, from kids to elderly people, by housing the dynamic activities and adventures available in the place. Ottawa is becoming a visitors hub now, and here are the best things to do in Ottawa:
This isn’t a complete list of things to do in Ottawa, but it has the top ones. So brace yourselves, and explore Ottawa with us.
1. Best Things to Do in Ottawa: Parliament Hill & Buildings
Wellington St, Ottawa, ON
Canada has got some beautiful Parliament buildings. These buildings are carved out with stones, making them look ancient and historic. It is a mark of high-level architectural excellence and aesthetic charm.
If you visit Ottawa, Canada, people will tell you to check out the Parliament Buildings sitting in the middle of the city center. It is like a mandatory case now, but the buildings are worth the hype.
Visit Parliament hill, it is the best place if you want to dig into Canadian history and democracy. In Parliament hill, you will find various points of interest to check out. There is a lot to look at, from the Peace Tower to the neo-gothic structures overlooking the Ottawa River.
And even though the Parliament buildings function as Canadian government bodies, they are open for public tours. There are guided tours that take you through the interior of the historical complex. And the best part is all the tours are free. The free tours operate on a first-come, first-served basis hence one needs to turn up early to avail of these tours.
The tours happen across the east block and center of the parliament buildings, each lasting for about 45 minutes. There is also a separate “question period” that you can be a part of. However, you will need to make reservations for that in advance.
During the Summer nights, one can also witness splendid Northern lights shows across the area showcasing the rich historical events of Canada. Very often, mass yoga sessions are held in the Parliament Hills. Yoga is a common culture around the place. Recent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also seen in these yoga sessions sometimes.
There is also a special event occurring in parliament hill throughout Summer that you can enjoy. During that time, daily performances of guard changing happened at Parliament Hill, accompanied by a marching routine representing authentic royal uniforms of Canada.
This event attracts tourists’ attention as they get to live in the Ottawa region in those specific moments and cherish them.
2. Fun Things to Do in Ottawa: Visit the Rideau Canal
By now, you already know this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so how can one not visit this site? The Rideau Canal is a historic waterway that connects Ottawa and Lake Ontario at Kingston.
It was built with the vision of a secure supply route from Montreal to Kingston when the threat of an American attack loomed over the state. The canal was built back in 1832 and was used as a military defence system, but now it serves as one of Ottawa’s most visited recreational sites.
If you are looking for cool things to do in Ottawa, visiting Rideau Canal is a must. You can bike, walk, ride on the walkways lining the canal, and even paddle or boat through the waters during the summers. Kayaking is a popular activity in the Rideau canal during the summertime. People are seen to be conducting picnics along the paths of the canal besides strolling around.
And as the winter approaches, the water freezes over and transforms into the largest outdoor ice skating rink ever. It stretches for nearly 8 km and is open all day long. And after you are done skating, do not forget to munch on the sweet, crunchy fried Beaver Tail. You can buy one at the kiosks that sit along with the ice rink.
3. Dig Into the Past: Visit the Ottawa Museums
Ottawa is home to a fantastic range of national museums, and you must visit each of them for a different experience. And the best part about visiting these museums is you don’t need to be interested in Canada’s history because these museums are much more interesting than just revisiting the past.
To name a few museums, there’s the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada’s cold war museum, and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Out of all these, you will get the most kick out of the Aviation museum, as it is considered one of the finest aviation museums ever.
The Bytown Museum, Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, explores the stories of a constantly thriving city and its people from the early days of Bytown to the Ottawa of today.
The Museum is situated near the Ottawa Locks on the Rideau Canal, between Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier Hotel, a precious UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nestled at the Ottawa Locks Canal, the Bytown Museum offers a breathtaking view of the canal and its surroundings.
It has an exciting and diverse schedule of activities, bridging history and nature in an unforgettable scenic setting.
In this museum, you will not just get a chance to look at Canadian aviation history, the permanent exhibits, or vintage bush planes, but you can also fly in a real World War II biplane. Once you are done here, you can check out one of the premier art destinations in Canada, the National Gallery of Canada, located in the downtown core.
This museum is mostly known for its contribution to the spectacular Ottawa skyline. It includes a wide array of paintings and drawings from both the modern and contemporary world of Canadian art.
The Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History are a must-visit for the history buffs.
Both these museums are great spaces for learning. Especially the Canadian Museum of History features two beautiful halls; the Canadian History Hall and the First Peoples Hall.
4. Interesting Things to Do in Ottawa: Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
385 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Canada
The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, located on Sussex Drive, is Ottawa’s most famous and oldest church. It is a national historic site too. Originally the building was built in 1832. However, ten years later, in 1842, it was replaced by a new building that exists to date.
People visit this church mainly for its neo-classical architecture and its rich history. The interior of the basilica features an outstanding display of Canadian art. For the religious people, you will find your peace here.
And for the “not-so-religious ones,” you can always appreciate the ambiance, architecture, and colourful interior. Visitors can get guided tours of the church, which are available only between May and October.
On Sundays and weekdays, masses and worship are also available if you would be interested. In early times the church had a free parking facility available. However, there is no longer any free parking at the cathedral.
The only exceptions are for weekend masses, where parking will be free with a usual starting ½ hour before the mass and ending ½ hour after the mass.
Moreover, it is important to mention that special arrangements can be made for Weddings and Funeral gatherings at the cathedral.
5. Fun Things to Do in Ottawa: Go Whitewater Rafting in Ottawa River
The Ottawa River is one of the biggest attractions in Ottawa, and the white water of the river is the “huge” thing right now. So, how can one miss out on the things to do in Ottawa River.
One of the best things to do there is whitewater rafting. Ottawa River attracts professional kayakers and rafters to try its waters, as it has the fame to offer some of the best river rafting opportunities on earth.
Adventurers from different parts of the world visit Ottawa to experience such thrill-induced adventures of the Ottawa rivers. Different rafting companies offer great deals and packages on rafting experiences. You can choose from OWL rafting, RiverRun, and Wilderness Adventures.
Most rafting companies offer this adventure sport to visitors aged 5 to 65 years old. It also comes with a trek of about 3.5 hours that leads to downtown Ottawa, which has got spectacular scenic beauty to charm the tourists.
If you are looking for adventurous things to do in Ottawa, then this is it. You are going to have some wonderful experiences with the Ottawa River. Moreover, the stretch of the river perfectly balances the fun and safety concerns.
The Safety and Security of the people taking part in various activities available in the river water are highly monitored and worked on. The river facilitates adventure rafting, family rafting, and river tubing, one of the most loved sports locally.
And unlike other rivers, the water is warm, so you can even put your bathing suit on and dive straight into the waters (only if you know swimming well). You can even stay overnight and do all activities with the rafting companies or do one thing for the day.
6. Fun Things to Do in Ottawa: Visit Major’s Hill Park
Mackenzie Ave, Ottawa
Sitting on the banks of the Rideau Canal, Major’s Hill Park is the perfect spot for lookouts in Ottawa and a nature stroll in the green space. The park is near some of Ottawa’s most famous places and buildings, like the U.S. Embassy, Byward Market, and Parliament Hill.
So if you visit any of these places, you can make a short trip to this park afterward. Major’s Hill Park features beautifully tailored gardens, walking paths, interpretive panels, and picnic spaces. Major’s Hill Park is spread over 5.06 hectares of land across from the Embassy of the United States of America on Mackenzie Avenue in Ottawa.
The park turns into a beautiful site to see blooming tulips in the spring. And because of its prime location, the park also hosts several exciting events in Ottawa, such as the Annual Tulip Festival and Canada Day celebrations.
The park was established in 1874, and since then, it has been a premier site in Ottawa. With grand trees lining the park, the park offers a refreshing retreat to people who visit. The park treasures the remains of the house where Colonel By lived during the building of the Rideau Canal.
However, winters in Ottawa are harsh enough to freeze Major Hill Park, and blooming seasons be at a halt for the time being. Everything gets covered in snow, proving an icy treat to nature lovers.
7. Check Out the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Displays
1 Rideau Street, Ottawa
If you are looking for free things to do in Ottawa, it is best to check out the historic Fairmont Château Laurier displays featuring the main floor of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel.
Due to concerns regarding the sustainability of the neighbouring canals’ perspective, UNESCO has asked that the hotel’s expansion be evaluated. As you walk into the grand hall, you will be amazed at the sight of the photos displayed throughout the arena.
Famous personalities from across the world stayed in the place, including some great artists too who donated some of their artwork to the gallery adding to the heritage of the place. The former British queen also stayed in this hotel and praised the art collection of the place.
The photos document the property’s history and Ottawa’s history. So, you can just come here to check out the amazing displays of photographs and enjoy the grand ambiance of the hotel.
And the best part is this hotel is within walking distance from every other major attraction in central Ottawa. What once was a castle is now a luxury hotel, so how can one miss the chance to be here?
The entire building is worth checking out with marble floors, Tiffany stained-glass windows, chandeliers, copper roofs, and Roman columns. What isn’t there to like?
Speaking of Laurier, another site you can check out is the Laurier House, a national historic site. It once was home to a Canadian Prime Minister, but it is a museum open for people to tour.
8. Amazing Things to Do in Ottawa: Fill Your Appetite at Whalesbone
430 Bank Street, Ottawa
When you are on a family vacation, apart from the kids’ or recreational activities, one of the best ways to spend time is having a fine dining experience. And Ottawa offers you a chance at that too.
Check out one of Ottawa’s most hyped, lively restaurants, the Whalesbone. This restaurant is known as Oyster House for serving the best Oysters in town. The freshness of the seafood and quality ingredients used by the restaurant makes it stand out among all other eateries in Ottawa. The restaurant offers mouthwatering seafood dishes and is loved by everyone.
So, it is a must-visit for you. If you are far away from this location, don’t worry, they have another location too. There’s another branch on Elgin Street to make sure no one is being deprived of the opportunity to taste the magical delicacies served by the restaurant.
Whalesbone has been a popular spot for the locals since a very long time, and eventually, it has been started to trend among tourists too. They serve unmatched quality of ingredients, and the taste profiles of various kind of seafood served by them is a true delight to one’s taste buds.
If you want to check out other famous food places, you can stop at Riviera Restaurant on Sparks Street, which has been voted one of the best in Ottawa. There are other great food places with outdoor patios, fine dining, and excellent services; most are in the Byward Market area.
9. Spend Some Time At the Beach
795 Trim Rd, Orléans, ON
Yes, you heard it right, Ottawa also has a beach, and you must spend some quality time at the beach. In the eastern part of the city, on the Ottawa river, is an island known as Petrie Island, which has a beach. The beach is a perfect escape for people with a busy and hectic daily schedule. The beach houses tranquillity and strengthens one’s connection with nature.
There are two beaches on the island’s northeast corner, both open from May to September. So if you are in Ottawa during these months, you know where to find the beaches, right?
Both beaches are a great way to escape city life and enjoy a retreat. You can enjoy a swim or maybe set up a small picnic. There is also a small play area for children. Walking along the beachline with your loved ones, especially during sunsets, is also an experience to treasure. The beaches are a popular spot for both fun and peace.
You can also play beach volleyball if you are into games and sports. If you are looking for some quiet time, maybe take a walk along the nature trails, or go fishing.
And if you want something thrilling, join the canoe club or go paddling. However, people also go to the beach for possible healthy tanning.
So there’s a lot to do on the beaches depending on the interest of the individuals.
10. Best Things to Do in Ottawa: Check Out the Hog’s Back Falls
600 Hogs Back Rd, Ottawa
Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Ottawa would be to visit one of its waterfalls. The Hog’s Back Falls, located in the Hog’s Back Park, is a treat to your eyes. It is a series of artificial waterfalls on the Rideau River.
The waterfalls are officially known as the Prince of Wales Falls and are urban waterfalls. Hog’s Back Falls brings somewhat of a calming effect to the visitors; that is why people check it out in the first place.
This fall can be better enjoyed in the spring during high water. One can also walk down some of the rocks for some excellent photos, but it must be kept in mind always to be careful as they’re quite uneven, and the chances of easily getting injured (or worse) remain open.
It’s a great break for trail walkers connecting Mooney’s Bay towards the south and Vincent Massey Park to the north. And if you’re boating, then it’s next to the Canal (the dam is part of the Canal’s water-control system).
While you are in the park, apart from the waterfalls, there are other things to see. The park boasts amazing hiking trails, lush green picnic spaces, and walking paths. And it offers historical displays as well.
Fishing is also commonly sighted in the area, and it is also surrounded by several pretty barbeque hubs that serve delish food that one can enjoy with family or friends.
So, come here and enjoy yourself with your family.
Well, these are the best things to do in Ottawa for people who are on their vacation. This list contains the top 9 things to do in Ottawa. However, you will find yourself doing hundreds of little things once you are there.
When you get tired of all the happening things to do in Ottawa, you can get yourself into a royal feeling at the official residence of the Canadian monarch, Rideau Hall. It is a national historic site with a magnificent architectural building featuring both contemporary and historical things.
The marketplace is also seemingly attractive for the collection of dynamic beautiful commodities and necessary tourist stuff. It also represents the local culture and historical artifacts that genuinely stir the interest of the wandering souls in the market. One would be in awe while exploring the marketplaces of the beautiful city of Ottawa.
Ottawa is genuinely a space for learning and fun, and the Byward Market area represents the fun aspect. There will be a party crowd, DJs, live music, pubs, and bars.
But if you are more of an “eager to learn history and facts” person, you should visit the Royal Canadian Mint or the National Arts Centre. You can check out a court, too, the Supreme Court of Canada.
And for the science heads, there is an interesting place to check out, more like a research facility; the Central Experimental Farm. It has now become a major attraction in Ottawa.
Let’s not spill everything and spoil the vacation fun; go and check out these amazing things to do in Ottawa by yourself. I hope this article helps you with planning the things to do properly.
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