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, 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 that 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.
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 neighborhoods.
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
Being the capital city of Canada, there’s 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 rumored 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 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 government buildings. 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.
Parliament hill is the best place to visit if you want to dig into Canadian history and democracy. Here, 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 tho the buildings function as 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 tours happen across the east block and center of the buildings, and each lasts 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.
There is also a special event occurring 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.
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. The canal was built back in 1832 and was used as a military defense system, but now it serves as one of Ottawa’s most visited recreational sites.
If you are on the lookout 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.
And as the winter approaches, the water freezes over and transforms into the largest outdoor ice skating rink ever. It stretches for nearly 8 kilometers 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 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, 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.
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 in 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 colorful interior. Visitors can get guided tours of the church, but that is available only between May and October.
On Sundays and weekdays, masses and worships are also available if you would be interested.
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.
Different rafting companies offer great deals and packages on rafting experiences. You can choose from OWL rafting, RiverRun, and Wilderness Adventures.
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.
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 you can 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’s 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 are visiting 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.
In the spring, the park turns into a beautiful site to see blooming tulips. 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 ever 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.
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. As you walk into the grand hall, you will be amazed at the sight of the photos displayed throughout the arena.
The photos document the history of the property as well as 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 roof, 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
Whenever you are on a family vacation, apart from the kids’ activities 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 the most hyped, lively restaurants in Ottawa, the Whalesbone. This restaurant is known as Oyster House for serving the best Oysters in town. 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.
Whalesbone is a popular spot for the locals, and now it is trending among tourists too.
If you want to check out other famous food places, you can make a stop at Riviera Restaurant on Sparks Street, which has been voted as one of the best in Ottawa. There are other great food places with outdoor patio, fine dining, and excellent services, and 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.
There are two beaches on the northeast corner of the island, and both are open from May till September. So if you are in Ottawa during these months, you know where to find the beaches, right?
Both the 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.
You can also 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.
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.
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.
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 vacations. This list contains the top 9 things to do in Ottawa. However, once you are there, you will see find yourself doing hundreds of little things.
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, that is the Rideau Hall. It is a national historic site with a magnificent architectural building featuring both contemporary and historical things.
Ottawa is genuinely a space for learning and fun, and the Byward Market area represents the fun aspect. You will find there the 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 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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