Canada’s capital, Ottawa, is located on the banks of the Ottawa River and bisected by the Rideau Canal. It’s a bilingual city that celebrates Canada’s history, art and culture through its monuments and museums. Below are our top picks of things to do while in our national capital.
Visit Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill is the heart of Ottawa around which everything in town seems to gravitate. You can tour the hill on your own, take a few photos in front of the neogothic buildings and the Centennial Flame, walk around Center Block (the building with the Peace Tower) for great views of the Ottawa River, the National Gallery, several museums and Gatineau beyond or climb the Peace Tower to get a great view of the city. You should also get a guided tour of the House of Commons or the Senate. The tours are free of charge and led by knowledgeable guides and will also take you on a visit of the iconic Library of Parliament. Buy your tickets online or across the street.
Parliament Hill is also the site for several activities such as the Changing of the Guard, the Northern Lights sound and light show, Canada Day festivities, and even yoga on the hill.
Ottawa’s ByWard Market is within a short walking distance from Parliament Hill. It’s been in operation since 1826 and is one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. It’s open 363 days a year and counts 150 stalls at the height of the season. “The Market” indicates the farmers market but also the entire area around it, about four locks square, where one can dine, shop or participate in seasonal activities.
Historic Rideau Canal is worth visiting any time of year. The canal is a National Historic Site of Canada, a Canadian Heritage River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest continuously used canal in North America. In the winter, it transforms into the largest skating ring in the world, with 7.8 kilometers of scenic skating that goes from downtown Ottawa to Dows Lake with resting stops in between to warm up and grab a snack. In the summer, it’s a picturesque green oasis of tranquility in the heart of the city and a beloved destination for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. Boating and water sports enthusiasts also use the canal for leisurely rides.
Museums and Galleries
Being the nation’s capital, Ottawa is a treasure trove of history, art and culture in the form of museums and galleries. You can dedicate your entire time in Ottawa to museum hopping. The Canadian Museum of History is Canada’s most visited museum and houses the largest collection of totems. The National Gallery of Canada’s building is a gorgeous modern construction that houses the most comprehensive collection of Canadian art. The Canadian Museum of Nature offers dinosaurs and whale skeletons inside a historic building. The Canadian War Museum is an homage to Canada’s war history and its fallen heroes. The Canada Agriculture Museum is the perfect spot to meet farm animals and learn about agriculture. The Canada Science and Technology Museum offers interactive exhibits perfect for curious kids and adults. Other Ottawa museums include the Portrait Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photograph, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Ottawa Art Gallery, and the Bank of Canada Currency Museum.
Ottawa’s culinary scene has become a destination in and of itself in recent years. From world class fine dining to more casual spots, sweet treats, wine bars and great cafés, there’s no shortage of excellent establishments to satisfy all foodies. Click here to read our article on Ottawa’s food scene and our favourite restaurants, bars, coffee shops, brunch spots and more!
Ottawa has no shortage of outdoor activities for nature and sports lovers. Amateur and professional cyclists and hikers can enjoy using the city’s many paths. Gatineau Park is only minutes away from the downtown core and packed with outdoor activities year-round such as swimming, hiking, camping and cross-country skiing. The park is also a great place to observe birds and animals. If you are willing to drive outside the city limits, more activities will be at your disposal such as bungee jumping over a lagoon with a 200-foot drop, skydiving, skiing or white water rafting and kayaking on the Ottawa River.
Chances are there will be a festival happening in Ottawa during your visit. The city hosts a multitude of festive gatherings throughout the year. The Canadian Tulip Festival commemorates Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands during the Second World War with the yearly gift of 250,000 tulip bulbs. Winterlude is an annual winter festival that features winter sports and ice sculptures. Music lovers can enjoy the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, the RBC Bluesfest Ottawa or the Ottawa Chamberfest. Ottawa’s Canada Day celebrations are the most spectacular with snowbirds demonstrations, entertainment and fireworks on the roster for a fun-filled day on Parliament Hill. There are loads of other festivals to enjoy in Ottawa during the year.
Cover photo credit: By Wladyslaw [Disk.] – Own work (Original text: selbst erstellt, aus 12 Einzelbildern zusammengefügt), CC BY-SA 3.0