Did you know that Ottawa, Canada’s beautiful capital city, offers many activities that are either free or nearly free?
If you’re here for a meeting, conference or convention this summer, you can be sure that there are plenty of things for you to do in your free time and… You won’t have to break the bank. But where do you start?
We’ve put together a list of five of Ottawa’s best FREE activities! Head out, enjoy the summer sunshine and discover the city in your downtime.
1. Visit Parliament Hill:
This is one of Ottawa’s most iconic landmarks and visiting it is completely FREE. Stroll around the beautifully manicured grounds and if you have time, opt for a free, guided tour of Centre Block, which is home to the House of Commons and the 92.2-metre Peace Tower. You can even go up to the top of the Peace Tower if you wish, to get a dramatic, 360-degree view of the city. Make sure to bring a camera!
Changing of the Guard Ceremony:
If you’re visiting Ottawa between June and August, you can take in this spectacle that takes place on Parliament Hill’s front lawn daily at 10:00 a.m. We recommend arriving a bit early at 9:45 a.m., as this is a popular summer attraction.
Every summer since 1959, the Hill’s front lawn comes alive with colourful military drills that are accompanied by a regimental band and pipers. This ceremony is adored by Ottawa visitors and locals alike.
*Insider tip: If you have some free time on a Wednesday in the summer, you can participate in a FREE noon hour yoga class on Parliament Hill’s front lawn. Each Wednesday from early May to the end of September, Lululemon Athletica holds an outdoor, multi-level yoga class. Up to 1,000 people participate on a weekly basis!
2. Visit one of Ottawa’s National Museums:
As Canada’s Capital, Ottawa is home to seven national museums that offer FREE admission at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week. This makes it easy for you to pop in quickly and see a few highlights if you only have a little bit of time.
You’ll find free admission daily from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Also, each Thursday, you’ll find free admission to the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Did you know that the Canadian Museum of History’s Grand Hall is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles? This is something that you don’t want to miss! Free admission however, does not include entry into the museums’ special exhibits.
3. See the Rideau Canal and watch boats go through the Ottawa Locks:
The Rideau Canal, which snakes its way through the city, is Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site! On any given day in the warmer weather months, you’ll see people cycling, walking, running and in-line skating along its peaceful green banks. This is a great place to relax, do a bit of exploring and take in some sunshine as well as some lovely scenery.
And just beside the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, in front of the Bytown Museum, you’ll find the Ottawa Locks. Here, you can find a spot on the grass and watch boats as they access the Ottawa River from the Rideau Canal and vice versa. It’s quite the process! This spot also provides a beautiful view of the river, the Canadian Museum of History and the Alexandra Bridge. It’s a good spot for a memorable Ottawa photo! Also, during the summer months, the Bytown Museum offers FREE admission on Thursday evening from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
*Insider tip: Just in case you might be returning to Ottawa in the cooler weather season… Did you know that over the winter months, from roughly January to late February or early March, the canal freezes over to become the Rideau Canal Skateway; the largest skating rink in the world? It’s true! During these months you can skate from Ottawa’s downtown core all the way to Dows Lake. Also, the Skateway is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week and access is FREE.
4. Take in the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill:
Northern Lights, a FREE Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill, runs nightly from July through to September. And as it plays later in the evening, it’s the perfect after meeting or after conference activity!
Sit on Parliament Hill’s front lawn and watch as Canadian stories of nation-building, discovery and valour are projected onto the Parliament Buildings in this 30-minute show. You have to see this for yourself! Northern Lights plays at 10:00 p.m. in July, 9:30 p.m. in August and 9:00 p.m. in September.
5. Explore Ottawa’s ByWard Market neighbourhood:
The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada, but it is also the name of the eclectic neighbourhood that surrounds it. This lively area is a great place to walk around, window shop and to get a meal or a great patio drink, if you wish. At any time of the day and in all seasons, you’ll find people exploring the ByWard Market area and taking in its bustling atmosphere. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and unique Ottawa souvenir, this is also a good place to go as you’ll find local vendors selling maple products, handmade jewellery and more.
*Insider tip: Though it’s not free – unfortunately – you can’t visit Ottawa and not try a delicious BeaverTails pastry. The ByWard Market is where this deep fried, beaver tail-shaped treat was born in 1978! Get one at the BeaverTails stand at the corner of William Street and George Street. You can try flavours such as Cinnamon and Sugar, Choco Banana, Oreo and more. This tasty delight is about $5 CDN.
These top five free activity ideas however, are only a few suggestions to get you started. There are a lot more free things to see and do in Ottawa. It just depends on how much spare time you have during your meeting, conference or convention. You can browse a more extensive list of free activities here.