DAY 1 – See, Relax and Party
Arrive in Ottawa and settle into your hotel. Ottawa has many hotels for you to choose from; from luxurious establishments to more economic options. Learn more about accommodations here.
Mid morning: Go to RentABike (just across from the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel) and head out to explore the city!
Rent a bike for a few hours, a day or a few days and cycle along the scenic Rideau Canal towards Dows Lake. And don’t worry, the bike comes with everything you need – a helmet and a bike lock.
Visiting in May? See the Canadian Tulip Festival! Each May, Ottawa gets decorated with more than one million tulips in 50 varieties. Though you’ll see them all over the city, you’ll find 250,000 tulips in bloom at Commissioners Park (Dows Lake) alone. This beautiful spring festival provides the perfect photo opportunity, so be sure to have a camera with you.
Lunch: If you’re hungry, consider having lunch at the Dows Lake Pavilion. Here, at the water’s edge, you’ll find three restaurants; Lago, Malone’s and the Mexican-themed GuadalaHarry’s.
Or if you don’t mind cycling a bit longer, go into Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood (on Preston Street) and have lunch at Pub Italia. This is a favourite food and craft beer spot for locals. This pub offers so many different beers that they’ve been put together in a Beer Bible. This is a thing!
Afternoon: Bike back into the downtown core and head up to Nepean Point. Located behind the National Gallery of Canada, this grassy spot offers fantastic panoramic views of the city and of the Ottawa River.
Want to relax? Bring a blanket, some snacks, water and a book. Chill out here and get a little bit of sun. That’s what the locals do!
Alternatively, if you want to get out of the heat, opt to visit the air conditioned National Gallery. This beautiful building is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of Canadian art, including Inuit art. There’s lots to see!
Early evening: Grab dinner in the ByWard Market neighbourhood. In this bustling downtown neighbourhood you’ll find several dining options, from casual pubs to high-end, fine dining establishments.
Evening: Go to Nature Nocturne at the Canadian Museum of Nature! For one night each month, the museum comes alive at 8 p.m. Enjoy a nightclub atmosphere, where you can grab a drink and dance the night away amongst the dinosaurs. This event is loved by visitors and locals alike, so get your tickets in advance.
DAY 2 – A Little Bit of History and Culinary Discovery
Mid-morning: After Nature Nocturne, you’ll no doubt want to sleep in a little. If you’re visiting Ottawa in June or July, head to the iconic Parliament Hill for 9:45 a.m. to see the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at 10 a.m.
Every summer since 1959, the Hill’s front lawn comes alive with colourful drills that are accompanied by a regimental band and pipers. Get there 15 minutes early, as this is a popular summer event for visitors and locals alike!
Around 10:45 a.m.: If you didn’t rent a bike for more than a day, rent another one and head down to the Ottawa River. Beside the famous Ottawa Locks, you’ll find the quaint Bytown Museum. Here, you’ll learn about how the iconic Rideau Canal was built and how Ottawa evolved to become the fabulous capital city it is today. And since you’re here in the summer, after you’ve visited the museum, watch a few boats go through the locks.
Noon: Leave the Bytown Museum and cycle east down Laurier Street to Signatures Restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu.
Housed in a historical and charming 1877 former lumber baron mansion, this restaurant offers modern French cuisine in an intimate setting. Enjoy small dining rooms with few tables. This is a great gourmet lunch spot! A reservation is recommended.
Afternoon: See a culinary demonstration or take part in a cooking class with Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute, which is housed in the same building as Signatures. Whether you take a full class or just see a demonstration, you’re sure to learn some valuable cooking tips and tricks. And the best part? You get to taste what you’ve created at the end!
Late afternoon: Cycle back to the downtown core. If you want to learn more about the Rideau Canal, hop on a boat tour with Rideau Canal Cruises. Float along the calm canal on an electric bateau mouche and learn more about Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dinner: Bike or walk over to Union Local 613. Don’t let its rough exterior façade fool you, this place is a local gem! Enjoy fantastic whiskey-inspired cocktails, fresh, local ingredients and Southern-inspired cuisine. This is THE place to go in Ottawa for fried chicken and grits!
Around 9:00 p.m.: Walk up towards Parliament Hill to take in Northern Lights, a Sound and Light Show that is projected onto the Parliament Buildings. Playing nightly throughout the summer, this free show depicts Canadian stories of nation-building, discovery, valour and more. Northern Lights lasts 30 minutes. Bring a blanket and enjoy the experience!
Late night: Feel like going out? Hop in a taxi and head to the Casino du Lac-Leamy. Enjoy some of the games the casino has to offer. Then, if you feel like dancing, head to Aléa. Aléa is the Casino du Lac-Leamy’s relatively new nightclub. It opened in October 2014. Dress to impress and dance the night away!
Day 3 – Nature and Music
Morning: Start the morning off with a beautiful hike through nature on one of the seven trails stretching over 165 kilometres of the luscious Gatineau Park.
If you’re ready for a challenge, try out the King Mountain Trail that leads almost 300 metres up above the Ottawa Valley. Read about the varied forests along the way and once at the top, catch your breath and take in the view from the Eardley Escarpment. Make sure to have a camera with you!
Lunch: After hiking back down, head for lunch at the Mackenzie King Café and Tearoom at the Mackenzie King Estate, still located in Gatineau Park.
The Estate is considered a Canadian Legacy with its restored cottages and beautiful grounds that Mackenzie King created himself and left to Canada. William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s tenth Prime Minister. Step back into the 1900’s and soak up the atmosphere while you linger over a delicious lunch (served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Late afternoon: Visiting Ottawa in July? Why not go to one of the biggest outdoor music festivals of its kind? With more than 300 000 people attending each year, RBC Bluesfest has some of the biggest names in music every year. You can enjoy the festival for the day, or if you want, you can get a multi-day pass so you can see even more of your favourite bands. Past Bluesfest performers have included Sting, Van Morrison, Lady Gaga, The White Stripes and countless others. See a great live show and dance the night away!
Day 4 – See the Sights
Morning: If you’re comfortable with cycling in Ottawa, head down to the Ottawa Locks and cycle west along the scenic Ottawa River Pathway to the Canadian War Museum.
This energy-efficient facility showcases Canada’s proud military history. Here, you’ll find large artifacts such as tanks and airplanes, as well as a stunning collection of war art, including airplane “nose art” from WWII. This museum even has a piece of the famous Berlin Wall!
Lunch: Hop back on your bike and cycle back along the Ottawa River Pathway over to the Mill Street Brew Pub. Located just around the corner from the War Museum, “Mill Street” as it’s known locally, offers delicious pub fare and great craft beer. Enjoy lunch in this charming 140-year-old building at the water’s edge!
Afternoon: Cross the nearest bridge and cycle over to the Canadian Museum of History. This is Canada’s most visited museum and it’s loved by visitors and locals alike!
See the museum’s many artifacts and walk through its impressive Grand Hall, which is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. Visiting in 2017 for Canada’s 150th anniversary? Take in the museum’s brand new Canadian History Hall, opening on July 1, 2017.
Late afternoon: Go behind the Museum of History to the Ottawa River’s edge and take Ottawa’s electric Au feel de l’eau Aqua-Taxi back over to the Ontario side. Though quick, this peaceful ride offers fantastic views of the Parliament Buildings. So be sure to have a camera with you!
Once you’re back on the Ottawa side of the river, either head back to your hotel to relax for a bit or get a little souvenir shopping in. In the ByWard Market neighbourhood, you’ll find various shops, artisans and local producers offering great Ottawa-related products. Locally made maple syrup is a great souvenir at any time of the year!
Dinner: Enjoy dinner at SIDEDOOR – another popular local spot! Located on York Street in the ByWard Market neighbourhood, this is where Mexican and Asian cuisine unite. The tacos and made-to-order doughnuts are a must!
DAY 5 – Canadiana and Outdoor Fun
Morning: Have a little piece of Canadiana for breakfast at Flapjack’s Pancake Shack – a local favourite! Though you’ll find a couple of Flapjack’s trucks around the city, its permanent location is at 354a Preston Street, in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood. Enjoy specialty buttermilk pancakes and breakfast sandwiches, all based on an authentically Canadian lumberjack theme.
And today’s activities are up to you!
If you want to relax, take a 20-minute drive north of the downtown core to Nordik Spa-Nature. This is North America’s biggest outdoor spa and it’s a great place to spend the day at any time of the year.
Bring a book and de-stress as you enjoy the spa’s thermal hot tubs, steam rooms and saunas experience. And with two restaurants on site, it’s easy to spend the whole day here. Nordik is popular with visitors and locals alike!
Or if adventure is what you’re after, head west of Ottawa to the area of Beachburg, Ont., where you’ll find some of the best whitewater rafting in the world!
Here, you’ll find several rafting companies that offer a variety of full-day or multi-day experiences ranging from gentle, family-focused rafting to high adrenaline, expert level adventure. Set out onto the river with your seasoned guide for a day of fun, complete with a barbecue lunch on the banks of the river. This is a favourite activity of visitors and locals alike!
And as there are a few companies in the same area, your rafting experience is completely customizable. Opt for a company that offers a sunset boat cruise or another one that offers hot tubs after a long day of bouncing down the river. The choice is yours! The Ottawa region’s whitewater season goes from May to September.
Did you know that rafting in the Ottawa River region is a Canadian Signature Experience? It’s true! Determined by Destination Canada, OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River is a ‘Canadian Signature Experience,’ meaning that it responds to a traveller’s desire to venture beyond the beaten tourist path.
Late afternoon: If you’ve only gone rafting for the day or if you’ve relaxed all day at Nordik Spa-Nature, head back into Ottawa to get ready for dinner.
8:30 p.m.: Enjoy a late dinner at Play Food & Wine. Located in the ByWard Market neighbourhood on York Street, this funky restaurant is operated by Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta and offers small plates that are great for sharing. Enjoy one more delectable meal in Ottawa before turning in for the night. You’ll definitely be tired after all of that time spent outdoors!