Ottawa is home to most of Canada’s national museums, a tasty culinary scene and fun activities. And with most attractions within a 20-minute walk from many downtown area hotels, it’s a breeze to get around. Here are just five of the many sites you shouldn’t miss when visiting Ottawa.
1. Visit Parliament Hill
The most iconic site in Canada’s capital, Parliament Hill, sits on a scenic hill overlooking the Ottawa River. Admire the three neo-Gothic-style federal government buildings (East Block, West Block and Centre Block) which were built between 1859 and 1927. Special free events are held on the grounds year-round including yoga, the Changing of the Guard ceremony and multimedia shows.
While the Centre Block’s interior undergoes a decade-long rehabilitation, you can take free guided tours of two sites temporarily housing Parliamentary Chambers: The House of Commons in the renovated West Block, and The Senate in the Senate of Canada Building just one block away (a Beaux-Arts-style structure which was originally Ottawa’s train station built in 1912).
2. Experience the Rideau Canal
Each season offers different ways to experience the beautiful Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. In warmer months, stroll or cycle along the canal’s scenic banks, or take a relaxing cruise on its waters. You can also explore the water on your own by renting a kayak, canoe, stand up paddle board (SUP) or paddleboat.
During the winter months (roughly December to February), the frozen waterway becomes the world’s largest skating rink – the Rideau Canal Skateway. This unique skating experience is free, open day and night (weather permitting), and stretches 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) through downtown Ottawa.
3. Explore national museums
Home to seven of nine national museums, Canada’s capital provides unparalleled access to the country’s treasures. You’ll find the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, beautiful Indigenous and Canadian art, ancient dinosaur fossils, Canadian military stories, and aviation artefacts.
4. Browse the Byward Market neighbourhood
The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada – and it’s also the name of the historic and eclectic neighbourhood that surrounds it. The four square blocks are packed with vendors of fresh food, maple syrup and crafts, as well as unique eateries, clubs, bistros, coffee shops and boutiques.
Nibble on a tasty BeaverTail pastry at its original stand located on George Street, sip a cocktail on a patio, or fulfil your culinary cravings at the many restaurants. You’ll also find fun souvenirs and gifts as well as fashion, jewellery and homewares in the many independent shops. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the huge OTTAWA letters on York Street near Sussex Drive!
5. Soak up the Ottawa River
The majestic Ottawa River is one of the city’s most photographed sites and one of the best places to capture stunning sunset views year-round. Walk, bike or drive across the bridges which link Ottawa, Ontario to Gatineau, Quebec. Explore the multi-use pathways that run along each bank and lead to beautiful sites like city beaches and balanced rock sculptures. Or ride the electric Aqua-Taxi and sightseeing cruises for stellar views from the water.
The Ottawa River is a mecca for water activities. Enjoy epic whitewater adventures like an urban rafting excursion, or head just over an hour’s drive west from downtown Ottawa for some of the world’s best whitewater rafting, including class V rapids. Whitewater kayaking is also available in the city and in the countryside. For flatwater fun, do some stand up paddle boarding in the shadow of Parliament Hill, the Rideau Falls and the Ottawa Locks!
To maximize your time and budget in Canada’s capital, check out the many free or nearly free things to see and do!