If you only have one or two days in Ottawa, there is plenty for you to see and do. Canada’s Capital is home to most of the country’s national museums, many great restaurants and a busy shopping district. And as Ottawa is a pedestrian-friendly city with most attractions being within a 20-minute walk from many downtown area hotels, it’s possible to see many sites in a short amount of time. Take a walk through the city and enjoy these five “must-see” Ottawa activities!
1.Visit Parliament Hill:
Visit Canada’s Parliament Buildings! Just a short walk from any downtown Ottawa hotel, the Parliament Buildings are home to Canada’s federal government. Located on a scenic tree-covered promontory that overlooks the rolling Ottawa River, the neo-Gothic and Gothic structures were built between 1859 and 1927.
The Parliament Buildings include East Block, West Block and the most impressive Centre Block, which is the one every visitor wants to see! Centre Block is home to the 92.2-metre (302-foot) Peace Tower, an intricately carved stone bell tower that keeps time for the city’s downtown core with the help of 53 bells. Take an elevator to the Peace Tower’s observation deck to enjoy a dramatic 360-degree view of the city and on your way, stop by the Memorial Chamber, a gently lit and intricately carved room built to commemorate Canadians who have died in Canada’s armed conflicts since the country’s Confederation in 1867.
Or go on a guided tour of Centre Block that visits the Victorian-style Library of Parliament, as well as the House of Commons and the Senate, where Canada’s laws are debated and made. Guided tours of Centre Block are offered on a daily basis and admission is free.
You can also opt to explore the grounds of Parliament Hill on your own, which are home to many statues and the ever-burning Centennial Flame. And don’t miss the Whispering Wall monument! Sit at one end of the wall and whisper. The person at the other end of the wall will be able to hear exactly what you’re saying. This is one of Ottawa’s best kept secrets!
2. See the Rideau Canal:
Built between 1826 and 1832, the Rideau Canal is Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a delight to visit in any season!
During the warmer months, explore the canal by strolling or cycling along its scenic banks, which make their way from Ottawa’s downtown core to Dows Lake. Or for the more adventurous visitor, rent a kayak, canoe, stand up paddle board (SUP) or paddleboat from the Dows Lake Marina and explore the Rideau Canal on your own!
And during the winter months (roughly December to February), take advantage of the canal’s frozen surface. Lace up your skates and glide down the world’s largest skating rink that stretches 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles), providing scenic views of downtown Ottawa and a uniquely Canadian skating experience.
3. Visit one of Ottawa’s national museums:
As Canada’s Capital, Ottawa is home to several award-winning national museums that house some of the country’s most priceless treasures. These museums are a delight to visit at any time of the year!
From the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, to beautiful Indigenous and Canadian art, to ancient dinosaurs, to heroic stories and artifacts from Canada’s military past, you are sure to find something that will pique your interest. These museums are expansive, providing visitors with a full morning, afternoon or even a full day of discovery and entertainment. They are also conveniently located, with most being at about a 20-minute walk from any Ottawa downtown area hotel. A visit to Ottawa isn’t complete without seeing at least one of these wonderful museums!
4. Explore the 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.
Explore the ByWard Market, which is home to fresh food and maple syrup retailers, as well as great restaurants, clubs, bistros, coffee shops and various unique boutiques. Peruse up to 175 outdoor stalls that sell plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables as well as arts and crafts year-round or stroll along Sussex Drive, which is home to many of the city’s high-end shops and designers. No matter your budget, the market’s retailers have something for the basic souvenir to the expert fashionista shopper.
And a visit to the ByWard Market area would not be complete without a stop at the BeaverTails stand, located on George Street. Ottawa is where the delicious, doughy, golden BeaverTails pastry was born in 1978! Choose from flavours such as Cinnamon and Sugar, Choco Banana and Oreo. These whole wheat pastries are enjoyed year-round in the ByWard Market, but there is nothing more Canadian than enjoying one on skates on the frozen Rideau Canal in the winter.
5. Take a Haunted Walk or a C’est Bon Culinary tour of the city:
Ottawa offers a selection of walking tours, which can be tailored to a visitor’s specific interests. And what better way to explore a city than to walk through its neighbourhoods and busy streets?
The Haunted Walk of Ottawa offers a selection of eerie evening-time tours that visit important historical sites throughout the city’s downtown core. Stop at important sites such as the Rideau Canal and the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel to hear ghost stories and anecdotes from Ottawa’s darker past. The Haunted Walk tour guides wear cloaks and carry a glowing lantern as they lead you from one site to the next!
Or if you’d rather not explore Ottawa’s paranormal history, go on a culinary tour of the city with C’est Bon Cooking. Tour Ottawa neighbourhoods such as the ByWard Market, Chinatown and Wellington West with C’est Bon, whose tours are founded on the belief that the best way to understand a people and its culture is to explore local food markets and experience local specialties! Enjoy a 3-hour walking tour of the city that makes many stops at local retailers and restaurants. And as you’ll work up an appetite while walking, delicious gourmet food samples are provided all along the way!