If you’re coming to Ottawa, the city’s many national award-winning museums provide interesting hideaways in any season and in any weather. Located just a short 20-minute walk from many downtown Ottawa hotels, these diverse cultural attractions make it easy to escape the cold of the Canadian winter or the heat of the Canadian summer. Take in a delightful special exhibit or explore the museums’ priceless permanent collections, which are full of Canada’s national treasures. Whether you’re pursuing a specific interest or just sightseeing, one of Ottawa’s grand museums will have something to show you!
If ancient dinosaurs and Canadian animals peak your interest, head to the Canadian Museum of Nature. Located in Ottawa’s downtown core, this museum is sure to delight animal lovers of all ages! From a Mammal Gallery that features Canadian animals, to an Animalium with an eye-popping assortment of insects and arachnids, to a room full of dinosaurs, this museum provides hours of entertainment for visitors young and old. And don’t forget to visit the RBC Blue Water Gallery! Added in 2010, this beautiful gallery features a 19-metre (62.3-foot) skeleton of a blue whale, the largest animal on the planet.
From the Museum of Nature, why not make your way back towards Parliament Hill and stop by the Bytown Museum? This small, three-floor museum is an Ottawa gem, tracing the history of the city’s earliest years to its emergence as Canada’s sophisticated capital. Learn about Ottawa’s lumber town past and about the construction of the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This museum is worth a visit just for its location, as it is housed in the oldest stone building in the city, adjacent to the first eight locks of the Rideau Canal system!
Just across the Ottawa River, you will find the famous and expansive Canadian Museum of History.
Take a taxi or walk over to this museum at any time of the year. But during the warmer months, you can opt to take the scenic and eco-friendly Au Feel de l’eau Aqua-Taxi, which runs between the Ottawa Locks (beside the Bytown Museum) and the museum.
This 15.2-square metre (50,000-square foot) beautifully designed museum offers hundreds of years of Canadian history all in one place. Visit the First Nations-focused First Peoples Hall and stroll through the bright Grand Hall, home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. The Grand Hall offers beautiful views of the Ottawa River and of Ottawa’s famous Parliament Buildings. And if you’re travelling with the family, this museum is sure to please, as it is also home to the Canadian Children’s Museum. In this part of the museum, which has been a hit with tourists and residents alike since 1989, children receive a passport and visit all the corners of the globe. They can see how others live in the International Village, take a trek to a desert pyramid or help to unload a cargo ship in a busy seaside port. A great time is guaranteed in this child-focused space.
Just around the corner from the Museum of History is the bunker-like Canadian War Museum. This energy-efficient facility is a living memorial to Canada’s rich military history, from the earliest days of New France to present day operations. Make sure to take in the museum’s expansive LeBreton Gallery, which is home to large-scale artifacts such as airplanes, submarines and tanks. Also, the Canadian War Museum’s Memorial Hall is THE place to be each November 11 when the headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier is illuminated by a single beam of sunlight. During the museum’s construction, a window was installed in the Memorial Hall by architect Raymond Moriyama. Placed strategically, this small window captures a beam of sunlight that perfectly frames the headstone of the Unknown Soldier each Remembrance Day at exactly 11:00 a.m.
Also located in Ottawa’s downtown core is the National Gallery of Canada, which is the permanent home of the world’s most comprehensive collection of Canadian, including Inuit, art. See works by Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists and stroll through the interesting award-winning building’s halls, where you’ll find beautiful indoor gardens and water features. If you’re travelling with little ones, visit the Gallery on the weekend and participate in its child-friendly, hands-on Artissimo program! Artissimo encourages children of three years old and up to create works of art with their families. The unique creations are then displayed in a special Artissimo Gallery.
And just around the corner from the National Gallery, you’ll find the Royal Canadian Mint. This is where everyday Canadian currency and special collectible coins are made! Here, you can see the coin-making process, more than $1 million worth of pure gold and you can even hold a pure gold bar in your hands. If you visit the Mint, make sure to stop by the boutique, where you’ll find an array of unique gift ideas, collectibles and souvenirs.
All of these museums offer guided tours throughout the day. But to take your Ottawa history lesson one step further, embark on an evening tour of the city with the Haunted Walk of Ottawa. This is where you’ll explore Ottawa’s darker past as you follow a dark cloaked guide carrying a small glowing lantern!
Open all year long, the Haunted Walk offers 90-minute evening walking tours of Ottawa that visit supposedly haunted sites, such as the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, the ByWard Market neighbourhood and the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel, which is often said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Canada.
With lots of historical information and a little bit of local legend, your visit to Canada’s capital will be complete!