As Canada’s Capital, Ottawa is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city known for its many national museums and award-winning attractions. Throughout this charming former lumber town, visitors can also find a myriad of gourmet restaurants and high-end shopping avenues such as Sussex Drive. But though Ottawa has many sights to offer, visiting the city doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
As the city basks in the glow of the warming sun, it becomes home to many affordable tourism activities as well as outdoor adventure that takes advantage of Ottawa’s beautiful natural landscape. So there are many alternatives for visitors looking to save some cash. If you want to know what to see and do in the capital with little money, check out this list of free or nearly free activities:
- Take a tour of Parliament Hill! Free guided tours of the Parliament Buildings are offered daily, roughly from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at half-hour intervals on a first-come, first-served basis. And make sure to take the elevator to the top of the 92.2-metre (302-foot) Peace Tower to enjoy a dramatic 360-degree view of Ottawa!
- See the Changing of the Guard Ceremony! From late June through to late August, you can see this ceremony on Parliament Hill daily at 10:00 a.m. The Changing of the Guard has been a tradition on the Hill since 1959 and is brought to life by a regimental band and pipers. We recommend arriving 15 minutes before the ceremony to find a good spot as this is a popular Ottawa activity.
- Visit the “Whispering Wall”! Also located on Parliament Hill (to the east of Centre Block, behind the Famous Five monument), this bench is an Ottawa favourite during the warmer weather months. Have one person sit at one end of the bench and another person sit at the opposite side. Now with no more than a whisper, talk clearly to each other.
- Take advantage of Sunday Bikedays! On Sundays from late May to early September, more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) of parkways are closed to motorists and are reserved for cyclists, in-line skaters, runners and walkers. This is a great time to explore some of Ottawa’s most scenic pathways that wind along the Ottawa River and the calm Rideau Canal.
- See John Ceprano’s rock sculptures! On a nice spring or summer’s day, rent a bike and cycle west of downtown along the Ottawa River to admire John Ceprano’s rock sculptures at Remic Rapids. Every spring (continues through fall, until the sculptures are dismantled by the winter elements), John creates unique sculptures by only using rocks that are available on site. These often amazing creations are the perfect backdrop for pictures in the early morning or evening light!
- Take the Au Feel de l’eau Aqua-Taxi! If you’re planning on visiting the Canadian Museum of History, where admission is free on Thursday nights from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., consider taking this quaint and eco-friendly aqua-taxi to get across the Ottawa River. This taxi provides wonderful views of the museum and of Ottawa’s iconic Parliament Buildings. A one-way trip is $6 CDN and a round trip is $10 CDN.
- Have a picnic! Buy fresh bread, fresh coldcut meats, cheese and vegetables from the farmers and stores in the ByWard Market, then have an impromptu picnic in Major’s Hill Park or at Nepean Point (located behind the National Gallery) for a spectacular view. The point is a beautiful spot to take pictures of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, Victoria Island, Jacques Cartier Park, and the Canadian Museum of History.
- Visit Rideau Hall! The grounds of the Governor General of Canada’s residence are opened daily from 8:00 a.m. to one hour before sunset. Explore these beautiful grounds where dignitaries and political figures have planted trees, and take a guided tour of the famous stone residence.
- Explore Mer Bleue Bog! Enjoy the walking paths and explore one of the largest bogs in southern Ontario. Ecologically, Mer Bleue is an especially valuable example of a northern ecosystem – more typical of the Arctic than the Ottawa Valley – and it has been designated an internationally significant wetland under the United Nations’ Ramsar Convention.
- Participate in yoga on Parliament Hill! On Wednesdays from May to August, visitors and residents alike can participate in free “guerilla yoga” classes on Parliament Hill’s front lawn from noon to 1:00 p.m. Up to 1,000 people participate on a weekly basis.
- Enjoy Zumba with Jorge. Each Thursday from early June to the end of August, you can participate in a free zumba class at City Hall’s Marion Dewar Plaza from noon to 1:00 p.m. A mix of low intensity and high intensity moves, this class is fun for all fitness levels!
- Participate in Hatha yoga at Ottawa City Hall. On Tuesdays from early July to the end of August, Rama Lotus Yoga Centre leads a free yoga class at Marion Dewar Plaza from noon to 1:00 p.m. This is a great option if you can’t make it to Parliament Hill on Wednesday!
- Enjoy Salsa @City Hall! Each Wednesday from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., a Latin dance social takes place at Ottawa City Hall’s Marion Dewar Plaza. Enjoy a free introductory Latin dance class! These salsa events take place from early July to the end of August.
- Catch a movie at Lansdowne! Each Monday evening from July through August, you can see a free, family-friendly movie on Lansdowne’s Great Lawn. Just bring a blanket and enjoy the show! The movie starts at about 9:00 p.m., once the sun starts to set.
- Take a hike in Gatineau Park! Located just a 15-minute drive north of downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park offers more than 165 kilometres (102 miles) of trails, with most being available year-round. Admission to the park is free. Make sure to bring water and sunblock on those warmer days!
- Go to the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival! Taking place annually in late June, this is an exciting event that offers entertainment for the whole family. During the day, enjoy exciting non-stop races and at night, enjoy amazing free concerts. Admission is always free, both for the races and the concerts!
- Go on the Historical Tavern Tour! This free walking tour leaves from the Waller St. Brewery (14 Waller St.) on Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. Visit three taverns and pubs and learn about Ottawa’s colourful history as you go. You must be 19 or over to participate and a reservation is required. Visit www.ottawafreetour.com for more information.
- Visit the beach! City of Ottawa beaches are open from mid-June to the end of August. Lifeguards are on duty weekday hours Monday to Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and weekend hours Saturday, Sunday and statutory holidays from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
- Britannia Beach: 2805 Carling Avenue, 613-820-1211
- Mooney’s Bay Beach: 3000 Riverside Drive, 613-248-0863
- Westboro Beach: 234 Atlantis Road at Kitchissippi Lookout, 613-792-3832
- Petrie Island Beach: 727 Trim Road, 613-824-5704
- Catch a movie in the park! Located on Somerset Street West (near Lyon Street), Dundonald Park is home to Centretown Movies in the summer. Bring a lawn chair and some munchies to enjoy great movies in the great outdoors on Friday and Saturday nights in July and August. Admission is pay-what-you-can.
- Rent a pedal boat, canoe or a paddle board and explore the Rideau Canal! Located at 1001 Queen Elizabeth Drive, the Dows Lake Pavilion offers equipment rentals from Victoria Day weekend throughout the summer.
- Visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride Centre! The Musical Ride, a world-renowned military pageant performed with 32 horses and riders, was first produced publicly in Regina in 1887. The RCMP invites visitors to tour the stables and Visitors’ Centre year-round (Tuesdays and Thursdays from September through April; daily from May through August). There is a possibility during a visit of seeing the Musical Ride horses and riders practise when they are not away on tour.
- On Thursday evenings, admission to the permanent exhibits of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature is free from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum offer free admission daily between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. *Canada Science and Technology Museum is undergoing restoration and will reopen in 2017.
- Visit the Royal Canadian Mint. Have you ever wondered how coins are made? Find out at the Royal Canadian Mint, Canada’s national mint, on the historic Sussex Drive. Founded as a branch of the British Royal Mint in 1908, the Mint produces circulation coins for Canada and other countries, as well as commemorative coins sold worldwide. Since 1976, Canadian and foreign circulation coinage has been produced at the Royal Canadian Mint’s production plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Admission is $6.00 CDN per adult ($4.50 on weekends); $3.00 CDN per child 5-17 ($2.25 on weekends); $5.00 CDN per senior 65 and over ($3.75 on weekends); $15.00 CDN per family (2 adults, 4 children; $11.25 on weekends). Children 4 and under are free.
- If you’re an Ottawa resident, take advantage of the Museum privilege program at the Ottawa Public Library. The Library loans out family passes to several museums at no charge – all you need is a library card.
- Participate in Canada Day! Each July 1, Ottawa becomes home to the biggest Canada Day celebration in the country. This is THE place to be. Take advantage of many free concerts, short speeches by politicians, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Musical Ride, maple leaf “tattoos”, face painting and fabulous fireworks at 10:00 p.m.!
- Take in the nightly Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill! This free, bilingual show takes place every night after dark between early July and early September. Huge images are projected onto the Parliament Buildings, using them as a giant screen.
Ottawa has many affordable sightseeing options!
Ottawa is a very pedestrian-friendly city, but if you’re looking to venture outside of the downtown core, opt to take the city bus operated by OC Transpo. The OC Transpo DayPass can be purchased for $10.25 CDN and entitles you to unlimited same-day travel on the bus as well as on the O-Train, Ottawa’s light rail project in the west end.