If you’ve never been to Ottawa in the fall, you’re in for a treat. With the crisp fall breeze and the warm sunshine, comes a rhapsody of beautiful fall colours. Fall is the perfect time to get outside and explore Canada’s capital city!
But from hiking to biking, to shopping, culinary delights and more, how do you know where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve put together an itinerary for the perfect three-day Ottawa fall getaway! Follow this itinerary throughout your trip or use it as a base to help create your own customized fall visit. Either way, these ideas are bound to help get your trip planning started. Get ready to experience all the great fall activities Ottawa has to offer.
DAY 1 – Explore & Relax
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 Ottawa’s accommodations.
Drive 20 minutes north of Ottawa’s downtown core to the expansive Gatineau Park. This park offers 361 square kilometres (90,000 acres) of Canadian wilderness and with all its trees, it’s the perfect place to admire the beautiful fall colours!
Opt to explore the 1.9-kilometre (1.2 mile) King Mountain trail. A bit of an uphill climb, this lovely trail takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete and offers 10 lookouts with spectacular views of Ottawa and its surrounding region. The hike culminates at the Eardley Escarpment, which provides a stunning view from 300 metres (984 feet) above the Ottawa Valley. Make sure to bring a camera to capture the impressive backdrop of fall colours!
If you want more of an adrenaline-packed activity, opt to take on Camp Fortune’s Aerial Experience.
Also located in Gatineau Park, Aerial Experience invites visitors to explore the colourful tree tops on a rope bridge and zip line adventure. Get all set with a harness and enjoy this two to three-hour adventure that will have you soaring through the trees.
Have the little ones in tow? No problem! Opt for the aerial children’s park. Modeled on the adult experience, the children’s park offers hanging bridges and zip lines that are placed at a lower, more child-friendly height. Just make sure to reserve your spot as this is a popular experience among visitors and locals alike. The Aerial Experience operates in rain or shine, but not during thunderstorms.
Now, after all of that hiking or zip lining, you’ll probably want to relax, and there’s no better place to do that than Nordik Spa-Nature.
Also located within Gatineau Park, this is the largest outdoor nature spa of its kind in North America. Here, you can enjoy Nordik’s relaxing Thermal Baths and Saunas experience, which invites you to move through several cold and temperate baths, nine different saunas and an infinity pool that overlooks Ottawa’s beautiful skyline.
And as Nordik has two restaurants on site, it’s easy to spend the whole afternoon and evening here. Take a break from the baths and cozy up near a fire with a snack and a drink. Massages are also available. And as Nordik is set in the beautiful Gatineau Park, you can be sure that natural fall beauty will surround you. Nordik is open until 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
DAY 2 – See the Sights & Shop
Opt to get your day started by having breakfast in Ottawa’s ByWard Market neighbourhood.
The ByWard Market is home to one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. The name however, also lends itself to the myriad of restaurants and boutiques that surround it. If you’re in a coffee and croissant type of mood, head to French-style bakery Le Moulin de Provence. Here, you’ll find delicious baked goods, various coffees and teas as well as… The now famous Obama and Trudeau cookies, which make a great Ottawa souvenir. This is a great place for a quick breakfast on the go.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for more of a bacon and eggs type of breakfast, try Zak’s Diner (open 24-hours a day!). Here, you’ll find classic diner fare and the best milkshakes in town.
Get on a bus tour to see the city!
Want to see Ottawa from land and from the water? Hop on a Lady Dive Splash Tour. Get on Lady Dive’s Amphibus to explore interesting sites in the Ottawa-Gatineau area and… On the Ottawa River, which has recently been named a Canadian Heritage River. On the bilingual, one-hour tour, you’ll learn about more than 75 important Ottawa sites.
Alternatively, if you’d rather stay on dry land, opt for a Gray Line Ottawa bus tour. This Hop-on Hop-off tour makes its way around the city daily from May through October. Stay on the bus for a guided tour of the city or, hop off and on at sites that interest you. Like the Amphibus tour, this bus tour also lets you discover more than 75 Ottawa landmarks.
Along with the interesting national museums – Ottawa has seven – don’t miss Rideau Hall; the home of Canada’s Governor General. The gates of Rideau Hall are open daily until sunset and admission is free. Opt to take in the beauty of fall by strolling through the property’s 79 acres of landscaped grounds, which feature more than 130 commemorative maple and oak trees. A bronze plaque at the base of each tree lists the name and title of the person who planted it. Over the years, trees were planted by members of the British Royal Family and American President John F. Kennedy, among many others.
If you’re getting hungry, opt to have lunch while visiting one of Ottawa’s national museums.
Consider stopping at the Canadian Museum of History. This is Canada’s most visited museum and it is also the home of the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. Stroll through the Grand Hall to admire these tall structures and to enjoy beautiful views of the Parliament Buildings as well as the Ottawa River.
And don’t miss the Museum of History’s new Canadian History Hall which opened on July 1, 2017 – Canada’s official 150th birthday. The enormous space features 1,800 priceless artifacts that span across 15,000 years of Canadian history. Among the artifacts is the oldest hockey stick known to be in existence, handcuffs used during Louis Riel’s execution and Maurice “The Rocket” Richard’s Montréal Canadiens hockey sweater, to name a few.
Get out of the cool fall air for a bit by doing some shopping.
CF Rideau Centre, Ottawa’s downtown shopping mall, has completed a $360-million renovation that added 180,000 square feet of new retail space. Explore the mall’s new section and peruse new retailers such as Simons, H&M, Anthropologie, Massimo Dutti and many more. Pick up something you like and it’ll remind you of your trip to Ottawa each time you put it on.
Also, if you haven’t already done it, take a stroll through the open-air ByWard Market. In the fall, you’ll find up to 175 vendors offering fresh produce, handmade jewellery and gift items, decorated pumpkins and more. This is also a great place to find Canadian maple products year-round.
If you like craft beer, opt to take a short bike, bus or car ride south of the downtown core to Lansdowne, where you’ll find CRAFT Beer Market among many other great restaurants and businesses. CRAFT Beer Market offers fresh, local food as well as 100 craft beers on tap. This is a great place to get acquainted with Ottawa’s craft beer scene.
Optional evening activity:
If you’re a football fan, opt to see an Ottawa REDBLACKS game at the new TD Place Stadium at Lansdowne. The REDBLACKS are Ottawa’s Canadian Football League (CFL) team and they play into early November.
If you feel like staying out after dinner, opt to explore the Lansdowne and the adjacent Glebe neighbourhood, or the ByWard Market areas. Each place offers great locations to have a drink, enjoy some live music or just people watch.
DAY 3 – Explore Ottawa On Your Own
If you’re in Ottawa in September or October, consider renting a bike and exploring the city on your own.
Located just across from the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, RentABike offers bikes for rent by the hour, the day or even by the week. Also, each bike comes with a bike lock, which makes it easy for you to stop at interesting spots along your way. Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals, located at 65 Sparks Street, also offers daily bicycle rentals with similar inclusions. Both companies, which are open each season until the end of October, offer guided tours as well.
If it’s a nice day, follow the Ottawa River pathway all the way to the Canadian War Museum. All along the way, you can take in lovely views of the Ottawa River and the Canadian Museum of History.
Alternatively, if you’d rather stay in the downtown core, cycle around and make sure to stop by Nepean Point. Located just behind the National Gallery of Canada, Nepean Point offers dramatic, 360-degree views of Ottawa and the Ottawa River. This is another great vantage point to see all the fall colours, so make sure to have a camera with you.
No trip to Ottawa is complete without a visit to the iconic Parliament Hill.
Built between 1859 and 1927, the Parliament Buildings are home to Canada’s federal government. Free guided tours are available daily, on which you can discover treasures such as the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament. You can also take an elevator to the top of the 92.2-metre (302-foot) Peace Tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city. A guided tour is a great way to get an insider’s view of Centre Block and all of its interesting assets!
After all of that cycling and sightseeing, you’re probably getting hungry. Return your rental bike and head to the Fairmont Château Laurier to enjoy Afternoon Tea.
Served in the historic hotel’s Zoé’s Lounge – named one of the best bars in Canada by enRoute magazine – Afternoon Tea features Canadian delicacies from across the country. Sit by the solarium-style windows, sip your maple tea and melt a few hours away by watching the comings and goings along the busy Rideau Street. We recommend making a reservation for tea as this is another activity that’s popular with both Ottawa visitors and locals all year long.
If you want to fit in a bit more sightseeing before your departure, after your tea, head over to the Bytown Museum.
Housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building and located just beside the Fairmont, this smaller, local museum tells the stories of Ottawa’s lumbering past. Here, you can also learn about how the Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – was built. Did you know that a large part of the now famous canal was dug out by hand through the Canadian wilderness?
Of course, these are only a few suggestions to get your fall getaway plans started.
Thinking of how to get here? As Ottawa is located between the major cities of Montreal and Toronto, consider booking a ticket on VIA Rail. VIA offers several trains daily to Ottawa from either city. The train ride from Montreal is about two hours and the ride from Toronto is about five. Get cozy in a seat and take in the beauty of fall all along the way!