DAY 1 – The Great Outdoors
Arrive in Ottawa in the mid-morning and check into the hotel of your choice. Ottawa has many hotels for you to choose from; from luxurious establishments to more economic options. Learn more about accommodations here.
Around 11:30 a.m.: If you’re hungry, get a quick bite to eat in Ottawa’s bustling ByWard Market neighbourhood. In this popular Ottawa area, you’ll find several dining options, from casual pubs to high-end, fine dining establishments.
Grab something to go! Stroll into the ByWard Market Square building, which houses various food vendors including French bakery Le Moulin de Provence. Here, you’ll find great sandwiches, salads as well as beautiful cookies and other desserts that are all available for take-out.
Around 12:30 p.m.: Hop in a taxi or take your car if you have one, and head just across the Ottawa River to the scenic Gatineau Park. This luscious park, which spans over 361-square-kilometres (90,000 acres), is a favourite hiking spot for visitors and locals alike in any season.
Opt to explore the 1.9-kilometre (1.2 mile) King Mountain trail, which features 10 lookouts that provide a spectacular view of Ottawa and the surrounding region. This 45-minute hike leads up to the Eardley Escarpment, which provides a stunning view from 300 metres (984 feet) above the Ottawa Valley. Make sure to bring a water bottle and to have a camera with you!
Afternoon: If you’d like more outdoor adventure, head to Camp Fortune’s Explorer Park. Nestled amongst Gatineau Park’s treetops, this fun aerial adventure offers various obstacles and ziplines. Take advantage of some shade in the afternoon and enjoy soaring through the trees in this experience that takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to complete.
Want to relax instead? Also in Gatineau Park, you’ll find Nordik Spa-Nature; the largest spa of its kind in North America!
Spend the rest of your day enjoying Nordik’s Thermal Baths and Saunas experience. Enjoy hot tubs, more temperate pools, steam rooms and an infinity pool that faces the downtown Ottawa skyline. Nordik also offers massages and a unique Källa salt water treatment. Other than at Nordik, you’ll only find this treatment at a spa in Switzerland!
And with two restaurants on site, it’s easy to spend a full day here. Take a break from the baths and recharge with a meal, dessert, a glass of wine, a beer or even a martini. This is a great way to spend your first evening in Ottawa and re-energize after your trip into the city!
DAY 2 – See Some Sights
Morning: If you like history and culture, Ottawa is definitely the city for you. Did you know that Ottawa is home to 7 national museums? Use today to discover some of the city’s unique cultural assets!
9:45 a.m.: Arrive on Parliament Hill for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. We recommend getting here a bit early as this popular attraction begins at 10:00 a.m. Every summer since 1959, the Hill’s front lawn comes alive with colourful military drills that are accompanied by a regimental band and pipers. Make sure to bring a camera! The Changing of the Guard Ceremony is adored by Ottawa visitors and locals alike.
10:45 a.m.: As you’re already on Parliament Hill, opt to take a free guided tour of the iconic Centre Block, which is home to the 92.2-metre Peace Tower. Did you know that you can go to the very top of the Peace Tower? It’s true! Take the elevator to the top and enjoy a dramatic, 360-degree view of the city.
*Insider tip: If you’re in Ottawa from early May to mid-September, you can participate in a FREE yoga class on Parliament Hill’s front lawn. Each Wednesday from noon to 1 o’clock, up to 1,000 people participate in this multi-level class presented by Lululemon Athletica. Bring your yoga mat and get ready to have some fun with fellow visitors and Ottawa locals alike!
Around noon: From Parliament Hill, walk towards the Rideau Canal where just across from the Fairmont Château Laurier, you’ll find RentABike. Here, you can rent bikes by the hour, the day or even by the week. And each bike comes with everything you need; a helmet and a bike lock.
Take your bike and cycle down Sussex Drive to take the Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River to the Canadian Museum of History. First established in 1856, this is Canada’s most visited museum! Here, you’ll find thousands of priceless artifacts that recount 20,000 years of human history. And don’t miss the museum’s impressive Grand Hall, which is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. This hall also offers stunning views of the Ottawa River and the historic Parliament Buildings.
Afternoon: Once you’ve enjoyed the Museum of History, opt to cycle west over to the Canadian War Museum. This bunker-like museum is where stories of Canada’s proud military past are told. Here, you’ll find larger artifacts such as tanks, artillery and unique airplane “nose art” from WWII. This museum even has a piece of the historic Berlin Wall!
Around 5:00 p.m.: Leave the War Museum and cycle back towards the downtown core. If you’re hungry, opt to stop for dinner at the Mill Street Brew Pub. Located at the edge of the Ottawa River in a charming 140-year-old building, “Mill Street” as it’s known locally, is a cozy place to enjoy great pub fare and craft beer. This restaurant is charming at any time of the year. But during the warmer weather months, take advantage of Mill Street’s lovely stone patio. Relax with a beer and enjoy the heat of an Ottawa summer night as the Ottawa River flows by!
Evening: After dinner, opt to get out of the heat for a little bit by relaxing back at your hotel.
Late evening: Walk up to Parliament Hill to catch Northern Lights. This is Ottawa’s free and unique 30-minute Sound and Light Show that is set against the backdrop of the beautiful Parliament Buildings. Through impressive digital technology, this show depicts Canadian stories of nation-building, discovery, valour and more. Bring a blanket and enjoy this unique outdoor experience!
DAY 3 – Discover the Rideau Canal
Morning: Opt to have breakfast in the ByWard Market neighbourhood. Like chocolate? Then head to Cacao 70.
Located at 53 William St., Cacao 70 offers several delectable chocolate-inspired dishes. Try the Illegal Chocolate Waffle, which is topped with melted Belgian chocolate, chocolate shavings and caramelized bananas. Yum! Not a fan of chocolate? No problem! Cacao 70 has all of the savoury breakfast options too. Here, you’ll also find omelets, ham and spinach crepes, salads, sandwiches and more.
Mid-morning: Head out to discover the famous Rideau Canal; Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Option 1: Hop in a taxi and take a short ride over to Dows Lake. At the Dows Lake Pavilion, rent a canoe, kayak or pedal boat and explore the scenic Rideau Canal on your own. If you want to, paddle all the way to the downtown core and back. Rentals are $15 to $16 CDN for one hour and $8 for each additional hour.
Option 2: If you’d prefer a guided Rideau Canal experience, opt to go on a boat tour with Rideau Canal Cruises. Float along gently on a quiet, electric boat and learn all about how the historic canal was built. Did you know that a large part of it was dug out by hand?
Around 2:00 p.m.: Get out of the hot sun for a little bit and visit the National Gallery of Canada. In this beautiful glass building, you’ll find the world’s most comprehensive collection of Canadian art, including Aboriginal and Inuit art.
*Insider tip: Don’t miss the Rideau Street Convent Chapel! These beautiful wood carvings were saved from the demolition of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Ottawa in 1972. They were designed by diocesan architect Canon Georges Bouillon in 1887 and have been reconstructed in the Canadian galleries. This is a peaceful spot that visitors and locals love!
At 4:30 p.m.: Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the historic Fairmont Château Laurier! At the Fairmont’s Zoe’s Lounge – named one of the best bars in Canada by enRoute magazine – you’ll want to order the Canadian tea, which features Canadian delicacies from across the country. Sit by the solarium-style windows, sip your maple tea and melt away the rest of your afternoon by watching the comings and goings along the busy Rideau Street.
Around 6:15 p.m.: Return to your hotel to relax and to get ready for dinner. Or if you’re all set, opt to do some shopping at the newly renovated CF Rideau Centre.
This is Ottawa’s downtown shopping mall and having undergone a recent $360-million renovation, it is now home to high-end brands such as Tiffany & Co., Kate Spade New York, Nordstrom with a few more to come. Browse the mall and get something that will make you think of Ottawa each time you put it on.
Around 8:30 p.m.: Enjoy a late dinner at Play food and wine! Located at 1 York St. in the ByWard Market neighbourhood, Play offers small delicious plates that are perfect for sharing. Order a few plates with some great wine and enjoy the rest of your evening in Ottawa!
DAY 4 – Whitewater Adventure
Did you know that the Ottawa region is one of the top whitewater adventure spots in the entire world? It’s true! Today, discover Ottawa’s great whitewater assets.
Option 1: Stay within minutes of the downtown core and discover the majestic Ottawa River with Ottawa City Rafting!
Operated seasonally by veteran outdoor adventure company Wilderness Tours, Ottawa City Rafting offers 3.5-hour ‘urban’ rafting trips down the Ottawa River. Get into your guided raft at Britannia Beach – located 10 minutes west of the downtown core – and have fun paddling and bouncing along as you make your way through three sets of Class I and II rapids. And the best part? You’ll get spectacular views of Ottawa landmarks all along the way, including the Parliament Buildings. This is a gentle rafting adventure that is great for participants from five to 65 years old.
Option 2: If you’re looking for a high adrenaline whitewater experience, take your car or rent one and head 90 minutes west of Ottawa to the area of Beachburg, Ont., which is known as the region’s whitewater playground.
Here, you’ll find several outdoor adventure companies that offer everything from gentle family rafting trips, to expert level rafting, whitewater kayaking and more. Just choose what kind of experience you want and get ready to spend a whole day on the water. This is a one-of-a-kind Canadian experience that you won’t soon forget! A reservation is required.
Also, OWL Rafting on the Ottawa River received a Canadian Signature Experience designation, meaning that its experiences respond to a traveller’s desire to go beyond the beaten tourist path. The Ottawa region’s whitewater season typically runs from late May to early September.
DAY 5 – Culinary & Discovery
Morning: Start your last day in Ottawa with a little taste of Canadiana! Located at 354a Preston St. in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood, Flapjack’s Pancake Shack is a local favourite! Enjoy specialty buttermilk pancakes and breakfast sandwiches, all based on an authentically Canadian lumberjack theme.
After breakfast, spend a bit of time exploring this unique and lively neighbourhood where you’ll find various shops as well as a few quaint Italian cafés with desserts to die for!
Mid-morning: If you want to explore more of Ottawa’s culinary scene, opt to go on a culinary walking tour of the city. Local company C’est Bon Cooking offers tours that explore different Ottawa neighbourhoods such as the ByWard Market, Wellington West, Chinatown and more. There’s even a weekend Chocolate Lover’s Tour! And the best part? Food samples are provided all along the way. A reservation is required.
Early afternoon: Chances are that you won’t be hungry after your culinary tour, so hop in a taxi and head to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum to see Canada’s Capital from above.
Operating at the museum, Ottawa Biplane Adventures offers scenic flights over Ottawa’s downtown core and the surrounding region. Put on a pair of vintage aviator goggles and soar high above Ottawa in a WWII-era WACO UPF-7 open cockpit biplane. See what it’s like to have the wind whip through your hair as you take in beautiful views of the city. This is a unique Ottawa experience!
Alternatively, if you’d rather be shielded from the wind, consider hopping into a Robinson R44 and enjoying a helicopter tour of the city. Take in scenic views of Ottawa in this bubbled helicopter operated by Héli-Tremblant!
Late afternoon: How you decide to spend the rest of the day is up to you. Head back into the downtown core to do some more souvenir shopping or to take in a few more attractions that you haven’t yet seen.
If you head back into the ByWard Market area, make sure to grab a BeaverTails pastry as a snack. The ByWard Market is where this delicious, beaver tail-shaped delicacy was born in 1978! Enjoy flavours such as cinnamon and sugar, oreo, maple butter and banana chocolate, among several others.
Dinner: If you want to send your last night in Ottawa out in style, opt to enjoy dinner at Signatures Restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu. Get dressed up and head to 453 Laurier Avenue East and enjoy French-inspired cuisine in a charming 1877 former lumber baron mansion. Savour multiple courses and delicious wine while you chat about your recent Ottawa adventures by candlelight.
Alternatively, if you’re here on a balmy summer day and you think that it’s too hot for sightseeing, consider spending the day at Calypso Theme Waterpark. Located to the south of Ottawa’s downtown core in Limoges, Ont., Calypso is Canada’s largest waterpark and offers fun for all ages; from young couples to families alike. Here, you’ll find many waterslides, two themed river rides, a wave pool that’s the size of three NHL rinks, a toddler-friendly water play area and much more. This is a great way to spend a hot summer day!