Canada’s capital city has historic landmarks, rich Canadian culture, and beautiful scenic waterways. Looking for the best things to do in Ottawa? Here are 17 ideas to help get you started…
1. Visit Parliament Hill
No trip to Ottawa is complete without a visit to the home of Canada’s federal government. Feast your eyes on the Gothic architecture and immerse yourself in the symbolic heart of Canada. This is the place where the government comes together to govern Canadian law. And don’t forget to check out the Changing of the Guard at Rideau Hall. It happens every hour on the hour between 9 am and 5 pm.
2. Skate the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal becomes a winter wanderer’s dream between December-March, weather dependent. Pack up your skates or rent them for under $20 on-site. Spend an afternoon darting around the world’s largest skating rink! Plus you can say you’ve been to an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is pretty cool in our books.
Bike the Big Loop
For a different perspective of Ottawa, bike the Big Loop. This epic 40km ride is a series of pathways that connect Ottawa’s core. See the Rideau Canal, Parliament buildings, majestic green parks, and the Ottawa River. If you have more time you can even make a quick stop in Quebec by riding on the pathways towards Gatineau.
Explore ByWard Market
Outdoor farmer’s market, tavern-like restaurants, and specialty food stalls. Say no more! Wander around the colourful streets of the ByWard Market for all the things including maple-infused chocolates! Ever heard of a BeaverTail? This is your chance to try this Canadian delicacy. It’s a sweet fried pastry in the shape of a beaver’s tail.
Visit the Supreme Court of Canada
Hopefully you’re willingly visiting this place! The highest court in all of Canada is the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. Join a free guided tour and even join a hearing if there’s one scheduled.
Hike in Gatineau Park
Nature enthusiasts will love exploring Gatineau Park year-round. Several hiking trails for all levels are just waiting to be explored which will take you to old ruins, beautiful secluded beaches, and even some wicked caves, which makes this one of the best things to do in Ottawa. There are also four trails for winter hiking if you’re into it.
Take a canal cruise
Hit the water for an iconic canal cruise where you’ll navigate the beautiful lakes, rivers, and canals of Ottawa. See landmarks like City Hall, Shaw Centre, and the Chateau Laurier Hotel. There are many operators who can coordinate this experience for you. Or leave it to the experts – Contiki can sort out the details on our Ontario and Quebec in a Week trip.
Visit all the national museums
History buffs rejoice. Ottawa has seven national museums! If you don’t have time to visit all of them here are a few we recommend. The Canadian Museum of History because it hosts the largest exhibition about Canadian history. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum because well, space. Plus they have the most expensive aviation collection in the country. Finally the Canadian War Museum. Besides having great insight into military history, the building is based on regeneration with loads of energy-efficient features including a green roof!
Hit the patio at La Terrase
At some point you’ll need a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Ottawa. We recommend La Terrase at the historic Chateau Laurier. It’s a perfect patio spot for scenic views and a bite to eat. Known as ‘Ottawa’s hidden gem’, it is one of the best places in the city to catch the sunset.
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Head to Nepean Point
Spot the Ottawa River, Parliament, and Canadian Museum of History all from above. Nepean Point is a scenic lookout area giving you some of the best views in the city.
Eat at Tavern on the Falls
A summer hotspot is Tavern on the Falls. Located at the North end of Major Hill’s Park, this place has scenic views of Parliament Buildings, Notre-Dame Basilica, and Chateau Laurier, which makes this one of the best things to do in Ottawa whether you’re a tourist or a local. What’s on the menu you ask? Probably the best gourmet hot-dogs you’ll ever eat in your life, plus tacos and hearty sandwiches. Did we mention gourmet hot-dogs?
Wave hello to Quebec from Alexandra Bridge
Alexandra Bridge is an interprovincial Bridge which means you can wave hello to Quebec from the Ontario side in Ottawa! The bridge spans over the Ottawa River between Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec. It’s tempting to know some of the best poutine in the nation is just at arm’s reach….
Visit Rideau Hall
This 79-acre urban oasis is the official home and workplace in Ottawa of the Governor General of Canada. Spend an afternoon on a self-guided tour visiting the State rooms, where the governor general fulfills all her official duties!
Paddle around Dow's Lake
Paddle around Dow’s Lake – a man-made lake in the heart of Ottawa. Situated on the Rideau Canal, there are plenty of water activities to get involved in including kayaking, canoeing, or SUP boarding. Rentals are available nearby.
Taste local craft beer
Ottawa is no stranger to the microbrewery scene. Couple fan favourites you ask? Visit Kichesippi Beer Co. for Ottawa-inspired beer names. Beau’s Brewing Co is a good spot too. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a women-run brewery in Rwanda. Which means you can enjoy your beer and know you’re supporting a brand that truly cares too. Win-win!
Take a selfie at Rideau Falls
Picturesque waterfalls just waiting to make it to the gram. Rideau Falls is actually two waterfalls where Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River. This spot is nice at any time of the year. But it’s especially majestic in the winter because of the frost.
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Picnic at Major Hill Park
A great way to spend an afternoon is a picnic at one of the many parks in Ottawa. Major Hill Park is a popular one and it’s no wonder why. It hovers above the Rideau Canal just at the point where it enters the Ottawa River. It’s also the main outdoor venue where they host Canada day every year.