Established as Canada’s capital in 1857, when it was barely more than a village, Ottawa has evolved into one of Canada’s most vibrant and exciting cities without ever losing its small-town charm. With a walkable downtown area, great public transport links, an abundance of parks, an outdoor dining and cafe culture, super friendly people and beautiful rural suburbs, it’s easy to see why Ottawa is one of the world’s best-loved capital cities.
Worth visiting all year round, Ottawa’s summers are hot and the winters are cold (and long), but that doesn’t stop anyone from having fun. In fact, winter is one of the best times to visit Ottawa, when the famous Rideau Canal—a historic engineering triumph and UNESCO World Heritage Site—is transformed into the world’s largest ice rink, with food and skate-hire stalls on the ice and a carnival-like atmosphere.
To learn more about all there is to see and do in Ottawa, scroll down or visit the city’s tourism website.
Where is Ottawa?
Ottawa is located in southeastern Ontario, about 4.5 hours from Toronto, two hours from Montreal and just 45 minutes or so from the United State border. Visitors from New York State can also take the scenic route via the Thousand Islands.
Arrivals from further afield can fly directly into Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW). There are also plenty of public transport options connecting the capital to Montreal and Toronto. Ottawa is accessible by bus from major cities across North America
Once you arrive in Ottawa, it’s easy to get around using public transit, with buses and the O-Train light rail system serving both the inner city and the surrounding suburbs. It’s often considerably quicker than driving, especially when you don’t have to factor in finding a parking space. The city itself is also pretty well designed for walking or cycling, even in the winter.
Things to Do in Ottawa
From walking tours and tasting tours to visiting the ByWard Market, watching the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill, exploring the many museums and galleries, eating your way through Little Italy and Chinatown to cycling along the Rideau Canal, Ottawa is full of fun and exciting things to do.
The best way to explore the capital is to join a walking tour. Take your pick of sightseeing tours, historical tours, after-dark ghost tours, street art tours and food tours. You can also combine them with a visit to some of Ottawa’s most impressive national museums and art galleries, including the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canadian War Museum and the National Gallery of Canada. If walking isn’t your scene, you can also hop on a doubledecker bus tour or an amphibious vehicle tour and explore the city from both land and water.
One of the most popular things to do in Ottawa is to visit Parliament Hill. The seat of Canada’s parliament, Parliament Hill plays host to the Changing of the Guard Ceremony every morning and a nightly Sound and Light show during the summer months.
You also can’t go to Ottawa without visiting the ByWard Market. By day, this historic farmers’ market is a bustling shopping area, with colourful stalls lining the streets and plenty of quirky cafes and eateries. Just as popular after dark, the area is transformed into the city’s nightlife hub, with plenty of bars, restaurants, clubs and street performers.
Across the Ottawa River, Gatineau—part of the Canadian Capital Region—is home to Canada’s most visited museum, the Canadian Museum of History, and a huge park, which is beautiful year-round, but especially in fall, winter and spring.
If you prefer more outdoorsy activities, you don’t have to go far out of the city to find a taste of adventure. From spring to fall, you can go ziplining, caving, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Ottawa River. In winter, the nearest ski hill is never too far away. It’s also easy to get out of the city into the countryside, where you can go hiking, cycling, visit farmers’ markets and pick your own fruit farms and even taste maple syrup straight from the source.
Ottawa is also famous for its events, home to Canada’s largest festival, Winterlude, the country’s biggest Canada Day celebrations on July 1st, the Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, Bluesfest and many more.
Ottawa Neighbourhoods & Districts
Home to over a million people, Ottawa and its surrounding countryside spans an area of over 6,700 kilometres. The city itself is divided into over 80 districts and neighbourhoods, each with its own character.
From historic homes and haunted mills to up-and-coming neighbourhoods with world-class dining to the buzzing market districts and rural communities, Ottawa truly does have something for everyone. It would take all day to list all of the districts and neighbourhoods in Ottawa, so, for now, here are just a couple to note:
Byward Market District
The historic centre of Ottawa may date back to 1826 but it’s still very much the centre of the action, with daytime markets and a buzzing nightlife. The ancestral home of the BeaverTail pastry, it’s also a great spot to do a food tour.
Also known as Somerset Heights, Chinatown is one of Ottawa’s richest multicultural hubs, and is well worth a visit, even if just to see the Royal Arch, a gateway that was erected in partnership with Ottawa’s sister city, Beijing.
Just 20 minutes east of downtown, Cumberland offers a taste of rural Ontario, with berry picking, sugarbushes, wineries and hiking. It’s also home to the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, which has provided the setting to more than one Hallmark movie.
Home to Ottawa’s best restaurants, great shopping and most notable landmarks, including the parliament buildings, National Gallery and Confederation Park.
Only 35 minutes walk from downtown, The Glebe is peaceful, arty and independent, with boutique shops and galleries lining its leafy streets. Don’t miss the weekly Ottawa Farmers' Market at Lansdowne and the yearly Great Glebe Garage Sale.
One of Ottawa’s hippest neighbourhoods, Hintonburg is best known for its cutting-edge culinary scene, eclectic shopping and arty vibes.
Centred around Preston Street, Little Italy is known for its street art, vibrant dining and drinking scene and proximity to Dows Lake. Also hosts Ottawa’s annual Italian Week Festival.
Manotick: Just 30 minutes south of the capital, Manotick is steeped in historic charm, with a haunted 1860s flour mill, amazing boutique shopping and some amazing food. Home of the Manotick Village Christmas and the Taste of Manotick Festival.
Things to Know About Visiting Visiting Ottawa
Whether you’re still in the planning stages or you’re already on your trip to Ottawa, it’s nice to learn what the locals know about the city.
Where to go ice skating
Where to snap a great Instagram pic
Where to get great city views
Where to take a romantic stroll
Last updated: November 9, 2022
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