Top things to do in Ottawa

Tour some of Canada’s most significant places from Parliament Hill to national museums in Ottawa.

Suggested Days: 4

A dark and cloudy sky over the river looking at Parliament Hill

Culture Central

In Canada’s national capital, you will be drawn to the magnificent Parliament Buildings. Tour the elegant chambers where the business of governing Canada takes place. Learn the drill at the stirring Changing of the Guard ceremony running daily through the summer. Come nighttime, return to ‘the Hill’ to experience a free sound and light show; it’s a powerful journey through Canada’s physical, historical and cultural landscapes.

Mad for Museums

Spend a day or two museum-hopping. Discover Canada’s history and culture, back to its earliest inhabitants, at the Canadian Museum of History – an architectural masterpiece. Size up a real blue whale skeleton at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Brush up on masterworks of art at the striking granite-and-glass National Gallery of Canada. Tour the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum and see a Great War-era Sopwith Camel or a vintage 1920s bush plane. Pay tribute to Canada’s military past at the Canadian War Museum, with its richly symbolic architecture. Go underground to a secret nuclear bunker at the Diefenbunker. And you can bank on having a great time at the Royal Canadian Mint.

Current Events & Festivals

A city of festivals, Ottawa’s calendar is filled year-round with special events. Each spring, sample maple syrup at a variety of events in the region. Enjoy a blooming grand time in May at the Canadian Tulip Festival – inspired by a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Dutch Royal Family. Canada Day (July 1) is always special in the capital city.  Hear hot summer music at Bluesfest, Canada’s largest blues festival, and enjoy inspiring jazz sessions during the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Celebrate the most fun season of all during Winterlude each February. Check out the magnificent sculptures of ice carvers from all over the world. Enjoy an Ottawa Senators hockey game in the winter or a Redblacks football game in the fall.

Appetite for Shopping

Stroll through the historic ByWard Market, a lively mosaic of farmers’ market stalls, boutiques, galleries, studios, cobblestone courtyards and charming heritage buildings. The 180-store Rideau Centre offers more choices nearby, including Nordstrom department store. All this shopping will work up an appetite and the Market is happy to oblige you with a menu of great bistros, wine bars and cafés. Food tours are an introduction to the city’s vibrant culinary scene. Be sure to bite into a BeaverTail pastry, a local guilty pleasure.

Get Active

Ottawa’s great outdoors beckons. Stroll or bike along the Rideau Canal, an UNESCO World Heritage Site – or paddle a kayak through the canal’s lock system. Come winter, it turns into the world’s largest skating rink. Rent skates and glide down the Skateway to Dow’s Lake for a look-see at an outdoor art gallery on the ice. The new Interzip Rogers will have you soaring 37 metres (121 feet) above the Ottawa River between Ontario and Quebec at speeds of up to 40 km per hour. Explore the National Capital Greenbelt, which surrounds the city with parkland, trails and recreational facilities. Go Whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River from family-friendly Class I rapids to the adrenaline rush of Class V – it’s just 90 minutes away, near Beachburg. Or try a rafting experience right in the city. Come evening, The Haunted Walk serves up spooky stories with a glimpse into the past.

Last updated: August 22, 2023

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