There are heaps of great things to see and do in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, ranging from architectural jewels and great shopping opportunities to art galleries and museums, outdoor spots, quirky attractions, and more.
With other Canadian cities often hogging the limelight, it can be difficult deciding what to do in Ottawa. The city is huge and there are many cool places that you just can’t find much information about on the internet.
Fret not though, fellow travellers. We’ve done the research, the groundwork, and the searching to bring you the very best list of the very best things to do in Ottawa. Make the most of your stay with our expert tips and see Ottawa both like a tourist and through the eyes of a local.
So, what are you waiting for?! Check out our recommendations for the best things to do in Ottawa and start planning your trip to Canada’s cool capital.
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If you’re wondering where to stay in Ottawa, you must check out our favourite hotels in Ottawa, and also our neighborhood guide to Ottawa to help save time and money for your adventure!
There’s not much point going on vacation if it’s not going to be fun, right? After all, trips are meant to be interesting, exciting, and to break the everyday monotony. There’s definitely plenty of scope for fun in Ottawa.
Many ethnic groups call Ottawa home and the rich cultural diversity is reflected in the local food scene. There are several regional dishes to enjoy and you will also find plenty of Canadian specialities from all around the nation.
International cuisine is abundant too, with dishes from far-flung places like China, the Middle East, India, Vietnam, Thailand, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Turkey.
Savour gastronomic delights from nearer countries too, like Mexican favourites and hearty grub from the USA. Poutine is a classic French Canadian dish, made from chips, gravy, and cheese curds. BeaverTails are an Ottawa delicacy. Don’t worry—no beavers are injured in making the sweet pastries!
Byward Market is a great place for foodies and there are plentiful restaurants to suit all budgets across the city.
Ottawa is a terrific city for sports fans, and there are many opportunities to catch a game or match.
Get into the Canadian spirit with a visit to the Canadian Tire Centre when the Ottawa Senates are playing hockey and lap up the energy and passion. You can also call into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame at the same time.
If baseball is more up your street, watch the Ottawa Champions in action at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park. Alternatively, go to TD Place Stadium to watch the Ottawa Redblacks compete in Canadian football.
The Canada Museum of Civilization is not only a fascinating museum where you can learn more about the nation’s past, but it’s also the country’s biggest museum. It’s among Ottawa’s most popular tourist attractions and a visit is sure to be informative.
The building itself is impressive, and it houses a gigantic collection of exhibits and artefacts related to Canada’s cultural and natural history.
Stroll back in time through the large diorama and see how the country has changed over the years. The Japanese Gardens are ideal for a spot of contemplation and terrific city views.
Ottawa is filled with lots of oh-la-la … if you know where to look. Couples are sure to be pleasantly surprised by the romantic experiences to be found around Ottawa.
Start your action-packed day with an engaging tour of Parliament Hill, admiring its eye-catching buildings, and step inside the Royal Canadian Mint to learn how money is made.
Board a helicopter for an exciting ten-minute flight over Ottawa for a fabulous bird’s eye view of the city streets and major landmarks. It definitely offers a different perspective of the capital and a thrilling adrenalin rush!
Next, unwind beside your sweetheart as you glide along the Ottawa River on a sightseeing boat trip. Look out for landmarks like Chateau Laurier Hotel, Rideau Falls, and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Who doesn’t like a little TLC at times? Indulge in some pampering with that special someone and feel truly relaxed and spoilt. There are many excellent spas around Ottawa to give you and your partner the ultimate bliss factor.
Lots offer special packages for couples. Holtz Spa is a favourite. One of the city’s biggest spas the treatment menu has an array of massages, body scrubs, facials, pedicures, and more.
Just a short way from the heart of the city, Nordik Spa Nature is another top choice. There are terrific Scandinavian-like features such as saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, heated and cold pools, and salt-water pools in addition to relaxation areas and an extensive selection of therapies and treatments.
Many parts of the elegant parliament hill are open to the public and couples can revel in the gorgeous views and architecture that the site provides. The three neo-Gothic beauties of the main parliament buildings provide the ideal backdrops for stunning photos together.
Travel to the Peace Tower’s observation area for sweeping vistas, watch the summertime Changing of the Guard Ceremony on the central lawn, stroll through lovely gardens, admire the colourful windows and decorative touches of the Library of Parliament, and peer inside historic rooms in the East Block.
Ottawa is a very kid-friendly city and there are heaps of ways for families to bond and have a fabulous time together. Here are some of the best ideas for a memorable family vacation in Ottawa.
Discover Ottawa by both land and water without even changing vehicles… your kids’ eyes are sure to widen and light up as your bus suddenly plunges into the water!
It’s a perfect way to get an overview of the Canadian capital and hit many major sights. It’s especially ideal for families that are short on time yet want to cram as much into their city break as possible.
The trip takes just one hour too, so little ones are unlikely to get bored. You’ll see places of interest like Landsdowne Park, Byward Market, and Lake Dow, and cruise between the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau.
Discover Ottawa’s diverse attractions and activities at a relaxing pace aboard a hop-on hop-off bus. Set your own schedule and get off wherever takes your fancy, whether that be for refreshment breaks, sightseeing, or bathroom stops.
Old and young alike can learn more about the city by way of the informative commentary and the changing scenes are sure to enthrall all members of the family. Sit outside on the open-top bus and feel the breeze through your hair or have a historic experience on a trolley bus.
Services run frequently so there’ll be no waiting around for ages for the next bus to roll along. Stops are close to major places of interest, including Parliament Hill, Byward Market, and various parks and museums.
Although Gatineau Park is technically located in neighbouring Quebec Province, it’s just a short and easy drive from downtown Ottawa.
It’s an excellent place for outdoor adventures, nature spotting, sports, and relaxation. You’ll find beaches along the watery shores of Lakes Meech, Phillipe, and La Peche, and camping is available at Phillipe Lake and La Peche Lake. Pink Lake is attractive with its unusual-coloured water—it’s bright green and not, as the name may suggest pink.
There are long walking trails and cycling routes in nature, and you can relax at plentiful picnic areas. In the winter, cross country skiing is a popular park activity.
In the summer months, have a thrilling adventure on the ziplines and treetop obstacle courses at Camp Fortune. Visit Champlain Lookout for amazing views. Creatures that call the park home include dear, wolves, bears, and many species of bird.
Who can resist a freebie?! Add some of these free attractions and experiences to your Ottawa plans for a more pocket-friendly getaway.
Rideau Canal is a scenic spot at any time of the year, offering picturesque walks and kayaking in the warmer summer months.
The canal really comes into its own, however, in the wintertime; when frozen solid it is the world’s longest ice-skating rink! If you have your own skates it’s completely free to glide along the ice. Alternatively, low-cost rentals are available close to hand.
Take a tour of the Supreme Court of Canada, led by legal students, to learn more about Canadian justice. It’s the country’s highest court and it’s fascinating to know more about the inner workings of the legal system.
The building itself is also imposing and impressive. For an even greater insight into the workings of the court, take a seat in the public gallery of the Appeals Court and watch hearings in progress. Do remember to turn your phone off first though!
Ottawa boasts many excellent museums that cover various topics and themes. Although a lot of museums have a regular entrance fee, many offer free admission on Thursday evenings after 5 pm.
Try and time your visits for this time to make your museum going more cost effective. The Museum of Nature, Canadian War Museum, Bytown Museum, and Canadian Museum of Civilization are just a few that take part in the free Thursday scheme.
Is your trip getting close? Jump over to our hotels in Vancouver guide so you’re sure to get great accommodation!
Who says you have to wind down and head home when the sun goes down? Ottawa has tons to enjoy after dark! Byward Market is a popular spot by both night and day, transforming into a fun nightlife area as the sun descends.
You’ll find bars and lounges aplenty as well as places to enjoy live music and feast until your truly sated. Here are some more of the best things do at nighttime in Ottawa.
Join a ghost walk around Ottawa to hear some of the city’s creepiest secrets and visit eerie spots that are said to be haunted. You’ll learn more about the city’s mysterious past as you explore with animated guides.
Full of local knowledge and anecdotes, the guides have a way of really bringing tales to life and building suspense and intrigue for a night to remember. Some stories are sure to shock you and send a chill down your spine.
You’ll venture to places like Grant House, Bytown Museum, Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and a haunted high school, all in the cloak of darkness and dimly lit by lantern.
Board a comfortable boat for a lovely cruise along the Ottawa River at sunset and learn more about Canada’s capital city on an informative driving tour. You’ll start with the boat ride where you can watch the sun go down and see the city from a different perspective.
Relax as you drift past well-known sites and pick your guide’s brains as to the city’s hottest spots and must-dos. When you get off the boat, continue with a driving tour of Ottawa to see a variety of interesting landmarks beautifully illuminated.
Call into Byward Market to sample local foods and drinks and maybe pick up some souvenirs. Watch in awe as the Parliament Building is wonderfully lit up in the evening Northern Lights Show, a magical blend of sights and sounds to appeal to the senses.
Have a night with a twist at Casino du Lac Leamy, located just outside Ottawa’s downtown core. Try to maintain your poker face at the card tables and keep your cool at the roulette wheels. There are thousands of slot machines too.
On a winning streak? Treat yourself to a delicious meal in one of the excellent onsite restaurants, luxuriate with some high-class pampering at the spa, or dance the night away in the Alea nightclub.
So, there you have it—the best things to do in Ottawa!
Whether you’re drawn to sporting events, a flutter at the casino, outdoor adventures, ghost hunting, or historic sightseeing, Ottawa has something for everyone.
Add cool buses that can go on the land and water, lush parks, awesome museums, and blissful spas and you have everything you need for a fabulously diverse city break.
Which things will you be adding to your Ottawa travel wish list?
Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!