Ottawa is Canada’s capital city and a popular tourist destination. Famous attractions include the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Canal and various museums.
As many as 7 million out-of-town visitors spend time in the city each year.
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Best Places and Things to do in Ottawa, Ontario
Some of Ottawa’s most famous places include Parliament Hill, of course, but also ByWard Market, the Rideau Canal, Spark Street and the Calypso Water Park. There are also the Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian War Museum, Museum of History, National Gallery of Canada and other attractions.
Ottawa is home to so much culture, history and places to see. It’s no wonder that it’s such a popular place to visit, both for Canadians and tourists from abroad.
Ottawa has a good number of exceptional museums to visit. Below are the most popular.
Bank of Canada Museum
The Bank of Canada Museum was fully renovated a few years ago. If you’re interested in coins, money, economics and things related to banking and the Canadian financial system, then this is the place to visit. The different exhibits are interactive and, in fact, you have to create your own virtual avatar in order to fully experience a lot of them.
Located at 30 Bank Street, another great point in the museum’s favour is that it’s entirely free!
For more details see the Bank of Canada Museum website.
Canadian Aviation and Space Museum
The Canadian Aviation and Space Museum showcases Canada’s aerospace industry and achievements. At the museum you’ll find amazing and educational programs about Canada’s contribution to space and aviation.
Located at 11 Aviation Parkway, the museum is located about a 15-minute drive from Parliament Hill and downtown Ottawa.
As of the spring of 2021, admission rates to the aviation museum were the following:
- Adults: $15
- Youth (ages 3-17): $10
- Seniors/Student (ages 60+): $13
- Children (ages 2 and under): free
For full details see the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum website.
Canadian Museum of Nature
The Canadian Museum of Nature is where you’ll find awesome exhibits of animals, dinosaurs, birds and so much more. It is a very educational and interesting museum.
The museum’s address is 240 McLeod Street. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Parliament Hill.
Admission to the museum as of the summer of 2021 cost the following:
- Adults: $16
- Youth (ages 13-17): $14
- Seniors (ages 65+): $14
- Children (ages 3-12): $12
Note: On Thursdays between 5 pm and 8 pm admission to the Canadian Museum of Nature is free. Admission for all ages 2 and under is also free at other times.
For full details check out the official Canadian Museum of Nature website.
Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum is in a building designed to look like a giant bunker at 1 Vimy Place. It’s just a 6-minute drive from downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill.
Displays at the museum include military vehicles and equipment, war scenes and written information about Canada’s participation in the War of 1812, Korean War, First and Second World Wars, Afghanistan and other conflicts.
Admission to the Canadian War Museum costs the following as of July 2021:
- Adults: $17
- Students (13-17 and 18+ with valid ID): $13
- Seniors (ages 65+): $15
- Youth (ages 8-12): $11
- Children (ages 7 and under): free
Note: On Thursdays between 5 and 8 pm admission to the museum is free (or at least it was the last time we checked).
For more information click Canadian War Museum.
The Diefenbunker is located at 3929 Carp Rd in Carp, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa.
Admission rates to the Diefenbunker as of the summer of 2021 were the following:
- Adults: $17.50
- Youth (6-18): $11
- Students: $13
- Seniors (ages 65+): $16.50
- Children (ages 5 and under): free
Check out the official Diefenbunker website for further details.
Museum of History
Formerly called the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Museum of History is one of (if not the) most visited museums in all of Canada. Inside you’ll find the history of Canada and its relations with the world.
Located at 100 Laurier Street, the museum is actually located in Gatineau, Quebec, just a 5-minute drive across the Ottawa River from downtown Ottawa.
Admission rates to the Museum of History were the following as of the spring of 2021:
- Adults: $20
- Students (ages 13-17, 18+ with ID): $15
- Youth (ages 8-12): $13
- Seniors (ages 65+): $18
- Children (ages 2-7): $5
Note: On Thursdays between 5 and 8 pm admission to the museum is free. Admission for infants is also free at other times as well.
For more information see our article about the Museum of History.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is the giant glass structure located at 380 Sussex Drive across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral.
As of the summer of 2021, admission to the museum cost were the following:
- Adults: $20
- Students: $10
- Seniors (ages 65+): $18
- Children (ages 11 and under): free
- Families: $40 (for 2 adults and 1 youth under the age of 17)
Note: On Thursdays between 5 and 8 pm admission to the museum is free.
See the National Gallery of Canada website for more information.
Other Places of Interest
Below are some of the other top places to check out in the city and surrounding area.
ByWard Market is the public market located at 55 ByWard Market Square. The entire shopping area is bordered by St Patrick Street, Sussex Street, Rideau Street and King Edward.
The public outdoor market is typically open from 9 am until 5 pm in the summer. There are vendors at other times of the year as well.
Things you can buy at ByWard Market include fruits and vegetables, artisan crafts, clothing, specialty foods, beauty products and much more.
For more information click ByWard Market.
Calypso Water Park
The Calypso Water Park is a theme park featuring water slides and other fun attractions. It’s located just over 40 km east of downtown Ottawa at 2015 Calypso Street in Limoges, Ontario. The attraction is usually open from until 10 am until 5 pm in the summer.
As of the summer of 2021, admission rates to Calypso Water Park were the following:
- Adults: $50
- Seniors (ages 65+): $40
- Children: $40
For more information see the Calypso Water Park website.
CF Rideau Centre
The city’s biggest shopping mall, Rideau Centre takes in millions of visitors each year. Along with a wide variety of different shops there is also a hotel and a rooftop park open in the building.
The mall is located at 50 Rideau Street in the heart of downtown Ottawa. Its stores are open seven days a week.
For more information visit the CF Rideau Centre website.
Château Laurier Hotel
The Fairmont Château Laurier is a beautiful and iconic hotel at 1 Rideau Street. After Parliament Hill, it is one of Ottawa’s most recognized landmarks.
Completed in 1912, the 429 room hotel was built by the Grand Trunk Railroad.
Click Château Laurier for more information about the hotel.
One of the most popular parks in Canada, Gatineau Park covers over 350 square kilometres. There are many different places from which you can access the park, with a variety options for hiking, camping or otherwise enjoying the nature.
There is no admission fee required to enter the park, although at some points in the year certain parking lots or trails require a fee.
For more information click Gatineau Park.
National War Memorial
The National War Memorial is located across the street from the Château Laurier. It is located on Wellington Street, just a block away from Parliament Hill and across the street from the Fairmont Château Laurier.
Part of Confederation Square, the War Memorial includes the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is also near the Valiants Memorial.
For more information click National War Memorial.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Opened for service all the way back in 1847, Notre Dame Cathedral is both the oldest and biggest church in Ottawa. Now a National Historic Site of Canada, the building is still used for services today.
The cathedral is located across the street from the National Gallery at 385 Sussex Drive. All members of the public are welcome to take part in mass and the Saturday service is live-streamed on the church’s website.
Click Notre Dame Cathedral to learn more about the church.
Parliament Hill is where you’ll find Canada’s Parliament Buildings. While the Centre Block is currently closed, and has been for a number of years due to renovations, there are other fascinating places to explore whether through tours or on your own. You can even sit in on a session of the House of Commons or Senate if you want to.
The hill is located on Wellington Street in the heart of the city. It’s just a few blocks from Sparks Street and the Chateau Laurier Hotel. The property and its buildings overlook the Ottawa River and the Ontario/Quebec border.
One of the most famous landmarks in the country, there are many different ways to explore the Rideau Canal. You can take a cruise through the waterway, paddle it yourself in a kayak or canoe, or hike the wide variety of trails along the canal’s route, and that’s just when the weather is warmer!
During the winter the canal turns into the world’s longest skating rink for a few months each year. Completely free to enjoy, this is a can’t miss event when it’s cold out.
To learn more click Ottawa’s Rideau Canal.
Rideau Hall is the residence of the Governor General who is the representative of Queen Elizabeth in Canada. Guided tours provide the opportunity to take a peek at how the Governor General goes about her or his duties.
The residence is located at1 Sussex Drive. Outside are grounds that are open to the public year round.
For further details check out the official Rideau Hall website.
The Supreme Court of Canada is located at 301 Wellington Street. It’s the final court of appeal in the country and where Canada’s nine chief justices make their decisions. The building is open to tours upon request.
When hearings are held at the court, members of the public are allowed to go and watch the proceedings unfold. Most of the sessions are broadcast publicly later too.
For more information click Supreme Court of Canada.
Ottawa Festivals and Events
There are some great events worth checking out in Ottawa. Below are a couple of them. They include the Fortissimo Sunset Ceremony and Ottawa Tulip Festival.
Fortissimo Sunset Ceremony
A public spectacle for a few days each summer, the Fortissimo Sunset Ceremony is a free event on Parliament Hill. Put on by the Ceremonial Guard, there are multiple military bands (including some international ones), the firing of artillery guns and usually some aerial displays as well.
The event normally takes place in July. If you aren’t able to make it to Parliament Hill, one of the night’s performances is sometimes streamed on the Canadian Army’s Facebook page.
For more information visit the Government of Canada website.
Ottawa Tulip Festival
The biggest festival of its kind that you’ll see anywhere in Canada, a number of displays of flowers are arranged in Commissioners Park for two weeks every May. The origins of the festival date back to the Dutch Royal Family sending Canada 100,000 tulips in 1945 to thank the country for housing Princess Juliana and her children during the German occupation in World War II.
Most of the event is free to explore, although in the past there have been some specific displays that require a paid admission.
To learn more see the Ottawa Tulip Festival website.
Notable Streets and Transportation
Ottawa is a very historic city. Below are some of the most famous roads and how you can get around on them.
Colonel By Drive
The Colonel By Drive runs alongside the Rideau Canal for over 8 km. The road is a scenic one, providing plenty of nice views and opportunities for photos. Colonel By Drive begins at Sussex Drive and ends at Wellington and Rideau Street. It passes through both residential and institutional areas on its route.
Another important downtown street, Rideau Street was one of the first two streets paved in what is now Ottawa (along with Wellington Street). Today, Rideau Street is home to the Château Laurier, the temporary Senate of Canada Building, the CF Rideau Centre and other points of interest.
For more information visit the Rideau Street website.
Dominated by the Sparks Street Mall, the approximately 1.5 km-long road is closed to all vehicles for much of its length. Host to a few different fun events throughout the year, Sparks Street is one of the more unique roads in the city to visit.
For more information visit the Sparks Street website.
An important governmental street, Sussex Drive is where you’ll see some well-known landmarks. On Sussex you’ll find the Prime Minister’s residence, Rideau Hall, embassies of various countries, the Royal Canadian Mint, the National Gallery of Canada, Notre-Dame Cathedral and much more.
Along with Rideau Street, Wellington Street is one of the two oldest roads in the city. Wellington is home to a number of important buildings and places along its route. This includes Parliament Hill, the Privy Council Office, Confederation Square, the Justice Building and the Bank of Canada headquarters.
Gray Line Bus Tours
Gray Line Tours is a convenient way to explore the city at whatever pace you prefer. The large busses hit all the biggest points of interest and the service operates with a “hop-on, hop-off” style that means you can get off whenever you want and use the same ticket to get on a different bus later.
For more information visit the Gray Line Tours website.
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