Enjoy spectacular Ottawa River views, visit the beautiful Parliament Hill, stroll along the Rideau Canal, and explore famous museums, including the National Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Ottawa Art Gallery. Best things to do in Ottawa, Canada, with kids include Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo, Wild Bird Care Centre, the Royal Canadian Mint and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.
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The Rideau Canal is a long and historically significant waterway that twists through the downtown core of Ottawa. The canal connects the city to major nearby bodies of water, including the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario. The canal itself dates back to 1832 when it was used as a military defense system, but today the canal serves as a year-round recreational attraction.
In warmer months, people walk, bike, or ride on the walkways that line the canal, or boat and paddle through the water itself. In the colder seasons, the river freezes over and transforms into an expansive public ice-skating rink that weaves through the city.
2.Parliament Hill and Buildings
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Ottawa’s Parliament Hill is a complex of buildings that plays host to Canada’s federal legislature. The expansive array of striking, neo-Gothic structures sits on the edge of the Ottawa River in the core of central, downtown Ottawa. The buildings, while functioning as the official government body, are open to the public for guided tours that go through the interior of the historical complex and around the lush gardens and monuments that cover the grounds.
Throughout the summer, daily performances of Changing of the Guard occur at Parliament Hill. This elaborate and colorful event, complete with a marching routine, demonstrates Canada’s authentic royal uniforms and is accompanied by a musical performance.
Wellington St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-992-4793
More places to visit: Things to Do in Toronto.
3.National Gallery of Canada
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Considered one of the premiere art galleries in Canada, the National Gallery is a prized collection located in downtown Ottawa. The building itself, a massive construction of glass and granite, is recognized for its contribution to Ottawa’s spectacular skyline. In 2000, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada named the gallery one of the top 500 Canadian buildings built in the last one thousand years.
The gallery interior holds one of the most notable collections of Canadian art, including painting, prints, drawings, modern and contemporary art, sculptures, and photographs. A significant number of American and European works are also on site. The gallery has a series of permanent exhibits and rotating works.
380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-990-1985
4.Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa, Canada
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The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is a National Historic Site in the Lower Town neighborhood of Ottawa. The first building was founded in 1832, but was replaced ten years later by the building that exists today. The Neo Classical design is a detailed and ornate creation that serves as the largest and oldest church in Ottawa.
The church is open to the public for guided tours between May and October. The tours provide background and education on the church’s construction and history, along with recent information on the parish.
385 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-241-7496
5.Things to Do in Ottawa: Peace Tower
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Formally known as the Tower of Victory and Peace, the tower known colloquially as Peace Tower extends over 300 feet high and is a distinctive component of the Ottawa skyline. Situated in the core of Ottawa’s Parliamentary Hill, the Peace Tower contains a focal bell and clock, and it serves as an icon of the country; Peace Tower is even featured on Canada’s twenty-dollar bill.
Peace Tower replaced Victoria Tower, which burned down in 1916 and was rebuilt in the ornate Victorian Gothic style to complement the remaining Parliamentary complex buildings. The tower is considered a memorial to the Canadian soldiers who died during the First World War, and contains extensive symbology, design features, and architectural details depicting Canadian history.
Wellington St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-992-4793
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6.Canada Aviation and Space Museum
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The national aviation history museum of Canada, this expansive compound is located at the Ottawa Rockcliffe Airport. Home to a vast array of military and civilian aircraft, the museum’s collection demonstrates an extended period of Canadian aviation history, beginning in the pioneer era, covering both World Wars, and reaching to the present day.
Vintage bush planes from the 1920, 30s, and 40s are a primary attraction, along with military crafts that flew during both World Wars and the Cold War. The most popular attraction is the museum’s exhibit on the Avro Arrow interceptor’s remaining pieces, which date to the 1950s.
The museum also contains a Space Shuttle Endeavor’s Canadarm, the Canadian built robotic arm that was once installed on the International Space Station. Guided tours, interactive exhibits, demonstrations, and films are also available on site.
Rockcliffe Airport, 11 Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-993-2010
7.Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada
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The Canadian Museum of Nature is a museum of natural history based in Ottawa. The museum provides education and insight into a variety of topics through interactive activities and interpretive, educational tours. Information about temporary, visiting, and rotating exhibits are available on the website calendar.
Permanent exhibits include skeletons and demonstrations on dinosaurs in the Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery, while the Vale Earth Gallery depicts geological forces, the rocks and minerals that shape the planet, and the changes they underwent over time. Additionally, a mammal gallery displays mounts of several significant well-known creatures in Canada, including moose, grizzly bears, caribou, cougars, and others.
Other features explore marine life, aviary species, live insects, and more. Each gallery hosts several displays and exhibits along with information and interactive opportunities.
240 McLeod St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-566-4700
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8.Royal Canadian Mint
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The headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mint are located inside a grand historical building in the core of central Ottawa. The Mint was founded in 1908, and today, it is still used to produce collector and commemorative pieces, including handcrafted specialty coins, medals, medallions, and gold bullion coins.
The headquarters provide the public with a guided tour and access to a boutique gift shop. The tour is guided and interactive, and it provides information on how coins are made, a viewing of the medals from Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics, and information on the million dollar coin, a record breaking piece famous for being the largest coin ever produced. Visitors on the tour are also able to hold a solid gold bar that is worth three quarters of a million dollars.
320 Sussez Drive, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-993-8990
9.Things to Do in Ottawa: Major's Hill Park
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On the banks of the Rideau Canal at the mouth of the Ottawa River sits Major’s Hill Park. A downtown based urban green space, Major’s Hill Park is situated among several of the most notable buildings in Ottawa, including Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada, the U.S. Embassy, and the Byward Market.
Paved walking paths, a series of historical interpretive panels, carefully tended gardens, open grass land, and picnic facilities make this park a widely used space. The park is also the home to Ottawa’s Canada Day celebrations, and it hosts numerous other events throughout the year.
10.Hog's Back Falls
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Hog’s Back Falls, whose formal name is Prince of Wales Falls, is a series of waterfalls along the Rideau River outside of downtown Ottawa. Serving as an urban green space, the park is composed of several heritage locations, including a pavilion and historical displays with interpretive information.
The park has several miles of hiking trails and walking paths, along with picnic tables and a concession stand that has snacks available for purchase. The park opens in May and closes in December, but the on site facility availability may vary based on weather.
11.Laurier House National Historic Site
© Laurier House
This National Historic Site is located in the Sandy Hill district of Ottawa. Once the private home of two past Canadian Prime Ministers, the home is now a museum, open to the public for guided tours and interpretive learning. The home is filled with period décor and authentic artifacts pertaining to the two leaders and their families.
Information is also provided on the notable guests who were entertained in the home, including the United Kingdom’s King George VI and Sir Winston Churchill, and the United States’ President Franklin Roosevelt. The home is open to the public seasonally, from May until October.
335 Laurier Ave East, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-992-8142
12.Canada Agriculture and Food Museum
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The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located just outside of downtown Ottawa on the grounds of an actual working farm. The modern structure is designed to demonstrate to guests how modern developments in farming science and technological advances have changed the course of Canadian history and subsequently impacted the lives of the Canadian population.
The museum contains compelling exhibits, hosts educational and community based programs, and provides live demonstrations throughout the facility in addition to an interpretive and guided farm tour. The topic of events, availability of produce, and livestock presentations vary based on the season in order to demonstrate the actual progression of events that occur on the farm throughout the year.
901 Prince of Wales Dr, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-991-3044
13.Bytown Museum, Ottawa, Canada
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Just below Ottawa’s towering Parliament Hill on the banks of the Rideau Canal sits the small Bytown Museum. The historic museum, founded by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa, opened in 1917 to preserve early Ottawa artifacts that the group had collected since their initial 1889 founding. Today, this collection, which contains artifacts from the earliest point in Ottawa’s history, is housed in the Commissariat Building.
The British military commissioned this stone house in the early 1820s, and it was used as a treasury and storehouse. In 1951, it was moved to the banks of the river and assumed the role of museum. Today, visitors can enter the historic building and view the artifacts dating back to Ottawa’s initial development.
1 Canal Ln, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-234-4570
14.Ottawa Art Gallery
© Ottawa Art Gallery
The downtown based Ottawa Art Gallery opened in 1980 after local artists advocated for their work and organized a municipal location to demonstrate the local artistic population and talent. The Ottawa Art Gallery was opened as a result of public attention and urging, and it has been functioning since 1988. Today, the Gallery is open to public, and visitors are able to view the art and learn about the process the local artistic community took to secure a platform for their expression.
The Gallery hosts a permanent collection of varying works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and modern pieces. Rotating and visiting exhibitions are also on display, highlighting both local and national artists, and educational programs and community classes are hosted on site.
Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-233-8699
15.Ottawa Farmers' Market
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Located in Landsdowne Park, the Ottawa Farmers’ Market is a year round staple in the Ottawa food-shopping scene. Beginning in May and lasting throughout the warmer months, the market is an outdoor, open-air market that features locally grown produce, products, and handmade goods.
During winter months, the market moves to another location in the Park, the Aberdeen Pavilion. In this covered space, shoppers can peruse the warm stalls where producers and sellers provide locally produced baked goods, cheese, produce, and meats. The Market’s website provides an ongoing calendar of events and seasonal produce updates.
1015 Bank St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-218-7502
16.Little Ray's Reptile Zoo
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Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo is a zoo and animal rescue with the most diverse and sizable animal education outreach program in Canada. The zoo contains Canada’s largest reptile and amphibian rescue, and its exhibits highlight the individual creatures and provide insight on their natural habitats and personal qualities. Over 150 animals are on display, including alligators, cobras, birds of prey, pythons, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, and more.
Throughout the Zoo’s opening hours, education programs are held on the grounds; these special programs are directed towards animal advocacy and awareness and scientific education. Rotating exhibits featuring additional animals and educational programs are advertised on the Zoo’s online calendar.
5305 Bank St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-822-8924
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17.Atelier Restaurant, Ottawa, Canada
© Atelier Restaurant
Atelier serves a 12-course tasting menu with a new menu every night, based around upmarket products. With an innovative approach on molecular gastronomy, the kitchen staff prepares dishes that feature unique pairings and unexpected combinations. For guests with allergies or dietary restrictions, the chefs are able to make substitutions to accommodate every diner.
A customized wine pairing option is also available to accompany each dish. The unique meal is served in a high end, modern establishment with an atmosphere that is both upbeat and upscale.
540 Rochester St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-321-3537
18.Stella Luna Gelato Cafe
© Stella Luna Gelato Cafe
Open from morning till night, Stella Luna Gelato Café is a small café selling gelato, baked goods, coffee, and small meals. Founded by a native Ottawa resident and her Italian born and raised husband, the story of Stella Luna’s start is best illustrated by the couple’s romantic history. The two met in Rome and spent the early years of their relationship in Italy. This time inspired them to return to Canada to open a Gelataria.
Utilizing a professional education in gelato craftsmanship and fresh, premium ingredients, Stella Luna serves high quality and authentic gelato. The small café is charming and quaint, with an old world charm and flare surrounding the small dining area and outdoor patio.
1103 Bank St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-523-1116
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19.Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Canada
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Just outside of downtown Ottawa sits the Central Experimental Farm, the research facility for Canada’s Department of Agriculture. The Farm also serves as an attraction, and it is open to the public throughout the year for various seasonal events. Major attractions on the farm include an arboretum, ornamental gardens, a wildlife garden, and heritage buildings and greenhouses.
The heritage buildings, a collection of early 20th century structures, range from dairy barns and storage houses to observatories and arboretums. The structures, many of which are open to the public, give visitors a glimpse of historical farming practices, and they highlight the unique architectural features of early farm buildings.
Prince of Wales Drive, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-230-3276
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© Courtyard Restaurant
Courtyard Restaurant is quaint eatery that is open in the afternoon for lunch and again in the evening for dinner and features a weekend brunch service. The fine dining menu is a mélange of modern and classic French and Canadian specialties, and each dish is served in a highly artistic and purposeful presentation.
The dining room of Courtyard is a brick walled room with exposed beams, tall ceilings, and black and white art prints, curating a romantically warm and intimate setting for upscale dining. Patio seating is also available during warmer months, and in both locations of the restaurant the atmosphere is dressy.
21 George St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-241-1516
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21.Occo Kitchen, Ottawa, Canada
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Serving lunch and dinner, Occo Kitchen takes a wholesome approach to typical fast food favorites. Chef Mark Steele, a widely acclaimed, local East Coast Canadian, runs the revolutionary restaurant, and is known for his attention to detail and hand crafted food. The ingredients are purchased fresh and from locally sourced farmers whenever possible, and the menu boasts a line-up of meals created entirely from homemade processes.
The menu offers several meal categories, including salads, sandwiches, burgers, and tacos along with Canadian classics like fried fish and poutine. This casual eatery offers basic furnishings and a relaxed, inviting atmosphere for its patrons.
3018 St Joseph Blvd, Orléans, 613-424-7700
22.Things to Do in Ottawa: Wild Bird Care Centre
© Wild Bird Care Centre
This Ottawa based bird sanctuary is home to hundreds of birds that have been injured, sick, or orphaned. Wild Bird Care Centre provides treatment and rehabilitation services with the intention of releasing the birds back into the wild. Guests are able to tour the grounds of the care centre and learn about bird intervention, avian injury prevention, and safe bird handling techniques.
Additionally, tours provide guests with general information on conversation, rehabilitation, and natural history of local, wild birds, along with history of the Care Centre itself.
734 Moodie Dr., Nepean, 613 828-2849
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23.Sidedoor, Ottawa, Canada
Open for lunch and dinner, Sidedoor is a unique and contemporary restaurant that serves eclectic small plates. Trendy ingredients and innovative pairings lend themselves to a tapas structured menu featuring southwestern and Asian fusion influences.
The restaurant’s dining space occupies a striking historic building composed of dark brick walls and tall stone beams, which have been accented with vintage metal lightening and rich décor. As a result, the interior of Sidedoor is both rustic and cozy. The ambiance of Sidedoor balances between high end and intimate, with a fresh and understated vibe.
18 York St, Ottawa, Canada, Phone: 613-562-9331
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Encompassing a two-story 19th century home and accompanying garden, Maplelawn is a historic site located within a popular residential and commercial neighborhood of Ottawa. An oval driveway leads to an elaborate front entrance, and the home features expansive and ornate gardens and grounds, which further enhance the glamour of the property.
Prized for its unique heritage contribution, preservation qualities, and character-defining architecture, Maplelawn is a cherished Ottawa site. Visitors are able to tour the site and the surrounding property and learn about its 19th century roots and contribution to Ottawa culture and history.
529 Richmond Road, Ottawa, Canada
More ideas: 10 Best Places for Dessert in Toronto.
25 Best Things to Do in Ottawa, Canada
- Rideau Canal, Photo: Courtesy of vlad_g - Fotolia.com
- Parliament Hill and Buildings, Photo: Courtesy of michelaubryphoto - Fotolia.com
- National Gallery of Canada, Photo: Courtesy of bakerjarvis - Fotolia.com
- Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Courtesy of labalajadia - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Ottawa: Peace Tower, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Photo: Courtesy of miles_around - Fotolia.com
- Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Courtesy of atm2003 - Fotolia.com
- Royal Canadian Mint, Photo: Courtesy of nickjene - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Ottawa: Major's Hill Park, Photo: Courtesy of msphoto - Fotolia.com
- Hog's Back Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Derek R. Audette - Fotolia.com
- Laurier House National Historic Site, Photo: Laurier House
- Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Jakub Bandkowski - Fotolia.com
- Bytown Museum, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Courtesy of rruntsch - Fotolia
- Ottawa Art Gallery, Photo: Ottawa Art Gallery
- Ottawa Farmers' Market, Photo: Courtesy of janmarie37 - Fotolia.com
- Little Ray's Reptile Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of bnorbert3 - Fotolia.com
- Atelier Restaurant, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Atelier Restaurant
- Stella Luna Gelato Cafe, Photo: Stella Luna Gelato Cafe
- Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Courtesy of Budimir Jevtic - Fotolia
- Courtyard Restaurant, Photo: Courtyard Restaurant
- Occo Kitchen, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Occo Kitchen
- Things to Do in Ottawa: Wild Bird Care Centre, Photo: Wild Bird Care Centre
- Sidedoor, Ottawa, Canada, Photo: Sidedoor
- Maplelawn Garden, Photo: Courtesy of cemari65m - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Natalia Pushchina - Fotolia.com