Touted as the city by which all capitals should be measured, Ottawa is a compact, clean, cleverly planned center of culture and politics. And it’s an ideal choice for a short getaway because you can see so much in a short time. Start downtown at the architecturally stunning National Gallery of Canada. Other fine museums, like the Canadian Nature Museum and the National Aviation Museum, await. The Gothic Revival-style buildings of Parliament Hill convey the political stature. A free, guided tour of the main building offers information on both the present-day government and important historical events. While Ottawa does have its fair share of lofty attractions, there are also lots of ways to kick back and have fun. The lovely Rideau Canal, which cuts through the city, offers boating in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. Gatineau Park is always buzzing with cyclists, walkers and benchwarmers. For an eclectic mix of old and new Ottawa, stop by the Byward Market. Whether you’re in town for a few hours or a few days, Ottawa offers a gratifying taste of Canadian culture and hospitality.
TOP 10 MUST DO THINGS
1. PARLIAMENT HILL
Parliament Hill is the home of Canada’s federal government. in summer, catch the evening Northern Lights Sound and light show, which tells the story of Canada in an engaging way.
Yoga enthusiasts can practice their downward dog in the shadow of the peace tower — each Wednesday at noon from May through August with Yoga on the Hill – these events are free! As Centre Block undergoes complete renovation over the next few years, free daily tours of the House of Commons (relocated to West Block) and the Senate (relocated to the former Ottawa train station just down the street) are offered.
2. RIDEAU CANAL
Stroll, jog, and cycle alongside the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It can also be explored by watercraft — kayaks, canoes, and pedal boats are available to rent at Dow’s Lake. In winter, the canal’s frozen surface becomes the largest skating rink in the world!
3. NATIONAL MUSEUMS
Fascinating things can be seen in the capital’s many national museums: gaze upon dinosaur skeletons (Canadian Museum of Nature), check out armoured vehicles (Canadian War Museum), and stare up at the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles (Canadian Museum of History). You can also fly over Ottawa in a vintage biplane (Canada Aviation and Space Museum), pet and feed farm animals (Canada Agriculture and Food Museum), and make yourself dizzy in the crazy kitchen (Canada Science and Technology Museum)! Get your National Museum Passport for the best deal: $35 for up to 3 museum visits over 3 consecutive days.
4. GET OUTDOORS
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy the great outdoors! Hike, cycle, swim, snowshoe, or crosscountry ski your way through Gatineau park, a vast conservation and outdoor recreation park only a short drive from downtown. Kayak within sight of Parliament Hill, look for wildlife in the 7,700-year-old Mer Bleue bog, and go rafting further up the Ottawa River.
5. MEET THE NEIGHBOURS
Ottawa’s lively neighbourhoods – such as the ByWard Market, Centretown, the Glebe, Wellington West, and Westboro – are packed with one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, and boutiques. Each neighbourhood also has its own unique landmarks and parks.
6. RURAL TRAILS
Did you know that Canada’s highest bungee jump – a 61-metre (200-foot) drop into water — is just a half-hour’s drive from parliament Hill? Ziplining, spelunking, skydiving, mountain-biking, snowboarding, skiing, rock-climbing, hang-gliding – even world class whitewater rafting – whatever gets your adrenaline pumping, the Ottawa region has a cliff, river, or trail for you.
Whatever your passion, Ottawa has a tour for it, including Indigenous Walks for an indigenous perspective, C’est Bon Cooking Gourmet Food tour and Ottawa tasting tours for foodies, the Haunted Walk for ghost-story fans, escape Bicycle tours & rentals for cyclists, and Brew Donkey bus tours for craft beer connoisseurs.
8. GET FESTIVE
Grab your sunscreen (or your toque) and your all-access pass – there’s always a festival happening in Ottawa. ribs, blues, buskers, writers, jazz, dragon boats, hot-air balloons, chamber music, Franco-Ontarians, tulips, winter, craft beer, folk music — really, Ottawa just loves celebrating!
9. BYWARD MARKET
The ByWard market neighbourhood has been Ottawa’s heart since the city was founded. By day, wander through the historic ByWard market Square pavilion, wherein you’ll find arts and craft producers and a diverse array of food purveyors. Outside, year-round stalls sell farm-fresh produce and artisanal products. more shops, historic landmarks, sculptures, and gathering spaces can be found throughout this bustling neighbourhood. By night, a large selection of restaurants, pubs, and clubs keep the vibe alive.
10. BE ARTSY
Hundreds of works by the Group of seven? Check. Two symphony orchestras? Check. A brand new five-story space dedicated to Ottawa’s art and artists? Check. The National Gallery of Canada, the National Arts Centre, and the Ottawa Art Gallery, along with a host of smaller venues, offer culture lovers year-round exhibitions and performances.