Sitting right along the Ottawa River opposite Canada’s capital city is Gatineau; a small city with loads of character. Gatineau has all of the recreation, attractions and entertainment that any large city has, although it is much smaller.
Tourists often miss out on the city, visiting Ottawa instead, but there is so much to see and do here. It is well worth crossing the river and spending a few days here. Gatineau is filled with parks, has a vibrant nightlife, numerous attractions and some exciting annual events. If you are in the area, you should not miss the chance to discover the city a little bit and enjoy all that it has to offer.
Lets explore the best things to do in Gatineau:
1. Wander around Canada’s most visited museum
The Canadian Museum of History is the city’s star attraction and the one not to miss. The museum explores the history of the country and its cultural diversity.
Not only is it a museum, but it is also a major research centre, with its staff being experts in Canada’s archaeology, history, folk culture and more. It also happens to be one of the oldest cultural institutions in all of North America.
There are three permanent galleries at the museum; the Grand Hall, Fort People’s Hall and Canada Hall. It is also home to a large IMAX theatre.
2. Take the kids to the Children’s Museum
Inside the Canadian Museum of History is an area just for the kids; the Canadian Children’s Museum. It is a fabulous interactive museum that attracts over half a million visitor each year.
The museum was specifically designed for children under the age of 14. Its main exhibition is ‘The Great Adventure’, which is an interactive journey through various countries around the world.
Kids can visit Nigeria, India, Japan, Mexico and Indonesia without ever setting foot in an airplane. There are cafés, cargo ships, desert treks and market bazaars, giving the kids a hands-on experience to learn about cultures around the world.
3. Spend a day at the park
Not only is Gatineau Park a great place to spend a day, but it is also one of Canada’s largest outdoor playgrounds. There is so much to do here throughout the entire year, making it a wonderland for any outdoor lover.
Head to the park in the winter and enjoy skiing or snowshoeing. Visit Gatineau Park in the summer and spend the day at a beach, hiking, mountain biking or canoeing.
In the fall, the park is filled with magnificent colours that will make any photographer salivate. You can also go rock climbing, enjoy bird watching or spend a night in a tent under the stars.
4. Play poker
Or roulette, baccarat, craps or blackjack. Or put your coins in one of the 1,800 slot machines at the Casino du Lac-Leamy.
The Casino du Lac-Leamy is a government-run casino that features over 65 tables where you can try your luck 24 hours a day. There is also an amphitheatre, restaurants and numerous bars onsite.
The casino was built on a quarry along the shore of Lac Leamy, which is how it got its name. Over three million people come to the casino each year.
5. Go skiing
The Gatineau Hills sits in the foothills of the magnificent Laurentian Mountains. The hills are a popular skiing spot not only for tourists, but also for residents of Gatineau and other cities in the area.
There are over 190 kilometres of cross-country ski trails in Gatineau Hills. If you prefer downhill skiing, head to the Camp Fortune alpine ski centre or Vorlage ski hill.
If you are visiting the city in the fall you will also want to visit Gatineau Hills to see the foliage changing colour. It is truly spectacular.
6. Enjoy a festival
Gatineau plays host to countless festivals and events throughout the year, though one of the most renowned is the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival. This festival takes place over Labour Day weekend and is absolutely magnificent.
Just after this festival is the Rendez-vous des saveurs de l’Outaouais, which is fabulous for foodies wanting to sample delicious food and wine. In the summer, be sure to head to Parc du Lac-Beauchamp for the annual Wonders of Sand sandcastle competition.
The biggest festival of the year is Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day; or Fête nationale du Québec. Hotels, museums and arenas all take part in the June festival, hosting shows and exhibitions.
7. Wine and dine
Being a French speaking city with a lot of French charm, it should be of no surprise that Gatineau has some excellent restaurants and bars. Dine on delicious French cuisine that is cooked to perfection and paired with a great bottle of wine.
Listen to live jazz, funky beats or rock and roll while sipping on a cocktail, a bottle of craft beer or a glass of wine. The nightlife in Gatineau is top-notch, with the Vieux-Hull area being the trendiest.
If French food is not your thing, there are plenty of other cuisines to enjoy in the city. Authentic Italian is quite common, as is food from other parts of the world.
8. Step back in time
See what life was like in Gatineau in the 1900s by visiting L’auberge Symmes; or Symmes Inn. This inn was built in 1831 by Charles Symmes and became a museum in 2003.
The National Heritage Site was once a hotel that welcomed people passing through from Montreal before getting on a ship along the Ottawa River. It is situated on the banks of the river and Lac Deschênes.
The main focus of the museum is the Ottawa River and rivers that branch off of it. Guided tours are available in both French and English, lasting around 60 minutes.
9. Head to the beach
From June until September the beach at Leamy Lake opens to the public for swimming and the like. The lake is, of course, open year-round, though there are lifeguards present if you visit during the summer season.
Leamy Lake beach is especially great for swimming, though many come to just lay around and sunbathe. There are washrooms and change rooms onsite, as well as picnic areas.
There are also other beaches in Gatineau if this one gets too busy. A great thing is that you can purchase a day pass that will give you access to Leamy Lake beach as well as others in the area.
10. Gaze at historic aircraft
If you have ever wanted to see classic aircrafts, then a visit to Vintage Wings of Canada is a must. The aircraft museum is located in a 2,100 square metre hangar at the Gatineau-Ottawa Executive Airport.
Combat aircrafts like the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang and trainers like the Fairchild PT-19 are on display, as are civilian aircrafts. Vintage Wings of Canada even has aircrafts for sale.
Nearly all aircrafts at Vintage Wings of Canada are in working order or are being restored, and all are flown today in parades and air shows. You can also arrange to fly in one of these vintage gems.
11. Go to Wakefield
This quant village is just a 25-minute drive from Gatineau and makes for a great day trip. The village is known for its picturesque setting along the Gatineau River.
There are a few things to see in the village, including the covered bridge and the historic Maclaren Mill. Wakefield also hosts the annual Wakefield Covered Bridge Run.
The village has quite a bohemian feel to it, featuring numerous lovely cafés, galleries and pubs. It is a nice place to spend a sunny summer afternoon.
12. Visit The Farm
Not just any farm, but The Farm. This is the home of the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons. It is named the farm because it was once an old farmstead.
The property was purchased by William Lyon McKenzie King in 1927. When he died, he left the home to the government to be used by Canadian officials.
The Farm sits on 1.74 hectares of land that include not only the main house, but five other buildings. There are also beautiful gardens onsite.
13. Explore parliament
Being so close to Ottawa, it is hard to visit Gatineau without also exploring Canada’s capital city. It is hard to do this in just one day, but a wander around Parliament Hill is a must
Parliament Hill is home to the parliament of Canada. It is a suite of phenomenal Gothic revival buildings that see over three million visitors each year.
Explore the 88,480 square metre grounds and enjoy gardens, statues, monuments and buildings. It is a jaw-dropping experience.
14. Go bike riding
Gatineau is home to numerous cycling trails, both within and around the city. In fact, there is an extensive network of trails in the area.
Cycle through some of the city’s beautiful parks, like Jacques-Cartier Park, Lac-Beauchamp Park or Parc des Cèdres. Or opt to just cycle in designated lanes within the city itself.
Gatineau is a beautiful place, and taking it all in while on a bicycle is an excellent way to enjoy it. Plus, you get to breath in the fresh air.
15. Join a ski marathon
The annual Canadian Ski Marathon is a three day cross-country skiing marathon that is held every February. The trail runs from Lachute to Gatineau and is divided into 10 sections.
Each section of the trail is a different level of difficulty, from easy to extremely difficult with endless ups and downs. All in all, the marathon trail is over 160 kilometres.
If you are not up for the full marathons, there is also a half marathon, where you ski the last 3 sections of each day. You can also just do a taster or even just do whatever section of the trail you would like.