15 Best Things to Do in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Canada’s capital city, Ottawa sits on the south bank of the Ottawa River and is dissected by the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. It is a bilingual city, with most locals speaking both English and French. It is also a city that is filled with cultures from all over the world, as well as being good at keeping Canada’s culture and heritage intact.

Like many capital cities around the globe, Ottawa has numerous national attractions. It also has a plethora of other things to see and do, and you could easily spend days enjoying the city.

Lets explore the best things to do in Ottawa:

1. Skate along the world’s largest outdoor skating rink

Rideau CanalSource: flickr
Rideau Canal

In the winter months a section of the Rideau Canal is turned into a massive skating rink. The outdoor rink is the longest in the world, stretching for nearly eight kilometres.

The skating rink is open 24-hours a day and is a great place to spend a romantic evening. In the day time, it is great for anyone; families, couples or even solo travellers.

No skate along the Rideau Canal is complete without a Beaver Tail. These deep fried dough sweets are sold at kiosks along the ice rink, as well as in the Byward Market area.

2. Visit Parliament

ParliamentSource: commons.wikimedia

The magnificent Gothic revival Parliament Hill sits in the middle of the city centre overlooking the Ottawa River. The building is home to the Parliament of Canada, but is also a major tourist attraction.

There are three buildings that make up Parliament Hill, as well as an expansive formal garden. The grounds of the complex are the site of numerous national celebrations, demonstrations and shows.

Tours are available multiple times throughout the day in both English and French. They last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, though you must turn up at 9am to reserve your spot for the day.

3. Head to the market

ByWard MarketSource: flickr
ByWard Market

One of the oldest markets in Canada, ByWard Market is in the heart of Ottawa’s city centre. It consists of a main buildings that is surrounded by open-air stalls.

The main buildings is open all year, with the surrounding stalls being open when the weather is nice. It is a colourful place, where fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers can be purchased, as well as other grocery items.

ByWard Market also has restaurants, fast-food kiosks and numerous boutiques. It is a great place to wander around and mingle with the locals.

4. Learn about Canada’s history

the Canadian Museum of NatureSource: flickr
the Canadian Museum of Nature

Being the capital city, it should be of no surprise that Ottawa is home to numerous national museums. And you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy them.

The Canadian Museum of History, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Agriculture Museum and the Canadian War Museum are just a few of the museums located in Ottawa.

There are also other speciality museums that may not appeal to everyone, but are quite interesting. These include the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photograph, the Portrait Gallery of Canada and the Bank of Canada Currency Museum.

5. Learn about the darker side of the city

Ottawa Jail HostelSource: flickr
Ottawa Jail Hostel

It is not all colourfulness and smiles in Ottawa. The city also has an infamous history, which you can learn about on the Haunted Walk of Ottawa.

The tour focuses on Ottawa’s dark past, where you will hear haunting hear stories about some of the city’s most famous spots, like the Bytown Museum, the Ottawa Jail Hostel and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Tours are led by guides cloaked in black and holding lanterns.

These haunted tours of the city take place all year, regardless of the weather. Halloween is, of course, the best time to learn about this side of the city, though it is enjoyable no matter when you are in Ottawa.

6. Enjoy the culinary scene

BeaverTailsSource: flickr

Ottawa is a melting pot of cultures, and this is carried over into its cuisine. Food from all over the world can be enjoyed here, as can a few Canadian and city classics.

As mentioned before, BeaverTails are a must, and come different topping options, including cinnamon sugar, chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter and maple syrup. Poutine is another must, which is a French Canadian dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy.

Ottawa is also known for its superb Lebanese food, Chinese food and Vietnamese food. French cuisine, Italian cuisine and Mediterranean fare is also offered at restaurants across the city.

7. Wander around a historical château

Fairmont Chateau LaurierSource: flickr
Fairmont Chateau Laurier

You won’t be allowed everywhere in the Fairmont Château Laurier, as the 660,000-square-foot castle is now a luxury hotel. The French gothic castle sits at the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, overlooking the Rideau Canal.

The hotel dates back to 1912, when it had just 350 rooms, only half of which had a private bathroom. Today, there are a total of 429 guest rooms in the château.

The entire building is stunning, featuring Tiffany stained-glass windows, Roman columns and a copper roof. The lobby boasts Belgian marble floors, while the lounge is a stunning atrium with glowing chandeliers and is a great place for afternoon tea.

8. Go to the park

Major's Hill ParkSource: flickr
Major’s Hill Park

Just above the Rideau Canal is Major’s Hill Park, which sits just across the canal from Parliament Hill. It is one of the city’s oldest green spaces and is open all year.

Numerous events are held at the park, including Canada Day celebrations and the annual ‘B In The Park’ – an event that highlights pipe bands. It is also just a nice place to spend an afternoon.

Major’s Hill Park also boasts fantastic views of Parliament Hill, the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, the American Embassy and the Fairmont Château Laurier.

9. Spend the day at the beach

Petrie IslandSource: ottawacitizen
Petrie Island

Yes, there is a beach in Ottawa. It is located on Petrie Island, which sits in the Ottawa River.

There are two beaches on the island, both of which sit on the northeast corner of it. They are open from May 17th to September 1st; from noon until 7pm.

The beaches are run by the city, having lifeguards on duty 7 days a week. They are a great place for a picnic, a swim or just to escape the city centre.

10. Watch a sports match

Ottawa RedblacksSource: flickr
Ottawa Redblacks

Ottawa has a number of professional sports teams, though the Ottawa Senators are the most famous. This National Hockey League team plays home games at the Canadian Tire Centre, which is also home to the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.

TD Place Stadium is the place to head to see the Ottawa Redblacks do their thing; a Canadian Football League team. The Ottawa Fury FC also uses the stadium for their home games.

Baseball fans should head to the Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park to watch the Ottawa Champions. This team is part of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball; or the Can-Am League.

11. Hang out with royalty

Rideau HallSource: mapio
Rideau Hall

The official residence of the Canadian monarch, Rideau Hall is a stunning 175-room mansion that sits on 88 acres of land. Basically, it is Canada’s equivalent of Buckingham Palace.

Rideau Hall is a National Historic Site of Canada, dating back to 1867. It is a magnificent building that is furnished in both historic and contemporary items.

The mansion is open to the public for tours throughout the entire year. Tours are free and last around 45 minutes.

12. Go to court

The Supreme Court of CanadaSource: flickr
The Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada is a beautiful Art Deco building with a magnificent marble Grand Entrance Hall. Construction of the buildings started in 1939 when Queen Elizabeth herself lay the first cornerstone.

The court house is open for tours all year, although reservations must be made during the low season – September to April.

There are two flagstaffs in front of the building as well as numerous statues of Canadian Greats like Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. Also on the grounds is a statue of Veritas (Truth) and of Justitia (Justice).

13. Enjoy a festival

WinterludeSource: flickr

Being a capital city means that Ottawa has its fair share of annual festivals, all of which are fun for any tourist. Plus, there are festivals to enjoy throughout the entire year.

The biggest festival of the winter is Winterlude, which runs over three weekends each February. Features of this winter festival include an international ice sculpting competition, as well as public skating and other activities.

The Canadian Tulip Festival is a good reason to visit Ottawa in May, while Canada Day should not be missed if you are in the city on July 1st. Bluesfest is another massive summer festival that draws in visitors from all over the country.

14. Stroll through Westboro Village

Westboro VillageSource: flickr
Westboro Village

This neighbourhood has become shopping central, with several outdoor shops having flagship stores located here. It is also home to one-of-a-kind boutiques, local design houses and unique gift shops.

Take a break from shopping or browsing and enjoy a freshly brewed cappuccino or a pastry. In the evening, relax with a pint of craft beer or delve into a delectable box of truffles.

Westboro Village is also home to wellness centres, yoga schools and massage shops. There are also art galleries, hair salons and barber shops.

15. Enjoy the nightlife

bluesfestSource: flickr

Ottawa has a lively nightlife scene, what with its bars, pubs, lounges and nightclubs. You can listen to live jazz or the sounds of a DJ spinning the latest dance tunes.

ByWard Market is a great place for a bar crawl, with plenty of bars and pubs to choose from. The same is true for the Centretown area.

Jazz and blues are big in the city, with live music offered at numerous venues. If chic and trendy are your thing, Ottawa will not disappoint, as there are numerous stylish lounges and nightclubs around.

15 Best Things to Do in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada):

  • Skate along the world’s largest outdoor skating rink
  • Visit Parliament
  • Head to the market
  • Learn about Canada’s history
  • Learn about the darker side of the city
  • Enjoy the culinary scene
  • Wander around a historical château
  • Go to the park
  • Spend the day at the beach
  • Watch a sports match
  • Hang out with royalty
  • Go to court
  • Enjoy a festival
  • Stroll through Westboro Village
  • Enjoy the nightlife