Like every good capital city, Ottawa is a place to learn and explore the history of our country and our world. But there’s also room for some world-renowned urban and outdoor fun.
Canada’s Parliament Hill isn’t just home to the country’s government; it’s also a cultural and community hub whose activities are hosted in a really incredible setting. You can, for example, do yoga on Parliament Hill. Every Wednesday at noon during the summer, hundreds of people flood the hill with mats and yoga pants to stretch out in front of the iconic buildings. You can also take in the Sound and Light show, which for 30-minutes projects a beautiful, engaging story onto the Parliament Buildings themselves. And then there are the more traditional activities such as attending the Changing of the Guard or visiting the House of Commons or the Senate of Canada now located in the old Ottawa train station a few steps from the Hill.
Many people know the Rideau Canal as the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink (at 4.8 miles long). But the Canal is actually a year-round destination for outdoor entertainment. Yes, in the winter you can enjoy a skate along the unending rink that sits on top of the canal waters, winding your way through downtown Ottawa with two blades strapped to your feet. But when the ice melts and it’s t-shirt weather outside, you can also take a voyageur canoe down those same waters or enjoy them while on a relaxing boat cruise. You can also explore the canal by walking, running or cycling along its banks. So make a pit stop at the Rideau Canal no matter when you’re in town.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada seems to get a lot of attention thanks to a 30-foot spider statue that sits in front of the magnificent glass building. But once you get past your arachnophobia, the inside of the gallery is an incredible institution of all things art. Nearly 40,000 works cover everything from Inuit sculpture to the very latest in contemporary art. This means that, whether you’re a curious soul with minimal art knowledge or you have a doctorate in art history hanging on your wall, the National Gallery of Canada has work you’ll recognize, appreciate and enjoy.
ByWard Market Neighborhood
For nearly two centuries, farmers and craft merchants have taken to the ByWard Market to share the fruits (literal and metaphorical) of their labor. What was once a simple market has turned into an absolute hub of food, shopping and entertainment. Over 175 stands fill the actual market, while more than 600 businesses call the surrounding neighborhood home. On any given visit you might stumble across a great spot for your next brunch, a quirky boutique full of gift inspiration, or an up-and-coming local band drawing in a crowd. Close to Parliament Hill, the ByWard Market Neighborhood is always alive with activity, morning and night. Make sure you stop by.
Canadian Museum of History
Though not technically in Ottawa, the Canadian Museum of History is minutes away, right across the river in Gatineau. One of the country’s oldest museums, dating back to 1856, it also happens to be the most-visited in Canada, with more 1.2 million annual visitors. So why do so many people stop in? The museum’s three million items trace the history of the country, and the world, starting 20,000 years ago. In the Grand Hall, discover the story, culture and beliefs of Canada’s Pacific First Nations, in a beautiful setting overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. Look up at spectacular totem poles alongside Native houses, before moving into the First People’s Hall for more insights into Canada’s Indigenous roots. Make sure you see what traveling exhibits are on display, and swing by the CINÉ+ theater for a movie.
Ottawa’s vibrant culinary community has deep roots: there are over 1300 farms located within the city limits and the resulting local products are used by many Ottawa chefs. The result? Fresh, inventive and flavorful creations that will have you drooling. You can enjoy gourmet tours to discover different neighborhoods while enjoying tastings, experience the many local breweries or try the best restaurants of the multicultural capital.
Canadian Museum of Nature
Would you spend an afternoon looking at dinosaur fossils? Would you take a few hours to learn about the diversity of life in our oceans and lakes? Are you curious about how birds, bugs, and bears live their lives? An enthusiastic yes to any of these questions should put the Canadian Museum of Nature on your radar. The museum essentially takes on the entire natural world in a handful of exhibits that will leave you wondering where the time went. Explore the Arctic Gallery to learn about ecosystems and climate change in the Far North, and be mesmerized by the entire skeleton of a blue whale—the biggest animal on earth—hanging over your head.
Long before French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in what is now Ottawa, the region was known to different Indigenous communities, including Huron, Algonquin, Cree and Ojibwe, to quote only a few. Their stories are told all over Ottawa: in museums, galleries, monuments and festivals. From a walking tour to an authentic pow-wow, discover some of the many ways to reconnect with Ottawa and Canada's unique indigenous past.
Canadian War Museum
Sitting on the shore of the Ottawa River, it’s hard to miss the Canadian War Museum. The museum’s distinct building is largely flat, but shoots up 80 feet into the air along one side, like a waving hand calling you over. Once inside, you’ll walk through exhibitions that cover Canada’s involvement in conflicts throughout history. A vast collection of tanks, military vehicles and guns fill the walls, allowing you to see and explore the equipment used by generations of brave men and women on the battlefield. Over 330 works of art and a number of unique touches — like a tall window that frames the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill — round out the experience, and help tell the stories that shaped what Canada is today
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Who among us hasn’t thought at some point in our lives about what it would be like to be in space? At the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, you can discover what life is like aboard the International Space Station from the astronauts who’ve lived there, and see what it’s like to wear a space helmet and climb inside the station. You can also fly over the city aboard a real biplane of the 1930s! Once you’ve lived that childhood dream, explore this impressive museum holding 130 different military and civilian aircrafts, as a well as a real, full-motion flight simulator.