Welcome to Ottawa, Canada’s vibrant capital city, where history, culture, and natural beauty come together to create a truly unique and unforgettable experience for visitors. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or someone who simply appreciates the great outdoors, Ottawa has something for everyone. In this article we will explore six of the must-visit attractions that make Ottawa a destination like no other.
No visit to Ottawa is complete without a stop at Parliament Hill, the iconic heart of Canada’s political life. This impressive complex of Gothic revival buildings is perched on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River, creating a stunning backdrop for your exploration. Join a guided tour of either the Senate building, the West Block (House of Commons), East Block (government offices) or Main Block (main building) to delve into the history of Canadian democracy, marvel at the impressive architecture, and, if are visiting in the summer months of June, July or August, witness the awe-inspiring Canada on the March musical replacement of the Changing of the Guard ceremony. This outdoor ceremony is free.
In the heart of downtown Ottawa, the historic Rideau Canal offers a picturesque setting for a leisurely stroll or a summer boat ride. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 202-kilometer (125.5 mile) waterway is a testament to Canadian engineering prowess. During the winter months, the canal transforms into the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, providing a unique and exhilarating experience for locals and visitors alike.
Indulge your senses at ByWard Market, one of the oldest and largest public markets in Canada. This bustling district is a culinary haven, offering an array of fresh produce, artisanal goods, and international cuisine. Stroll through the vibrant stalls, sample local delicacies, and soak in the lively atmosphere. Don’t leave without experiencing a beavertail which is a delicious fried pastry in the shape of – you guessed it – a beaver’s tail.
ByWard Market isn’t just about food; it’s also a hub for boutiques, galleries, and street performers. All in all there are about 600 vendors in this concentrated neighbourhood. Whether you’re searching for unique souvenirs or looking to immerse yourself in the local culture, this historic market is a must-visit destination. At night the place comes alive with a fun and inclusive bar scene.
The National Gallery of Canada
For art aficionados, the National Gallery of Canada is a treasure trove of creativity. Housing an extensive collection of Canadian and Indigenous art, as well as masterpieces from around the world, this architectural marvel is a feast for the eyes. Wander through the galleries to admire works by renowned artists like Emily Carr, Tom Thomson, and the Group of Seven. Admission is free.
Canadian Museum of History
Cross the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Quebec, and discover the Canadian Museum of History—a captivating journey through Canada’s past. This museum brings Canada’s history to life with interactive exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia presentations. Explore the First Peoples Hall to learn about Indigenous cultures, walk through the Canadian History Hall to trace the country’s evolution, and be amazed by the detailed recreations of historic scenes. The museum has a huge, separate play area for toddlers and young children filled with toys and activities to spur the imagination. If you have children of that age, this area of the museum is worth the admission price alone. To fully experience this attraction you may wish to spend the day.
The museum’s building is an architectural masterpiece, featuring sweeping curves against the Ottawa skyline (see the winter Rideau canal image above) and stunning views of Parliament Hill. On a sunny day, it is the perfect spot to capture the quintessential Parliament Hill photo.
Canadian War Museum
Personally, this is my favourite Ottawa destination. This architecturally modern museum has something for all ages with interactive activities for the youngsters ( adults too !), videos with sound and action, personal stories, and engaging and intriguing displays of war from the very first Canadians up until the present conflicts. Stroll amongst the machinery of war in the vast Lebreton Gallery where you can see up close artifacts from cannons to the latest armoured vehicles. It is amazing how many different tanks have been employed since WWI! If you have not visited the Vimy Memorial in France, the Moriyama Regeneration Hall has a replica of each of the monument’s sculptures with their meaning (eg. “Hope”, “Peace”) on display.
There are guided tours or you can simply tour at your leisure. There is an admission fee and a separate (optional) tour fee. Allow yourself at least four to five hours to enjoy this attraction.
Plan Your Ottawa Stay
These six Ottawa attractions are only the “icing on the cake” as there are a multitude of other amusements centered on history (eg. ghost walks), food (afternoon tea to brewery walking tours), sports (hockey games, biking), hobbies, and entertainment ( Bluesfest, Tulip Festival & more). From the official grandeur of Parliament Hill, the seat of the Canadian government, to the history and culture of the National History Museum, the city offers a diverse range of attractions both downtown and near-vicinity that cater to every interest.
Whether visiting on a flight via Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International airport, or by train from Toronto or Montreal (pre- or post Canada/New England cruise suggestion), Ottawa is definitely a destination to add to your bucket travel list, winter or summer! Contact your real travel expert to help plan your stay.
All images courtesy of Adobe Stock except those of the Museum of History and the Canada War Museum which are courtesy of Compass Media.
A walk through a Passendale trench, Canada War Museum ( Courtesy Compass Media)
A small section of the Lebreton Gallery, Canada War Museum ( Courtesy Compass Media)