15 Epic Things to Do in Ottawa (Perfect First Time Visit)


Things to Do in Ottawa: The 15 Best Places to Visit (All Highlights)

You want to visit Ottawa, the capital of Canada, during your next trip?

Great idea!

In order to help you plan your stay, I have prepared this guide of the 15 best things to do in Ottawa, with all points of interest and must-see attractions.

In addition to my list of things to do and activities, I will also give you optimized itineraries to visit ottawa in 1, 2 or 3 days as well as my selection of the best accommodations depending on your budget.

So, what are the best things to do in Ottawa? Where to stay?

Let’s find out!

Visit Ottawa: All must-see attractions

1. Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill is home to the federal government of Canada, where you’ll find all the Parliament buildings. It’s the main attraction in the city and therefore the perfect place to kick off your Ottawa tour.

Free guided tours run every day so you can explore the House of Commons, the Senate and the gorgeous Victorian-style library.

You can also climb to the top of the Peace Tower for a 360° panorama over Ottawa.

I’d advise you to grab your tickets early in the morning if you want to be sure of getting inside the buildings, as they operate on a first come, first served basis. Not everyone will get in.

If you choose to visit Ottawa in summer, it’s also at Parliament Hill where you can watch the Changing of the Guard.

Every single evening, from July to September, you get to soak up an awesome sound and light show projected on the buildings. Don’t miss this show for a unique insight into Canada’s history.

To find out about the timings of guided tours of this iconic Ottawa monument, check out the Parliament website.

Voyage Tips - Advice

Strolling around Ottawa is a delightful way to explore, but why not spice it up and take it to the next level? You can mix and match it with any of the awesome activities listed below (just click on the orange links to book)

Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill – Things to do in Ottawa

2. Canadian Museum of History

During your stay in Ottawa, I strongly advise you to visit the Canadian Museum of History. It’s definitely THE must-see in Ottawa.

Of all the museums I visited during my trip to Canada, it’s one of my favorites. I didn’t expect to spend so much time there and even had to rush towards the end to avoid getting booted out at closing time!

The museum is located opposite Parliament Hill, on the banks of the Ottawa River. It’s one of the oldest and most visited in Canada with over a million visitors a year.

It traces all of Canada’s history since the First Nations and lets you journey back nearly 20,000 years.

The exhibitions are captivating and very well presented, so there’s no chance of getting bored even if you’re not typically a museum fan.

You’ll surely be impressed by its collection of totem poles, the largest in the world. The section dedicated to the history of the Indigenous peoples particularly grabbed my attention.

The museum is the most visited tourist site in Ottawa. To avoid wasting time at the entrance, make sure you purchase your skip-the-line ticket in advance by clicking the green button below:

Voyage Tips - Advice

Expect a minimum visit of 3 hours. The museum is huge and the collection of objects is very rich. It’s definitely worth spending some time here.

Totem poles - Canadian Museum of History
Totem poles – Canadian Museum of History – Visiting Ottawa

3. The Rideau Canal

A must-see during your trip to Ottawa: a stroll along the Rideau Canal.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the oldest operating canal in North America connects the city to Kingston on Lake Ontario.

Stretching over 200 km, its banks are the ideal spot in Ottawa for a walk or bike ride during your Canadian tour. There’s even a lovely 8km cycle path. The canal’s surroundings are really well laid out and very pleasant.

For those feeling a bit more adventurous, you can even rent a canoe or kayak to paddle through it.

During the summer, you can hop on narrated cruises along the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River, which offer a fantastic opportunity to admire some of Ottawa’s iconic buildings.

To book your cruise in Ottawa, click on the green button below:

There’s also an option to take this cruise on an electric boat. You’ll find all the details by clicking here!

And if you’re wondering what to do in Ottawa in winter, you’ll be happy to learn that the canal becomes the world’s longest natural ice rink! Strap on your skates and glide over 7km through the entire city.

The Rideau Canal
Rideau Canal Cruise – Things to do in Ottawa

4. Museums to check out in Ottawa

Apart from the Canadian Museum of History, there’s a slew of other museums you must visit while you’re wandering around Ottawa.

I’ve rounded up a list of Ottawa’s must-visit museums for you:

  • The Canadian War Museum where you’ll get a full lowdown on Canada’s military history. Plus, you’ll get to see an enormous collection of tanks, military vehicles, and rifles there. Tickets available here!
  • The National Gallery of Canada with its peculiar entrance, guarded by Maman (“mom” in French), a massive 10-meter-high spider-shaped statue. But don’t let that scare you off from admiring the 40,000 works it houses.
  • The Canadian Museum of Nature, a natural history museum where you can check out gigantic dinosaur and marine mammal skeletons, including an impressive blue whale hanging overhead.
  • The Canada Aviation and Space Museum, featuring a real flight simulator and a collection of 130 aircraft.
  • The Bytown Museum, primarily focusing on Ottawa’s own history and the construction of the Rideau Canal.
  • The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, in reality, a working farm smack dab in the middle of the city. This is an absolute blast for kids in Ottawa! They’ll have a chance to get up close and personal with cows, sheep, and horses, making it an unforgettable experience. Adults can learn more about modern farming methods.
  • The Bank of Canada Museum. Get ready to embrace your inner banker and dive headfirst into the intricate world of the Canadian economy.

Now you know where to go and what to do in Ottawa, even when the weather isn’t cooperating!

National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery, a must-see in Ottawa

5. Byward Market

Next on this Ottawa travel guide is the Byward Market, conveniently located next to Parliament Hill.

Established in 1826, it’s one of the oldest markets in Canada. You’ll find nearly 250 stalls stocked with local products, including the famous maple syrup.

You must try a “beaver tail”, a traditional Canadian pastry. It’s a deep-fried doughnut shaped like a beaver tail that you can top with Nutella, bananas, or cinnamon. Not the best idea if you’re on a diet… but it’s just so good!

The Byward Market area is also a great place to do some shopping in Ottawa with its more than 500 stores.

And of course, there are several top-notch restaurants and cafés where you can enjoy a drink on the terrace. This neighborhood is bursting with life and energy.

Byward Market - Beaver tail pastry
Byward Market – Beaver tail pastry

6. Parks to check out in Ottawa

If you’re ever in the mood to embrace the great outdoors, Ottawa is packed with parks just waiting for your visit..

Apart from the well-trodden Parliament Hill, make sure you swing by:

  • Major’s Hill Park, where you might just catch sight of frolicking squirrels and busy groundhogs. It gifts you with sweeping vistas of the Rideau Canal and the grand Parliament buildings.
  • Then there’s Jacques-Cartier Park, renowned for its majestic snow sculptures in winter. It’s a spot where you can enjoy a stunning panorama of the Ottawa River and the Rideau Falls. It’s also a great place to hop on a bike and hit the trails.
  • And don’t forget about Confederation Park, a treasure trove of sculptures, monuments, and a so-called haunted fountain. If you manage to snap a pic of the ghost, I’m all ears!

Voyage Tips - Advice

You’re going to Ottawa?

You probably know it: the hardest part of planning your trip is to find an hotel offering a good value for money!

And that’s even worse in big touristic cities like Ottawa 😅.

The closer you get to your travel dates, the harder it will be to get a good deal. Lots of people will be visiting Ottawa on the same dates as you, so you can be sure that the best deals are booked extremely quickly!

Hopefully, there is a pretty simple solution to this problem: do like me and book your hotel as early as possible!

So, my best advice is to take 5 minutes (now) to have a look at the list of travelers’ favorite hotels in Ottawa.

And if you see a good offer, book it!

Most hotels offer free cancellation, so it’s quick, easy, and you will avoid the the inconvenience of finding nothing but mediocre rooms at exorbitant prices.

To check the current best deals for your hotel in Ottawa, simply click on the green button below 😎:

Once you’ve booked your hotel, it will be time to continue reading this guide and find out more about the best things to do in Ottawa!

Jacques-Cartier Park
Jacques-Cartier Park

7. For an offbeat tour of the city: the haunted walk of Ottawa

To experience Ottawa in a unique way, I’ve got a real gem for you: a guided ghost-themed tour!

There are several variations, each one unfolding in a different city building. You get to explore an old prison, which has been the stage for several criminals’ executions, or the Bytown Museum, Ottawa’s oldest building.

Zombie fans, don’t feel left out! There’s a tour that will lead you through underground tunnels swarming with the undead. Just make sure you aren’t bitten on your way out!

The tours last around 90 minutes and cost about twenty dollars.

You can book in advance by simply clicking on the button below:


the haunted walk
The haunted walk

8. Ottawa from above

If you’re wondering what to do in Ottawa, I’ve dug up two more incredibly fun activities to give you a bit of altitude and see the city from a whole new perspective!

Kick off with a 40 km/h urban zip line ride standing 35 meters high. Fun fact: the zip line allows you to cross from Ottawa to Gatineau, soaring over the Ottawa River.

Plus, you get to take home a video of your thrilling descent!

To book a zip line ride in Ottawa, just click on the button below:

To step it up a notch and marvel at a breathtaking view of Ottawa and the surrounding area, I’d highly recommend going for a helicopter ride.

You can book this exciting activity in Ottawa by clicking right here:

9. Dow’s Lake

Dow’s Lake, tucked right at the heart of Ottawa, It’s a stunning spot for a stroll and a perfect retreat for a relaxing moment away from the city’s hustle and bustle.

In summer, Dow’s Lake becomes quite a hotspot because it offers a variety of water activities. You can rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and paddleboats there.

Come winter, it’s all about renting skates, snowshoes, and sleds.

You’ll also have the chance to take a lunch break at one of the lake’s three restaurants.

Dow's Lake
Dow’s Lake

10. Festivals in Ottawa

During your trip to Ottawa, odds are you’ll stumble upon one of the many festivals organized in the city across all seasons.

Here’s a list of Ottawa’s must-attend festivals:

  • The Snow Ball spans three weekends in February and offers various activities like skating, sliding, dog sledding — most of which are free. It’s famous for its international ice sculpture competition. The activities are spread throughout the city: Confederation Park, Rideau Canal, Byward Market, in museums, and more.
  • The Canadian Tulip Festival, the world’s largest of its kind, happens every year in May. You’ll get to marvel at over a million blooming tulips. A festival of colors in the great outdoors.
  • The Dragon Boat Festival, the largest of its kind in North America. It’s a boat race with over 200 teams and it takes place every year at the end of June.
  • Bluesfest is held annually in July over a span of 10 days. This music festival has seen big-name performers like Sting, Pink or Bob Dylan. Five stages are set up along the river and inside the Canadian War Museum.
  • The Jazz Festival showcases the most renowned jazz artists. It takes place in June and July at Confederation Park and the National Arts Center.
  • Chamberfest, an international music festival dedicated to chamber music, happens in July and August.
  • The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival just a short drive from Ottawa. A mesmerizing festival that features balloon ascents every morning in early September.
Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival
Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival in Ottawa

Best things to do around Ottawa?

After your city exploration, I suggest you continue your Canadian adventure by exploring the areas around Ottawa.

Here’s my pick of the most beautiful places to visit around Ottawa:

11. Gatineau Park

Gatineau Park is situated just around Ottawa, a mere 15-minute drive from Parliament Hill.

Spanning 36 hectares, it offers over 250 km of trails winding through forests and lakes.

Whether you’re a hiking or biking enthusiast, the park is well-equipped, with trails accessible all year round. In winter, the best way to explore is by cross-country skiing.

In autumn, it dresses up in the magnificent, vibrant colors Canada is known for.

Must-see spots in Gatineau Park:

  • Pink Lake, whose water is actually not pink but rather turquoise green. It’s absolutely lovely!
  • King Mountain, standing tall at 344 meters
  • Champlain Lookout offers the best view of the entire Gatineau Park
  • Luskville Falls, which turns into a massive waterfall during the snowmelt
  • Meech Lake, popular with locals as swimming is allowed
  • Lusk Cave
  • Philippe Lake and its sandy beach, perfect for swimming
  • La Pêche Lake, the largest lake in the park
Gatineau Park
Gatineau Park – Things to do around Ottawa

12. Montreal

Montreal is just a 2-hour drive from Ottawa. It’s the largest city near Ottawa.

Best things to see and do in Montreal

  • Take a walk on the Plateau Mont-Royal to admire its traditional houses
  • Climb up to Mount Royal Park and the lookout
  • Visit the historic district of Old Montreal
  • Stroll along the docks of the Old Port.

Find all the details for visiting Montreal in my dedicated article. You’ll find it here: Best things to do in Montreal!

Montreal by night

13. Mont-Tremblant

Just 1h45 drive from Ottawa, you can reach Mont-Tremblant, regarded as one of the best ski resorts in Quebec.

If you’re traveling to Canada in winter, I’d highly recommend taking advantage of your visit to Mont-Tremblant to go on a snowmobile hike, a signature Canadian activity.

If that sounds good, you’ll find all the details here!

It’s also famous for being one of the most beautiful places in Canada to admire fall colors.

Lastly, in summer you’ll be able to enjoy watersports on the lake or go hiking in the forest.<a0><i1/></a0> The Canadian autumn in Mont-Tremblant

14. Other great activities around Ottawa

If you’ve decided to spend a few days in Ottawa, you can also add more activities to your itinerary.

Don’t hesitate to click on the orange links to access the details and make your reservations:

How many days to visit Ottawa?

A small town that’s easily walkable, you’ll be able to discover Ottawa’s main points of interest in just 1 day.

But if you want to visit a bunch of museums, it could quickly eat up your time. In that case, I’d recommend planning for 2 days.

If you also want to explore Ottawa’s surroundings like Gatineau Park or add more activities, you might want to spend 3 days in Ottawa.

One day in Ottawa

For a day in Ottawa, here’s my itinerary:

2 Days in Ottawa

In 2 days in Ottawa, I suggest following the first day’s itinerary and adding:

And if you’re in the mood to connect with nature, follow the day 3 program and take a trip to Gatineau Park!

3 Days in Ottawa

If you’ve covered the city in the first 2 days and have another day in Ottawa, I recommend using it to head to Gatineau Park.

You’ll be able to go hiking in the great outdoors and enjoy the stunning Canadian landscapes.

For a bit more adrenaline, you could also choose to engage in one or more activities: zip-lining, rafting, snowshoeing…

Where to stay in Ottawa

While Ottawa may be the capital of Canada, it’s still a small city.

So, the selection of accommodations is somewhat limited. You should book a room from my selection in advance and not to dally too long.

  • HI Ottawa Jail Hostel : This youth hostel is housed in a restored old jail. You’ll be sleeping in upgraded cells (I assure you!) Dorm bed from €30, breakfast included. Strong points: the uniqueness of the place, excellent location, and delicious breakfast. A great affordable choice for lodging in Ottawa!
  • The Business Inn: Hotel located 1.3km from Parliament Hill. Well-equipped studio with a kitchen starting from €100 per night, breakfast included. Strong points: prime location, spacious rooms, an in-room computer with printer, and the ability to cook for yourself. My absolute favorite for its unbeatable value for money in Ottawa!
  • Andaz Ottawa Byward Market-a concept by Hyatt: Located in the Byward Market neighborhood. Double room with modern and sleek decor from €190 per night, breakfast included. Strong points: great location, friendly staff, rooftop terrace, and an extensive and varied breakfast buffet.
  • Fairmont Château Laurier: 5-star hotel (the only one in Ottawa) located a 10-minute walk from Parliament Hill. Spacious and comfortable double room from €365 per night, breakfast included. Strong points: high-quality services, room comfort, indoor swimming pool, attentive and helpful staff. The best hotel in Ottawa for a luxury stay!
Colline du Parlement - Ottawa
Parliament Hill – Ottawa

Where to eat in Ottawa

  • Play Food and Wine: Located in the By Market. This restaurant serves dishes made from fresh, quality products sourced from local farmers. A selection of wines is offered to pair with each dish. You can order an array of delectable dishes to share with your companions! Reservation recommended.
  • La Bottega: Located in the Byward Market neighborhood on George Street. This quaint restaurant is situated inside a grocery store that sells Italian goods. You can taste homemade, typical dishes or create your own sandwich from excellent Italian cold cuts and cheeses. The prices are quite reasonable. Perfect for a lunchtime meal.
  • Bâton Rouge: Located on Albert Street, about a 10-minute walk from Parliament Hill. This restaurant is a steakhouse, so I highly recommend it for beef rib, ribs, and hamburger enthusiasts. The quality of the meat is excellent, and the dishes are very generous. Don’t forget to save room for cheesecake for dessert!

How to get to Ottawa

Ottawa is situated between Montreal and Toronto, making it easily accessible from these two major cities. From Montreal:

  • By car: 2-hour and 10-minute ride
  • By bus: 2h30
  • By train: 1h50

From Toronto:

  • By car: 4h30
  • By bus: 5h30
  • By train: 4h

Ottawa also has an international airport, but it’s not directly serviced from France. Direct flights are available from London, for example.

Rideau Canal in Winter
Rideau Canal in Winter

My thoughts on Ottawa

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Ottawa because it’s a city on a human scale where you can easily stroll around on foot and see everything!

The visit to the Canadian Museum of History greatly contributed to making Ottawa a must-see on a road trip in Canada. If there’s one single spot not to miss on the list of things to see in Ottawa, it’s definitely this one!

Tourist map of Ottawa

To help you visualize the city a bit better, I’ve created a tourist map of Ottawa, with all the best things to do and must-see attractions.

You can display the map’s legend by clicking the button with a small arrow located in the top left corner.

So, what are you planning to do in Ottawa?

Book your trip now and save money!

You’re traveling in Canada? These articles will help you!

Discover all my articles about Canada: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Canada are listed there.

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visit Ottawa
visit Ottawa

Creator of the Voyage Tips blog, travel and photography lover. I give you all my best tips to plan your next trip.

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