Like every good capital city, Ottawa is a place to learn and explore the history of Canada, but for every government building and cultural attraction, there’s an edgy urban experience and outdoor adventure to be had.
Canada’s Parliament Hill is not only home to the country’s government, it’s also a cultural and community hub, full of unique (and unlikely) things to see and do. For starters, every Wednesday at noon during the summer, hundreds of people flood Parliament Hill with yoga mats in hand, ready to stretch out in front of the iconic buildings during a free yoga class. For something a little less active, take in the Sound and Light show, a visually beautiful, 30-minute story, projected onto the Parliament Buildings themselves. And then there are the more traditional activities. Visit the historic Peace Tower for a 360-degree view of the city and take in the Changing of the Guard, before heading inside for a building tour.
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 25 metres into the air along one side, like a waving hand calling you over. Wander 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 — help tell the stories that made Canada the country it is today.
The Rideau Canal is the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, at more than seven kilometres long, and a year-round destination for outdoor entertainment. During winter, skate along the frozen river, gliding your way through downtown Ottawa. When the ice melts, take a voyageur canoe down those same waters or enjoy them on a relaxing boat cruise. Alternatively, keen your feet on dry land and explore the canal by walking, running or cycling along its banks.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada attracts a lot of attention thanks to a 10-metre spider statue that stands 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. 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 recognise, appreciate, and enjoy.
Canadian Museum of Nature
Are you fascinated by dinosaur fossils, or the diversity of life in our oceans and lakes? Are you curious about how our planet came to be, or how birds, insects, and bears live their lives? The Canadian Museum of Nature takes on the entire natural world in a handful of exhibits that will leave you wondering where the time went. Look up to see the biggest drawcard of all — the entire skeleton of a blue whale, the biggest animal on earth, hanging over your head.
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
We all wonder what it would be like to head into space. At the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, you can take one small step towards answering that question. 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. Once you’ve lived out that childhood dream, the rest of the museum holds 130 different military and civilian aircrafts for you to discover, as a well as a real, full-motion flight simulator. Come and enjoy all things air travel, without having to worry about leg-room.
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 labour. What was once a simple market has turned into a hub of food, shopping, and entertainment. More than 260 stands fill the market, while more than 500 businesses call the surrounding neighbourhood 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 Neighbourhood 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, across the river in Gatineau. One of the country’s oldest museums, dating back to 1856, it is also the most popular, with 1.2 million annual visitors. Why do so many people stop by? The museum’s four million items trace the history of Canada, 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 Aboriginal roots. Make sure you see what travelling exhibits are on display, and swing by the CINÉ+ theatre for a movie.
The National Arts Centre
The National Arts Centre is one of the largest and most popular performing arts venues in Canada, boasting an impressive 600 performances each year. The four stages play host to popular touring shows, international talents, and many of the best performers that Canada has to offer. Whether you’re into dance, theatre or music, you’ll find a show to suit your taste, all year round. Take in a touring ballet, enjoy the house orchestra, or get a taste of home and watch a world-class English theatre performance.
Haunted Walks Ottawa
This is not your typical walking tour. When you go on a Haunted Walk of Ottawa, you’ll put your courage through the wringer and see what comes out the other side. Several unique 90-minute walks lead you to some of the most haunted buildings in the city. These include a jail-turned-hostel that was the site of the last public hanging in Canada, and the historic Fairmont Château Laurier, where people have reported seeing objects randomly move across rooms. Ghost stories, anecdotes from the city’s darker past, and a little bit of history combine for an entertaining night. Follow your tour guide’s lantern, and do your best not to get left behind...