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 isn’t just home to the country’s government; it’s also a cultural and community hub whose activities are hosted in an 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 leggings 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.
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.
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. Over 175 stands fill the market, while more than 600 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 also happens to be the most-visited in Canada, with more than 1.2 million annual visitors. So why do so many people stop by? The museum’s three 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 Indigenous roots. Make sure you see what travelling exhibits are on display, and swing by the CINÉ+ theatre 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 flavourful creations that will have you drooling. You can enjoy gourmet tours to discover different neighbourhoods while enjoying tastings, experience the many local breweries, or try the best restaurants of the multicultural capital.
Canadian Museum of Nature
Would you like to spend an afternoon looking at dinosaur fossils? Or take a few hours to learn about the diversity of life in our oceans and lakes? Are you curious about how birds, insects, 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 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 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.
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.