Top 10 Things to Do in Ottawa Canada

I’m not sure why, but Canada’s capital city of Ottawa can often be overlooked. Most travellers set their sights on Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, or Vancouver.

However, with so many amazing things to do in Ottawa, it is a great sightseeing destination.

It’s a vibrant, diverse, and walkable city with all the Ottawa attractions located in the downtown core. Not to mention how picturesque it is with the Gothic-style Parliament Buildings dominating the skyline. There’s no doubt about it, Ottawa Ontario is a cultural and historic mecca.

Now, I might be biased. I love Ottawa. I lived in Ottawa. It’s one of my favourite cities. To me, Ottawa always feels like I’m returning home. So, come home with me – let’s explore these amazing Ottawa things to do.

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Fun Things to Do Ottawa: Top-Rated Tours

Before we jump right into what to do in Ottawa, I can’t think of a better way to get to know Ottawa than some of these popular tours that visitors to Canada’s coolest capital city love.

#1 Top Pick
parliament building as one of the best things to do in Ottawa

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Amphibious Bus

✅ See Ottawa by land and from the water

✅ Unique amphibious vehicle

✅ 1-hour tour

#2 Pick
canal with cloud reflection on canal with ottawa top attractions

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Rideau Canal Cruise

✅ Cruise down Rideau Canal

✅ Hear about Ottawa’s history

✅ 1.5-hour tour

#3 Pick
river with trees as ottawa attractions

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ottawa River Cruise

✅ Sightseeing Cruise on the Ottawa River

✅ Hear about Ottawa’s history

✅ 1.5-hour tour

10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa

1. Tour the Parliament Buildings

clock tower and parliament building as one of the things to do in ottawa

Of all the places to visit – the Parliament Buildings are an Ottawa must see! Overlooking the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill consists of three buildings: the East, the West, and the Centre Blocks. This is where representatives from across Canada gather to make laws that affect every single Canadian.

Take a self-guided tour of the exterior. Wander the grounds to take in the amazing Gothic architecture. The buildings were built between 1859 and 1927 and the details are impressive – the soaring columns, spires, stained glass windows, and peaked arches. At the back of the buildings, you will have river views straight across to the province of Quebec. 

The guided tour of the interior will take you to the Senate, the House of Commons, and what is notably known as, the most beautiful room in Canada, the Parliament Library

On July 1st Canada Day birthday celebrations are held on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. This is Canada’s biggest celebration featuring live entertainment and fireworks, and it’s free!

Another showstopper festival on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings is the spring display of the world’s largest Tulip Festival. Dates for 2024 are May 10 to 24 for this free event.

2. Stroll Sparks Street

restaurant on street with table and chairs as one of the things to do in ottawa

This historic street is chock full of 19th buildings. It became where parliamentarians would live and work and where commercial banks and businesses set up their offices in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

It was named after Nicholas Sparks, a farmer from Ireland, who purchased this land unseen. He ploughed a path through this barren landscape which allowed for the development of Ottawa to begin.

In the 1960s, the city decided to make it a pedestrian-only zone, and it turned into a large outdoor mall full of shops and restaurants.

It’s also where the city hosts festivals year-roundOttawa Poutinefest (May 3-5, 2024) and Ottawa Ribfest (2024 dates not announced) – just to name a few.

3. Wander on Elgin Street

building on square as top ottawa attractions

Take a stroll down Elgin Street full of historical monuments and amazing architecture. At the top of the street is the National War Memorial originally built to commemorate Canada’s sacrifice in the First World War (1914–18). It now honours all who have served Canada in wartime.

Just beyond you will come across the Central Chambers National Historical Site, built in 1890 with its striking red brick in Queen Anne Revival style. A little further down, you will come across the Lord Elgin Hotel built in 1941. It’s a modern adaptation of the French Chateau architectural style.

Across the street sits Confederation Park, a small but lovely park with fountains and statues. End your stroll with my recommended stop at The Scone Witch, where their sweet or savoury scones are the best I’ve ever had!

4. Walk the Rideau Canal

canal with trees and building at things to do in ottawa

The Rideau Canal is the waterway that connects Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. At 202km in length, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic significance. Opened in 1832, it is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America.

Along the canal, 45 operational locks function from May to October. Valves open letting the water out of the lock, and as the water drains, the boat floats down. When the water in the lock matches the water level of the downstream water, the gates open and the boat moves out and follows down the canal. It’s one of the Ottawa tourist attractions worth watching.

Locals enjoy the canal all year long. Whether it’s out for a stroll, run, or cycle along the paths. Kayaking down it in the summer or ice skating along it in the winter it is always full of people enjoying the city.

5. Stay at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier

bridge with chateau  as top ottawa attractions

Known as the city’s castle, this French Renaissance-style architecture, with a touch of Gothic Revival style is an attraction in itself. It’s more than just a place to stay, it’s actually the keeper of many Ottawa what to do find out all the things you can do here.

Here are the top 10 reasons why I think you should stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier.

  1. The hotel is pet-friendly. Any chance to travel with my dog will always be top of my list. (Bonus: that the hotel staff loved him up)
  2. It’s where royalty stays. Past guests include the late Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, King George IV, and Nelson Mandela to name a few.
  3. Enjoy an afternoon tea service in their exquisite Jasper Team room. I adore high tea, and if you do too, this is a must!
  4. Get the best night’s sleep of your life. The luxe bed and bedding make it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
  5. See all of the exquisite design details of the hotel’s interiors, like the Tiffany stained glass windows, Belgian marble floors, conical turrets and elaborate staircases.
  6. Savour a delicious meal at Wilfred’s fine dining restaurant. Reservations are a must especially come patio season as this restaurant is sought after for its late-night dining with a sunset view.
  7.  Enjoy the spacious rooms. Or even better, upgrade to a King Suite and you get double the space – including two full bathrooms, two separate closet spaces, and two separate views. 
  8. Land yourself on the best outdoor patio at La Terrasse – a secluded terrace with scenic views of the Parliament Buildings.
  9. The views. Request my room #324 and treat yourself to double windows with views of the War Memorial, The Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal.
  10. It’s a central location. All of the main attractions are within walking distance.  

6. Hang Out at Major’s Hill Park

park with gardens and parliament buildings in ottawa

Take a stroll through the capital city’s very first park. What was supposed to be the site for the Governor General’s residence (our country’s representative of the Queen or King of England), locals petitioned hard to designate it as a public park unsuccessfully for decades.

It was even the site for a huge party and bonfire to welcome the birth of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. Not until 1874, was when the government finally liked the idea of a dedicated park and it was formed.

park with chateau in ottawa attractions

Today, Major Hill’s Park remains an integral part of Ottawa’s life. It offers a beautiful and quiet space for locals and tourists alike to visit. It’s a popular hang-out spot for families and continues to be the focus of the city’s events and celebrations.

7. Eat, Drink and Roam the Byward Market

restaurant with lights strung trees in best things to do in ottawa

One of the city’s top attractions is the historic and wonderfully vibrant ByWard Market area which houses one of Canada’s oldest year-round farmers markets. It’s a major tourist attraction by day and a popular hot spot at night. That makes this one of the fun things to do in Ottawa for young adults.

table and chairs with red umbrella on terrace for things to do in ottawa

Seek out the cool vibes at Clarendon Court, an inner courtyard with secluded cobblestone squares filled with small restaurants, coffee shops, and galleries. Some of my favourites are Oz Café, Sidedoor, and Planet Coffee.

Stroll along Colonel By Drive for some of the best architecture and shops. This is my favourite area of the city, as it’s tucked away and often missed by tourists.

Another great way to explore ByWard Market is through its food! Come hungry as you’re going to want to sample as many sweet and savoury restaurants as you can!

This is where you’ll find the famous Beaver Tails – a deep-fried pastry sprinkled with your favourite toppings (yes, it’s shaped like a Beaver’s tail).

Take the Byward Market 2.5-hour Food Tour which includes 6 fun food stops

8. Visit the Museums

outdoor sculpture of spider in front of museum in ottawa attractions
Louise Bourgeois’s bronze spider sculpture called Maman is 9 meters high and 10 meters wide (or 30 feet by 33 feet). It is installed on the square just outside of the National Gallery of Canada.

An interesting thing to do in Ottawa is to visit some of the city’s best museums.

  • The Canada War Museum takes you through the country’s role from pre-confederation to the present day.
  • Have an interest in flying, then a stop at the Canadian Aviation Museum is a must.
  • A surprisingly fascinating and interactive experience all about money and the economy can be found at the Royal Canadian Mint at the Bank of Canada Museum.
  • A popular museum for families is the Canadian Museum of Nature where you can discover natural history and sciences all rolled into one.
  • Visit North America’s largest art museum at the National Gallery of Canada.
  • A must-see in Ottawa is actually across the bridge in Gatineau Quebec – the Canadian Museum of History. Set in a cool architectural building with scenic views of the Ottawa River and the Parliament buildings while learning about the 15,000-year Canadian history honouring indigenous peoples.
staircase with mural in ottawa top attractions
Birds of a Feather aims to question the quality of what brings us together. Presenting three iconic Canada geese in multiple colours, amid a stream of plants, flowers and growth, this artwork invites us to think about how we “flock together” despite our differences and how we can celebrate Canada’s singular plurality.

Find some public art dotted around the city. One of the top things to see in Ottawa is my fave, called Birds of a Feather.

9. Gaze upon Notre Dame Basilica

church with tall spires in things to do in ottawa

Visit Ottawa’s oldest and largest church completed in 1846. It offers dual-language services in English and French.

The cathedral is open for self-led and guided tours, as well as, hosting concerts throughout the year. It’s situated right across the street from the National Gallery of Canada and is a beautiful cathedral to see. 

10. Watch a Sunset as a Top Ottawa What to See Experience

Does anyone else love watching a sunset, especially when on holiday?

Well, I’ve got you covered. Where to go in Ottawa for the best views:

  • Rockcliffe Lookout Point
  • Rideau Falls Park
  • MacKenzie Papineau Monument on Green Island
  • Major Hill Park

Cool Things to Do in Ottawa: By Getting Around

sign in colours spelling out ottawa a top attraction

Fortunately, Ottawa is a very walkable city. Once you arrive here (by car, train or plane) you can park your car and walk to all these amazing sites.

But to add to your experience, there are plenty of options to see and experience the best of Ottawa.

  • Private Walking Tour: get to know Ottawa through the eyes of a local guide on a 2, 3 or 4-hour private tour that takes you to Ottawa’s top attractions and hidden gems.
  • Bike Tour: join a biking tour of 2-3 hours visiting all of the top sites.
  • By Hop on-Hop off Bus: use the ease of the popular hop-on-hop-off bus to quickly get around the city to see all the top sites.
  • By Helicopter: see the city from up above and take in stunning aerial views of the Ottawa River, the city of Gatineau, and many other incredible landmarks on a scenic private helicopter experience.

FAQ About Places to Visit in Ottawa

What are top things to do in Ottawa at night?

There are plenty of exciting things to do at night in Ottawa. Take a stroll along the scenic Rideau Canal or join a haunted night walking tour.
Watch a live performance at the National Arts Centre, or check out the trendy bars and restaurants in the vibrant ByWard Market neighbourhood.

What are the unique things to do in Ottawa?

There are several unique things to do in Ottawa, such as taking a zip line over the Ottawa River, visiting the Diefenbunker, a Cold War-era underground bunker designed to protect Canadian government officials in the event of a nuclear attack, and touring the old Carleton County Jail, one of the most haunted buildings in North America.

How many days is good for Ottawa?

Ottawa makes for a great weekend holiday where in 3 days you can visit popular landmarks such as Parliament Hill, the Canadian Museum of History, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Spend a week and you can explore some of the city’s best neighbourhoods, parks, and restaurants.

When is the best time to visit Ottawa?

The best time to visit Ottawa is all year round! The popular times to visit are during the summer months, from late June to early September when the weather is warm, the fall months of September and October when the stunning autumn foliage is at its peak and the winter months for its winter sports and fun activities, such as skating on the Rideau Canal.
Lastly, it is in February for its annual Winterlude Festival and May for its annual Tulip Festival. There is no bad time to visit Ottawa!

As a Holidaymaker

The culturally rich city of Ottawa is such a fun, family-friendly destination. From its top attractions all year long this list highlights the best of things to do. Despite being a large city, it has a small-town feel.

Especially within some of the amazing ethnic neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy. There are so many interesting things to see and do but this top 10 list was focused on the must-do when in Ottawa. 

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