Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Canada

The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa

The capital city of Ottawa can often be overlooked when visiting Canada. Most travellers set their sights on Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, or Vancouver. However, with so many top attractions, Ottawa really is a great sightseeing destination. It’s a vibrant, diverse, and walkable city with all the top attractions located in the downtown core. Not to mention how picturesque it is with the Gothic-style Parliament Buildings dominating the skyline. Lastly, it’s a cultural and historic mecca with lots of fun things to see and do. 

From Toronto to Ottawa it’s a 4.5-hour drive making it a great weekend getaway for couples and families. Wondering what to do in Ottawa over a weekend? No worries, I’ve got you covered with these recommended best things to do in Ottawa. (Updated August 2022)

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Hello Ottawa!

I absolutely love Ottawa and feel like a bit of a local. Growing up I would visit the city annually as a child and into my teens. I lived here while in University, and in the last decade traveled often for business. To me, Ottawa always feels like I’m returning home. 

Best Things to Do in Ottawa

Most visit Ottawa during spring, summer, and fall- but if you truly want to experience a quintessential Canadian winter Ottawa is one of the best cities in Canada to visit. Yes, it’s cold, but the warmth of the city and the winter activities will make you forget the frigid temperatures. Check out our Guide on the Best Things to Do in Ottawa in the Winter. 

TOUR THE PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

This is an Ottawa must see place to visit. 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.

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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. 

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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. 

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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. The gardens on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings are also one of the areas where you can see the spring display of the world’s largest Tulip Festival.   

STROLL SPARKS STREET

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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-round – Poutinefest and Ribfest – just to name a few.

WANDER ON ELGIN STREET

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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. 

Lastly, end your stroll with a stop in at The Scone Witch, where their sweet or savory scones are the best I’ve ever had!

WALK THE RIDEAU CANAL

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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, there are 45 operational locks that 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. 

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

Locals and tourists alike 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.

STAY AT THE FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAURIER

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

Known as the city’s castle, this French Renaissance style architecture, with a touch of Gothic Revival style is an attraction in itself. Here are the top 10 reasons why you need to 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.  
  2. It’s where royalty stays. Past guests include 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. 
  4. Get the best night’s sleep of your life. Enjoy the lux bed and bedding making 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. 
  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 Parliament Buildings.
  9. The views. Request Room 324 and treat yourself to double windows with views of the War Memorial, The Parliament Buildings and Rideau Canal.
  10. It’s central location. All of the main attractions are within walking distance.  
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

Search Ottawa hotels here and book your next stay

HANG OUT AT MAJOR'S HILL PARK

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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.

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

Today, Major Hill’s Park remains an integral part of Ottawa 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 for the city’s events and celebrations. In particular the annual Canada Day festivities on July 1st.

EAT, DRINK AND ROAM THE BYWARD MARKET

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

The historic and wonderfully vibrant ByWard Market area houses one of the Canada’s oldest year-round farmers market. It’s a major tourist attraction by day and a popular hot spot at night, but don’t let that deter you from visiting here. 

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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. 

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

VISIT THE MUSEUMS

An interesting thing to do in Ottawa is to visit some of the cities best museums. Ottawa’s newest museum is Canada War Museum that takes you through the country’s role from pre-confederation to 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 royal Canadian mint at the Bank of Canada Museum. Lastly, visit North America’s largest art museum at the National Gallery of Canada.

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
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.

Or why not enjoy the temporary public art that is all around the city. Like this spectacular one called Birds of a Feather. Look for the sign where it tells you about the artist and its story. 

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
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.

GAZE UPON NOTRE DAME BASILICA

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

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. 

WATCH A SUNSET

Anyone else love watching a sunset, especially when on holiday? Well, I’ve got you covered. If you are visiting Ottawa, here are the best places to do just that.

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
The sun's warm glow on the Parliament Buildings as seen from Major Hill Park
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Sunset watching at Rockcliffe Lookout point
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Sunset watching at Rideau Falls Park
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Sunset watching at the MacKenzie Papineau Monument on Green Island

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. 

If you are looking for something to do that is a bit more off the beaten path, why not allow Guess Where Trips to plan your next curated day trip while in Ottawa? Read about my experience at Ultimate Day Trips in Ontario with Guess Where Trips.

Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.
Wondering what to see and do in Ottawa? This list features the 10 best things to do in Ottawa. This fun, family friendly city is full of interesting things to do from festivals to museums to learning about Canada's history.

Disclosure:  As an Affiliate Associate of Booking.com if you click on the link contained in this post, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to book. 

38 Comments

  • Krista

    I love going to the market whenever I’m in Ottawa – great part of the city to explore. The Parliament Buildings are also a must for any visitor. Great tips!

  • Natascha

    We are hoping to visit Canada next summer, not sure yet about the route. Ottawa looks very peaceful, not like a very big city. I would like to see the Rideau canal for sure. Nice that they have a mamon sculpture too – I have seen “mamon” in Tokyo, Paris and Doha.

  • Megan

    The Byward Market looks so fun to walk through and around. Though those parliament buildings are calling my heart. I love the architecture and would love to see what’s considered The Most Beautiful Room!

  • Angela Price

    I know nothing about Canada having never been there but what I am picking up from your lovely posts is that it is that there are so many different styles of architecture around the country. Ottawa reminds me of buildings I have seen in Europe such as Pena Palace in Portugal and fairytale castles in France, interspersed with a cafe scene from Paris!! It is lovely.

  • Danik the Explorer

    I was only in Ottawa for one day and one night and looks like I actually missed out on a lot. All I remember from my trip (10 years ago now…where has the time gone?) was walking around the grounds of the Parliament (and seeing an amazing light show on the building….it was during the summer) and going into a McDonalds. I remember seeing a river but that was all. I think the next time I am in ON I need to spend a little bit more time here.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, you definitely need to! Especially as you love to travel in Canada, spending time in the nation’s capital is a must! Thanks for stopping by Danik.

  • Sarah

    Ottowa looks fantastic! Looks like I’d need to visit for quite a few days in order to visit all those sunset spots!

    I also want to visit the Scone Witch because that’s a fantastic name and I adore scones.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks Sarah for your comment. You won’t be disappointed if you were to visit this great city.

  • Kevin

    Very cool post! You are right, most travelers do overlook Ottawa, but lesser-known capital cities always intrigue me (others that come to mind include Canberra and Brasilia). It’s good to know that Ottawa can be seen in just a weekend, and I absolutely love the parliament building. The architecture is so different from what you’d see on Capitol Hill in the US!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Kevin for stopping by and commenting. It sounds like this city has piqued your interest, now I only hope you might be able to visit it one day!

  • Umiko

    You got me with the canal. I imagine people kayaking in the summer and ice skating along it in the winter. It will be a beautiful sight to watch and record through the lenses. And of course the giant spider. I wanted to go there since the first time I saw a picture of it.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your kind comment. Glad it inspired you. Hopefully you will be able to visit one day.

  • Gus Feliciano

    Have to say Ottawa was definitely not on my list of places to visit in Canada but I think you changed my mind!

    I love history and those Parliament buildings look amazing!

  • Indrani

    The Parliament building has an amazing facade and architecture. Really keen to see the Senate, the House of Commons there. Stroll through Elgin Street and by Rideau Canal sounds like a great experience. Yet another must see for me would be Louise Bourgeois’s bronze spider sculpture. Hope I can get there some day.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment Indrani! It sounds like this city appeals to you! How fantastic! Hopefully you will get to see it one day.

  • Emma

    I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Ottawa. I thought it might be just another capital but it had charm. I stayed at the Fairmont so had the wonderful canal views from my room and it was fabulous. I even walked over the river to Quebec which was cool. I’d love to go back and check out some other things on your list though. I just enjoyed exploring and walking around

  • Riana Ang-Canning

    Oh wow, you are making the Ottawa of my childhood look so much cooler than I remember! I grew up in Toronto and visited Ottawa a few times with school – I remember loving the Aviation Museum. And, of course, getting a beaver tail! I’ve also skated on the Rideau Canal a few times and it’s awesome. But I totally don’t remember all the beautiful architecture – gotta get back for another visit!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes Riana, Ottawa has evolved, and it’s amazing how our perspectives change as we age. It’s such a great city- full of young people, so it has a certain vibe and energy to it. Time for a revisit!

  • Brooklyn

    I went to the University of Ottawa, and agree with all of these suggestions! I miss the liveliness of the Byward Market, and the beauty of the Rideau Canal ♡

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I went to the rival university!!!! No matter how much time passes, when I return it’s like going home.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    I used to live in Ottawa and we have been back to visit several times. We always seem to find something new to see and do. We loved renting bikes to explore the Rideau Canal. And of course, skating when it was frozen in the winter. I would love to stay at the Chateau Laurier one day. I am sure the inside is beautiful. Love the idea of catching a sunset from the water. Must be time for us to head back for another visit.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I used to live there too! Thanks Linda for your comment. You are right there is something always new to explore.

  • Rob + Ann @TravelLatte

    We have to admit, we would have fallen into the category of people visiting Vancouver or Montreal, and skipping right past Ottawa. But now, we want to head right to the Capital and spend some time getting to know this beautiful city! That architecture – wow! Yep, we’re sold. Hopefully, Ottawa, we’ll see you soon! 🙂

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks for your comment! I so glad you have been convinced to go! It really is a fantastic city!

  • samantha karen

    I studied for four years in Ottawa for my bachelor’s degree and loved living in Ottawa for that time! This post covers some of my favourite things to do in the city – especially roaming the byward market, so many memories.

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