The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa

Canada’s capital city of Ottawa can often be overlooked when visiting the country. Most travellers set their sights on Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City or Vancouver; however it really is a great destination. It’s walkable and picturesque, with the Gothic-style Parliament Buildings dominating the skyline. Not to mention, its chock full of cultural and historic attractions.

A 4.5 hour drive from Toronto, this makes for a great weekend getaway. To make the most of your 48 hours in this vibrant city, I have some suggestions to share. Here are the 10 best things to do in Ottawa over a weekend.

Visit the Capital City of Ottawa full of historical and scenic attractions | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

Hello Ottawa!

I absolutely love Ottawa. I visited the city annually as a child and into my teens, lived there for four years during University, and within the last decade travelled there several times for business. To me, it always feels like I’m returning home. 

Tour the Parliament Buildings

Ottawa's Parliament Buildings | The 10 Best Things to do in Ottawa |

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.

Ottawa's Parliament Buildings | The 10 Best Things to do in Ottawa |

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. 

Ottawa's Parliament Buildings | The 10 Best Things to do in Ottawa |
Ottawa's Parliament Buildings | The 10 Best Things to do in Ottawa |

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. Visit the Parliament Hill’s official page here to plan your visit.

Ottawa's Parliament Buildings | The 10 Best Things to do in Ottawa |

Stroll Sparks Street

Stroll down Sparks Street | The 10 Best 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 1960’s, the city decided to make it a pedestrian only zone, and it turned into a large outdoor mall full of shops and eateries. It’s also where the city hosts festivals year-round – Poutinefest and Ribfest – just to name a few.

Wander on Elgin Street

Ottawa's Elgin Street | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

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

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa | The 10 Best 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 an 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 which 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. 

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

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 Château Laurier

Stay at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

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. It’s 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.  
The Rideau Canal in Ottawa | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

Hang out at Major's Hill Park

Major Hill Park offers the best views of the city | The 10 Best Things to Do 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. It wasn’t until 1874, when government finally liked the idea of a dedicated park and it was formed.

Major Hill Park offers the best views of the city | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

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 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

Ottawa's Byward Market | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

The historic and wonderfully vibrant ByWard Market houses one of the Canada’s oldest year-round farmer’s 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. 

Ottawa's Byward Market | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

Seek out Clarendon Court, an inner courtyard with secluded cobblestone squares filled with small eateries, 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. 

Colonel By Drive has some of the best architecture | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
Colonel By Drive has some of the best architecture | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |

Visit the 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 Bank of Canada Museum. Lastly, visit North America’s largest art museum at the National Gallery of Canada.

Visit North America’s largest art museum at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
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. 

Public Art | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
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

Ottawa's Notre Dame Basilica | The 10 Best 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. 

Watch a Sunset

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

Perfect for sunset watching at Rideau Falls Park | The 20 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
The sun's warm glow on the Parliament Buildings as seen from Major Hill Park
Sunset watching at Rockcliffe Lookout | The 20 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
Sunset watching at Rockcliffe Lookout point
Sunset at Rideau Falls Park | The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
Sunset watching at Rideau Falls Park
Sunset watching at MacKenzie Papineau Momument on Green Island | The 20 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
Sunset watching at the MacKenzie Papineau Monument on Green Island

As a holidaymaker…

Ottawa is a such a culturally rich city. From its history to its architecture to its museums to its year-round festivals. Despite its size, it offers that small town charm. Especially with some fantastic ethnic neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy. It really does offer something for everyone. It’s a mystery that such a beautiful, walkable city as this is often overlooked.

Hopefully this has inspired your future plans to this amazing capital city. 

The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |
The 10 Best Things to Do in Ottawa |


  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

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