12 must-do things to do in Ottawa

Colline du Parlement, Ottawa

Flying to Ottawa? Before you pack your bags, check out our selection of must-dos in Canada’s capital!

It’s easy to forget that Canada is more than just Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto. Canada is also its capital, Ottawa, an incredible city that offers real diversity and a unique blend of tourism, culture, quality of life and natural beauty. But not everyone is familiar with this city, and if you’d like to visit Ottawa, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do and see in Ottawa. Here’s what you don’t want to miss:

1. The Canadian Museum of Civilization (or Canadian Museum of History)

musée canadien des Civilisations, et de l'Histoire, Ottawa

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Wladyslaw

Located on the banks of the Ottawa River in Gatineau (not Ottawa), opposite Parliament Hill, the Canadian Museum of Civilization is a magnificent place that tells the story of the diverse achievements of all Canadian cultures. In particular, it is home to the largest number of totem poles in the world. To discover the achievements of the first Aboriginal peoples, the First Peoples Hall is the place to go. Allow at least 3 hours for your visit, there’s so much to see and discover!

2. The ByWard Market (historic ByWard Market)

Marché ByWard, Market, Ottawa

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Trappy

Founded in 1826, this is surely the oldest and largest public market in Canada. Today, it’s one of the city’s must-see attractions. Located on Parliament Hill, it’s the ideal place to shop – or « store », as we say on the other side of the Atlantic. Whether you’re looking for fresh produce and handicrafts, a bite to eat, a drink with friends or nightlife with its great restaurants and trendy clubs, ByWard Market is the place to be. Take a seat on one of the terraces, sip a drink and watch the constant hubbub and buzz of the ByWard Market!

3. Rideau Canal

Canal Rideau, Ottawa

Photo credit: Flickr – abdallahh

Between the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, the Rideau Canal is a famous historic site that provides a safe passage between the two shores. It’s a UNECO World Heritage Site, so why not come in winter and skate for free on the world’s largest skating rink? And for those who come to discover Ottawa during the summer season, it’s possible to board a cruise ship or rent a pedal boat or canoe. It’s worth noting that the banks of the canal are very pleasant, and a short bike ride will show you some of Ottawa’s lesser-known facets.

4. Gatineau Park

Parc de la Gatineau, Ottawa

Photo credit: Flickr – cjuneau

Gatineau Park is located just a few minutes from Parliament Hill, on the other side of the Ottawa River. It’s a little-known park for tourists, compared to more well-known sites like Mont Tremblant or Mauricie. This park is simply 361 km² of wilderness, between forest and lake. For biology enthusiasts, for those who love to discover flora and fauna, Gatineau Park offers an incredible variety of specimens. In summer, it’s the perfect place for a picnic, a bike ride or a hike, and in winter, the park becomes the perfect terrain for cross-country skiers. And don’t forget to come and see us in late September, when the shimmering colors of autumn come to life!

5. The different parks

Parc Major's Hill, Ottawa

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Mike Babiarz

Speaking of parks, Ottawa is brimming with little nuggets of greenery and nature: apart from Parliament Hill, the city has other parks like Major’s Hill, home to the Franco-Ontarian Festival, a fairly shady park where it’s not uncommon to come across squirrels or marmots. Jacques-Cartier Park, near the National Gallery of Canada, is a must-see in winter, especially for its snow sculptures. There’s also Confederation Park, a little further along Elgin Street in the center of the city: here you’ll find a fountain from Trafalgar Square, donated by the United Kingdom. Legend has it that this fountain is haunted…

6. Festivals

Festival des montgolfières de Gatineau, Ottawa

Photo credit: Flickr – InOttawa.ca

Ottawa, like all of Canada, is packed with festivals of all kinds. First, there’s Winterlude, an event that takes place near the Rideau Canal, where you can skate, admire fantastic ice sculptures or… eat beaver tails (a Canadian pastry that resembles a waffle). Afterwards, you can attend the Ottawa International Jazz Festival: world-renowned for its quality, this festival is one of the city’s major events, where all the big names in today’s jazz come to offer unforgettable performances. Another not-to-be-missed festival is the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival: this breathtaking spectacle will delight young and old alike, with its many eccentric hot-air balloons and enchanting atmosphere.

7. Dow’s Lake

Dow's Lake, Ottawa

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Lezumbalaberenjena

Not far from downtown Ottawa, Dow’s lake is the perfect place to relax, refresh and forget the incessant buzz of the city: some come here to rollerblade, others to run, read, draw or simply relax. Stay until sunset to enjoy the magnificent colors!

8. Parliament Hill

Colline du Parlement, Ottawa

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Wladyslaw [Disk.]

As you can imagine, Parliament Hill is the centerpiece of Ottawa’s skyline. The beautiful Gothic-style structures of the Parliament Buildings overlook the Ottawa River, exactly where parliamentarians and politicians debate the country’s future. Take advantage of a free guided tour every day, during which you’ll be able to enjoy an incredible view of the city from the Peace Tower.

9. Library and Archives Canada

Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, Ottawa

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Padraic Ryan

Maybe not Ottawa’s most touristy spot, but it’s certainly a mine of information for archives enthusiasts and professionals alike. Possibility of participating in temporary exhibitions. A truly unusual and rewarding place.

10. Museums

Musée de l'aviation et de l'espace, Ottawa

Photo credit: Flickr – Richard Gould

Ottawa, as Canada’s capital, is brimming with cultural attractions, and the city’s museums are certainly among them. There are several museums, including the Aviation and Space Museum, the Canadian War Museum (dedicated to exhibiting the country’s military history), the Canadian Museum of Nature and the National Gallery of Canada, which boasts one of the largest collections of Canadian art.

11. Nepean Point and the Astrolabe theater

La pointe Nepean et le théâtre de l'Astrolabe, Ottawa

Photo credit: Flickr – Shawn Nystrand

It’s an open-air theater offering a fantastic view of the whole city. Here you’ll discover the open-air theater, its amphitheater and the statue of Champlain (the father of New France).

12. The culinary scene

Syrop d'érable, restaurant, Ottawa

Photo credit: Flickr – Jamie McCaffrey

Ottawa’s culinary scene has come alive in recent years, with a thriving community of Ottawa chefs and restaurants making a name for themselves locally and abroad. Ottawa restaurants are wonderfully diverse. Do you prefer French, Italian, Chinese or seafood? Or maybe you’re in the mood for something a little more unique and exotic? You’ll find it all. There aren’t many culinary specialties in Ontario, but Ottawa is known for the culinary diversity of its many restaurants.

Ottawa : How to get there? Where to stay?

Ottawa is located between Montreal and Toronto, making it easy to reach by train or bus from these cities, as well as from many other Canadian and even American cities. If you’re traveling directly from France or the rest of Europe, flying is of course the best option, as Ottawa has an international airport close to the city. To find cheap flights to Ottawa for your travel dates, use the Skyscanner flight comparison service.

Ottawa isn’t a huge city, and there aren’t many hotels to choose from, but there are plenty of neighborhoods to suit all tastes. To find a cheap hotel in Ottawa, use our hotel comparison service.

Map of hotels and accommodations – Ottawa,ca