Ottawa is a seasonal city, with festivals and attractions that fit within a certain place in the calendar. Take a look at our recommendations for things to do in Ottawa. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please explore the city and get back to us if you find new and interesting things to do in Ottawa. You can email us at [email protected]
Learn more about Ottawa neighbourhoods, culture, and settlement across our other guides and resources:
- Living in Ottawa
- About Ottawa
- Ottawa neighbourhoods
- Sport and recreation in Ottawa
- New to Ottawa Facebook community
But first, let’s explore a few of the many things to do in Ottawa . . .
One of the main attractions of Ottawa is the Parliament Buildings, which are perched over the Ottawa River. Tours are available in both French and English, and are completely free of charge.
All museums are free of charge on Thursday evenings.
The Bytown Museum puts Ottawa into focus. Located on the Rideau Canal, between Parliament Hill and the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, the museum, which adopted the original name of this city, is housed within the oldest stone building in the capital. The Bytown Museum takes special care to fully understand the building of the Rideau Canal, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The museum also examines how Ottawa transformed from a rowdy lumber town, full of pubs and brawls, into the capital of the country.
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum places the wonder of flight into your hands. Under its hangar-esque roof, the Museum holds approximately 130 military and civilian aircraft — the finest collection in the country and one of the most comprehensive in the world. Uncover the development of the flying machine, its role in conflicts, and its overall significance. Once you’ve learned it all, jump into the Redbird to feel the rush of flying high. The full-motion flight simulator, used to train pilots, will put you in control as you fly around the Ottawa area. And, during the warmer months, hop into the circa 1939 open cockpit biplane for a real-life flight around the capital!
Gorgeous architecture and world renowned exhibitions convene to create Canada’s most visited museum. Located on the banks of the Ottawa River — with a stunning view of Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada, and downtown Ottawa — the Canadian Museum of Civilization provides detailed insight into 20,000 years of human history. Let your eyes wander high into the sky as you take in the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, walk through impressive life-sized recreations of Canadian settlements over the past 1,000 years, and sit back to enjoy an IMAX film. Children are also welcome, with many exhibitions catered towards the younger visitors. The museum is home to the Canadian Children’s Museum, filled with hands-on games and exhibits.
The first thing you’ll notice as you drive toward the Canadian War Museum, on the western edge of downtown Ottawa beside the Ottawa River, is the building itself. Its magnificent design — with its low-lying body that suddenly sweeps upward to create a peak that reaches 80 feet into the air — speaks to the theme of regeneration. Inside you’ll find incredible exhibitions that reveal Canada’s involvement in conflicts from the beginning of time until now. Tanks, artillery, combat gear, art and so many more artifacts and collections, bring an added level of realism to the country’s war history.
Easily recognizable with its 30-foot spider sculpture outside of the building, the National Gallery of Canada is well worth a visit for those with an interest in art. Maman, the sculpture created by Louise Bourgeois, complete with 26 white marble eggs under its belly, welcomes you to the National Gallery of Canada. Once inside, you’ll discover one of the greatest art institutions in the world — home to more than 36,000 works of art, including a large number by the Group of Seven, and strong collections of Indigenous, Asian, and International works. The Gallery hosts special exhibits throughout the year that bring light to a specific topic or discipline, as well as renowned and up-and-coming artists.
In what could be Ottawa’s most famous attraction, the Rideau Canal transforms into the world’s longest skating rink during the winter months. Any visitor to Ottawa during the winter should take the opportunity to practice their skating skills on the icy expanse. The Rideau Canal is free (once you have your own skates) and runs for eight kilometres. You can also buy a beavertail, a coffee or even a poutine on the ice. I encourage anyone looking for things to do in Ottawa to get out on the canal, soak up the friendly atmostphere and take in the awe-inspiring beauty of Canada’s capital.
Winter is where Ottawa comes into its own, and one truly appreciates the city during the colder months. Camp Fortune and Edelweiss, on the Quebec side, are within 30 minutes of the city centre. They provide cheap options to get out on the slopes for the day throughout the winter. Within a few hours’ drive is Mont Tremblant, arguably Eastern Canada’s best-known ski slope, less than two hours from Montreal.
Things to do in Ottawa: social scene
Ottawa is a fun-loving town. Bored for a weekend and looking for things to do in Ottawa? Hit up one of the many excellent pubs, clubs, and restaurants to enjoy the city’s ambiance with the friendly locals. A night out in Ottawa is always a fun one.