Once a modest lumber town, Ottawa was somewhat controversially designated as the capital of Canada by Queen Victoria as far back as 1857. Since then, it has evolved into the country’s fourth-largest city, boasting a multitude of world-class museums, tourist attractions, and captivating National Historic Sites to explore.
Nestled at the confluence of the Ottawa, Rideau, and Gatineau rivers, it is situated in the southeastern part of Canada, bordering Quebec. Activities in Ottawa encompass visits to significant institutions such as the Canadian Parliament and Supreme Court, along with the exploration of the city’s splendid buildings and charming architecture.
Furthermore, numerous parks and green spaces are scattered throughout the city, while the remarkable Rideau Canal, which traverses the heart of the capital, offers an array of outdoor activities and scenic boat cruises.
1. Parliament Hill
Serving as the official residence for both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada, the grand Rideau Hall is located just a ten-minute drive north of downtown. The immense mansion boasts a total of 175 rooms that can be explored, and its grounds are open to the public for tours year-round.
Constructed in the 1830s, with subsequent governors adding increasingly grand features, Rideau Hall showcases delightful Regency-style architecture, characterized by expansive wings flanking its main facade.
Inside the vast Rideau Hall, opulent furnishings and period pieces adorn its ballrooms, staterooms, and private quarters. In addition to learning about its status as a National Historic Site, visitors can take leisurely strolls through its gardens, which feature a variety of uniquely Canadian landscapes.
2. Rideau Canal
Running directly through the heart of the city is the remarkable Rideau Canal, which links Ottawa to Lake Ontario, a distance of about 200 kilometers. This canal is one of the standout attractions in the capital, offering picturesque paths for walking, running, or cycling. In the summer, visitors can enjoy sightseeing cruises, while in the winter, ice skating is particularly popular when the water freezes.
Originally constructed between 1826 and 1832, the charming canal served the essential purpose of securing supply and communication routes in the event of a conflict with the United States. This National Historic Site features numerous scenic parks, lakes, and towns along the way, in addition to the spectacular Ottawa Locks within the city that are worth exploring.
3. Canadian War Museum
Situated not far from downtown on the banks of the Ottawa River, the Canadian War Museum serves as both a museum and a memorial commemorating the country’s military history. Housed within its strikingly modern building are numerous excellent exhibits that provide insights into Canada’s contributions to World War I, World War II, and many other conflicts.
Established in 1942, the museum’s extensive collection of over three million items encompasses a wide range of artifacts, including uniforms, weapons, tanks, planes, and even a replica of a WWI trench. These items are accompanied by informative displays, photographs, and short film clips. Additionally, the museum features a poignant Memorial Hall for visitors to pay their respects and a Regeneration Hall that aptly overlooks the Peace Tower.
4. Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Located just a fifteen-minute drive to the northeast of the city center, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum boasts an extensive collection of aircraft and artifacts. Its comprehensive exhibits offer an opportunity to delve into the history and development of aviation in Canada, as well as the country’s notable achievements in space exploration.
Established in 1964 on the premises of the former Rockcliffe Airport, a military base, the museum’s vast hangar is home to over 130 civilian and military aircraft. Among the exhibits are seaplanes and the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s Canadarm, along with a plethora of vintage bush planes dating from the 1920s to the 1940s. In addition to exploring the museum’s interactive displays, visitors can experience its flight simulator or even arrange a sightseeing flight over Ottawa during the summer.
5. National Gallery of Canada
Situated on the banks of the Ottawa River, overlooking Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada is one of the largest art museums in North America. While its captivating collection is a delight to explore, the stunning glass building that houses it is a captivating sight in itself, designed to resemble a cathedral.
Within, the architectural marvel is as impressive as its galleries, which are brimming with magnificent photographs, paintings, and sculptures by both Canadian and international artists. In addition to renowned names such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Picasso, the gallery also features exquisite artworks created by the indigenous peoples of Canada. One of its most famous works is the striking spider sculpture “Maman,” prominently displayed just in front of the museum’s entrance.
6. Royal Canadian Mint
A short walk to the north of the National War Memorial leads to the Royal Canadian Mint, which was responsible for producing much of the country’s coinage until 1969. Today, as a National Historic Site, the mint focuses on crafting collector and commemorative coins, as well as medals, medallions, and gold bullion bars and coins.
The headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mint are now situated within a historic Tudor-Gothic style building that resembles a castle, complete with two turrets at its entrance. Visitors can partake in guided tours of the facility to observe the coin design and production process, learn about the mint’s history, and even hold a solid gold bar. Additionally, there is a shop where you can purchase gifts and souvenirs to commemorate your visit.
7. National War Memorial
The centerpiece of Confederation Square in the capital, the National War Memorial is located just a short distance from Parliament Hill and many of the city’s other prominent attractions. Originally erected in 1939 to honor the Canadians who lost their lives during World War I, this poignant memorial has since been rededicated to commemorate all Canadians who perished in all conflicts, both past and future.
Soaring to a height of 21 meters, the granite arch is adorned with striking sculptures representing various branches of the Canadian forces. These bronze figures symbolically emerge from the arch, marking the transition from war to peace and liberty. At the base of the memorial lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with ceremonial sentries who perform the Changing of the Guard every hour.
7. Supreme Court of Canada
Perched on a high bluff overlooking the Ottawa River, the Supreme Court of Canada is located right next to the city center. Serving as the highest court in the country, it was constructed between 1939 and 1945, with the honor of laying the first cornerstone going to Queen Elizabeth herself.
Thanks to its remarkable Art Deco architecture and its proximity to Parliament Hill, the court is a popular destination for visitors, offering tours that take you through its interior. While the Grand Entrance Hall is undoubtedly a standout attraction, exploring the courtrooms where trials are held and learning about the building’s history is also fascinating. Outside, you will find superb statues of notable Canadian figures and have the opportunity to capture excellent photographs of the court and its chateau-like roof.
9. Canadian Museum of Nature
The Canadian Museum of Nature boasts one of the world’s most exceptional natural history collections, housing an astonishing collection of more than fifteen million specimens. Situated just a short walk to the south of the city center, its captivating artifacts and exhibits delve into the Earth’s history spanning over four billion years.
Originally established in 1856 in Montreal, the expansive museum now resides within a splendid Tudor-Gothic Revival-style building, itself designated as a National Historic Site. Inside, you can explore a wide range of displays, from dioramas and exhibitions on mammals and minerals to dinosaur fossils and the complete skeleton of a massive blue whale. In addition to its galleries on geology and exhibitions on Canada’s landscapes and wildlife, the museum also features artwork and films related to natural history.
10. Rideau Hall
The majestic Rideau Hall, serving as the official residence of both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada, is located just a ten-minute drive to the north of downtown. This vast mansion offers a total of 175 rooms for exploration within its elegant premises, and its grounds are open to the public for tours throughout the year.
Originally constructed in the 1830s, with subsequent governors adding increasingly grand elements, it showcases delightful Regency-style architecture with imposing wings flanking its main facade.
Inside the expansive Rideau Hall, visitors will encounter sumptuously decorated spaces, adorned with fine furnishings and period pieces, gracing its ballrooms, staterooms, and private apartments. In addition to learning about its status as a National Historic Site, guests can delight in leisurely strolls through its gardens, which feature a variety of uniquely Canadian landscapes.
11. Bank of Canada Museum
Another one of Ottawa’s top attractions to have recently undergone renovations, the Bank of Canada Museum offers an engaging experience for history and finance enthusiasts. Situated in an architecturally impressive building near Parliament Hill, this museum presents interactive displays and exhibitions related to Canada’s National Currency Collection.
Notable aspects of a visit to this prominent free attraction in Ottawa include a wide array of currencies from around the world, vintage cash registers, and access to a library and archive.
12. Notre Dame Basilica
Notre Dame Basilica, both the oldest and largest church in Ottawa, was constructed in 1841 and features two soaring twin spires that can be spotted from both the city center and the nearby Parliament Hill. While its neoclassical exterior may appear somewhat austere, its interior is a visual delight, adorned with intricate carvings and magnificent stained-glass windows at every turn.
Preserved as a National Historic Site, the cathedral’s exquisite interior is adorned with numerous sculptures of religious figures, with the carvings in its choir being particularly remarkable. In addition, a grand pipe organ is on display, and the colorful ceiling is adorned with sparkling stars. During the summer, visitors have the opportunity to partake in tours of the basilica, delving into its remarkable features and fascinating history.
13. Byward Market
Situated in Ottawa’s bustling Lower Town, just a short distance north of the Rideau Canal, the Byward Market has enjoyed a vibrant existence since 1846.
During the summer, the streets come alive with fruit, flower, and vegetable stalls, complementing the food vendors in the main market hall.
The entire neighborhood surrounding the market has been thoughtfully restored and now teems with restaurants and upscale boutiques. If you’re feeling hungry, some favorites include Le Moulin de Provence, a French bakery renowned for its delectable pastries and coffee, and for a full dining experience, the elegant Luxe Steakhouse just across the street.
Q: What is the best time to visit Ottawa?
A: The best time to visit Ottawa is during the spring and summer months when the weather is pleasant, and outdoor activities are in full swing.
Q: How can I explore Parliament Hill?
A: You can explore Parliament Hill by joining one of the guided tours offered to the public. Check their official website for tour schedules.
Q: Are there any family-friendly attractions in Ottawa?
A: Yes, Ottawa is family-friendly with attractions like the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology, and the numerous parks and green spaces.
Q: What is unique about ByWard Market?
A: ByWard Market is known for its lively atmosphere, diverse food options, and artisanal products, making it a unique culinary and shopping destination.
Q: How do I get to Gatineau Park from Ottawa?
A: Gatineau Park is a short drive from downtown Ottawa. You can also take public transportation or use a ride-sharing service to reach the park.