28 Things to Do in Ottawa – A Complete Guide to the City

Written By: The Planet D

There are many exciting and unique things to do in Ottawa that will easily make for an excellent vacation for couples and families alike. We have made it a go-to destination for such a long time; it is almost like a second home. We think that Ottawa is definitely underrated when it comes to a place to take a Canadian vacation. It was actually the first vacation I took with my family many years ago, and we have continued to return year after year.

When people think of visiting Ottawa, a trip to the Parliament buildings and skating on the Rideau Canal are always at the top of the list. However, there is so much more to do in Ottawa than exploring the government buildings or seeing museums.

This comprehensive Ottawa travel guide will give you ideas for what sites to visit, what adventures to be had and where to stay and eat. In our opinion, Canada’s capital is one of Canada’s coolest cities, and here’s why.

things to do in ottawa | notre dame cathedral
What are some free things to do in Ottawa?

Ottawa offers many free activities, from skating on the Rideau Canal to touring the Byward Market to touring Parliament Hill. Even museums are free at a designated time.

What is there to do in Ottawa at night?

Our favorite things to do at night in Ottawa are to go up to have a cocktail at the rooftop bar of the Andaz Hotel, go bar hopping at the ByWard Market, and grab a drink at the Whales Bone.

What are some adventurous things to do in Ottawa?

Ottawa is filled with adventure, from SUP on the Gatineau River to Whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River.

What is there to do in Ottawa in winter?

We have an entire list of amazing things to do in winter, from Winterlude to snowshoeing, Parc Omega, and skating trails.

What to do in Ottawa – Adventure

1. SUP with Urban Ocean

activities in ottawa | go SUP
Things to do in Ottawa: Adventure

Imagine paddleboarding the Gatineau River while looking up at the stunning parliament buildings of Ottawa. Urban Ocean Ottawa opened the first SUP Centre in Eastern Ontario and now offers certification, instruction, tours, and SUP yoga! It is one of the most unique and fun things to do in Ottawa, and that’s why we put it right at the top.

You’ll come away with a tour that takes you from the yacht club to the Rideau Canal Locks, Parliament Buildings, and Supreme Court of Canada, and out to the center of the river for a panoramic view of Ottawa and Gatineau.

No experience is required; once you get your balance, you’ll be guided along the river to explore the sites. For more information and to book a tour, visit the Urban Ocean Website. 

2. BiPlane Flight

things to do in Ottawa Ontario | biplane

I didn’t realize that you could fly in a genuine World War II Biplane, but at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, known for its impressive collection of vintage aircraft and exhibits, regular flights take place during summer hours.

We boarded a Waco UPF-7 open-cockpit biplane circa 1939 and sat side by side during the 25-minute flight, which showcased the Gatineau Hills and Downtown Ottawa, including a pass over the Parliament Buildings. Our pilot even did a few maneuvers over Gatineau before turning back towards the airstrip. It was a hoot!

3. Hiking Gatineau

hiking gatineau ottawa places to visit

I know this article is supposed to be about Things to do in Ottawa, but Ottawa and Gatineau go hand in hand. Gatineau is a city in Quebec located just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario. There are bridges, aqua taxis and ferries connecting the two cities and they complement each other beautifully. Gatineau houses amazing hiking trails, nightlife, and museums. But it’s the outdoors we love best. When you are in Ottawa, you must go out to Gatineau Park.

4. Gatineau Park

things to do in ottawa today gatineau park

Gatineau Park is a 365 square km (139 sq mi) conservation park filled with walking trails. One entrance is just a mere 4 km from Downtown Ottawa. Gatineau has 165 km of hiking trails and 90 km for mountain biking. We saw a lot of road cyclists when visiting the park as well. You can see the William Lyon Mackenzie Estate, a 231-hectare (571 acres) estate of Canada’s 10 Prime Ministers. There are beaches, canoeing, and camping. It is the perfect place to explore the outdoors.

5. Hiked to the Carbide Wilson Ruins

things to do in ottawa today gatineau park

This 30-minute hike is an easy trail to find and is a picturesque walk through the forest and along lakes. It ends at the laboratory and summer residence of inventor Thomas Wilson, who invented the industrial chemical calcium carbide. Afraid that people would steal his other ideas, he built an estate and dam in the middle of the forest where he could work in private. The house and dam still stand and are in a beautiful setting and is one of the best Instagram spots in the Ottawa Region.

6. Whitewater Rafting

things to do in ottawa this weekend whitewater rafting

The Ottawa River is considered to have some of the best whitewater rafting on earth. It attracts professional rafters and kayakers to run its class 5 rapids. Located just one hour outside downtown Ottawa, there are three rafting companies that will take people on the rafting excursions of your choice. If you are a family, there are even smaller rapid trips to suit everyone.

Three Whitewater Rafting Companies

There are three rafting companies on the Ottawa River. Owl Rafting, Wilderness Adventures, and RiverRun. We went with OWL Rafting and stayed over at their all-inclusive resort, where we enjoyed two days of rafting.

  • Day one is with a large group raft as our guide used two giant paddles to navigate the giant rapids known as The Staircase.
  • Day two is in a sport raft with only four people on a small raft.
  • The resorts are rustic and relaxing, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets included.
  • Check out OWLRafting for details

Ottawa – Things to do Around Parliament

7. Parliament Buildings

top things to do in ottawa parliment buildings

It’s cliche and everyone says to see the Parliament buildings, but Canada really does have beautiful government buildings. You could simply walk around the grounds of the Parliament and take in the views of the river below, but a tour is highly recommended. You will get to see the Senate at the Senate of Canada Building, the House of Commons in the West Block and the East Block.Additionally, don’t miss the PBR Ottawa Classic event at the Canadian Tire Centre, where you can watch Canada’s best riders and top international athletes compete against the rankest bucking bulls from across the country.

Parliament Tours

Ottawa Parliament tours are free and last approximately 45 minutes. You will have to go through a security screening- Just like at the airport.Only one small bag is allowed. No video is allowed and you can bring a bottle of water.

Tours happen in the center and east block of the parliament buildings and are free. Tickets are available at 90 Wellington Street directly across from Parliament Hill. If you want to be in the audience for Question Period, you can reserve tickets.

One recently added tour is the Parliament: Immersive Experience, where you get to explore the center block (aka the Main Parliament Building) through a really cool exhibition and a 360° multimedia show. It lasts about 45 minutes and is free admission but you do have to book tickets in advance.

8. Changing of the Guard

changing of the guard things to do in ottawa

Canada has its own changing of the guard, just like England. You can catch two different ones in the city. The change of the guard happens daily at the WW1 Memorial. It’s small but interesting, with a piper and two guards changing their duties at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier. The large spectacle of parliament is a must, and a lavish ceremony takes place each day at 9:50 am from June to August on the East Lawn of Parliament Hill.

9. Yoga on Parliament Hill

what to do in Ottawa yoga on the hill
Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been known to pop by Yoga on Parliament Hill. Every Wednesday from May to August, people gather on the Hill for mass yoga classes. It’s a free session sponsored by Canadian-owned yoga brand Lululemon Athletica.

Ottawa Museums

Ottawa isn’t just our nation’s capital; it’s also the museum capital of Canada. (okay, that’s not a formal name, but I think it is!) There are so many museums that you could literally spend your whole time in the city just museum hopping. These are a few of our favourites.

10. Aviation and Space Museum

places in ottawa to visit Aviation and Space Museum

130 aircraft propellers and engines are on display, including military jets, WWII fighter biplanes, helicopters, one of the first planes invented, and much more. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum boasts a very cool collection of vintage aircraft and exhibits, showcasing artifacts from both military and civil service. You can even take part in flight simulations or book helicopter tours and your own biplane flight like we did above. It is considered one of the finest aviation museums in the world and highly worth a visit – the Aviation Museum for Details.

Ottawa Canada things to do National Gallery

The National Gallery of Canada is a striking structure housing an extensive collection of Canadian art. Its giant spider out front is what really attracts people’s attention. Maman is a famous sculpture designed by Louise Bourgeois, and Ottawa isn’t the only city to have one. If you travel a lot, you might have seen it at the Tate Modern Art Museum in London, England, in Missouri, USA, St. Petersburg, Bilboa, Tokyo, Seoul, Doha, and Des Moines.

12. The Canadian Museum of History

Canadian Museum of History what to do in Ottawa Canada

From the First People’s Hall, celebrating the history of the First Nations, to The Canadian History Hall, showcasing important moments in Canadian history and famous Canadian personalities, the architecture is unique and represents the Canadian landscape, and it is a beautiful sight. From here, you’ll find gorgeous views of the Ottawa Skyline and the Alexandra Bridge lit up at night.

13. Fairmont Chateau Laurier Historic Display

Things to see in ottawa Canada Chateau Laurier

The Fairmont Historic Display is free and located on the main floor of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Enter the grand hall of the famous Chateau Laurier, walk past the boutiques, and into a hall filled with photos documenting the history of the property and the city. Winston Churchill frequented the Chateau Laurier and there are several pictures of him enjoying all the things to do in Ottawa.

It even has a Titanic connection. Charles Melville Hays was in charge of the railway expansion in Canada and had a hand in hiring the designers for the hotel. The Chateau Laurier was the flagship hotel of many more hotels to be built along the railway line.

There are many more museums in Ottawa that warrant their own blog post. Which we did here. Discover the Canadian War Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Cold War Museum, and many more, depending on what your interests are.

14. Rideau Hall

Tent Room Rideau Hall Ottawa winter activities

Rideau Hall is a national historic site that is home to one of the most important figures in the Canadian Government—the Governor-General. Group and private tours are offered daily to explore the Governor-General’s quarters. The Governor-General of Canada performs the same duties as the Queen of England.

Our current Governor-General resides there, but visitors have a chance to tour a portion of this residence and the official halls used for ceremonies and meetings. This is definitely one of the most interesting things to see in Ottawa. Check out how to book a tour at the Rideau Hall Website

Ottawa Luxury and Relaxation

15. Fairmont Chateau Laurier

Fairmont Chateau Laurier night things to do in ottawa

No trip to Ottawa would be complete without staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Built in 1912, it is one of Canada’s most famous landmarks, having welcomed royalty, celebrities (the present company included), and world leaders to its historic chambers.

Located directly on the Rideau Canal, it has the best views in the city and is centrally located to nearly every major site. The ByWard Market is a 5-minute walk one way and the Parliament buildings are a 5-minute walk the other. Check out their website for availability and rates or compare prices on TripAdvisor.

16. Nordik Spa-Nature

things to do in Ottawa Nordik Spa Pool

When visiting Ottawa, take some time to get out of town and spend a day at the quiet retreat of Nordik Spa-Nature. Located 20 minutes from Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec, Nordik Spa is a top choice for things to do near Ottawa. It offers a unique spa experience surrounded by nature.

The Källa Treatment (Saltwater Pool) was a highlight for us. We spent 40 minutes floating in serenity, feeling the weight of zero gravity—equivalent to several hours of sleep!

I would recommend an entire day here as there are so many things to do and experience at Nordik Spa-Nature:

  • 10 baths
  • 9 Saunas
  • 1 Infinity Pool
  • 1 Salt Water Floating Pool – Kalla Treatment
  • 3 Restaurants
  • Indoor and Outdoor Lounges
  • Several Treatment rooms

Nordik Spa-Nature is planning a hotel on-premises in the future and I would highly recommend a night there after your day at the spa. But, for now, there are plenty of reasonable places you can book nearby. Some are within walking distance of the spa. Read about our full experience here:  Pure Bliss at Nordik Spa-Nature

Best Place for Ottawa Sunset

17. Sunset from Andaz Hotel

Sunset from the Andaz Hotel is one of the things you must see in Ottawa
Sunset from the Andaz Hotel is one of the things you must see in Ottawa

People are always looking for the best views when visiting a city, and the Andaz Hotel in the ByWard Market has one of the best sunset views in Ottawa. Out of all the hotels in Ottawa, this one got its sunset terrace right.

Try one of their signature cocktails and enjoy the view over the ByWard Market from their floor-to-ceiling windows indoors or from the outdoor patio. Visit The Hyatt Andaz for reservations and information, or compare prices on TripAdvisor.

18. La Terrasse

things to do in Ottawa La Terasse

La Terrasse is located inside the Chateau Laurier and overlooks the locks of the Rideau Canal. It offers a stunning view of the Parliament Buildings, the canal, and the Ottawa River. You can enjoy cocktails, patio food, and a pleasant atmosphere. This shaded patio at Chateau Laurier is another excellent spot to watch the sunset.

19. John Ceprano Rocks

free things to do in ottawa John Ceprano rock sculptures

This park on the river houses Muskoka Chairs overlooking the water to view the unique and picturesque John Ceprano Rocks. Artist John Ceprano works on his display throughout the summer and is a very friendly guy. He’s happy to talk with you and share his vision for the whole world to post on Instagram.

20. Nepean Point

Ottawa points of interest Nepean Point

This park is famous for its gorgeous view of the Ottawa Skyline and the Alexandra Bridge reaching over the Ottawa River. We highly recommend walking across the Alexandra Bridge to Gatineau. It offers beautiful views of the Ottawa Parliament Buildings and the river, and it is a pleasant stroll. The bridge takes you from Ottawa to the grounds of the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. You can then hop on the ferry to take it back to Ottawa.

More Ottawa Attractions

21. Canal Cruise

things to do in Ottawa Rideau Canal Cruise

An entertaining way to learn about the history of the Rideau Canal is to take a Canal Cruise from Chateau Laurier to Dow’s Lake. The tours last about an hour and a half and pass landmarks such as City Hall, the National Arts Centre, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the TD Centre, and Lansdowne Park.

In the winter in Ottawa, you can skate along this same route. The Rideau Canal transforms into the world’s largest skating rink, spanning 4.8 miles and featuring a surface area equivalent to 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks. See our Best Things to Do in Ottawa in Winter.

22. ByWard Market

Ottawa Canada Attractions Byward Market

It’s on every list of the best things to do in Ottawa that you’ll find on the Internet, and with good reason. The Byward Market is one of Canada’s oldest public markets, dating back to 1826. It was started by Lt-Col. John By, who helped build the Rideau Canal. The ByWard Market is a bustling place by day and night with shops, restaurants, and boutiques.

Local Tip: If you enjoy markets, make sure to check out Ottawa Farmers’ Markets, which take place at different locations in the city all summer long.

23. Laval Street in Gatineau

what to do in Ottawa this weekend Laval Street

While in Gatineau, you must go to Laval Street for a cocktail. Today, it has been transformed into a trendy street filled with patios and even an art installation of colourful umbrellas hanging from the buildings. If you love great food, you don’t want to miss this part of Gatineau.

Free Things To Do in Ottawa

24. Bike or walk along the Canal

things to do in Ottawa walk rideau canal

There are plenty of walking trails in Ottawa along the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River. Each path is pedestrian-friendly and takes you on a stroll through history and beauty.

25. Walk Across the Alexandra Bridge

New York has the Brooklyn Bridge that is pedestrian friendly, well Ottawa has the Alexandra Bridge. It’s a beautiful walk with a designated pedestrian and cycling path spanning from Ottawa to Gatineau. It links the National Gallery of Ottawa to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau offering excellent skyline views as you cross the river.

26. Ottawa Monuments

things to do in Ottawa monuments

Like most capital cities around the world, Ottawa has many monuments commemorating Canadian history. Walk through the downtown core, looking for statues of moments and people defined by the Valiant’s Memorial, The Peacekeeping Monument, and the Oscar Peterson Statue.

Ottawa Festivals

27. JazzFest to Winterlude

things to do in Ottawa festivals

Keep an eye out for the many festivals that happen in Ottawa throughout the year. There are plenty of festivals in Ottawa to attend, our top recommendations are the Jazz Festival, the Tulip Festival and of course the most famous being Winterlude happening in Winter. Neighbouring Montreal has a lot of festivals as well. Read more at Bloomin’ Marvels – The World’s Largest Tulip Festival.

Additionally, the Volleyball Nations League hosts elite international volleyball teams from various countries and continents, including Canada, over several weeks. The Ottawa Pet Expo at the EY Centre also features interactive installations such as the TICA Cat Show, Bird and Small Animal Zone, creative grooming demos, and the Reptile and Plant Expo. Also, if you’re into music, don’t miss the Local musicians who often perform at events like Osgoode Porchfest, adding to the vibrant local culture. There is truly something for everyone in this city.

28. Canada Day

things to do in Ottawa Canada Day

It’s a Canadian Right of passage to make a pilgrimage to Ottawa for Canada Day. The Festivities take place on Parliament Hill, and there is entertainment, water stations, and festivities all week long!

The famous Canadian Snowbirds make appearances throughout the day and a mix of Canadian talent takes to the stage celebrating diversity and inclusion. I don’t think there is a better place to feel an enormous sense of joy than here in Ottawa on Canada Day.

Where to Eat and Drink in Ottawa

Riviera Restaurant

things to do in Ottawa Riviera Restaurant

Voted as one of the best restaurants in Canada by enRoute Magazine, the Riviera Restaurant is the place to eat! A popular eatery for politicians, it is located on Sparks Street, Ottawa’s pedestrian street across from Parliament Hill. It’s known for its signature cocktails, and we all made sure to have a round of these works of art. From Mint Juleps to Manhattan, they’ve got it all. The Ottawa Food Festival, featuring various food vendors and activities, is another notable event in the area.

The menu changes daily, but there are plenty of choices for vegetarians and pescatarians as well as full-on meat eaters. See their Website for details.


things to do in Ottawa eat at Whalesbone

Owned and operated by my college roommate’s brother, Whales Bone has made quite a name for itself in Ottawa. With two locations, it’s a popular spot for locals. Known for its oysters, it didn’t disappoint.

Located on Bank Street and Elgin Street, this place is a must for seafood lovers. See the menu and make reservations at TheWhalesBone.com

Chateau Laurier

things to do in Ottawa eat at Wilfreds

Wilfred’s in the Fairmont Chateau Laurier has long been considered the best restaurant in Ottawa. The newly renovated Zoe’s has a more relaxed atmosphere in a stylish setting. It’s still grand and elegant with crown molding and high ceilings, but it has stepped effortlessly into the 21st century.

Tavern on the Falls

things to do in Ottawa Tavern on the Falls

Did you know Ottawa has its own waterfalls? They aren’t exactly huge, but they are picturesque. The Rideau Falls are where the Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River, and you can take in the view from the patio of the Tavern on the Falls. Famous for its gourmet hot dogs, Tavern on the Falls is a nice escape from the city where you can enjoy a beer or even a glass of bubbly while taking in the waterfront views.

Brig Pub

things to do in Ottawa Brig Pub

The Brig Pub is an excellent escape in the ByWard Market, with a very cool patio in the back. The patio is so hidden you won’t even know it’s there. It has an extensive menu of pub food, but it also goes beyond the pub, offering delicious choices like Fish Tacos, mac and blue cheese, duck confit poutine, and falafel and avocado wraps. Check out the Brig Pub for the menu and details.

Getting Around Ottawa

Aqua Taxi – Takes you from the Rideau Canal Locks to Gatineau ($3 per person one-way)

Uber is affordable and an excellent way to get around the city.

  • Note Uber and Lyft operate in Ottawa but not in Quebec, but if you go across the bridge to Gatineau in Quebec, they do not operate. They will drop you off, but you will have to take a taxi back.

Taxis – We found taxis to be twice the price in Ottawa and don’t recommend taking them.

Car Rental—For certain places on this list of things to do, a car rental is highly recommended. You only need to rent a car for a day or two of your trip to see everything on this list, and then you can walk or Uber anywhere.

Bike Rentals—Ottawa is a very bike-friendly city with plenty of cycling trails and dedicated lanes. Several rental companies in the city rent bikes for an hour to a week.

Walking – a lot of the major sites are easily accessible by walking.

Gatineau – Even going over to Gatineau is a pleasant walk across the Alexandra Bridge – It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the Byward Market in Ottawa to the Gatineau Museum of History. The waterfront in Gatineau is worth exploring.

Getting To Ottawa

  • Ottawa has an international airport (YOW). Porter Airlines offers direct flights from downtown Toronto Billy Bishop Airport to Ottawa daily.
  • Trains travel from Toronto Union Station Daily.
  • Or you can do what we often do: take the 5-hour drive along the 401 to the Ottawa cutoff.
  • Ottawa is a two-hour drive from Montreal.

Ottawa is welcoming and friendly, and it’s bilingual. Most people will flip effortlessly through French and English, and you never know; you just may run into our Prime Minister. He hangs out a lot around these parts.

When visiting Canada, make sure to include Ottawa on your itinerary. It is one of Canada’s coolest cities, offering culture, nature, luxury, and adventure to people from around the world.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Book Your Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner. We have used them for years and have found that they have the best flight deals.

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor.

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Safety Wing - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Book Your Activities: Looking for walking tours, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more? Then we recommend Get Your Guide.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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8 thoughts on “28 Things to Do in Ottawa – A Complete Guide to the City”

  1. Hi Deb and Dave
    A beautifully written blog once again. Your blogs are a treat to read everytime.
    I would (again) like to add a few secret places to this wonderful blog of yours.

    1. Princess Louise Falls: you won’t believe that there is a waterfall hidden right in the center of sub urban town in Ottawa. It has an amazing hike trail and breathtaking scenic view that you just can’t miss.
    2. Dominion Arboretum: if you want to see cherry blossoms in Canada where do you go? To Dominion Arboretum. This park is located at Central Experimental Farm of Agriculture in Ottawa and houses over 10,000 species of flora. The park is used for both experimental study and display to the public.

    If you or your readers want to know more about these beautiful but secret places that you can visit in Canada, then hop over to my blog that’ll link to my name.

    Happy Traveling 😀

  2. Wow I didn’t know there was so much to do in Ottawa! I’m from Montreal and when I have visited Ottawa last year I was looking for a city guide like this. Thanks, will definately try some of the activities next time!!

  3. This city was really a great spot to visit, the tourist will surely enjoy everything that the Ottawa city can offer.

  4. Great post the content is good especially I love the way you portray the images. it’s like they say come to visit Ottawa. content is great.