Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is a city that beautifully combines rich history, cultural diversity, and natural beauty. Nestled along the banks of the Ottawa River, this picturesque city offers an array of experiences that captivate visitors year-round. From its world-class museums and iconic government buildings to its scenic outdoor spaces, family-friendly activities, vibrant festivals, and exciting nightlife, Ottawa is a destination that truly has something for everyone.

As the political heart of Canada, Ottawa is home to many of the nation's most significant landmarks, including the majestic Parliament Hill and the stately Rideau Hall. Visitors can explore the intricacies of Canadian governance, marvel at the Gothic Revival architecture, and gain a deeper understanding of the country's rich legislative history. The cultural scene is equally impressive, with a network of museums that cater to a wide range of interests. Whether you're an art aficionado, a history buff, or a science enthusiast, you'll find exhibits that both educate and inspire. The National Gallery of Canada, with its extensive collection of Canadian art, and the Canadian Museum of History, offering insights into the nation's past, are just the beginning of what Ottawa has to offer.

For those who love the outdoors, Ottawa's natural beauty is undeniable. The city's parks, waterways, and green spaces provide ample opportunities for recreation and relaxation. The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, transforms with the seasons—from a bustling waterway for boats and kayaks in the summer to the world's largest skating rink in the winter. Nearby Gatineau Park offers stunning trails and panoramic views, making it a haven for hikers and nature lovers.

Ottawa also knows how to celebrate, with a vibrant festival scene that includes Winterlude, the Canadian Tulip Festival, and Bluesfest. These events, along with the city's lively markets and diverse culinary offerings, showcase the community's spirit and creativity. From savoring a BeaverTail in ByWard Market to enjoying a gourmet meal at one of the city's top restaurants, the culinary journey in Ottawa is as diverse as its population. The city's nightlife further enhances its appeal, offering an eclectic mix of bars, clubs, and entertainment venues. Whether you're looking for a quiet evening with a glass of wine, a lively dance party, or a unique experience at a themed pub, Ottawa's nightlife scene caters to all tastes and preferences.

This guide aims to help you explore the best of Ottawa, providing insights into its top museums, government buildings, outdoor activities, festivals, and culinary delights. Whether you're visiting with family, friends, or exploring solo, Ottawa promises a memorable and enriching experience.

Museums to See

1. Canadian Museum of History

Located just across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, the Canadian Museum of History is a must-visit. This museum delves into the rich tapestry of Canada’s past, featuring exhibits that cover Indigenous cultures, Canadian history, and significant historical events. The Grand Hall, with its towering totem poles and First Nations artifacts, is particularly awe-inspiring. Don't miss the Children's Museum, which offers interactive exhibits perfect for younger visitors.

2. National Gallery of Canada

The National Gallery of Canada houses one of the most extensive collections of Canadian art, including works by the Group of Seven, Indigenous artists, and contemporary Canadian creators. The gallery's architecture is a work of art in itself, with its stunning glass and granite structure offering breathtaking views of Parliament Hill. The outdoor sculpture "Maman" by Louise Bourgeois, a giant spider, is a notable highlight.

3. Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum is dedicated to Canada's military history, from early conflicts to contemporary peacekeeping missions. Its engaging exhibits include artifacts, vehicles, and personal stories that bring history to life. The museum's design, symbolizing regeneration and hope, complements its profound content.

4. Canada Science and Technology Museum

For those intrigued by innovation and discovery, the Canada Science and Technology Museum offers a hands-on experience. Exhibits range from the history of transportation to advancements in space exploration and technology. Interactive displays and demonstrations make it a great choice for families.

5. Canadian Museum of Nature

Housed in a castle-like building, the Canadian Museum of Nature showcases the natural world through impressive dioramas, dinosaur skeletons, and exhibits on Canada's diverse ecosystems. The museum also features a large collection of minerals and gemstones, providing a comprehensive look at the planet’s natural wonders.

6. Bank of Canada Museum

The Bank of Canada Museum offers a fascinating look at the nation's financial system, currency, and economic history. Interactive exhibits and engaging displays make complex topics accessible and interesting for all ages. The museum also explores the role of the Bank of Canada in managing the country's monetary policy and financial stability.

7. Royal Canadian Mint

At the Royal Canadian Mint, visitors can learn about the intricate process of coin production and the history of Canadian currency. Guided tours offer an up-close look at the craftsmanship behind each coin, from design to striking. The Mint also showcases commemorative coins and offers unique souvenirs for collectors.

Government Buildings to Check Out

1. Parliament Hill

No visit to Ottawa is complete without exploring Parliament Hill, the political heart of Canada. The Gothic Revival architecture of the Centre Block, with its iconic Peace Tower, is a stunning sight. Free guided tours are available, offering insight into Canadian governance and the historical significance of the buildings. In the summer, the Changing of the Guard ceremony is a must-see spectacle.

2. Senate of Canada Building

Located in the historic Beaux-Arts style building that once housed Ottawa’s central train station, the Senate of Canada Building is now the temporary home of the Senate during the Centre Block renovations. Visitors can take guided tours to learn about the legislative process and the architectural history of the building.

3. Rideau Hall

Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General of Canada, is another key site. Visitors can tour the historic residence and its beautiful gardens. The estate covers 79 acres and includes a variety of heritage buildings, lush gardens, and even an ice rink in the winter.

4. Supreme Court of Canada

A visit to the Supreme Court of Canada provides an educational experience about the country’s highest court. Guided tours offer insights into the Canadian judicial system, the history of the court, and its role in shaping Canadian law. The building’s architecture and interior design are also noteworthy.

Family Activities

1. Canadian Children's Museum

Part of the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Children's Museum offers interactive exhibits designed to educate and entertain children. Kids can explore different cultures and countries through hands-on activities and exhibits that encourage learning through play.

2. Calypso Theme Waterpark

Located just outside Ottawa, Calypso Theme Waterpark is the largest waterpark in Canada. It features numerous water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river, making it a fun-filled destination for families looking to cool off during the summer months.

3. Funhaven

Funhaven is an indoor amusement center that offers a variety of activities, including laser tag, arcade games, and a climbing wall. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon with the family, especially on rainy days.

4. Ottawa River Whitewater Rafting

For families with older children and teens, whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River is an exhilarating experience. Several operators offer guided tours suitable for different skill levels, ensuring a thrilling adventure while emphasizing safety.

Nature and Outdoor Activities

1. Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a major landmark in Ottawa. In the summer, it’s perfect for boating, kayaking, and cycling along its scenic pathways. During winter, it transforms into the world’s largest skating rink, offering a magical experience.

2. Gatineau Park

Just a short drive from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park offers outdoor enthusiasts a plethora of activities. With its extensive network of hiking and biking trails, picnic spots, and lookouts offering stunning views, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. In the fall, the park is particularly beautiful as the leaves change color.

3. Major's Hill Park

Located near Parliament Hill, Major's Hill Park is a peaceful green space perfect for a leisurely stroll or a picnic. The park offers spectacular views of the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill, and the National Gallery of Canada. It's also the site of many festivals and events throughout the year.

4. ByWard Market

One of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets, ByWard Market is a bustling hub of activity. With its array of fresh produce, local crafts, and unique shops, it’s an excellent place to explore. The area is also home to numerous restaurants and cafes, making it a perfect spot for a break during your exploration.


1. Winterlude

Winterlude is Ottawa’s premier winter festival, celebrating all things snowy and icy. Held in February, this festival features ice sculpture competitions, skating on the Rideau Canal, and a variety of outdoor activities for all ages. The Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques-Cartier Park is a highlight, with giant slides, snow mazes, and family-friendly entertainment.

2. Canada Day Celebrations

On July 1st, Ottawa hosts one of the largest Canada Day celebrations in the country. Festivities include live music, cultural performances, fireworks, and a variety of activities throughout downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill. It’s a day filled with patriotic pride and fun for the whole family.

3. Ottawa Tulip Festival

Every May, the Canadian Tulip Festival transforms Ottawa into a colorful wonderland. The festival features over a million tulips in bloom, with spectacular displays in Commissioners Park and other locations around the city. Events include concerts, cultural performances, and fireworks.

4. Bluesfest

Ottawa’s Bluesfest, held in July, is one of North America’s largest music festivals. Featuring a diverse lineup of international and local artists, this multi-day event attracts music lovers from all over. The festival takes place at LeBreton Flats and offers a variety of genres beyond just blues, including rock, hip-hop, and electronic music.

5. Ottawa International Animation Festival

In September, animation enthusiasts flock to Ottawa for the Ottawa International Animation Festival. This event showcases the best in animation from around the world, including screenings, workshops, and talks with industry professionals.

Food And Drinks

1. BeaverTails

No visit to Ottawa is complete without trying a BeaverTail. This iconic Canadian treat is a deep-fried pastry, typically topped with cinnamon and sugar. The original stand in ByWard Market is a popular spot to enjoy this delicious snack.

2. The Whalesbone

Known for its sustainable seafood, The Whalesbone offers a menu featuring fresh oysters, fish, and other seafood dishes. Its cozy atmosphere and commitment to quality make it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

3. Fairouz

For a taste of modern Middle Eastern cuisine, Fairouz offers a menu inspired by traditional recipes with a contemporary twist. The dishes are beautifully presented and bursting with flavor, making it a must-visit for food enthusiasts.

4. Tamis Cafe

Tamis Cafe specializes in Filipino cuisine, offering a variety of traditional dishes such as adobo, lumpia, and halo-halo. The vibrant flavors and warm hospitality make it a standout dining experience.

5. SuzyQ Doughnuts

SuzyQ Doughnuts is famous for its creative and delicious doughnut flavors. From maple bacon to lemon coconut, the innovative flavors and fresh ingredients make these doughnuts a must-try.

6. Arlington Five

Arlington Five is a cozy coffee shop known for its high-quality brews and delectable pastries. It’s a great spot to relax with a coffee and enjoy a quiet moment amidst your explorations.

7. Town

Town offers a charming dining experience with a focus on Italian-inspired dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. The warm ambiance and delicious menu make it a popular spot for both lunch and dinner.

8. Raphael Peruvian Cuisine

Raphael Peruvian brings the flavors of Peru to Ottawa with its vibrant and authentic dishes. The ceviche and lomo saltado are particularly recommended, offering a taste of South American cuisine in the heart of Canada.

9. Arlo Wine Bar

Arlo Wine is a stylish wine bar offering an extensive selection of wines paired with a curated menu of small plates. It’s the perfect place for a sophisticated evening out.

10. Paradise Poké

For a fresh and healthy option, Paradise Poké serves up delicious poké bowls with a variety of toppings and flavors. It’s a great spot for a quick and satisfying meal.


1. ByWard Market District

By day, ByWard Market is a bustling hub of shops and eateries; by night, it transforms into one of Ottawa’s hottest nightlife spots. With a plethora of bars, clubs, and pubs, it offers a vibrant atmosphere perfect for a night out. Some popular venues include The Lafayette, Ottawa’s oldest bar, and Mercury Lounge, known for its eclectic music and dance nights.

2. The Heart & Crown

Located in the ByWard Market, The Heart & Crown is a lively pub that spans several interconnected rooms, each with its own unique atmosphere. Known for its live music and hearty pub fare, it’s a favorite among both locals and tourists.

3. Live on Elgin

Live on Elgin is a cozy, intimate venue offering live performances ranging from music to comedy and theater. It’s a great place to catch local talent and enjoy a relaxed evening out.

4. Ward 14

Ward 14 is a quirky bar located in the Centretown neighborhood, known for its vintage decor and eclectic vibe. The bar serves up creative cocktails and offers board games for a fun, laid-back night out.

5. House of TARG

House of TARG is a unique venue offering a combination of live music, pinball machines, and delicious perogies. The retro arcade games and lively concerts make it a must-visit for a fun and nostalgic night out.

6. City at Night

City at Night is a popular nightclub known for its energetic atmosphere and excellent DJ performances. It’s a great spot for those looking to dance the night away.

7. Apothecary Lounge

Apothecary Lounge offers a unique nightlife experience with its speakeasy vibe and expertly crafted cocktails. The intimate setting and creative drinks make it a standout choice for an evening out.

8. The Moonroom

The Moonroom is a cozy cocktail bar known for its inventive drinks and laid-back atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to unwind with friends over a few expertly mixed beverages.

9. Level One Game Pub

Level One Game Pub combines the fun of a board game cafe with the atmosphere of a pub. With a vast selection of games and a menu of tasty pub fare, it’s an excellent spot for a casual night out.

Ottawa is a city that seamlessly blends history, culture, and natural beauty, offering a wealth of experiences for all types of travelers. Whether you're exploring its world-class museums, marveling at the architecture of Parliament Hill, enjoying outdoor adventures, or savoring local cuisine, Ottawa promises a memorable and enriching visit.

Stay connected with more insights from the vibrant world of Canadian travel at Canada Scenic.

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Jul 2, 2024
Central Canada

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