10 Must Do Things in Ottawa, Canada

Sandra Thomas
Sandra Thomas 17 Min Read

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Ottawa is Canada’s captivating capital city, where history, culture, and natural wonders converge to create an unforgettable experience. Whether planning a visit or already having Ottawa on your itinerary, prepare to explore the city’s vibrant tapestry of must-do activities. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, Ottawa offers an array of engaging and interesting experiences that will leave you spellbound.

In this guide, we’ll unveil the 10 must-do things in Ottawa, providing a roadmap to navigate the city’s diverse offerings.

Must Do Things in Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa is your destination if you’re pursuing cultural immersion, outdoor adventures, or just the thrill of exploring a new city. Come along as we delve into the heart of Ottawa, revealing the unmissable activities that will make your stay truly memorable.

Visit the Iconic Parliament Hill

Step onto Parliament Hill, and you’ll find yourself in the historical and political heart of the nation. This landmark serves as the seat of Canada’s federal government, houses the impressive Parliament Buildings and embodies the essence of Canadian democracy.

The Parliament Buildings are a feast for the eyes with their exquisite architecture and picturesque location above the Ottawa River. The Centre Block’s iconic Peace Tower, a symbol of peace and unity, is particularly impressive. As you explore the buildings, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with the rich history of Canada and its government.

Be swept away by exciting guided tours of the hallowed halls that give you fascinating insights into the country’s political past and present. Learn about the democratic process, parliamentary debates and the role of each chamber in shaping the country’s future.

One of the most memorable experiences on Parliament Hill is the Changing of the Guard ceremony. This popular tradition takes place during the summer months when the red-clad Canadian Guards, accompanied by the rousing sounds of a military band, offer an impressive display of precision and pageantry.

Explore the ByWard Market

The ByWard Market in Ottawa was founded in 1826. Since then, the market has become a cultural and culinary oasis, attracting locals and visitors with diverse offerings. Its historic charm and vibrant nightlife make it an irresistible experience.

The ByWard Market district is captivating with its mix of open-air stalls, boutiques, charming cafés and lively restaurants. Stroll the cobbled streets, soak up the lively atmosphere and admire the unique architecture around you.

One of the highlights of ByWard Market is the opportunity to sample a variety of local produce, artisan goods and delicious food. The market is a feast for the senses – from fresh fruit and vegetables to locally crafted cheese, bread and baked goods.

As the sun sets, the neighbourhood becomes vibrant, with various bars, pubs, and clubs catering to diverse tastes. Whether you’re in the mood for hand-crafted cocktails, live music or a relaxed atmosphere, you’ll find plenty of options. The streets pulse with energy, and the air is filled with laughter and music, creating a captivating atmosphere that guarantees an unforgettable night.

Discover History at the Canadian Museum of History

The Canadian Museum of History houses a variety of exhibits that chronicle Canada’s journey from ancient times to the present. Immerse yourself in the museum’s extensive collection, which spans thousands of years and includes artefacts, art, photographs and interactive exhibits. Each exhibition offers a unique insight into Canada’s rich heritage and provides a deeper understanding of the country’s identity.

One of the museum’s standout attractions is the impressive Grand Hall. As you enter this majestic space, you’ll be drawn in by the towering totem poles, intricately carved canoes and grand architecture that pay homage to Canada’s indigenous cultures. Another must-see in the museum is the First Peoples Hall, a captivating exploration of Indigenous cultures across Canada.

In addition to these main attractions, the Canadian Museum of History offers a variety of exhibits that focus on different aspects of Canadian history and culture. Each exhibition offers fascinating insights into the country’s past, from exploring early settlements and the fur trade to examining significant historical events and the cultural mosaic of modern Canada.

Marvel at the Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal holds a storied past, originally constructed as a strategic military route in the early 19th century. Today, it stands as a testament to human ingenuity and engineering excellence. Its tranquil waters meander through lush landscapes, connecting various rivers, lakes, and communities. This magnificent waterway, stretching over 200 kilometres, is a certified UNESCO World Heritage site.

One of the highlights of experiencing the Rideau Canal is the wide range of recreational activities it offers. During the warmer months, the canal becomes a playground for boating enthusiasts. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and glide through the calm waters.

Taking a walk or cycling along the scenic pathways that hug the canal’s edge is another popular activity. As you pedal at your own pace, you’ll be treated to stunning waterway views, charming lock stations, and the vibrant greenery that envelops the canal. Explore the hidden gems along the way, such as the picturesque Dow’s Lake, where you can stop for a picnic.

When winter arrives, the Rideau Canal transforms into the world’s largest skating rink, spanning over 7.8 kilometres. Lace up your skates and glide effortlessly along the frozen surface, taking in the winter wonderland surrounding you. The canal’s frozen beauty, illuminated by twinkling lights, offers a truly captivating experience for locals and visitors alike.

The National Gallery of Canada houses a remarkable collection of centuries-old artworks showcasing Canadian and international masterpieces. From iconic Canadian artists such as the Group of Seven to renowned international masters like Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh, the gallery’s collection represents a global tapestry of artistic expression.

You’ll discover notable works within the gallery’s halls that have become synonymous with Canada’s artistic legacy. Marvel at Tom Thomson’s breathtaking landscapes, which evoke the untamed beauty of the Canadian wilderness. Stand in awe before Emily Carr’s vivid depictions of the Pacific Northwest, which capture the region’s spirit with unparalleled intensity. These celebrated artworks provide a profound connection to Canada’s cultural heritage.

In addition to its permanent collection, the National Gallery of Canada features captivating exhibitions that showcase a wide range of artistic movements and themes. These temporary exhibitions offer fresh perspectives, from retrospectives of influential artists to thematic displays that explore societal issues. Be sure to check the gallery’s schedule to experience the dynamic nature of its ever-changing exhibitions.

Beyond the art itself, the National Gallery of Canada is a masterpiece of architecture. Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the iconic glass and granite façade reflects the surrounding landscape. As you move through the gallery’s interior spaces, the interplay of light and form creates a harmonious atmosphere.

Adventure at Gatineau Park

Gatineau Park is known for its natural splendour, which includes lush forests, pristine lakes and rolling hills. The park’s varied terrain provides the perfect backdrop for hiking and biking adventures. Put on your trekking shoes and explore the extensive trails that wind through the park’s enchanting landscape. Whether looking for a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, there’s a trail for every level and interest.

For cycling enthusiasts, Gatineau Park offers a plethora of exhilarating routes that cater to all skill levels. Pedal your way through dense forests, past shimmering lakes, and along scenic parkways, immersing yourself in the park’s natural wonders. With each turn of the pedals, you’ll experience a refreshing blend of physical activity and immersion in nature.

While exploring Gatineau Park, don’t forget to take advantage of the picturesque picnic spots that dot the landscape. Find a cosy spot, spread out a blanket, and indulge in a leisurely meal surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. As you enjoy your picnic, keep an eye out for the park’s wildlife.

Experience the Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature houses several exhibitions and galleries spanning several floors, each offering a unique insight into Canada’s natural heritage. The renowned museum invites you to an exciting and educational experience showing the country’s rich biodiversity and geological wonders.

Prepare to travel back in time as you enter the dinosaur exhibit, where life-size replicas and fossils tell the story of these ancient creatures that once roamed the land. Walk alongside giant skeletons and marvel at the intricate details that bring these long-extinct creatures to life. It’s a journey that awakens curiosity and provides a deeper understanding of Earth’s prehistoric past.

The Mammal Gallery is another must-see highlight of the museum. Here you’ll find an incredible selection of extinct and living mammals across Canada and the world. From the majestic polar bear to the blue whale, the gallery showcases the incredible diversity of the mammal world. It gives insight into the remarkable adaptations that have allowed these creatures to thrive in their respective habitats.

As you explore the various exhibits and galleries, you’ll gain insights into Canada’s natural history, ecosystems, and environmental challenges. Engaging displays, interactive elements and knowledgeable staff provide a wealth of information and make the museum educational and fun.

Visit the Experimental Farm

The Experimental Farm is a hub for scientific research and innovation in agriculture, providing valuable insights into farming practices, crop development, and animal husbandry. As you wander through the expansive grounds, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the cutting-edge research being conducted to enhance sustainable farming methods and promote agricultural advancements.

One of the highlights of the Experimental Farm is its wide array of gardens and green spaces. The ornamental gardens boast a stunning collection of flowers, showcasing native and exotic species in vibrant displays of colour and fragrance.

The Farm’s Arboretum is another gem waiting to be discovered. As you meander through the tree-lined pathways, you’ll encounter diverse trees and shrubs worldwide. From towering evergreens to delicate blossoms, the Arboretum offers a peaceful sanctuary where you can immerse yourself in the wonders of nature and appreciate the importance of biodiversity.

For animal enthusiasts, a visit to the Animal Barns is a must. Here, you’ll be able to observe and interact with various farm animals, including cows, horses, pigs, and goats. Learn about animal care, farming practices, and the vital role these animals play in agriculture.

Throughout the year, the Experimental Farm hosts a range of events, workshops, and educational programs. Check the Farm’s calendar to see if any special events or activities are taking place during your visit.

Attend an Event at the National Arts Centre

The National Arts Centre showcases diverse performances catering to a wide range of artistic tastes. From classical symphonies to boundary-pushing experimental works, the NAC’s programming is curated to offer a rich tapestry of artistic expression that reflects the nation’s cultural diversity.

Attending a theatre production at the NAC is an opportunity to witness the magic of live performance. From Broadway hits to original Canadian works, the theatre productions staged at the NAC captivate audiences with their stellar acting, compelling storytelling, and immersive sets. Whether you’re a theatre enthusiast or seeking an evening of entertainment, the NAC’s theatrical offerings will surely leave a lasting impression.

The National Arts Centre is a treasure trove of auditory delights for music enthusiasts. The NAC Orchestra, renowned for its world-class musicians and captivating performances, offers symphonies and innovative collaborations that push the boundaries of orchestral music.

Dance lovers are also in for a treat at the National Arts Centre. The NAC’s dance performances showcase the artistry and athleticism of acclaimed national and international dance companies. From ballet to contemporary dance, these performances captivate the audience with grace, precision, and storytelling.

Take a Haunted Walk Tour

Led by expert storytellers, the Haunted Walk Tour guides you through the city’s haunted hotspots, sharing spine-tingling tales of paranormal encounters, mysterious occurrences, and chilling legends. As you walk in the footsteps of Ottawa’s past inhabitants, you’ll hear tales of restless spirits, haunted buildings, and the chilling events that have left their mark on the city’s collective memory.

The tour takes you to various locations with haunted reputations, including historic landmarks, eerie cemeteries, and hidden alleyways. As you listen to the vivid narratives, your imagination will run wild, conjuring images of apparitions, unexplained phenomena, and the ghostly figures said to wander these haunted grounds.

The Haunted Walk Tour is an opportunity to delve into Ottawa’s supernatural lore and discover the city’s rich history. Each ghostly tale is intertwined with fascinating historical details, providing a unique perspective on the city’s past and the events that have shaped it. It’s an immersive blend of history and the supernatural, offering an unforgettable experience.

Whether you believe in the paranormal or are simply intrigued by ghost stories, the Haunted Walk Tour will leave you with a sense of thrill and intrigue. The expert guides deliver the tales with passion and charisma, creating an engaging and immersive atmosphere.


From Parliament Hill’s historic majesty to the vibrant ByWard Market, the enchanting Rideau Canal, to the captivating National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa beckons with unforgettable adventures.

As you embark on your Ottawa adventure, these 10 must-do experiences will leave you with a deeper appreciation for Canada’s charming capital city. So don’t wait any longer; pack your bags, and get ready to discover the hidden gems and vibrant culture that make Ottawa a one-of-a-kind destination.

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Sandra Thomas is a passionate and seasoned travel blogger with over a decade of experience in the industry. Hailing from the beautiful city of Seattle, she has ventured to more than 70 countries and six continents, capturing the hearts and minds of her readers with her vivid storytelling and engaging content.
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