Top 5 things to do in Ottawa
Serving as the Canadian capital since the mid-19th century, Ottawa lies on the banks of the Ottawa River along Ontario’s border with Quebec. It is located at one end of the Rideau Canal, which connects more than 200 kilometres south to the port of Kingston.
As a bilingual city, Ottawa converses in both English and French and has a cosmopolitan vibe, with people from all over the world calling the city “home”. It’s also home to many of Canada’s most important political landmarks and outstanding museums exploring everything from art to nature and space.
So what are the top things to do when visiting this fascinating city? In this article, we’ll share with you five of Ottawa’s traveller favourites.
Holiday rental sites such as Rentola Ottawa offer a wealth of rental apartments and houses in all corners of the city where you can relax after an unforgettable day of sightseeing. Whether you want to be in the heart of the Old Town, close to the ByWard Market or in the hip neighbourhood of The Glebe, you’ll find rentals to suit all budgets and tastes. Not only can you browse properties based on the number of bedrooms you need but chat directly with owners to customise your stay.
1. Admire the monumental buildings of Parliament Hill
Home to the Parliament of Canada, this striking complex of Gothic Revival buildings watches over the Ottawa River in the heart of the city. It was originally established as a military base in the 18th century before Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada in 1857. Parliament Hill is dominated by the 98-metre-high Peace Tower, which is adorned with stone-carved gargoyles and grotesques.
Tours of Parliament Hill are offered in both English and French throughout the day, allowing you to see where the country’s parliamentarians do business. Not only will you get to visit the rooms where the House of Commons and the Senate meet but explore historic spaces that have been recreated as they would have appeared in the late 19th century.
2. Visit the National Gallery of Canada
Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a visit to the National Gallery of Canada, which was established in 1880 and has grown to become one of the largest art museums in North America. It occupies a building designed by the Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and houses more than 93,000 works from Canada and beyond.
The National Gallery of Canada exhibits paintings dating back to the 18th-century colony of New France, as well as a large collection of works by the Group of Seven who were inspired by the country’s stunning landscapes. The Indigenous collection is also of note, with names such as Kiawak Ashoona, Osuitok Ipeelee and Shelley Niro represented.
If you want to see the work of international masters, check out the paintings by Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh.
3. Get active on the Rideau Canal
Stretching for 202 kilometres between Ottawa and the Saint Lawrence River, the Rideau Canal has been transporting people and goods since 1832. Today, it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and provides a recreational paradise for local residents.
During the summer months, you can go pleasure boating along this man-made waterway to discover the historic locks and 19th-century blockhouses that line its route. In the wintertime, it freezes over to become an outdoor skating rink, with young and old flocking here to enjoy the social atmosphere.
Before or after your session, be sure to grab a “beaver tail”, a fried doughy pastry that is topped with sweet treats, such as chocolate hazelnut sauce or banana and whipped cream.
4. Tour the staterooms of Rideau Hall
Set on a 36-hectare estate to the north of downtown Ottawa, Rideau Hall is one of two official royal residences in Canada. It was built in 1838 by Thomas MacKay, who worked as a stonemason on the Rideau Canal. Not only is it where the monarch and governor general stay when in town but it’s used for receiving foreign heads of state and awards ceremonies.
If you’re interested in going behind the scenes, you can join a guided tour through the staterooms of Rideau Hall, which are decorated with antique furnishings and works by celebrated Canadian artists. The grounds are also open daily and home to more than 150 trees, most of which were planted by members of Canada’s royal family.
5. Relax in Major’s Hill Park
Overlooking the confluence of the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River, Major’s Hill Park is an attractive green space in Ottawa’s downtown area. It was originally laid out in 1874 and today hosts many of the city’s festivals and celebrations.
A visit to Major’s Hill Park not only offers impressive views of Parliament Hill but also a history lesson, with interpretive signs dotting its leafy trails. You can pick up ceramics, handmade jewellery and paintings from the Artisans in the Park or just relax on a bench and watch the world go by.
During the annual Tulip Festival, the park ignites with colourful blooms and hosts stalls selling food from around the globe.