14 of Ottawa's Best Tourist Attractions

Between 1820 and 1840, Ottawa developed up around a construction site where the Rideau Canal branched from the Ottawa River. Colonel John By (1779-1836), a British officer, was in charge of the canal project until it was renamed Ottawa in 1854.

Ottawa has a vibrant cultural life, thanks to all of the attractions in Gatineau, across the Ottawa River in the province of Québec. Universities and various research institutes, as well as internationally renowned organizations like the National Gallery and the National Arts Center, a venue for opera and concerts, have all contributed to this.

1. Parliament Hill

Central Ottawa is divided by the Rideau Canal, which is known as Lower Town to the north and Upper Town to the south. The National Gallery of Canada, Notre Dame Basilica, and the bustling Byward Market may all be found in Lower Town. The affluent Upper Town stretches below Parliament Hill and features the stunning Bank of Canada building, designed by Arthur Erickson, with its atrium filled with plants and fountains.

Wellington Street and the Sparks Street pedestrian precinct are both busy thoroughfares. It is the shopping mecca of Ottawa, with a slew of high-end department stores and chic boutiques.

Find out why the nation’s capital is one of the greatest locations to visit in Canada by reading our list of the top attractions in Ottawa.

On the 50-meter-high Parliament Hill (Colline du Parlement) overlooking the Ottawa River, the Parliament Buildings, in all their Victorian Gothic sandstone glory, are quite a striking sight.

The Parliamentary Library is a beautifully furnished octagon in the back of the building, opposite the entrance, that was spared from the 1916 fire. A guided tour of the huge historic Centre Block is available, as is attendance at a question period while the government is in session.

In the summer, personnel of the Canadian Mounted Police patrol the lovely grassed area in front of the Parliament buildings, dressed dashingly in scarlet jackets, Stetsons, riding breeches, and knee boots.

The Changing of the Guard, with its regimental band and pipers, always draws crowds on summer mornings. The ceremony starts at 9:50 a.m., but you should arrive 15 minutes early to have a good view. The Changing of the Guard and Parliament tours are two of Ottawa’s most popular free activities.

2. Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal, which is 200 kilometers long but just 1.6 meters deep, connects Ottawa and Kingston on Lake Ontario. It was initially planned as a key route between Montréal and Lake Ontario, as proven by the military need for it during the war with the United States in 1812.

The canal and locks are a busy waterway in the summer. A Rideau Canal trip on one of the many tour boats that ply the water here is a fun thing to do (better yet, spend the night on an overnight canal cruise!).

When the canal freezes over, however, it becomes a popular venue for festivals and ice skating, making it one of Ottawa’s most popular winter activities.

One of the beautiful buildings along the canal banks is Château Laurier. It was erected in 1912 and has the appearance of a medieval castle. It is a perfect example of how large Canadian railroad firms added grand hotels (and distinctive landmarks) around the country.

3. Canadian War Museum

The startlingly modern Canadian War Museum (Musée Canadien de la Guerre) is located by the Ottawa River and chronicles Canada’s military history.

Exhibits range from the 16th-century battles between the French and the Iroquois to the Canadian commitment to the First and Second World Wars. There are also exhibits about the modern duty of peacekeepers.

Visitors from the United States will find it particularly fascinating to learn about the history of well-known historical events, such as the War of 1812, from a Canadian perspective. Some of the exhibits are interactive, and there are more than 50 tanks, jeeps, motorcycles, armored trucks, and even Hitler’s limousine among the military vehicles on display. On the premises, there is a café and a gift shop.

4. National Gallery of Canada

The architectural masterwork, created by Moshe Safdie, features prism-like glass towers that reflect the lines of the surrounding Parliament Buildings. Despite the contrast between the glass and the fake medieval Château Laurier, the attraction blends seamlessly into Ottawa’s urban landscape.

Galleries present aboriginal art, chronicle the development of Canadian art from religious works through the Group of Seven, examine European Impressionism, and host temporary exhibitions within one of North America’s major art museums. The Inuit art rooms are located on the lower level, beneath the Great Hall, which is encased in glass. Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm, admission to this outstanding gallery is free.

The National Gallery is conveniently located near several other Lower Town tourist destinations, as well as Major’s Hill Park, for further sightseeing.

5. Peace Tower

The architectural masterwork, created by Moshe Safdie, features prism-like glass towers that reflect the lines of the surrounding Parliament Buildings. Despite the contrast between the glass and the fake medieval Château Laurier, the attraction blends seamlessly into Ottawa’s urban landscape.

Galleries present aboriginal art, chronicle the development of Canadian art from religious works through the Group of Seven, examine European Impressionism, and host temporary exhibitions within one of North America’s major art museums. The Inuit art rooms are located on the lower level, beneath the Great Hall, which is encased in glass. Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm, admission to this outstanding gallery is free.

The National Gallery is conveniently located near several other Lower Town tourist destinations, as well as Major’s Hill Park, for further sightseeing.

6. Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature (Musée Canadien de la Nature) takes visitors on a journey from dinosaurs to today’s animal population, with heartbreaking temporary displays in between.

It is Canada’s national museum of natural sciences and history, and the historic structure (formerly the Victoria Memorial Museum) is where the country’s national museums began. In 1910, the construction of this castle-like structure was completed.

7. National War Memorial

At the foot of a spectacular bronze sculpture of World War I troops emerging from a granite arch is the National War Memorial (Monument Commémoratif de Guerre) and Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The years of battles in which Canadian military have fought are commemorated around the base of the statue, which is also known as “The Response.”

A solitary bagpiper leads a brief but solemn Changing of the Guard ceremony here, and the monument is the focal point of events on Remembrance Day, when visitors traditionally leave poppies on the tomb.

8. Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum

The Cold Conflict Museum of Canada is housed in a vast underground complex south of Ottawa that was built in the early 1960s to protect key government services in the event of a nuclear war.

As part of Project EASE, many self-contained, shock-resistant, radiation-proof underground bunkers were developed around Canada during the Cold War (Experimental Army Signals Establishments).

Political opponents dubbed them “Diefenbunker” after Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who pushed for their construction. The massive bunker is now home to a fascinating Cold War-themed museum.

9. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

Notre-Dame Cathedral, located across from the National Gallery, is a majestic Catholic basilica that was consecrated in 1846. It is notable for Philippe Parizeau’s interior mahogany carvings and Louis-Philippe Hébert’s statues of the four evangelists, prophets, and apostles.

The stained-glass windows are especially beautiful. Between 1956 and 1061, Montreal artist Guido Nincheri made a set of 17 windows depicting episodes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. This ancient structure, which was began in 1841 and completed in 1880, is the nation’s capital’s largest and oldest standing church.

10. Canada Aviation and Space Museum

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum (Musée de l’Aviation et de l’Espace du Canada) is located at Rockcliffe Airport, on the outskirts of town, and tells the narrative of civil and military aviation in Canada.

A copy of the Silver Dart, which flew for the first time in Canada in 1909, fighter planes from the First and Second World Wars, and seaplanes and other aircraft that helped open up Canada’s unknown northern wilderness are among the aircraft on show.

11. Royal Canadian Mint

While Canada’s circulating coins are no longer produced by the Royal Canadian Mint (Monnaie royale canadienne), the Ottawa plant produces superbly designed medals, commemorative coins for collectors, and precious metal awards. Olympic medals are among them.

The trip is particularly exciting on weekdays, when you can observe the artisans at work. You’ll also get to grip a real gold ingot and view one of three gigantic gold loonies (Canadian dollar coins) made here. Because tour groups are small, you should book ahead of time.

12. Canadian Tulip Festival

The tulips, gifted by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands in thanks for the city’s hospitality during WWII, blossom all around Ottawa during the spring celebration, signaling the end of winter. The canal banks, particularly Commissioner’s Park, are the scene of general revelry.

Thousands of tulips bloom in Major’s Hill Park, southwest of the basilica. Several million tulips blossom in the city, with tulip attractions scattered along a picturesque “Tulip Route.” Fireworks and entertainment are also common occurrences.

13. Byward Market

Since 1846, the Byward Market has been a vibrant part of Ottawa’s bustling Lower Town, just north of the Rideau Canal. In the summer, street-side fruit, flower, and vegetable shops supplement the main market hall’s food stores.

The area surrounding the market has been meticulously rebuilt and is now a neighborhood with restaurants and chic businesses.

14. Dows Lake Pavilion

Ottawa

Dows Lake Pavilion is situated on a picturesque bluff that juts out into and overlooks the lake. This facility features a variety of restaurants, including a popular outside terrace in the summer. The pavilion also overlooks the docks, where paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, and bicycles can be rented.

The lake is also a well-known fishing spot. During the winter, skates and sleds can be rented, and the park holds events as part of the Winterlude festival. During the Tulip Festival in the spring, it is decked with elaborate tulip displays.

Where should You Stay Vist for Sightseeing in Ottawa

Hotels of the highest class:
  • The Le Germain Hotel Ottawa is one of the city’s best luxury hotels. The rooms and suites are tastefully decorated, with wall-length paintings and hardwood floors, as well as amenities like as Nespresso machines and rainfall showers. The motel allows pets and children to stay for free. A restaurant, a workout area, and a courtesy car that visitors can reserve for short trips are among the amenities.
  • The Andaz Ottawa is a contemporary, design-focused hotel located in the historic ByWard Market district. The rooms and suites are spacious and comfortable, with great views of the city. Dogs are also allowed on the premises. A rooftop patio with breathtaking views, a restaurant, a fitness center, and valet parking are among the amenities.
  • The Westin Ottawa is a 4-star hotel located in the heart of the city, across from the Rideau Canal. There are family rooms available if you’re traveling with children. Rooms and suites provide fantastic views of the city. An indoor saltwater pool, a hot tub, a restaurant, squash courts, and a coffee shop are among the amenities. The Westin welcomes pets.
Hotels of the Middle class:
  • The Alt Hotel Ottawa is located in the heart of the city, close to a number of attractions such as Parliament Hall and the National War Memorial. The stylish 3-star hotel offers big accommodations, including alternatives for families — children under the age of 12 stay for free. A restaurant, billiards room, and small gym are among the amenities. The motel welcomes pets.
  • The Residence Inn Ottawa Airport is another popular mid-range alternative. The rooms and suites are contemporary, with brightly colored accent walls and kitchenettes. There is a complementary breakfast, as well as an indoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center on the premises. Here, too, children are unrestricted.
  • The Homewood Suites by Hilton Ottawa Downtown is located in the heart of the city, just steps from from a subway station that connects you to the rest of the city. The all-suite hotel offers big rooms with full kitchens, which are especially useful for extended stays. Each morning, a complementary cooked breakfast is offered. A restaurant, a heated indoor swimming pool, and an exercise facility are among the other attractions. The motel welcomes pets.
Hotels of the Budget class:
  • The Rideau Heights Inn is a good value for money option. It features simple but comfortable rooms and is only a short commute from downtown. A complementary breakfast, a picnic space, and a vending machine are among the amenities. The hotel is pet friendly if you’re traveling with a dog.
  • Adam’s Airport Inn, a family-friendly hotel near the airport, is another low-cost choice. The motel’s rooms are clean and pleasant, with refrigerators and desks. There includes a complementary breakfast, free parking, and an on-site vending machine.

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