The 14 Best Tourist Attractions in Ottawa

The city of Ottawa was born between 1820 and 1840, when Colonel John By (not to be confused with the novelist) started building the Rideau Canal. The canal divides the town in two parts, but it is nonetheless considered one entity. In 1854, it was decided that the town should be called Ottawa instead of Bytown, but this change did not happen overnight.

Ottawa and Gatineau were once the home of Canada’s Parliament. The Parliament buildings were built in 1865 high above the Ottawa River. This is where Canada’s first Parliament met following the founding of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. There are many other attractions in Gatineau across the Ottawa River in the province of Québec. Together, Ottawa and Gatineau have created a dynamic cultural life.

A number of educational institutions and research organizations have all contributed to this, as have such internationally famous institutions as the National Gallery and the National Arts Center, a venue for opera and concerts.

Ottawa has a historic waterway called the Rideau Canal running through it. The canal splits the city into two areas: Lower Town and Upper Town. The Lower Town area is home to the National Gallery of Canada, Notre Dame Basilica, and Byward Market.

In the fashionable Upper Town, below Parliament Hill, sits a building that includes a striking atrium filled with plants and fountains. This architectural masterpiece is by Arthur Erickson and is the site of the impressive Bank of Canada building.

The downtown Ottawa strip is filled with busy thoroughfares like Wellington Street, Kent Street, O’Connor Street, Metcalfe Street, and Sparks Street. All of them are filled with top department stores and smart boutiques. They are the best place to go shopping in Ottawa.

Ottawa is a wonderful city, one of the best in Canada. This is why you should make it your next travel destination. To help you create an itinerary, we have prepared a list of the top attractions in Ottawa.

See Also: The 13 Best Tourist Attractions in Niagara Falls

1. Parliament Hill

It’s a sight to behold. The Parliament Buildings are imposing, being 50 meters tall with Gothic sandstone bricks. They are located on Parliament Hill, which overlooks the Ottawa River.

If you want to know what really happened in Parliament on a given day, you can always check with the Parliamentary Library. It’s located at the back of Centre Block, and it survived the fire of 1916. You can tour this gorgeous building or attend a question period when the government is in session.

The grassy area in front of the Parliament buildings is protected by Mounties in summer. They wear scarlet jackets and hats, and riding breeches and knee boots.

Every summer, a ceremony called the Changing of the Guard takes place in Ottawa. Involving a regimental band and pipers, it’s a favorite among tourists. The ceremony starts at 9:50am, but you should arrive at least 15 minutes early to get a decent view. Along with tours of Parliament, the Changing of the Guard is one of Ottawa’s most popular free attractions.

2. Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal is a man-made waterway, 200 kilometers long and only 1.6 meters deep, that connects Ottawa and Kingston on Lake Ontario. The canal was originally intended as a strategic route between Montréal and Lake Ontario. During the War of 1812, the military value of the canal was demonstrated when it allowed British forces to travel from Kingston to Ottawa and back, thereby bypassing the rapids on the St. Lawrence River.

During the summer, the canal and locks are an active waterway. Fun things to do include taking a Rideau Canal cruise aboard one of the many tour boats that ply the water here (splurge on an overnight cruise of the canal!).

Oh no. The canal is frozen over. What now? The river is a big part of Ottawa’s history and culture. When the water freezes over, it makes the canal into a giant ice rink. Skating is one of Ottawa’s favorite pastimes in the winter.

Château Laurier is a stunning Canadian landmark. It was built in 1912 as a luxury hotel and is one of the many beautiful buildings on the canal banks. Although it looks like a medieval castle, it was actually constructed in the early 20th century as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s expansion.

3. Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum sits beside the Ottawa River. Its modern architecture is strikingly different from other buildings in the area. The museum explores Canada’s military history.

The exhibition covers everything from fighting between the French and Iroquois in the 16th century to the Canadian contribution in both the First and Second World Wars. There are also displays relating to peacekeeping, including modern peacekeeping.

The War of 1812 is a fascinating piece of history that you might not know about. This exhibit is especially interesting for visitors from the US. The Canadian War Museum offers a unique perspective on this war, including interactive exhibits and a collection of military vehicles from many countries. It’s cool to see Hitler’s limo in person! The gift shop is open for business and the café serves lunch.

4. National Gallery of Canada

When you visit Canada’s capital, don’t miss the National Gallery of Canada. It’s a building that’s ultra-modern and designed by Moshe Safdie, the architect behind the iconic Musée du quai Branly in Paris. The structure features prism-shaped glass towers that echo the lines of the nearby Parliament Buildings, but the attraction still fits perfectly into Ottawa’s cityscape.

In one of the largest art museums in North America, galleries display aboriginal art, trace the development of Canadian art from religious works to the Group of Seven, explore European Impressionism, and show temporary exhibitions. The lower level houses Inuit art and is open for free Thursdays from 5pm – 8pm.

After you visit the National Gallery, take a moment to explore the rest of Lower Town. Your trip should include a visit to Notre-Dame Basilica and the Canadian War Museum. Why not take a break by strolling through Major’s Hill Park?

5. Peace Tower

At the top of the Peace Tower, you can see all of Ottawa and a wide swath of the countryside. This is a great place to feel small and reflect on what a beautiful country we live in. Take a moment to appreciate Canada by visiting the Memorial Room, which honours Canadians who died in WWI.

You can freely access a tower that symbolizes the victors’ triumph over evil. Tickets are required to enter, but getting them is easy. Check the government website for details.

6. Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature is a national treasure. It explores the evolution of life on earth, from dinosaurs to today’s living things. The exhibits are so realistic you feel as if you’re there! They also feature beautiful temporary exhibits.

This is a castle-like building, and it was completed in 1910. It is both a national natural sciences and history museum as well as the birthplace of Canada’s national museums. The building was once known as the Victoria Memorial Museum, but it is now known as the Canadian Museum of Nature.

7. National War Memorial

The National War Memorial is dedicated to the memory of Canada’s war dead. It is located at the foot of a bronze sculpture called “The Response.” The statue depicts soldiers emerging from a granite arch, representing the end of war. Around the base are the names of conflicts where Canadian soldiers have fought.

A solemn ceremony is held here every year on November 11th. The Changing of the Guard is led by a single bagpiper, and the monument is at the center of patriotic celebrations on Remembrance Day. A traditional activity for those who visit is to lay a poppy on the tomb.

8. Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum

Canada’s Cold War Museum is an extraordinary museum that tells the story of the Cold War. It is located in an underground bunker built in the early 1960s to protect Canada’s most important government functions in case of a nuclear war.

This is a fascinating Cold War relic. Canada used to have underground shelters for its military, which were meant to protect them in case of nuclear warfare. This one is located in the middle of nowhere, but it’s still in great shape.

In the 1950s, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker championed the construction of a series of bunkers across Canada. Now, this historical site has been transformed into a museum that explores Cold War culture.

If you have the time, you should check out the Diefenbunker Escape Room experience. It’s apparently the largest of its kind in the world.

9. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

Opposite the National Gallery is a beautiful Catholic church built in 1846. It’s particularly noted for its elaborate wood carvings by Philippe Parizeau and its figures of the four evangelists, prophets, and apostles by Louis-Philippe Hébert.

The church has beautiful stained glass windows. Artist Guido Nincheri completed 17 windows between 1956 and 1961, depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary. These windows are particularly impressive because they are the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. The church was built in 1841, and completed in 1880.

10. Canada Aviation and Space Museum

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is a must-see for anyone who loves aviation. Located in the northern edge of Ottawa on the grounds of Rockcliffe Airport, the museum has been there since the 1970s.

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum has a lot of cool old planes. You can see replicas of the Silver Dart, which in 1909 made the first flight in Canada, and fighter planes from the First and Second World Wars. Even cooler is that the museum has some of the seaplanes and other aircraft that helped open up Canada’s uncharted northern wilderness.

11. Royal Canadian Mint

The Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) is a Canadian corporation that creates and distributes coins and currency. They also produce medals and other products, such as the Olympic Games medals.

The tour is fascinating, especially on weekdays when you can see the craftspeople at work. You’ll also see one of three giant gold loons (Canadian dollar coins) minted here, and get to hold a real gold ingot. Groups are small so it’s best to reserve a spot in advance.

12. Canadian Tulip Festival

The tulips are in bloom! Ottawa’s spring festival marks the end of winter. The tulips are a gift from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. She presented them to Canada in gratitude for our hospitality during World War II. Tulips can be found all over the city, but there are especially beautiful displays in Ottawa’s Canal banks and Commissioner’s Park..

The capital is home to several million tulips, which are in full bloom. The most popular places for tulips are in Major’s Hill Park, southwest of the basilica. Millions of tulips are found in this city, and there are many sites with different varieties. The flowers are celebrated with fireworks and performances throughout the spring.

13. Byward Market

In downtown Ottawa, the Byward Market is a distinct space. It has been a vibrant and diverse neighborhood since it was founded in 1846. In the warmer months, street vendors supplement the shopping experience with fresh produce. In the main hall, a variety of shops offer a wide array of food to choose from.

This market is on fire! It’s not just the fish and produce that are drawing in crowds. The entire neighborhood surrounding the fish market has been restored, and now it is a hot spot for restaurants and stylish apparel shops.

14. Dows Lake Pavilion

Dows Lake Pavilion is a beautiful outdoor space in the heart of Seattle. It has a number of different restaurants and shops, and an outdoor patio that is popular in the summer. The pavilion also looks out onto the pier where you can rent paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, or bikes to explore the lake.

The park is also a popular fishing destination in the winter. In the spring, the park hosts flower-related events, and you can rent skates and sleds. During Winterlude, it’s decorated with formal tulip displays.

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