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Things to Do In Ottawa: A Complete Guide To The City
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, situated near the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of southern Ontario. Ottawa borders Gatineau, Quebec, and together they form the National Capital Region (NCR). The 2016 census reported a population of 934,243 and a metropolitan population of 1,323,783, making it the fourth-largest city and the fifth-largest CMA in Canada.
Ottawa got established in 1826 as Bytown. Then, it got incorporated as “Ottawa” in 1855. Since then, the city has evolved into Canada’s political and technological center. Centuries ago, its boundaries were revised through several annexations and ultimately replaced by new city incorporation and major amalgamation in 2001, significantly increasing its land area. The earlier settlers and residents chose the name “Ottawa” about the Ottawa River nearby, which came from the Algonquin word adawe (“to trade”). Ottawa has the most remarkable literacy statistic globally, with over half of its residents earning at least an undergraduate degree.
What’s notable about Ottawa
Ottawa is one of three cities in Canada to be designated as a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with St. John’s and Québec City. Ottawa has some nicknames: “Bytown,” “The City” (from 1860 to 1875), “Mudtown” (in 1855), and “The Capital” (from 1876 onwards). “Ottawa” originates from the Algonquin word adawe or “to trade.” Also, Ottawa is renowned for its year-round festivals, with great music and food combined to make Ottawa the cultural center of Canada.
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is home to several national institutions such as Parliament Hill, the National Arts Centre, the National Gallery, and the National Museum of Nature. The city has many annual festivals, including Winterlude and the Canadian Tulip Festival. Ottawa has over 2,000 parks, including Gatineau Park, which covers 361 square kilometers (139 sq mi) and offers activities such as camping and hiking. Ottawa is a relatively bicycle-friendly city with over 250 kilometers (160 mi) of pathways and bike trails.
Because of such great features of Ottawa, it has become a beautiful place to go for a single visit. You can also visit the city for a vacation for yourself and your family. Moreover, it is ideal for a company to take its employees for a motivational visit. Ottawa is not only an iconic city in Canada, but it is a significant historic place to visit and learn the history of Canada and enjoy the many other breathtaking places in this city.
It is a great idea to think of visiting Ottawa as there is much heritage waiting for you there. However, Ottawa is such a fun place. With the much that there is for you there, you will need to become fully prepared so that your stay in the city can be fruitful and convenient. Before you go to Ottawa anyway, here is a step-by-step guide on what to do.
How to prepare for a trip to Ottawa
When you’re planning a trip to Ottawa, you’ll want to get the most out of your vacation, and here is how.
Be aware of the best times to go to Ottawa. When planning a trip to Ottawa, it is essential to note that the city comes alive during the summer months. If you want to enjoy the most of what this capital city has to offer, you should plan your stay between May and September. Here, the weather is warmest, many festivals and events are happening, and you have the best chance to see some of Ottawa’s tourist attractions.
Don’t be discouraged if you are visiting Ottawa during the winter months! You can still see many of the top sights. Ottawa has to offer Ice Skating on the Rideau Canal at this time of year. The canal is transformed into a pathway for skaters from January until March. It is one of the largest skating rinks in the world.
Plan well for the trip. Ensure you get a passport if you don’t have one already. US citizens can apply online through the State Department website. If you already have a ticket, make sure it’s valid for at least six months beyond the end of your trip.
Apply for any visas that get required for the countries you’re visiting. You may also need to get vaccines before traveling. Check with the embassies of each country you’ll be visiting, or visit travel clinic websites like CDC Travelers’ Health and Passport Health.
Decide the amount you will carry and spend during this trip and set up a separate bank account to save up for it. It will help you avoid overspending on your vacation. For example, if you plan to spend $2,000 in total, set up an account with an automatic monthly deposit of $167 (if saving over 12 months) so that when it comes time to pay for flights and hotels, the money is already there.
Arrive at the airport early. The official recommendation is two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international flights. It allows time for parking, checking in, clearing security, and getting to your gate. Add an extra half hour if you’re traveling with children or have a health problem that may slow you down.
Register all your electronics with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) if you have any medical devices that are still unregistered with CATSA, such as a CPAP machine. Check the CATSA site for the complete list of required documents.
Have the correct currency on hand if you can’t use your credit card or other electronic payment methods right away. Many businesses in Ottawa accept US dollars, but most will give you change in Canadian dollars. That’s fine if you’re shopping in tourist areas such as ByWard Market and Rideau Street, but it’s not much help if you need to pay for public transportation or use a vending machine.
Prepare for accommodation. If you seek to travel during the peak season, such as summer, booking your hotel at least two months in advance is advisable. The price of hotel rooms tends to increase when the rooms are running out. You can also save money if you book your hotel room early.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When you plan to go there, you must have a place to stay. If you are in a tourist position, you will primarily look for hotels, hostels, and places where you can sleep and wait for some time. However, finding apartments for rent in Ottawa would be ideal for anyone planning to go to Ottawa for work or studies.
Apartments. Sometimes staying at an apartment can be beneficial because all your family can stay together. If you are going as a single person, renting an apartment for yourself may be a good idea if you want to save money. If you don’t want to spend on expensive hotels, renting an apartment will help you.
Many websites get dedicated to helping people find apartments online. You can check out the internet to see whether they have any listings available in Ottawa. If they have some listings, you can contact owners directly and ask them about the price and anything else related to the apartment.
Hotels. If you prefer to stay in a hotel in Ottawa, make the bookings in advance. You can check the internet for the best hotels in Ottawa and compare their level of services and their cost depending on your budget. Book your hotels well in advance because this will help you get the best deals. Sometimes, hotels can be expensive. If you are traveling with your family or friends, you might want to look for other options like hostels and bed & breakfast places which may or may not be cheaper than hotels depending on the location.
Most importantly, before booking a hotel, always go through reviews posted by previous customers, as these will give you a close to an honest view of what to expect of the hotel services.
Know the places you will visit in Ottawa and the various activities.
After you become fully prepared and everything gets set, you are now ready to visit and experience the awesomeness of the city of Ottawa. However, there is one more thing you will need to know, and this is the most important one. You will need to have the right idea of the places you need to visit and the activities you will need to do once you get to Ottawa. Familiarity with Ottawa before you get there will put you in an excellent position to enjoy the city more because although the place will be new, you will have the right idea of where to visit, when, and what to expect there. A guide to the city of Ottawa will be crucial for a fruitful visit, and here is a complete guide that will help you experience the best of Ottawa.
A complete and detailed guide to the city of Ottawa
Parliament Hill, located in downtown Ottawa along the banks of the majestic Ottawa River, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. Tourists worldwide visit Parliament Hill and explore its rich history and heritage, enjoy its stunning beauty and architecture, participate in events and festivals held on Parliament Hill throughout the year, or relax and enjoy themselves on the expansive lawns. Visiting Parliament Hill in Ottawa is a meaningful experience. The reasons include:
Explore Canada’s History. Parliament Hill is an iconic landmark that symbolizes Canada’s legislature and the country. Parliament Hill has played a crucial role in Canadian history since it got constructed in 1867. Nowadays, Parliament Hill remains at the forefront of Canadian politics, with members of parliament convening here to discuss issues about Canada both nationally and internationally.
Go Up the Peace Tower. Standing high above all other buildings on Parliament Hill is the Peace Tower. The Peace Tower itself is a monument that commemorates Canadians who have sacrificed their lives for their country. Inside the Peace Tower is an observation deck where visitors can see views of Ottawa from above and explore artifacts related to Canadian history and heritage.
The Canadian war museum. The Canadian War Museum is a museum in Ottawa, Canada, documenting the military history of Canada. It includes artifacts, film and audio-visual archives, photos, art, and even recreated dioramas of some of Canada’s most important historical events. Here is why you should visit the Canadian war museum:
- Explore the Largest Military History Museum in the World. The Canadian War Museum has an impressive collection of over 500,000 artifacts and specimens. It makes it among the most significant military history museums in the world! The museum also has over three million images in its collection and 500 hours of film and video footage.
- Learn about the Involvement of Canada in Global Conflicts. The Canadian War Museum has a rich collection that documents Canada’s participation in various wars across the globe. The museum exhibits World Wars and their impact on Canadians and other conflicts such as the Korean war, the Boer War, and even humanitarian efforts such as peacekeeping missions.
- Artwork from Celebrated Canadian Artists. The Canadian War Museum has an extensive collection of military art from renowned Canadian artists such as Charles Comfort, Philibert Aspairt, and Frederick Varley, to name a few.
- The Canadian War Museum is a good place for families. Many interactive exhibits involve both kids and adults. The museum also offers educational programs for youth and special family events throughout the year, including some family fun during March Break.
The museum opened in 2005 after being relocated from its previous location on Sussex Drive. It got closer to downtown Ottawa, the National Gallery of Canada, and other museums on the Ottawa River Parkway.
The Canadian War Museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm, except December 25 and January 1, when it is closed. It opens at 8 am on weekdays during July and August and at 9 am on weekends. Admission is free on Thursdays after 4 pm between September 1 and June 30. It costs $12 per adult and $10 per senior (65+) or youth (age 7-17).
The Rideau Canal. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Canada’s most important historical treasures. The canal stretches 125 miles, linking Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River near Kingston, Ontario, to the Ottawa River in Ottawa. It took six years to complete the Rideau Canal, which opened in 1832. The canal got built as a precautionary measure in case of a war with the United States. It would provide a secure supply and communications route between Montreal and the British naval base at Kingston.
The Rideau Canal finally got used for military purposes during the Crimean War, but it became a famous recreational waterway when it proved unnecessary for defense purposes after this conflict. The Rideau Canal gets used by approximately 50,000 boaters and hundreds of thousands of skaters each year. Around it is beautiful parks and other national historical sites worth visiting if you find yourself in Ottawa.
The Rideau Canal is home to excellent restaurants, hotels, trails, and parks. There’s something for everyone to enjoy here. The Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest skating rink, running from downtown Ottawa to Dows Lake. It is open from January until March yearly, and admission is free! You may pay for rental skates or bring your own to this 7.8-kilometer-long skating rink. You can glide through the city and see some of Ottawa’s most beautiful sites, including Parliament Hill. There are skate-changing stations along the way and many places where you can stop in for warm drinks and snacks. The Skateway has been around since 1970 and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
If you’re not into skating, don’t worry. In the summertime, you can explore the Rideau Canal by boat or bike. Many places rent out kayaks and canoeing. If you want something more relaxing, there are boat tours that run daily throughout the canal. These tours go through historic locks and share exciting stories about them and other important sights along the way, including Parliament Hill.
The National Gallery of Canada. The National Gallery of Canada has many permanent collections of art for you to enjoy. It also has various exhibits that highlight different themes, artists, and periods throughout the year. While most people are familiar with the art galleries and museums in Europe, the National Gallery of Canada is an example of a world-class art gallery that exists right here in Ottawa. It got recently ranked as the third-best art museum in Canada by Trip Advisor. For those who appreciate art, this is one museum that you don’t want to miss when you are visiting Ottawa.
The National Gallery of Canada is on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, right next to the Prime Minister’s residence and across from Major Hill’s Park. Moshe Safdie did the design of the building, and it opened its doors in 1988. It has three wings: The Canadian and Indigenous Galleries Wing, Contemporary Canadian Galleries, and International Galleries.
The National Gallery of Canada has many permanent collections of art for you to enjoy. It also has various exhibits that highlight different themes, artists, and periods throughout the year. The primary exhibition at the National Gallery is from contemporary Canadian artists from various regions around the country.
The Canadian Museum of Nature. The Canadian Museum of Nature is a natural history museum in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Its collections and staff facilitate scientific research and education, including the collection of specimens for study and display. The museum’s permanent galleries explore ecology, evolution, and biodiversity.
The Canadian Museum of Nature is one of only a handful of museums in North America to exhibit full-mounted dinosaurs. These displays include a dramatic scene with a Triceratops herd facing off against Tyrannosaurus rex. The museum has also displayed reconstructed ice age mammals in its “Frozen Tundra” diorama since the 1970s.
Visitors can also experience nature through an immersive dome theatre, which features three different films throughout the day.
The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa is a one-of-a-kind place to visit. The church building dates back to 1841 and is the oldest place of worship in the city. The cathedral was initially designated as a basilica by Pope John Paul II when he visited Canada in 1984. It was founded mainly by French-speaking people, and since its inception, services have been in English and French.
When it comes to the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, you will find a mix of styles that include Gothic and Roman. The cathedral has two towers that stand at the height of 84 meters. This basilica is one of the oldest religious buildings in Ottawa, as well as in Canada. The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica was consecrated in 1846 by Bishop Joseph-Bruno Guigues, the first bishop of Bytown. Bytown is Ottawa’s former name.
You can visit this cathedral in Ottawa on a tour bus or yourself. It is open on weekdays from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm and from 12:00 pm to 4:30 pm on Saturday. When you arrive at the cathedral, you will get welcomed by its breathtaking interior featuring several masterpieces such as paintings, stained glass windows, and statues. You can also join the choir for Sunday Masses at 10 am and 12 pm.
You can attend events held within the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica throughout the year, including special Christmas services.
When you visit this cathedral, be sure not to miss out on its stunning stained glass windows. These windows got installed between 1968 and 1970. The glass got designed by Guido Nincheri, an Italian-Canadian artist who lived from 1885 to 1973.
The Canadian Tulip Festival. The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa features 1 million tulips and is the largest tulip festival in the world. It is held annually in May and offers plenty of fun, including musical performances, arts and crafts exhibitions, a parade, and fireworks. This year’s event happens from May 11 to 21.
Here are some reasons why you should visit the festival:
- It’s free. You can enjoy the whole festival without paying for a ticket.
- There are fantastic art exhibits. The Canadian Museum of History hosts an annual Tulip Festival exhibit that celebrates the history of Canada’s capital and Dutch culture. Visitors can also enjoy music by talented local performers at the Plaza Bridge stage or shop for souvenirs at one of the numerous vendors’ booths throughout the festival grounds.
- The event is family-friendly. People of different ages will enjoy this festival: children can have their faces painted while adults enjoy food trucks and craft beer on-site. There are also games like mini-golf or sand volleyball available for those who want to get active during their visit.
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is in Ottawa, Ontario, a few minutes away from the Ottawa International Airport. There are many reasons you should visit the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
The first reason you should visit the museum is that it contains a little bit of everything. It means that there are exhibits on different aircraft: civilian, military, commercial, experimental, etc. Most importantly, the museum has an exhibition on space exploration. The museum gets divided into five galleries: a gallery on Early Flight, World War I and II, Jet Age and Post-War Civilian Aviation, Experimental Aircraft, Canadian Military Aviation, and Canadian Space Exploration.
The second reason you should visit the museum is that the exhibits are excellent. Each presentation contains multiple aircraft of varying sizes, and each one has a story behind it. The levels get written on plaques. Not only do these stories provide information about the plane itself but also about its history and purpose. Moreover, there are also flight simulators at the museum, which allow you to experience what it feels like to pilot an aircraft yourself.
May this guide help you plan your trip to Canada’s beautiful capital. There is a lot to do and explore in Ottawa, from great dining to breathtaking national parks—and everything in between. The city can be vibrant, quirky, and full of stunning natural beauty; even the most hardened traveler will find something to enjoy here.
But remember to read and follow the ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions in Ottawa and Canada. These policies include wearing masks and social distancing. This way, you will stay safe from the outbreak and the penalties for offenders.
In Ottawa, whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure or a local looking for fun things to do, this can be an exciting place to explore. There are so many great restaurants, galleries, and museums that we’ve barely scratched the surface of all that the city has to offer. With the information in this guide, you are all set to visit and have an unforgettable time in Ottawa. Enjoy your vacation in Ottawa!