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What to see and do in Ottawa – an overview of notable attractions and landmarks

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Ottawa is a mix of cultural sites and outdoor attractions. From the museums that scatter the city to the iconic landmarks like Parliament Hill, this is a destination with substance. Browsing local markets or soaking up the great outdoors give you a flavor of life here as a local, while the nightlife can be as high brow, chilled out or as vibrant as you fancy it.

Frank Bella

My Destination local expert on

Ottawa (Ontario)

Parliament Hill

 

Overlooking the city, Parliament Hill is a commanding presence on the skyline and on most itineraries for seeing the city. It’s also a good first stop, with the stirring Changing of the Guard ceremony taking place each morning. With carillon concerts, sound and light shows, and guided or self-guided tours, you may stay well into the afternoon. On Canada Day, July 1st, the Hill is the centrepiece of nationwide celebration. Throughout the summertime, you can find iconic Canadian Mounted Police around the grounds, always happy to let you take a photo with them.

 

Museums

 

Much like Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian museums, Ottawa’s capital city status makes it a national hub for museums and galleries of all stripes. For fine art, the National Gallery of Art is a must-see. History buffs shouldn’t miss the Canadian War Museum, Bytown Museum, or the Canadian Mint. Three more museums bring learning to life, especially for the younger set, with dynamic exhibitions and regular events: The Canadian Science and Technology Museum, The Canadian Museum of Civilization, and The Canadian Museum of Nature.

 

Byward Market

 

For shopping fiends, foodies and historians, Byward Market is Ottawa’s most colourful attraction. Visitors can explore the fresh local food market in the summer months, as well as blocks of restaurants, cafes and boutiques radiating from the historic marketplace. To learn about the market’s nearly 200-year history, weave your way between to the bustling stalls along with one of the many walking tours that focuses on the market’s architecture, history or culinary treasures.

 

Rideau Canal / Ottawa River

 

For relaxing sightseeing, you can’t beat a duck’s-eye-view of the city from the Rideau Canal. Select from many tour boat operators and sit back and toast the passing cityscape or listen attentively to informative tour guides. In the wintertime, it’s worth renting a pair of skates to join the jolly throngs on the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink. Longer-term houseboat rentals are widely available, too, for a popular excursion out of town, either along the Rideau Canal or the Ottawa River.

 

Gatineau Park

 

Just across the river in Hull, Gatineau Park makes it possible to spend an afternoon in total wilderness and be back in Ottawa in time for dinner. With 361 square miles of preserved lands, the park features nature trails, lakes, campsites, picnic areas and numerous lookout points. In the winter, it’s a popular spot for cross-country and downhill skiing. For a bit of history and culture, Gatineau Park is also the scenic home of Mackenzie King Estate, the stately home of Canada’s tenth Prime Minister.

 

Local Nightlife

 

When the Ottawa sunset projects pinks and blues over Parliament Hill, it’s time to explore the vibrant nocturnal entertainments of the capital city. For high-brow culture, see a show at the National Arts Centre. If you’re feeling lucky, head to the Casino du Lac-Leamy for gaming as well as concerts, art exhibitions and award-winning architecture. For drinks and elbow-rubbing with locals, wander the numerous bars and pubs surrounding Byward Market.