The 20 Best Things to Do in Ottawa for First-Timers

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

As the capital of Canada, Ottawa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It is also a destination for people on business trips. If you are visiting Ottawa, you will find that there are plenty of things to enjoy during your stay. Although the city is particularly well-known for its museums and Victorian architecture, there are activities and attractions to suit all tastes and that are suitable for all ages. These range from outdoor activities to family attractions, and from historical landmarks to lively entertainment. Here are the 20 best things to do in Ottawa for first-timers.


20. Try Some Watersports

Ottawa is a fantastic place to try some watersports, and there are several locations where you can try a variety of activities says The Planet D. A popular option is paddle boarding along the Gatineau River, and there are even paddleboarding tours that involve you learning the basic skills of paddleboarding, then a tour guide providing information about the landmarks you paddle past. Another popular activity is white water rafting, as the Ottawa River is one of the best places to enjoy this activity in Canada. Kayaking is a further fun activity you can enjoy on the Ottawa River.

Nordic Spa-Nature

19. Relax at the Nordic Spa-Nature

Those who want to relax during their vacation should spend a day at the Nordic Spa-Nature. While many spas offer only enough for you to spend a couple of hours there, this has multiple facilities for guests to use. Some of these include 10 baths, nine saunas, an infinity pool, a saltwater floating pool, several treatment rooms, and both indoor and outdoor lounges. There are also three restaurants on-site, so you have several dining options during your visit. The spa is located in Gatineau Quebec, which is just 20 minutes outside Ottawa.

Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo

18. See the Animals at Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo

If you are visiting Ottawa as a family day out, then a fantastic day out for all the family is a visit to see the animals at Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo. This zoo and animal rescue facility boasts the largest and most diverse education outreach program in the country. As its name suggests, it is home to a large reptile and amphibian rescue center. Some of the animals on display include cobras, pythons, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and alligators. Visitors can learn about each of the creatures and their natural habitats. Educational programs are held within the grounds each day, and there are rotating exhibits highlighting many different animals.

Fine Dining at Atelier

17. Experience Fine Dining at Atelier

Ottawa is a wonderful place for foodies, as the eating establishments are so diverse. There are restaurants to suit all budgets, and examples of cuisine from across the globe. If you want to experience fine dining during your stay in Ottawa, then a top restaurant to visit is Atelier. The focus is on molecular gastronomy using upmarket products. Diners can enjoy a 12-course tasting menu, and the menu changes nightly. Many of the dishes contain unexpected ingredient pairings that are intended to surprise and tantalize your taste buds. There is also the option to have wine pairings to accompany every course. Atelier, which is located on Rochester Street, has a modern dining room with an upbeat atmosphere.

Laurier House National Historic Site

16. Laurier House National Historic Site

Laurier House was once the home of two former Canadian Prime Ministers. Now, the site is a National Historic Site that is located in the Sand Hill district of the city. Visitors can take a guided tour of the property, which now includes a museum. The interior boasts period décor, and the exhibits include artifacts relating to the two leaders who once lived in this house. Visitors can also learn about some of the famous guests who spent time at this property.

Prince of Wales Falls Park

15. See the Falls at the Prince of Wales Falls Park

The Prince of Wales Falls, more commonly known as the Hog’s Back Falls, is an urban green space including a section of the Rideau River that contains a series of waterfalls. Within the park, there are several heritage locations, including a pavilion. There are also historical displays, miles of hiking trails, paved pathways, picnic tables, and a concession stands.

Major’s Hill Park

14. Spend Time at Major’s Hill Park

Major’s Hill Park is an urban green space in the downtown area by the mouth of the Ottawa River. It is close to many other attractions, such as the National Gallery of Canada, Byward Market, and Parliament Hill. Therefore, it is somewhere that you can spend some peaceful time during your sightseeing. There are picnic facilities and open grassland, so you can eat a picnic, go for a walk, or simply sit and relax. You will also see pretty gardens and a series of historical interpretative panels. The park is also used to host various events throughout the year, including Ottawa’s Canada Day celebrations.

Canadian Royal Mint

13. Go to the Canadian Royal Mint

Vacation Idea recommends a visit to the headquarters of the Canadian Royal Mint, which is housed in an impressive historical building in central Ottawa. Founded in 1908, the Mint is still in operation to create commemorative and collector pieces. Some examples include gold bullion coins, medallions, specialty coins, and medals. Visitors to this historic building can take a guided tour to learn more about the production of these items and the history of the facility.

Bytown Museum

12. Learn About Canadian History at Bytown Museum

Although it is smaller than the Canadian Museum of History, the Bytown Museum is a great place to learn about Canadian History. The building that houses the museum was once the commissariat for food and materials while the construction of the Rideau Canal was underway. Ottawa was formerly known as Bytown, hence the name of the museum. This attraction is a tribute to Lieutenant-Colonel John By, who was responsible for the canal’s construction. The museum is divided into period rooms containing household items from the end of the 19th-century.

Canadian Museum of History

11. See the Exhibits at the Canadian Museum of History

Previously, this museum was known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization. There are 300 thousand square feet of exhibition space over four floors, and the exhibits cover human history over a period of 20,000 years. As there is so much to see, it is one of the most visited attractions in the city, and it boasts more than 1.2 million visitors annually. The museum is also home to two further attractions; an IMAX theater and the Canadian Children’s Museum.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

10. Visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

One of the most notable landmarks in Ottawa is the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, which is the seat of Ottawa’s Catholic archbishop. It is a Canadian national historic site and the oldest church in the city. From the outside, the impressive architecture features magnificent, silvery spires. Inside, you can admire the architectural detail, the stained-glass windows, and the works of art. This is a peaceful place to sit and relax in a calm environment.

Canadian Museum of Nature

9. Have an Educational Experience at the Canadian Museum of Nature

The exhibits in this museum cover a vast period of time spanning four billion years and there are more than 10 million specimens on display. These include prehistoric fossils, wildlife, insects, and much more. A highlight for many people is the dioramic displays of Canadian animals. The Canadian Museum of Nature has something for everyone, as there are plenty of interactive activities to keep children entertained. Therefore, it is a great choice for a family activity.

Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

8. Learn About Aviation at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

At this museum, you will find the most comprehensive collection of vintage aircraft anywhere in Canada. The main display includes over 130 aircraft and artifacts relating to both civil and military service. The Walkway of Time is the main exhibition hall, and this focuses on the developments in Canadian aviation from the early 20th century to the current day. For an additional cost, you can book sightseeing flights in either a Cessna aircraft or a vintage Waco UPF-7.

Byward Market

7. Stroll Around Byward Market

This is one of the oldest and largest public markets in Canada. It is a fantastic place to feel like you are getting involved with the local community. You will find a vast array of stalls selling everything from souvenir trinkets to handmade items. There are also food stalls selling treats, local produce, and snacks. During the summer months, there are stalls both inside and outside the market.

National Gallery of Canada

6. Go to the National Gallery of Canada

An excellent attraction for art lovers is a trip to the National Gallery of Canada. This is opposite Parliament Hill, so you can visit both on the same day. The gallery is notable because it has a huge sculpture of a spider at the entrance. Inside, there is artwork to suit all tastes as it has contemporary pieces alongside works by famous artists such as Picasso, Michelangelo, and da Vinci. There are also multiple works by Canadian artists to view.

Lusk Cave Trail

5. Explore the Lusk Cave Trail

Located within Gatineau Park, the Lusk Cave trail leads to a marble cave. You will probably get your feet wet when you enter the cave as there is a pool of water that is about ankle deep. One inside the cave, there are also some deeper pools of water to negotiate. To exit the cave, you can either double back on yourself or swim through a small hole at the other end. During the winter months, there is the option to cross country ski to the cave, and there are also snowshoe trails leading to its entrance.

Gatineau Park

4. Enjoy the Outdoors at Gatineau Park

The place where the locals head when they need a break from their urban lifestyle is Gatineau Park. This 90-thousand-acre park is just 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa. There is a vast array of outdoor activities you can enjoy throughout the year, and these change according to the season. Just some of the activities to enjoy include hiking, cycling, swimming, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. It is a wonderful place to get close to nature. There are also heritage sites within the park, including the Mackenzie King Estate, which was constructed in 1903.

Parliament Hill

3. Visit Parliament Hill

One of the top attractions in Ottawa is Parliament Hill, says Time Out. Although this is the seat of the government, it is also an excellent attraction to visit. Visitors can wander around the grounds to see the many statues, and they can enjoy views across the river. Parliament Hill is also home to the 300-foot Peace Tower, which is a distinctive feature of Ottawa’s skyline. You can also take a tour of the Center-Block. In the summer months, free yoga classes are held on the grounds on Wednesdays.

Canadian War Museum

2. Go to the Canadian War Museum

Canada has a long military history as it has been involved in both World Wars 1 and II and in the French and Indian War. The museum has exhibitions that focus on Canada’s involvement in these wars. The museum is housed in a building that was designed by Raymond Moriyama, who was a Japanese-Canadian imprisoned during World War II.

Rideau Canal

1. Enjoy Activities at Rideau Canal

According to US News, one of the best things to do in Ottawa is to enjoy the activities at the Rideau Canal. This canal runs right the way through the center of the city, and it is one of Ottawa’s most popular historic attractions. It was constructed between 1826 and 1832 as a waterway between Quebec, Montreal, and Kingston in Ontario. Now, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can enjoy boat rides down the canal, and there are pathways running alongside it for walking and cycling. In the winter months, the river frees over and becomes an ice-skating rink.

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