There are so many fun things to do in Ottawa. I know that capital cities are not usually linked to words like fun and super photogenic. But Ottawa Canada breaks the mold.
ottawa is surrounded by an area called Outaouais (pronounce it ooot-away) which contains some fantastic things to do within a one hour drive of the city. Here are 17 fun things to do in Ottawa and Outaouais.
17 Fun Things to do in Ottawa
Table of Contents
- 17 Fun Things to do in Ottawa
- 1. The Canadian History Museum
- 2. Fairmont Chateau Laurier
- 3. La Terrasse at Fairmont Chateau Laurier
- 4. The National Gallery of Canada
- 5. Visit Byward Market
- 6. Explore The Rideau Canal
- 7. The Ottawa Sign and York Street Stairs
- 8. Ottawa Farmers Market
- 9. The Copper Bar at the Andaz Hotel
- 10. Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel and Casino
- 11. Parc Omega
- 12. Visit the Largest Log Cabin in the World
- 13. Visit Nordik Spa-Nature
- 14. Canadian Museum of Nature
- 15. The Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill
- 16. The Sculptures of Sparks Street
- 17. Visit the Mural Boxes
- How to get to Ottawa & Get Around
- Who Paid for What with this Post
1. The Canadian History Museum
You didn’t expect a history museum/national historic site to be high on a list of places to visit in Ottawa that are both Instagrammable and fun right? Nor did I!
This museum is big – like most things in Canada. The Canadian History Museum receives over 1.2 million visitors every year, has a very cool design over its three large floors (you can get sneak peeks of other museum areas from various spots in the museum through its open design) and is Canada’s largest and most popular museum.
The Canadian History Museum is located on Ottawa River and was designed by a Canadian Aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal. It is a stunning building with dramatic, curved lines and is one of Canada’s top-ten architectural wonders.
When it comes to top things to do in Ottawa this should be on everyone’s list.
The building itself is the first Instagrammable element of this Ottawa museum. The curved lines, in particular, make for some great photos. I suggest heading down to the river and photographing the museum looking back.
The curves of the museum itself with the curves of the stairs plus the pond make for a nice composition.
Whilst you are down by Ottawa river there is also a great shot to be had of downtown Ottawa including Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal.
The exhibitions at the building start from 15,000 years ago and run all the way through to the present time so there is a lot to learn about. This history museum has the largest indoor collection of totem poles in the world.
Get your camera on portrait mode as these make for some nice shots of your Ottawa vacation particularly in the Grand Hall on the entrance level.
Some other photography highlights at the Canadian History Museum include:
- Artworks by local indigenous artists
- Reflection Alley
- Surprisingly, the entrance to the Canadian Stamp Collection
These and the museum itself were all fantastic (do allow yourself at least 3 hours as there is so much to see) but the insta highlight for me was the Morning Star. The Morning Star is a dome that rises 7 stories above the ground floor of the museum.
Painted in 1993, the dome features an abstract painting by Alex Janvier. The white central area of the painting represents the morning star. The four distinctive colorful areas in the outside ring represent a period in Canadian native history.
The painting is a commentary on the clashes which took place between the native culture of Canada and the Europeans who arrived in North America. It is absolutely stunning. So stunning that there are even special seats to allow visitors to sit and appreciate the Morning Start in their own time.
2. Fairmont Chateau Laurier
It doesn’t feel right to call Fairmont Chateau Laurier a hotel as it is so much more. More like one of the major Ottawa sights to see merged with a hotel. The building itself is a stunning castle set on the Ottawa river.
Fairmont Chateau Laurier first opened across from Ottawa rail station. A wonderful part of the expansion of the Candian railway was the creation of premium hotels near the stations.
Many of these hotels are now part of the Fairmont Group who has done an amazing job keeping their special and unique feel alive. Most Fairmont hotels I have stayed at are considerably bigger than my usual boutique hotel.
However, each one has a unique charm and sense of place which I feel are the most important qualities when choosing a hotel.
Back to Chateau Laurier. Built in 1912 across the road from Ottawa railway station, this castle-like building also has possibly the best location in Ottawa.
It sits on the corner of the Ottawa river and Rideau Canal, just across from Parliament Hill in the heart of downtown Ottawa. The building itself is very insta friendly – and it serves as a fantastic backdrop to shots taken on the Rideau Canal.
Combined with Parliament Hill these two structures are a great shot together from the Canadian National History Museum and one of the most Instagrammable places in Ottawa.
I stayed at Chateau Laurier and it was a brilliant experience. I was given a room on the 6th floor of this Ottawa hotel that was literally in one of the castle turrets.
The view was extraordinary – and best of all it faced west so I got some fantastic sunset shots. If you can’t stay at Chateau Laurier then I suggest moving on to my 3rd of my instagrammable and fun places to see in Ottawa.
3. La Terrasse at Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Reputed to be the most beautiful patio in Ottawa, La Terrasse has fabulous views of the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal. It is also a symphony of colours and part of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel.
The restaurant itself is gorgeous. It was overflowing with red flowers when I visited. But it is best known as being a fantastic and photogenic spot to watch the Ottawa sunset. The food is also pretty good here. I had a delicious lobster roll. This is one of the things to see in Ottawa.
⇒ Canada has some lovely wines! Check out my post on Wolfville Wineries in Nova Scotia [separator type=”thick”]
4. The National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery is one of Canada’s finest art museums. And it is also a rather spectacular building! Before you even get inside the National Gallery of Canada there are photo opportunities galore.
Let’s start with the rather famous outdoor sculpture Maman. Maman is a 9.25-meter bronze spider that comes with 26 marble eggs. This is a must for any fun things to do in Ottawa blog.
On the other side of the National Gallery Ottawa is the Majestic sculpture. This sculpture was built in 2011 and is made up of streetlamps that were upended in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. These street lamps still work and light up this area at night.
As one of the top Ottawa attractions, there are many photo opportunities inside the National Gallery of Canada as well. One of my highlights was the glass ceiling at the entrance, the walkway from the entrance and then the stunning glass roof (also a nice shot from outside). I also found some cool backstairs with a nice teal backdrop.
5. Visit Byward Market
The Byward Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada, as well as an exciting neighborhood in Ottawa. It is much more than just a farmer’s market – the area is filled with cafes, restaurants, pubs, and nightlife.
The area was the home to many of the laborers who built the Rideau Canal and has housed an open-air market since the 1840s.
The Byward Market area is fantastic for food photography – from the iconic red Beaver Tails stand to fresh produce at its farmers market to the colorful actual Byward Market Building. [separator type=”thick”]
⇒ Read my dedicated post covering the Top Ottawa Restaurants Byward Market & Other Ottawa Restaurant Gems [separator type=”thick”]
I also loved Les Cours de Sussex. These are several small backstreets that run parallel to Mackenzie street in the Byward Market area. These little streets are home to sculptures and street art – don’t miss the blue sheep, my personal favourite. [separator type=”thick”]
6. Explore The Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO world heritage site and North America’s oldest continuously operating canal. Most famously, in the winter the Rideau Canal freezes over sufficiently to allow for ice skating and it becomes the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink.
These plus beaver tail stands make ice skating on the Rideau Canal one of the top things to do in Ottawa winter. However, visiting the Rideau Canal is one of the must things to do in Ottawa all year round.
I visited Ottawa in the summer. The canal was filled with boats and the 202km canal is a favourite spot for runners and cyclists. The canal winds through downtown Ottawa before connecting with the Ottawa river.
I took a cruise on the Rideau Canal. Most Rideau Canal Cruises start at the lochs near Parliament Hill. It is a very pleasant trip and a guide will provide information about the history and use of the canal.
I found the canal to be most photogenic where it intersects with Ottawa River and there is a nice bridge with locks that works well as a shot with Chateau Fairmont Laurier in the background.
⇒ Book your Rideau Canal Cruise [separator type=”thin”]
The cycling path along the canal is fantastic. I went on a cycling/food tour and we cycled along the canal. It is very flat so nice and easy (Ottawa has over 800kms of cycling paths).
Where it is necessary to dismount those clever Canadians always have a ramp for your bike for the minimum hassle.
⇒ If you like a tour that takes you into the water check out my post on Atlantic Canada’s number one tourist attraction the Harbour Hopper Halifax. [separator type=”thick”]
7. The Ottawa Sign and York Street Stairs
Can’t miss giant letters for a selfie shot. The letters of Ottawa are spelled out on York Street in Byward Market. Tuck yourself inside the O or even one of the a’s or just casually slouch against a letter.
Across the street from the letters is the public art piece Heat Wave. Montreal artist Jerome Bertrand painted this work on the York Street steps.
8. Ottawa Farmers Market
Lansdowne Park is home to the Ottawa Farmers Market. This market is held year-round every Sunday between 9 am and 3 pm. Every stall at the market features producers who make, grow or bake their wares within 100km of Ottawa.
There was some fantastic food on display! In particular, don’t miss the grilled cheese stand.
Lansdowne Park is conveniently next door to the Aberdeen Pavillion, another photo-friendly sport in Ottawa.
I explored the Farmers Market Ottawa and around with the fantastic C’est Bon. C’est Bon runs brilliant food tours around Ottawa – I highly recommend them.
9. The Copper Bar at the Andaz Hotel
Good wine and a view – one of my favourite combinations! The Coppers Spirits and Sights bar is on the 16th floor of the Andaz Hotel in the Byward Market area.
The bar is both indoor and outdoor and has the title of Ottawa’s tallest rooftop bar. This makes for some fantastic views and photos.
10. Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel and Casino
The Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel and Casino are almost like a city. There are extensive outdoor grassy areas where it is possible to dock a boat, go kayaking and do everything you would on a real lake on this man-made lake. And the hotel has two balls plus 3 restaurants.
The lobby, in particular, is just stunning and features glass artworks from Dale Chihuly.
Then there is the casino. Casino Lac-Leamy has everything from classic slot machines and gaming tables to innovative multigame spaces with live hosts.
The new trend in Casinos is unsurprisingly interaction. It is now possible to go and sit with a friend and you will both play different games but be together at Casino Lac-Leamy. It is also possible to play against the experts as I did.
And then there is the fabulous Le Baccara restaurant at Casino Lac-Leamy which has earned the CAA – AAA’s five-diamond rating for years and years. Le Baccara has a fantastic open kitchen so you will see the experts in the kitchen during preparation.
But that’s not the best view. That honor goes to the view over Ottawa from this beautiful hotel. It is stunning – and has a full glass wall to allow for maximum appreciation.
Let’s get to the food at Le Baccara Casino Lac-Leamy. Firstly it is rather shocking how reasonably priced this extremely awarded restaurant is! A 5-course tasting menu is only Canadian 105 dollars – very cheap for such a prestigious restaurant.
My five courses at Le Baccara included scallops ceviche, foie gras croquette style (a highlight), beef, a small chocolate souffle and granite with coconut and passion fruit.
And some fantastic chocolates which required a doggy bag. Great shots and a very happy and full stomach – a perfect combination. [separator type=”thin”]
⇒ Check Prices and Availability for the Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel [separator type=”thin”]
11. Parc Omega
Have you ever been on a Canadian safari? Did you know that such a thing existed? I certainly didn’t but was delighted to find out about Omega Park and to take a self-drive Canadian safari.
Parc Omega has a 15km road which winds through 890 hectares of hills, lakes, and pastureland.
It is possible to observe several species of wild animals roaming free in their natural habitat – bison, elk, bears, wolves and wild boar. There are many picnic spots that are frequented by the very friendly and photogenic white-tailed deer.
Upon arrival, guests receive a map and a list of activities that will take place that day. Start at the gift shop to buy snacks to feed the animals – this generous food policy is the key reason the animals will come extremely close to you – and best of all stick their heads into your car which I loved.
The map was extremely accurate when it came to where to find different animals. The bison was where the map said as were the arctic wolves and even the bears.
It is possible to sleep with the wolves and bears at the park. The parc has log cabins that can be booked with exclusive boardwalks for all night animal viewing. I absolutely loved this experience and highly recommend it.
Parc Omega is well signed and there is no need to book ahead. However, you will need a car to get around. Parc Omega is a reasonable drive from Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa.
Parc Omega can also be visited as a day trip from Montreal or if you don’t have a car they do have a number of golf carts which can be hired each day – but it is first come first served. [separator type=”thick”]
⇒ If you enjoy a road trip and love Canada check out my Nova Scotia Itinerary for a road trip. [separator type=”thick”]
12. Visit the Largest Log Cabin in the World
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is the world’s largest log building. It is a star-shaped structure and was built in the depression of the 1930s in just 90 days. The reason for the urgency was that the developer wanted to open the hotel for Canada day, which is still July 1.
The chateau was once an exclusive private club but is now part of the wonderful Fairmont group of hotels.
The logs are red cedar and all 10,000 of them were brought in from British colombia by train. I learned that red cedar is also the wood used for totem poles. This is because it is soft and long-lasting – and because red cedars are huge.
There are 211 rooms at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. The hotel is halfway through renovating all the rooms – particularly the bathrooms. I was lucky enough to have a freshly renovated room and it was lovely.
One wall was made from logs but with a modern bathroom – and a powerful shower most importantly. Nice high thread count on the sheets as well.
There is so much to do at Montebello. Indoor and outdoor activities, a spa, a marina, a golf course – it is impossible to be bored. I used one of the free bikes available and cycled around the entire property which was lovely.
I then cycled into nearby Montebello. This super cute little town is literally only a couple of minutes away by bike. [separator type=”thick”]
⇒ For another super cute little Canadian town check out my post on the best things to do in Lunenburg Nova Scotia. [separator type=”thick”]
The town of Montebello has some cute restaurants and is known for its cheese shop Fromagerie Montebello and chocolate shop Chocomotive (make sure you try their salted caramel chocolates).
Back at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, I visited the rather spectacular 75-foot indoor swimming pool – the largest indoor swimming pool in Canada. It also comes with 2 indoor whirlpools and 2 dry saunas. And best of all one wall is made of logs so it is very photogenic.
As I visited in summer I then went and had a swim and a relax around the lovely outdoor pool. Then it was dinner time. The food at this Fairmont hotel was just fantastic.
Chateau Montebello is known for its barbeque restaurant which is set on a terrace overlooking the Ottawa river. There are several different food stations offering so much. My favorite was the smoker. This is quite a new addition to the barbeque and was fantastic.
Chateau Montebello also has two other restaurants. Aux Chantignoles is their more high-end classic dining restaurant and also where the excellent breakfast is served. Bistro La Seigneurie is for more casual dining.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough I have saved my favourite element of Le Chateau Montebello for last. The lobby of the hotel features an amazing six-sided stone fireplace in reception – surrounded by multiple comfortable couches and seats.
You want it to rain so you can curl up on one of these couches with a good book and coffee and comfortably hang out all day. Even in summer, this was an area I never wanted to leave. [separator type=”thin”]
⇒ Check Prices and Availability for Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello [separator type=”thin”]
13. Visit Nordik Spa-Nature
Nordik Spa-Nature is the largest spa in North America and is located near the entrance to Gatineau Park only 10 minutes from Ottawa. There are so many ways to relax here. 9 outdoor baths, 9 saunas, an infinity pool with amazing views of Gatineau-Ottawa, steam bath, waterfalls AND 4 restaurants.
Plus of course a complete spa with treatments galore. I loved the fact that the Nordik Spa-Nature has three areas – silent, whisper and social. I think more spas should offer something like this so you can tailor your experience.
I also took the Kalla bath saltwater treatment – one of only 2 in the world. This was fantastic. I have visited the dead sea twice and loved the weightless sensation. However, I didn’t really enjoy that it was very very hot.
So the Kalla bath saltwater treatment at Nordik Spa-Nature Canada was perfect for me as it indoors so avoids the blazing sun issue. They have little neck cushions next to the pool which I recommend as it makes the floating much more comfortable.
Then get in and close your eyes and relax. Nordik Spa-Nature Chelsea also offers the traditional Banya sauna experience with lots of Himalayan salt and birch for whipping.
I also tried the Aufguss Ritual. Aufguss is German for infusion. These rituals take place hourly in one of the large saunas. They are free and the sauna can fit quite a few people.
Once inside the sauna, there is a guide for the ritual. Your guide will begin sort of whirling many branches and scents around the room. This fanning effect increases heat. The smells are wonderful but it gets very hot! and then hotter.
I highly recommend sitting on a bench at floor level – the higher up you are in the sauna the warmer it will get. I didn’t last the full session as it got too hot for me but it is very easy to leave. I really enjoyed it and did feel rather wonderful afterward.
Another lovely thing to try at Nordik Spa-Nature is to rest in one of the hammocks in the forest. In the winter these are heated. That must be wonderful. [separator type=”thick”]
14. Canadian Museum of Nature
I’m going to be completely honest – I didn’t go inside the Canadian Museum of Nature. Sorry! Always embarrassing to admit. The museum is supposed to be amazing – it even contains real ice – but even a travel blogger can’t fit in every attraction.
But I did go there and photograph the building’s stunning glass extension. The glass tower at the Canadian Museum of Nature was built in 2010 is known as “The lantern”. The tower now hosts a piece of art that changes regularly – it was a blue globe when I visited. [separator type=”thin”]
⇒ Book your ticket for the Canadian Museum of Nature [separator type=”thin”]
15. The Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill
As a Londoner, the Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill ceremony felt a little familiar. Unsurprisingly it is based on the English changing of the guard ceremony.
However, this one only takes place in the summer – when the Changing of the Guard ceremony happens every morning. Dozens of soldiers participate and the troops march up Elgin Street and onto the lawn. And it is definitely one of the best free things to do in Ottawa.
Even better, every Wednesday at noon during the summer a free yoga session is held on the lawn of Parliament Hill. There is also a free sound and light show each evening in the summer.
⇒ Click here for the official Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill website and more details.
16. The Sculptures of Sparks Street
Named after Nicholas Sparks, this was the street where the Canadian capital’s elite came to meet. It is still a popular street in one of Ottawa’s most exclusive shopping districts. It is mostly pedestrianized and features Bruce Garner’s sculptures Joy and Territorial Prerogative (this is Ottawa’s most famous bear).
Sparks Street is also home to Lord Stanley’s Gift Monument. Unveiled in 2017, It commemorates the donation of the Stanley Cup ice hockey championship trophy by Canada’s Governor-General the Lord Stanley of Preston in 1893.
17. Visit the Mural Boxes
I have saved my favourite for last. The Rideau mural boxes began as an attempt to reduce the maintenance costs associated with the vandalism of Downtown Rideau’s electrical boxes. Wraps were created featuring women dressed in the 1950s fashions from Mandigo’s Auntie Mame series.
These 17 boxes are extremely colourful – I just loved these ladies. Each one also features a QR code that allows you to find out more about your box of choice.
Ottawa Canada things to do is a long list, There are so many Ottawa points of interest and fun activities that it is ideal to have at least four days for exploring.
[separator type=”thick”] If you’re looking for more Instagram friendly cities in North America check out my posts on:
⇒ 20 Instagrammable Places to Visit in Philadelphia
⇒ 10 Instagram worthy Baltimore Attractions [separator type=”thick”]
How to get to Ottawa & Get Around
Ottawa has an international airport. If you are flying to Ottawa from the UK only Air Canada flies direct. However, there are many airlines, including Westjet with whom I flew, that have one connection. If you are coming from within Canada or the US there are loads of flights.
Downtown Ottawa is very walkable. Parliament Hill, Byward Market, and the Rideau Canal are all within walking distance of each other. If you want to explore a little farther bike hire is very easy – and this is a very bike-friendly town.
To get to some of the places in this post like Omega Park and Montebello a car will be easiest. I found Ottawa and the surrounding area very easy to navigate and of course Canadian drivers are just lovely.
Who Paid for What with this Post
The lovely team at the Ottawa & Outaouais tourism boards covered all of my costs eg hotels, car hire and most meals whilst I was in the area and they covered my flight from Ottawa to new york.
I paid for my inbound flight to Ottawa and a few meals and wine – but not really that much if I’m honest. This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click through on them and make a purchase I may well receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure that you knew.
READ NEXT: 3 Brilliant Ottawa Tours Not to Miss!
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