Ottawa destroys all the cliches of a boring national capital. This thriving and vibrant city has a fantastic food scene, a brilliant outdoor lifestyle (even in the height of winter!) and so much to do!
Several of the must not miss Ottawa attractions involve visiting some of their amazing museums like the Canadian Museum of History, Canadian Museum of Nature and more and then there are several Ottawa tours which I rate as highly as Ottawa’s brilliant museums. Here are the 3 Ottawa Tours you must not miss!
1. Ottawa Tours: Bike & Bites
The Bike & Bites guided city tour was one of the highlights of my trip to Ottawa! This sightseeing tour is jointly run by the Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals and C’est Bon and it won the 2019 award for Ottawa best tourism partnership. Escapes Bicycle Tours & Rentals are one of the top bike tours/hire companies in Ottawa and C’est Bon is the place to go for food tours and cooking lessons in Ottawa (more on that later).
This Ottawa sightseeing tour begins at the Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals office on Sparks Street (this is also a good opportunity to see the sculptures of Sparks Street – you can read more about them in my post on the 17 Most Instagrammable & Fun Things to do in Ottawa). Escapes Bicycle Tours and Rentals will then fit you up for an appropriate bike and helmet.
From the office, we cycled down to the Rideau Canal. We then had a lovely cycle along the canal and over a couple of the Rideau canal bridges. Along the way, we were able to learn about the Rideau Canal construction and how it is used today – including hearing about the newest bridge over the canal.
The cycling was quite easy – nice and flat! It also felt very safe as most of the time we were on a cycle path. And any stairs involved had ramps for the bikes.
We cycled down to the Aberdeen Pavillion which is located in Landsdowne Park. Landsdowne Park is home to the Ottawa Farmers Market which is held every Sunday between 9 and 3. We parked our bikes at Aberdeen Pavillion (another good Ottawa photo stop) and met our guide from C’est Bon Food Tours.
Our C’est Bon tour guide then took us around the Ottawa Farmers Market. We had some tasty stops for grilled cheese and all things maple syrup (is there any food item that can’t be improved by the addition of maple syrup??). Then it was back on the bikes and through the cute Glebe neighborhood. I really enjoyed this part as it felt like this was where the locals go to eat and very off the beaten path.
Our stops then included delicious homemade soup and very creative and delicious ice cream. But the highlight of this Canada sightseeing tour for me was Kettleman’s Bagels. Kettleman’s make all their bagels on site – which you will actually see when you visit!
Kettleman’s are all about Montreal bagels. I must admit, I didn’t know Montreal bagels were a thing until this visit. They are slightly skinnier but chewier than their NYC cousins. If it came down to a bagel-off I do think I would now choose Kettleman’s!
Kettleman’s also do flavoured cream cheeses, bagel dogs (yes that is correct) and all things bagels. And their bagels are AMAZING!
I loved this tour – I think it is the ultimate Ottawa tour. It was great to get out of downtown Ottawa and explore some different neighbourhoods. Both guides were terrific. The C’est Bon guide was very patient answering my endless questions about other interesting and quirky places to eat in Ottawa.
The tour runs for about 4 hours and is about 14kms of cycling and 1.5 hours of the walking tour. It runs every Sunday between May and October.
Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals also offer daily guided cycling tours of Ottawa between May and October. There are three options available: two, three or five-hour cycling tours. Bikes can also be rented and the company provides cycling maps of Ottawa.
C’est Bon runs cooking classes and food tours in Ottawa. They offer loads of interesting food tours from Byward Market to the more local neighborhoods of Glebe and Hintonburg. One of their food tours should be high on your list of what to do in Ottawa.
If you love foodie travel as much as I do – and you love Canada – check out my other Foodie focussed posts on lovely Nova Scotia:
2. Ottawa Tours: Cruise Along the Rideau Canal
From May to October cruises run down the UNESCO listed Rideau Canal. The Rideau Canal was opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war against the USA and it runs for 126 kms. The locks on the canal open mid-May and close mid-October. Ottawa boat tours are one of the key Ottawa excursions.
Rideau Canal tours Ottawa run regularly from May to October. This is a very leisurely and relaxed boat cruise Ottawa. I took my tour with Rideau Canal River Cruise. The boat was very new and comfortable. It was also very open which was great for taking photos.
These Canada sightseeing tours come with a guide who covers the history of the Rideau Canal as well as highlighting interesting buildings along the canal like the new stadium and Aberdeen Pavillion. I took my tour on a Sunday morning and couldn’t believe how many people were cycling and running along the canal – it is obviously a key part of every day Ottawa life.[easy-image-collage id=12674]
There are some terrific views and photo opportunities along the way. The bridge which features the locks and has Fairmont Chateau Laurier in the background looking towards the Ottawa River is a winner. As are the locks themselves and any other photo which includes Fairmont Chateau Laurier!
The tour lasts about 90 minutes. Most of the cruise companies have their pick up and drop off spot on the canal itself not far from Parliament Hill.
I took this cruise and also cycled along the Rideau Canal. I really enjoyed both and I am glad that I did both tours as they were quite different and enjoyable experiences. If possible do both – the Bikes and Bites tour also offers so much else that it doesn’t feel like doubling up.
⇒ For another great water-based tour check out my post on Atlantic Canada’s number one tour – the Harbour Hopper Halifax.
3. Ottawa Tours: Parliament and the Changing of the Guard.
Did you know that the Canadian parliament has a temporary location for the next 10 years? Who knew? As it is going to take another 10 years to get the permanent home to the Canadian parliament completed I imagine that will be an impressive place to visit. In the meantime, it is possible to visit the temporary home of the Canadian Parliament.
I took the House of Commons tour. This tour runs for about 40 minutes and takes guests through the newly renovated West Block. See where all the action happens when bills are debated and check out the speaker of the house! The House of Commons is now in what was a courtyard. A roof was installed for this temporary home to parliament.
When parliament is not in session the tours run every 5 minutes – and this is a free tour! However, it is essential to book this parliament tour in advance as there are only a small number of tickets available each day for first come and first served. Make sure you arrive 20 minutes before your tour starts as there is a full security screen.
The Senate of Canada also relocated and tours of that chamber are available at the Senate of Canada Building which is across the road from Fairmont Chateau Laurier in a former train station.
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.
Top Tip: The Changing of the Guard takes place at 10 am so book your Tour of the House of Commons for 11 am. This allows plenty of time for the tour to end and for you to efficiently add in a House of Commons tour!
4. A few more Ottawa Tours
There are so many ways other Ottawa sightseeing tours! How about an Epic night tour of Ottawa? Or how about taking a haunted walk of Ottawa? Or taste the best of Byward Market? Or check out Ottawa’s hippest neighborhood on a Hintonburg Hops Walking Tour. Or visit the top Ottawa Breweries on one of the Ottawa bus tours?
In addition to the free tours of Parliament and the Changing of the Guard, Ottawa Free Tours has a great reputation for and a good selection of free city tour Ottawa options. This is a great sightseeing in Canada option.
And why not hire your own private photographer for 30 minutes to come along and get you the best holiday shots ever?
Where to stay in Ottawa
There are lots of great Ottawa hotels! I was lucky enough to stay in 3 of them so here are my thoughts!
First up was the Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel and Casino. This isn’t my usual type of boutique hotel but I really enjoyed it!!! The Hilton Lac-Leamy is more like an island than a hotel and casino. There are parks, a lake, boats, kayaks and a fountain all in the lake.
The rooms are huge! They are very luxurious with super comfortable big beds – I do love a North American bed! They also offer a delicious buffet breakfast. The selection is huge plus a great omelet bar. And I was able to eat mine on the lovely terrace with sits over the lake.
The hotel also has 2 pools, a spa, a gym, a restaurant and of course a Casino! The casino is super fun. They are launching more interactive games so not just a slot machine where you sit down. There are more interactive graphics, sound and music etc.
My second hotel in Ottawa was the amazing Fairmont Chateau Laurier. This stunning historic building is more like a castle – my room was in one of the turrets! I was lucky enough to get a corner room in one of the turrets on the 6th floor with amazing views over both the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River. A stunning room with a massive bed and flat-screen tv – and Le Labo toiletries – one of my favourites!
It doesn’t feel right to call Fairmont Chateau Laurier a hotel as it is so much more. More like a major tourist attraction 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 bustling lobby at Fairmont Chateau Laurier is like a European train station. There are also loads of couches and tables so it is an easy place to relax. The hotel has several restaurants. The breakfast buffet is outstanding! There is also an a la carte option but I can never say no to a big breakfast buffet! The crepes with maple syrup were my favourite!
The hotel also has a fantastic art deco indoor pool as well as a big gym. Go and see the pool even if you aren’t going to go swimming – it is quite stunning!
Hotel 3 is about a one hour drive from Ottawa and is in the lovely little town of Montebello. And it is another Fairmont hotel. Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is also the world’s biggest log cabin! I loved this place! It was like being in Dirty Dancing – with better sheets!
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello was built in 90 days during the depression. Laborers worked around the clock seven days a week in order to open July 1 – Canada day. All of the logs in the Fairmont are red cedar and came from British Colombia. I learned that red cedar is also used to create totem poles as it is long-lasting and soft.
The colors of the hotel are mostly black with red and green accents. Arriving is quite magical – there are little lights and logs everywhere! Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello has over 200 rooms but you would never know it – feels like a much smaller hotel.
My room had just been renovated. There was a fantastic shower with a huge and powerful shower head. An insanely comfortable giant bed. Super soft bathrobes. Nespresso machine in the room. One feature wall is made from logs and then I had lovely views of the lake and bbq area. And of course, Le Labo toiletries as this is the Fairmont!
The grounds are huge! The first that I did was borrow one of the property’s bikes and take the Sentner Trail. This trail runs for about 5km around the outskirts of the property. It allows you to explore the majority of the property, heading past the lake and all the key buildings including the dock.
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is home to the largest indoor pool in Canada which is also in a log building and quite stunning! It is also home to the spa.
There is a second big outdoor pool near the lake with loads of sun loungers, cabanas which can be rented and of course a bar!
There are three restaurants at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. The first is the BBQ. This is a more casual dining restaurant that is very modern in appearance. I loved the outdoor bbq. It was so relaxed and pretty and the food was amazing!
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello smokes their own meats and you must try them. I don’t normally like things like brisket but I loved this! And the pork ribs were amazing. Loads of meat on them, amazing flavor, just fell off. The pulled pork was so so succulent.
The BBQ restaurant is also known for great lamb and bavette steak (my waiter’s favourite) and the prawns were amazing. The salads looked nice as did dessert but I needed to prioritize my stomach so I went all meat! Apparently, the soft-serve ice cream is a big winner.
Then there is the main dining room with a wonderfully high ceiling. This is where breakfast is served as well. An amazing breakfast buffet – everything you could imagine! I highly recommend the maple syrup crepes – best enjoyed with some Canadian crispy bacon for textural and taste contrast!
But the highlight of Fairmont Le Chateau Laurier is the lobby. Well, it is unfair to call this a lobby. It is absolutely huge. The centre piece is a giant fireplace that has 6 different fires. Even at the height of summer – which is when I visited – the fires were off but the air had that lovely wood smell.
The lobby has a very high ceiling and loads of couches and plush seats. And of course a bar! I just wanted to stay here for hours. It felt like a bustling European train station except you didn’t need to go anywhere.
What I loved is the hotel is huge but it is all sectioned off so it never feels huge – just like you’re exploring more bits. There are people all around to give a bustling feel but it never feels busy – and still feels very relaxed.
This is a genuine all-year-round resort. It must be amazing to sit by the giant fireplaces in winter. But then it is also so wonderful in the summer – when I visited – to pop outside with the lake.
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is such a unique place to visit and it genuinely feels very special.
New Brunswick is another fantastic region in Canada! Check out my posts on:
Whale Watching St Andrews– A Complete Guide
The 26 Most InstagrammableThings to do in New Brunswick
9 BrilliantNew Brunswick ToursNot to Miss!
Where to Eat in Ottawa
I have written a whole dedicated post on this topic! Click here to read my post on Top Byward Market Restaurants & Other Ottawa Restaurant Gems.
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: 17 Instagrammable and Fun Things to do in Ottawa
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