The second-largest country in the world, Canada, has diverse attractions to capture the attention of the vast number of tourists with their varied interests that visit the country every year. Its capital city, Ottawa, has been exceptionally popular among the tourists, it is a convenient starting point to begin your exploration of the country and gain access to the beautiful eastern provinces. In our article, “Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ottawa” – we will discuss the must-visit attractions in Canada’s capital city.
With a number of seasonal festivals to entertain the travelers all round the year, the place is extremely entertaining. There are a number of outdoor activities that you can choose from, take a cultural and theme tour around the area and immerse yourself in the native culture of the place, bike around the mountains, visit the parks and glimpse the wildlife to get better acquainted with nature, visit the specialty museums, monuments, statues, government buildings and historic sites to experience the different aspects of the place or you could simple opt for a city tour and go shopping in the urban centers of the place. There are breweries, art galleries, theaters, and shopping malls, gardens, hiking trails, farms and various concerts and shows taking place all over the city.
The Parliament Hill is beside the Ottawa River and offers a view of the surrounding area from its impressive height of 50 meters. The attraction of the Hill is the Gothic inspired architecture of the Parliament building that is situated right at the heart of Canada’s capital. The building of sandstone structure is similar in style to that of the Houses of Parliament in London and the Parliament Building in Budapest.
The changing of the guard every morning in the summer months is an interesting sight to behold. Explore the Center Block on your own and bask in the glory and monumental presence of the place. You can avail the free guided tour of the Hill if you arrive early there and secure a place on the tour, as it is reserved on a first come first serve basis.
The octagon shaped library is situated at the back of the main building and had survived the fire of 1916 unscathed. The grass area is patrolled by the Canadian Mounted Police which only adds to scenery of the place. The stunning light and sound show of the evenings are also free and attract a lot of crowd for its precise and meticulous excellence accompanied by music.
The canal was initially there as a security measure that established a supply route between Montreal and Kingston. The scenic beauty of the place turns it into a perfect picnic spot in the summer months and makes it a preferable spot for ice skating during the winter months.
Moreover, it was awarded the position of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and has been attracting more tourists ever since. The Canadian capital city of Ottawa boasts of this amazing spot which has become one of the key icons of the country.
The Rideau Canal is more than 202 kilometers long, joining Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River in Kingston. Built in a tumultuous time, the historical significance of the canal adds to its beauty and charm. It is the oldest and best-preserved canal that is still operational in the whole of North America.
The canal improved the trade routes in the country and eased the trouble of immigration. In the current beautiful city, the canal provides occasion for a number of activities to entertain the visitors with its curious combination of ancient and modern attractions.
Canadian War Museum
The museum dedicated to Canada’s military endeavors is situated beside the Ottawa River. The museum holds historical records from the 16th century to the modern world politics. The visitors are offered a peak into the Canadian perspective of the historical events and their contributions. There are interactive exhibit installations and the museum also has a number of military vehicles on display, Hitler’s car is even among them.
The museum is 2 kilometers away from the Parliament Hill and you can walk there while enjoying the breeze or take a taxi from the Hill. The museum houses about three million priceless artifacts that contribute to the construction of the rich and glorious history of the country. It takes at least half a day to cover the numerous interesting sections and exhibits; you can find many intriguing pieces of history all throughout the museum and are welcome to spend more time here if the cultural and historical aspect interests you.
The museum is open for the public everyday from 9.30 am to 5 pm with special extended hours on Thursdays. There is a cafe and a souvenir shop inside the establishment.
National Gallery of Canada
Situated near the War Museum is the architectural masterpiece of Canada. Moshe Safdie’s design of glass towers of the National Gallery constituting prism like cuts, reflecting the city outside is a piece of art in itself. The galleries inside the building display art of various kinds from the early ages of humanity to the modern strains of Impressionism. Often, there are exhibitions organized that are of both eminent and new artists.
The Gallery serves as an exceptional introduction to both architecture and art. It was founded in the later part of the 19th century to put on the display the development of Canadian art and in the process, effectively preserve the culture. This cultural heritage site is among the world’s most revered art galleries with over 36000 works, most of which are on display inside the gallery but a few of the bigger installations are scattered around the grounds as well for the visitors to experience.
The glass and granite building is the epitome of contrast and claims artistic superiority with its design. A panoramic view of the city is offered the building as well.
Notre Dame Basilica
Housed opposite the National Gallery, this breathtaking symbol of Christianity has transcended its limitations of religious significance and has been established as the center of attraction for the art enthusiasts. This much-deserved reputation is owed to the artwork that covers the interior of the basilica. The exquisite work of the building itself too more than 40 years to be completed, starting in 1841, which also makes it the oldest and biggest church in the capital.
Consecrated in 1846, the major mahogany carvings are by Philippe Parizeau, while Louis-Philippe Herbert has carved the figures of the four evangelists, prophets and apostles. Guido Nincheri has worked on the pictures that depict scenes from the Bible between 1956 and 1961. The stained glass windows add to the beauty of the place by introducing ever-changing additional colors at different times of the day.
The iconic tower is set upon the Parliament Hill at the Center Block. The observation deck atop the Peace Tower is the highest point in Ottawa. Consequently, it is afforded a view of the whole city with all its attractions. You can go up to the deck by availing an elevator ride and you can witness the tower bells up close while going up.
Representative of the political strife of the Canadians, the tower houses a memorial hall in tribute to those who died in the WWI. The exquisite architecture that is remnant of the European Gothic style and the panoramic view of the modern city are interestingly contrasted. There are 53 bells of different shapes and sizes in the tower working in sync with the four faced clock. The surrounding pavilion is open for exploration for the tourists.
The tour of the tower is free but only a limited number of people are allowed on the tours. The visitors are advised to reach the tower early to not miss out on the opportunity to experience the heights and history.
Other museums of cultural and historical significance are dotted around the city. You can visit the Canadian Museum of Nature, National War Memorial, Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum, and Canada Aviation and Space Museum to experience the development in the various fields and witness the memorials.
Royal Canadian Mint
The facility is no longer functioning as the manufacturer of the circulating coins of the country. They currently make medals that are finely crafted, collectors’ edition commemorative coins and awards. The medals given shape here are presented at the Olympics and other prestigious events all over the world.
If you visit on weekdays, you can see the craftsmen at work and the tour is instantly more interesting to go through. The tours are conducted in small groups and the visitors are advised to book their spots in advance.
Canadian Tulip Festival
The end of the winter season is marked by the spring festival of Ottawa which witnesses the blooming of millions of tulips all over the city. The tulips were a gift from Netherland’s Queen Juliana as a token of her gratitude due the city’s warm hospitality during the time of the Second World War.
The flowers bloom all over the city but it is specially the banks of the Canal and Commissioner’s Park that hosts the festivities with the gathering of thousands of visitors both domestic and international. It is estimated that quite a few million tulips blossom every year and an extremely colourful “Tulip Route” is mapped out for the visitors. The general beauty of the landscape is further accentuated with the fireworks and performances for the purpose of entertaining the gathered masses all throughout the day. You can plan your trip around the time of the festival to experience the phenomenon.
The Lower Town of Ottawa, in the northern part of the Rideau Canal, is the Byward Market. It has been there since the 1840s. The fruits, flowers and vegetables of the summer make the market colourful in its own way. The market has become a centre of social gatherings with its food stores and stalls, and now, there are a number of restaurants and quaint cafes that attract the tourists. The surrounding area has been restored not long ago and the main market hall is the focus point of the traders and shoppers.
Dows Lake Pavilion: The pavilion looks out to the clear lake and has a number of restaurants including a patio. It offers a clear view of the docks. You can rest boats there to go into the lake and enjoy the quiet of nature. Skates and sleds are abundantly available in the winter months. The Winterlude festival is hosted here and it is part of the Tulip Route in the spring.
Other than the above mentioned attractions of culturally rich and beautiful landscapes, Ottawa caters to the wandering heart of the tourists as well. There are a number of outdoor activities available for the adventurer soul to enjoy a holiday as per their relaxing preferences.
There are various festivals, from flowers to music, you can experience the social life of the city and interact with the locals. Not to mention, the culinary scene of the country is as varied as any. With a combination of American comfort food and European elegance of fine dining, the city offers a cuisine that is bound to bring a range of flavors for your taste buds like never before.
The culturally conscious urban society of the country cherishes its heritage and offers ample opportunity for creative expression, as a result, the city witnesses a number of events celebrating the performing arts, exhibitions by artists and the like. As the capital city, Ottawa as plenty of places where you can shop at your heart’s content. You get most of the souvenir shops at the prominent locations that attract a significant number of the tourists.
Though we have listed all the top tourist attractions of the city in a fairly orderly manner for you to navigate through, you can sign up for a city tour and not go through the trouble of sorting through the places, you can just tick off the places you want to visit once you have covered them on the city tour. The city tours are effective for those who are traveling with limited time on their hands and want to experience the essence of the city in a compact manner.
What should I see in Ottawa?
Ottawa offers a vast array of places for sightseeing. You can opt for the Museums, National Galleries, Notre Dame Basilica and the Peace Tower, if historical heritage sites interest you. You can also get a glimpse of the local life at the many festivals that are held in the city from the Tulip Festival to the number of music festivals celebrating art and culture. The Byward Market presents an interesting confluence of both the above mentioned qualities with its significant existence from the 1840s and as a place of social interaction.
What can you do in Ottawa for free?
Ottawa’s central attraction, the Parliament Hill houses all the important buildings and the guided tour to them can be availed for free. In addition to that, the light and sound show of the evening is also open for all. The guided tour of the Peace Tower can also be availed free of cost.
What is Ottawa known for?
Canada’s capital, Ottawa is known for its Tulip Festival which is celebrated by people all over the world and especially the country, as they flock to the city for the occasion. The city’s culturally rich attractions have also been a prominent reason for its eminence. As the central seat of government, the significance of the city has been further embossed in the tourism context through its political aspect.
What do Ottawa people do for fun?
The urban city has all the means of conventional fun things for its inhabitants and tourists; you could experience the culture and society of the country by exploring its culinary scene at the heart of the capital. For an exclusive experience, you could skate in the largest outdoor skating rink of the world or you could even learn about the country’s history from the monuments and extensively recorded history available at the various museums and galleries.
How many days do you need in Ottawa?
Though a bustling capital city, Ottawa can be relaxing depending upon how you plan your stay. In that regard, you could visit the city with a week in your hand and explore the city’s intricacies in detail. For a short visit of two or three days, you could select from the historical sites to visit and balance the trip out with a visit to the market to explore the local scene of the place.
How long is the drive from Toronto to Ottawa?
The distance from Toronto to Ottawa is about 400 kilometres. It takes close to four and half hours by the Trans-Canada Highway. The drive is recommended due to the scenic beauty it unveils along the stretch of the road. There are cars available for rent for this purpose.
Is Ottawa a good place to live?
Ottawa is considered a safe city for women. As it sees a varied crowd, the society is not orthodox and certainly has more tolerance towards diversity than other places can possibly offer. The suburban lifestyle can be difficult to adjust to for everyone, but the city has good schools and adequate community recreation facilities to accommodate the said lifestyle. As part of being the capital city, it has the usual amount of crime rates but most communities and areas are extremely secured. The people are helpful. The cost of living is lower than Toronto. Free health care, low cost post secondary education, safety, security of women and quality of life is as enjoyable in Ottawa as any other city of Canada. It gets really cold in the winters and you would have to learn how to cope with the weather, especially if you’re migrating from a tropical country.