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What to Do in Ottawa: The Ultimate Travel Guide


Ottawa Attractions | Planning A Vacation to Ottawa

Canada’s national capital with its government buildings and host of museums may seem like a staid city. But Ottawa is anything but staid. Vibrant, bilingual, cosmopolitan, young, clean, kid-friendly, laid-back and outdoorsy are the words that locals and tourists alike use to describe it.

Once it was the center of politics. But tourists are quickly becoming aware of its numerous boutique hotels, highly successful art shows and fresh produce made available by its 1200 plus farms.

When the city beat Montreal and Toronto to become the nation’s capital back in 1857, the then Governor General was afraid that Ottawa was too isolated, perched as it was on the Ottawa River and surrounded by a few lumber mills, to be anything more than an ‘exile’.

But since then, the capital has continued to grow and is currently the fourth largest city in Canada. It is also one of the most culturally diverse of Canada’s metropolitan areas with several vibrant suburban districts around downtown.


Travel Guide to Ottawa


What does this mean for travelers to the city?

Tourists can expect a good healthy dose of world class museums that are architectural highlights in themselves, excellent world cuisine, a varied nightlife and plenty of outdoor summer and winter recreation in Ottawa’s canals.



Plan Your Trip: Getting In and Around

Getting in

    • By car: There are several ways you can enter the city from other parts of Canada or North America. You can drive in from Toronto in 4.5 hours or from Montreal in 2 hours.


    • By plane: Ottawa’s main airport is the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. It hosts regular flights to most of the major Canadian cities and some North American cities as well. There are also some daily flights to London and Frankfurt. From the airport, you can reach downtown via taxi or bus.


    • By train: VIA Rail runs a daily passenger train service to Montreal and Toronto from Ottawa Station. The city’s second station, Fallowfield Station, is located in the suburb of Barrhaven to the west.


    • By bus: If you’re coming from Montreal, Toronto or some North American cities, you can also take the Greyhound/Voyageur bus service, which has a terminal located conveniently in downtown.



Getting Around Town

Taxis are easy to find and plentiful. There is also plenty of parking space available at the major attractions, so you can drive in without worry. The city’s public transit run by OC Transpo includes the O-Train light rail and the Transitway bus rapid transit systems.

Downtown is also very compact, so it’s easy to walk around in. Streets are pedestrian friendly and most attractions are located close to one another. You can also rent a bicycle and ride along the city’s over 170 km bicycle-friendly paths. The O-Train and the buses also allow you to carry your bicycle onboard.


Orientate Yourself

Parliament Hill is where it all began. The rolling emerald lawns of Parliament Hill are open and free to visit. This is a good place to acquaint yourself with the neo-Gothic federal government building and the House of Commons. You can also ride 300 feet up the elevator to the top of the Peace Tower for a view of the downtown below, the confluence of three rivers on the other side and Quebec beyond it with its Gatineau Hills.

Parliament Hill’s ornate Gothic turrets and sleek granite government buildings are the biggest attractions. The grounds of the area are unfenced, a tour of the House of Commons is free and the Changing of the Guards is a spectacle that many tourists spend a morning on.


Parliament Hill and Buildings

Parliament is a place where politicians debate and make legislation on future issues of a country the world over. However, the Canadian parliament that sits atop Parliament Hill in Ottawa is more than a political symbol as it is also a major tourist attraction that you must consider including in your itinerary when you visit Canada. Every year, about 3 million visitors come to Parliament hill.

The largely gothic revival style inspired but gorgeous parliament buildings are in a strategic location on parliament hill along the 170 foot bluff that overlooks the Ottawa River.

Some of the offices that are housed at this home of the federal government of Ottawa include the House of Commons and the Senate as well as offices of the members of Parliament.

Historical Architecture

One of the points of attraction that have made parliament hill and buildings a major attraction is the architectural elements that are of national symbolic importance. This site was originally a military base before being developed into governmental precinct.

This development saw the introduction of extensions to the departmental and parliament buildings making it the center piece of the downtown landscape of Ottawa.

The visually striking and remarkable complex of buildings was referred to as Barracks Hill and served as residence for Rideau Canal engineers.




Gothic Revival Architecture Design

Parliament buildings comprise of three main blocks namely the West, East, Center and Peace Tower that open up to open grounds with monuments of some of the significant political figures that shaped Canada’s history.

Interestingly, the architects of this building were picked through a competition that saw numerous entries whose styles that fell in two distinct categories; Gothic Revival associated with the British Parliament and Neoclassical that was identified with American republicanism.

The picturesque Gothic Revival style was thought to be the best representation of Parliamentary democracy and was thus chosen. Consequently, the West and East blocks were awarded to Augustus Laver and Thomas Stent while Thomas Fuller was awarded the center block.

The center block was later rebuilt following destruction by fire. The buildings took their present form after the reconstruction of this block and completion of peace tower in 1927. It has been under renovation since 2002 and is expected to be complete in 2020.

To date, parliament buildings in Ottawa are one of the successful medieval style structures in 19th Century in Canada. These building are a reflection of the two branches of Victorian Gothic Revivalism even though it is interpreted to Canadian tastes by the eclectic choice of local materials and Gothic ornament.

Some of the Gothic elements that are reflected in all the blocks include lancet windows, tracery, rubble course stonework, spires with crockets and pointed arches. Even then, it is the Centre block that best epitomizes the High Victorian Gothic Revival.

What to See

Apart from the Gothic revival style, there is so much to see at parliament Hill and buildings. From the architectural beauty to the rich history, you can be sure to have a great time visiting parliament buildings. Here is what you can expect to see:

  • The East Block – This block was the nerve Centre of the Canadian government for the first hundred years. Today, it houses offices of Members of Parliament and Ministers. While here you can also see the office of the first Prime Minister of Canada Sir John A. MacDonald.The best time to visit the East Block is between July and Early September.
    Consequently, tickets are available during this period only. You will get a chance to see the restored heritage rooms as well as explore the parliamentary life from the late 19th Century.
    On average, tours last between 30 and 40 minutes.You will do well to check the times when you can go on a tour as well as the routes beforehand even though this information is subject to change without notice.

  • The Centre Block – This block houses the House of Commons and the Senate. There are also other many important offices here that include the office of the Prime Minister.The original Centre Block was destroyed by fire and was replaced by the current one between 1916 and 1927.
    Guided tours of this block let you discover history as well as the functions and art of the Parliament of Canada.
    The tours may last between 20 and 50 minutes but this is determined by the parliamentary activity. The schedule and routes vary and may also change without prior communication.
    Tickets are usually available at 90 Wellington Street between May 17 and September while you can find tickets at the visitor entrance at the base of the Peace Tower from September 2 to May 16.

  • The West Block – This block is highly picturesque and most complex with special features like iron cresting, copper roofs, Nepean sandstone as well as Gothic detailing. It has been under renovation having been vacated in 2011 as it had deteriorated.
    Committee rooms and parliamentary offices that are usually housed here have been temporarily moved to the Valour Building, Library and Wellington Building. However, the confederation room will per permanently moved to Sir John A. MacDonald building. Currently, it has two extensions with the Mackenzie tower being a distinguishing factor.
    This block is designated as a classified owing to its ties with historical and architectural positioning. It is also associated with the federal government’s administrative arm in the early years.The West block has a major influence on the character of Parliament Hill as well as the West end of Wellington street. It is expected to host parliamentary offices, House of Commons chamber, support space and committee rooms once it is completed.

Apart from these three blocks, other things that you will see within Parliament Hill include the following:

  • A dozen statues – These include that of the Queen, various Prime Ministers as well as other historical figures. There are also plaques in from of the statues with the details of the statues.

    Ottawa Attractions


  • The Peace Tower – It is at the center and front of the Centre Block. This tower got its name as a way of honoring the Canadian men and women that sacrifices their lives during the World War I.

  • Centennial Flame – This right at Parliament Hill’s entrance hence you cannot miss it. It was first lit by Lester B. Pearson in January 1967 to make the celebration of Canada’s 100th anniversary.  
    It is surrounded by shields of Canadian territories and provinces. It is a symbol of the unity of the people of Canada from sea to sea. Residents and visitors come here to throw coins into the fountain before making a wish. 
    These coins are later directed towards funding research about Canadians living with disabilities.  
    The Centennial Flame only goes off twice a year for a week so that it can be cleaned.  
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) that are seen between July and August. The Mounties are exciting and not to be missed as the officers are in their full red uniform.

  • The Cat Sanctuary is another attraction at Parliament Hill. As the name suggests, this is a shelter for the stray cats and is on the ground of the building’s West side. The sanctuary has been in existence since 1970 having been started by a volunteer who wanted to ensure stray cats eat.


Special Events

A couple of special events take place at Parliament Hill and Buildings at different times of the year. These events are usually exciting and worth looking out for. They include the following:

  • Changing the Guard Ceremony – This ceremony features the Ceremonial Guard of the Canadian Forces. It is mounted at the end of June through the end of August and it includes music and a military drill.


Ottawa Vacation Rentals


  • Mosaika Sound and Light Show that is a truly breathtaking visual show of light and sound that is set against the parliament buildings. To catch this show you need to visit Parliament Hill in the evenings between July and September.

  • Christmas Lights Across Canada – The official illumination ceremony is usually held at Parliament Hill where hundreds of thousands of lights are lit. The confederation Boulevard and the Hill glisten throughout the month of December.


This is usually a beautiful sight. You will do well to stroll here in the evening to enjoy the ambiance.


  • Canada Day – This is commemorated on the first day of July and people congregate at Parliament Hill and buildings to celebrate. Entertainment lasts for the entire day with the climax of this day being an amazing show of fireworks. Be sure to catch it.



  • Carillon Concerts – If you appreciate arts and particularly enjoy these concerts where you discover exquisite musical experience. The concert is held at the Peace Tower.

In summary, parliament Hill and Buildings is not only a political symbol but historical as well. With so much to see and do here you will do well to consider planning your visit to coincide with some of the special events to ensure that you get to experience the place in its entirety.



Ottawa’s Museums and Architecture

Ottawa is home to several state-of-the-art museums with stunning architecture, which are some of the city’s biggest tourist-draws.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization in riverside Gatineau provides a look at the human history of Canada and its multicultural population. Exhibits include permanent galleries housing prehistoric tools, textiles and weapons of 16th century Ottawa as well as prominent Canadian public figures from its long history. It also hosts several special exhibitions from time to time.

Other museums that are worth a visit include the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian Agricultural Museum and the Diefenbunker or Canada’s Cold War Museum.

Visitors can take one of several guided walking tours available in the city for a closer and more personal look at the major attractions and some off-beat sights known to locals alone.

Things to do in Ottawa Canada


Notre Dame Cathedral Ottawa

A visit to Ottawa is not complete without going on a tour of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral that is tucked away across the street from the National Gallery of Canada. It borders the archbishop’s palace on the South side. Despite being a minor basilica, this magnificent building is one of the enduring symbols of this city as it has rich history spanning three centuries.

In fact, this made it to be designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. One of the amazing things about this basilica is that its beauty and architecture attracts all and sundry hence even non church goers are drawn to it.

The eclectic mix of Gothic Revival architecture and Canadian religious art are constantly a source of inspiration in this largest and oldest place of worship. The interior is a masterpiece of beauty as it is not only colorful but also uniquely finished.

From the rich gothic adornments to sculptures of Biblical figures inspired by medieval traditions, original iconography, terraced galleries, soaring arches as well as stained glass windows, this structure is simply stunning. These are made from a wide range of materials that include gold, bronze, wood and valuable stones.

Some of the major highlights of this cathedral include the altar that features a display of 32 bronze panels that represent life, birth and death. There is also a massive bell on the west tower that vibrates when rung. There is a wedding chapel “Chapelle du Sacre Coeur” at the back of the main hall that is popularly known as the wedding chapel while a 10-bell carillon is on the West tower.

The stained glass windows that were installed in 1879 are also a work of art that is awe inspiring. They comprise of geometrical motifs that is painted in grisaille and are also embellished by light touches of vivid colors. However, some of these glasses have been replaced over the years.

The Notre Dame Basilica can be accessed at any time of the day as it is always open for private prayer and mass. You can get public transport simply walk there if you are around the National Gallery of Canada and Parliament Hill.
In fact, you can identify its gilded Madonna and twin spires from Parliament Hill. Even then, it is advisable that you time your visit between services in order to get the best of your tour.

There are tour guides on site to take you on guided tours that usually last between 30 and 45 minutes. There are not access charges as admission is free for all.

The cathedral was last restored and renovated in the late 1990s through to 2000 after which it was reopened by the archbishop of Ottawa, most reverend Marcel A Gervais. This was largely facilitated by generous donations from the Ontario Government, Canada anonymous donors and the Canada millennium partnership program. In conclusion, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa is an exceptional attraction that is worth a visit for Christians and non-Christians alike because of its endless beauty. Therefore, make a point of visiting this basilica when you are in Ottawa.


Outdoor Attractions

Visitors who love the outdoors can visit Gatineau Park across the river for a stroll, some rollerblading or a bicycle ride.

Highlights of the Rideau Canal

  • The Rideau Canal offers tourists boat rides with guided commentaries on the city’s sights and history.
  • A paved bicycle trail runs along the canal for more than 100 miles. Tourists can also enjoy the outdoors in winter.
  • The canal becomes the world’s longest skating rink when it freezes over. During this time, locals and recreational skaters use the canal as a transit way.

Rideau Canal is one of the must see places for tourists in Ottawa. This is because it consists of 47 lock stations as well as beautiful rivers and lakes that are connected to each other by canals. In addition, it offers a scenic view that has rightly earned it the title of a visitors’ paradise.

Moreover, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Canadian Heritage River and National Historic Site of Canada.  This canal was built at a time when Canada was afraid of a potential attack from the United States and stretches over a distance of 125 miles from Ottawa to Kingston.

You can visit this oldest canal in the history of North America by car, boat, on foot or by bicycle. Using a boat is perhaps the best option because it lets you get the entire ambiance of the entire region. Driving is also interesting because you get to go through numerous scenic roads that wind through the centre of Old Ontario.

One of the notable things is that every lock is unique and well equipped with picnic facilities, overnight mooring facilities, washrooms, benches, barbecue grills and tables.

These locks are opened for navigation in mid-May through to mid-October. Visitors coming through to the Rideau Canal during this time get to enjoy canoeing, cruises and kayaking.

On the other hand, the canal often becomes as skate way during winter as it is the largest naturally skating rink in the world.

The Rideau Canal is an excellent picnic site as there are nice grassy lawns complete with picnic tables. Moreover, lock watching can be quite interesting especially in the afternoon as there are different kinds of boats going up and down. Other locks have hiking trails that is also ideal for those that love outdoor activity.

Lovers of wildlife are not left out as they too get to see different species of wildlife. Some of the common wildlife species that you will see here include loons, blue heron, osprey, turtles and frogs. Bird lovers will also spot various species like the hummingbirds, beaver and occasionally the muskrats.

Visitors can also go on a fishing expedition on the rivers and lakes that make up the Rideau waterway. Among the common fish species that you can catch here include lake trout, northern pike, black crappie, small mouth bass, walleye and large mouth bass among others.

If you are into history then you will do well to consider checking out a number of the museums at the Rideau Canal where you will get to see a rich blend of modern technology and historic artifacts.

There are about ten museums with each offering something unique that will give you a glimpse into the history of the Canal and Canada as a whole.

Other places and activities of interest include conservation parks, paddling, group tours, marinas, dinning out, shopping, cycling, golfing, skiing and snowmobiling among others.

In summary, the Rideau Canal lives up to its title of being a true paradise for visitors and residents alike.


Things to do in Ottawa


Dining and Shopping

Ottawa’s multicultural population is evident in its dining options. Little Italy and Chinatown have existed for a long time. Newer additions to the local dining scene include flavors from France, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and native Aboroginal. The areas with the biggest concentration of restaurants include the ByWard Market, Little Italy and Chinatown.

Besides world cuisine, foodies often come to Ottawa for its local specialties as well as coffee houses which are located at almost all intersections.

An Ottawa specialty that is usually available by the canal in winter is the Beaver Tail, a deep-fried doughy pastry topped with savory and sweet toppings.



One of the major shopping and dining attractions in the city is the ByWard Market in downtown. On summer mornings the market sells flowers and fresh produce which give way to pubs, restaurants and street performers in the night.

The market is also open, though in a limited capacity, in winter. This is also the only market in the city which offers Beaver Tail in summer.

Other shopping districts include Sparks Street where tourists can purchase postcards and antiques, Westboro Village for several outdoor equipment shops and restaurants, and Bank Street Promenade for its specialty shops and chain stores.

Ottawa Nightlife

Ottawa’s National Arts Centre hosts some of the world’s best known theater, ballet and orchestral performances. The ByWard Market is also home to several live alternative music venues, pubs and wine bars which offer an exciting nightlife in the city.

Getting Out for Day Trips

Ottawa’s restaurants are supplied with fresh produce from the farms within the edges of the city. These farms can make for a refreshing and rustic day trip and weekend lunch in the midst of tall grasses and lush green trees.

Tourists can also make day trips to Quebec’s charming artist town of Wakefield and participate in the several adventure activities that are available at Gatineau Park.





Ottawa in Ontario Canada – What does this mean for travelers to the city? #MarketingStrategiesforVacationrentals # #VacationRentalManagement #HowtomarketVacationRentalProperty Tourists can expect a good healthy dose of world class museums that are architectural highlights in themselves, #HolidayHomes #PictureperfectHolidayhomes excellent world cuisine, a varied nightlife and plenty of outdoor summer and winter recreation in Ottawa’s canals. #VacationRentalMarketingPlan #BestvactionrentalAdvertising #VacationRentalListing There are several ways you can enter the city from other parts of Canada or North America. You can drive in from Toronto in 4.5 hours or from Montreal in 2 hours. #VacationrentalMarketingAgency #VacationRentalsExperts

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Post by Angella Grey, the marketing manager at The Vacation Rentals Experts – an online and offline digital marketing agency that creates marketing solutions for vacation rentals, holiday homes and brands.

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