12 Amazing Things to See and Do in Ottawa
25 Oct 2022
Ottawa has so much to offer for anyone visiting the region. From world-class museums and historic sites to outdoor activities and dining, Canada’s capital city has something for everyone.
Here are 12 amazing things to see and do in Ottawa and the surrounding area:
The Centennial Flame
The Centennial Flame is a must-see attraction when visiting Ottawa! Located just inside the Queen’s Gate, this water fountain-based monument was built to commemorate Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967 and has been burning ever since. The best time to see the flame is at night when it is illuminated by spotlights, although it is quite a site during the day.
Every Canadian province and territory is represented by a shield, with the year they became part of Canada engraved in the granite in front of the shield. The shields surrounding the flame represent Canada’s unity as a nation.
The flame was initially fueled with natural gas, but now uses environmentally friendly biogas, produced by the fermentation of organic matter.
The monument is also a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, as it provides a beautiful and tranquil setting in the heart of Canada’s capital city. And because it is a fountain, people throw coins in for luck. Those coins are then collected to help to fund the Centennial Flame Research Award, which helps pay for disability research and reporting. Then each year, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities presents the award to a researcher with a disability. So keep tossing those coins in!
So whether you’re looking to take some photos, enjoy the view, or just relax for a bit, be sure to check out the Centennial Flame on your next trip to Ottawa. It is truly a sight to behold!
The House of Commons at Parliament Hill
You can’t visit Ottawa and not do a tour of the Parliament Buildings! The House of Commons tour is a great way to learn about the Canadian government and how it works. The Centre Block is currently closed for a decade-long revitalization project, but tours are still going on of Parliament’s interim facilities, including the temporary House of Commons Chamber in the West Block.
Best of all, this informative tour is offered completely free of charge and only takes around 40 minutes. Whether you’re a Canadian citizen or simply a tourist interested in learning more about this great country, the House of Commons tour in Ottawa is a great activity to consider.
Note: The House of Commons tour begins in the new Visitor Welcome Centre, located between West Block and Centre Block on Parliament Hill. After you pay your admission, you will go through the same type of security checkpoint that you would find at an airport, so be sure to check the website for what is and is not allowed. There is no baggage check, so best to leave any extra items in your vehicle.
Northern Lights Sound and Light Show
The Northern Lights Sound and Light Show is a must-see for any visitor to Ottawa. The show features a state-of-the-art sound system that brings the lights to life, as well as a narrated light show that is sure to dazzle. The show walks through Canada’s key milestones and achievements with spectacular light graphics, using Centre Block and the Peace Tower as its backdrop. It is incredibly well done!
This amazing show happens after the sun has set, and runs from the beginning of July through the beginning of September. If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, the Northern Lights Sound and Light Show is a great option. The show is sure to impress, and it is a great way to enjoy the beauty of Ottawa’s night sky. Admission to the show is free, but donations are accepted. Just make sure you get there early so you can secure your spot on the grass!
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Major’s Hill Park
Major’s Hill Park is a gorgeous spot to take in the sights of downtown Ottawa. From the park, you can see the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal, and is close to ByWard Market, Market. The park is also a great place to people watch, as it is full of tourists and locals alike.
If you are looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Ottawa, Major’s Hill Park is the perfect spot. The park offers plenty of benches to relax on, as well as beautiful flowers and plants. There is also a playground for children, making it a great spot for families.
No matter what your reason for visiting Major’s Hill Park, you are sure to enjoy your time there.
Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
Diefenbunker, also known as the Central Emergency Government Headquarters National Historic Site of Canada, is a massive underground bunker built during the Cold War. Located in Carp, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa, the Diefenbunker was designed to house key government officials and military personnel in the event of a nuclear attack in Canada. Commissioned by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1959, the bunker is four storeys high and 100 metres long, with concrete walls up to three metres thick. The facility is able to withstand a 5-megaton nuclear blast from 1.8 kilometres away. It has its own water and power supplies, as well as enough food to last for 30 days.
Today, the Diefenbunker is a National Historic Site of Canada and a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can explore the facility, learn about its history, and see what life was like during the Cold War. The Diefenbunker is a fascinating piece of Canadian history and a must-see for anyone interested in the country’s past.
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Canadian War Museum
The perfect place to learn about Canada’s military history is at The Canadian War Museum. This museum has an extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs that tell the story of Canada’s involvement in various wars. There are many interactive exhibits that allow visitors to experience what it was like to be a soldier in different conflicts.
As you walk through the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, you can’t help but feel a sense of patriotism. The Canadian War Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning about Canada’s military history. The museum offers an enlightening look at the country’s past and provides insight into the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers. With its extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs, the Canadian War Museum is a truly unique experience.
The Rideau Canal is a historic waterway that connects Ottawa to Kingston, where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River. This scenic waterway consists of sections of the Rideau and the Cataraqui Rivers, several lakes, and 45 locks. The first 8 of those locks are between the Ottawa River and Wellington Street.
The canal was built in 1832 as a way to transport troops and supplies between Montreal and Kingston, in case of conflict with the United States. However, it was never used for its intended purposes. Today, it’s a popular tourist destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site operated by Parks Canada, with people coming from all over the world to boat, fish, and swim in its waters. You can go on a cool electric boat tour of the Rideau, or rent a houseboat and cruise the waterway at your own pace. If you are there in the winter months, you can even ice skate on the river!
The Rideau Canal is a National Historic Site of Canada, a unique part of Ottawa, and is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. I highly recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the area.
The Rideau Canal starts in Ottawa (at the Ottawa River, near Major’s Hill Park), and runs south towards Kingston, where the Cataraqui River empties into Lake Ontario (at the western end of the St. Lawrence River).
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The ByWard Market is one of Ottawa’s most popular tourist destinations. Located in the heart of the city, it is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes. The market dates back to 1826 when it was established by Lieutenant-Colonel John By as a place for farmers to sell their goods.
Today, the market is open year-round and offers a wide range of products, from fresh produce to handmade arts and crafts. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of events and activities, such as live music and street performers. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs or just a place to grab a bite, the ByWard Market has something for everyone.
And don’t forget to take a photo with the big iconic OTTAWA sign! This popular installation attracts a ton of people to this trendy area, with a nice village setting that used to be parking spots. There are several colourful Muskoka chairs to sit and relax after spending a day shopping at the historic market. If you come back in the evening, the sign is lit up in different colours.
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The Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint is the Crown corporation responsible for the minting and distribution of Canada’s circulation coins. The Mint also produces coinage for other countries, some of which are former British colonies. The Mint facility in Ottawa uses proprietary machinery to make collector coins, gold and silver bullion investor coins, and unique medals and medallions. All of Canada’s circulated currency has been produced at the newer facility in Winnipeg since 1976.
The Mint was founded in 1908 as a branch of the British Royal Mint. The Mint was renamed “Royal Canadian Mint” in 1931 when Canada took control from the British. Today, it is one of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced mints. More than 1 billion coins are produced at the Ottawa facility each year.
Visitors to the Royal Canadian Mint can take a tour of the facility to see how coins are made. The 45-minute guided tour of the Royal Canadian Mint’s headquarters in Ottawa gives you an elevated view of the production floor. You’ll even get to see the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games medals, which were produced at this facility!
The boutique offers a unique shopping experience, with coins and medals for sale that cannot be found anywhere else.
Note: Photos and videos are allowed in the boutique, but not on the guided tour.
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Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa is a stunning neo-Gothic church that dates back to 1841. It’s the oldest and largest church in Ottawa, was declared a Heritage Site by the City of Ottawa, and is a National Historic Site of Canada. The exterior of the cathedral is decorated with intricate gargoyles, stained glass windows, and flying buttresses, while the interior features beautiful vaulted ceilings. The impressive organ has 4,700 pipes with 72 stops!
Visitors can take a guided tour of the church, explore the cathedral on their own, or attend one of the many events and concerts that are held there. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica is definitely worth a visit when in Ottawa – it’s a truly breathtaking sight!
Note: Visits are not permitted during Mass. Check times on the website to coordinate your visit.
The National War Memorial
The National War Memorial in Confederation Square is a beautiful and moving tribute to those who have fought for our country. It is located in the heart of the city, and is definitely worth a visit when you are in town. The memorial is especially moving during the Remembrance Day ceremony, when the entire city comes together to remember those who have fallen.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Located at the base of The National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is dedicated to the memory of the Canadian soldiers who fought and died during World War I. The tomb contains the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier killed in action during the war.
Since 2007, the tomb has been guarded 24 hours a day by members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Visitors to the tomb can pay their respects to the fallen soldiers by laying a wreath or flowers at the base of the monument.
Have Fun in Ottawa!
There are endless things to see and do in Ottawa. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just want to enjoy the outdoors, you’ll find it all in the Nation’s Capital. These 12 activities are just scratching the surface, but are among my favourite! Don’t forget to check out my article on 10 Fantastic Places to Eat and Drink in Ottawa, because you’re gonna need to fuel up between all of the fun things you are seeing and doing.
And if you’re looking for a reco on places to stay, try The Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. I like a hotel a little further away from the hustle and bustle that has nice rooms, a great restaurant, an indoor pool, and free parking (underground is a bonus). The Brookstreet checked all the boxes, and I had an amazing stay. Check ’em out!