Ottawa, Canada’s Capital is a city which simply left us in awe. It’s a city with a rich history and unfortunately, few have it on their radar. Of all our adventures in Canada, Ottawa is one of our favourite cities, ranking even higher than Toronto or Montreal.

With a rich legacy which blends old colonial days and the modernity of today’s life, Ottawa is, as the locals would put it, Canada in a city. Read more below to find out why.


Set on the banks of the Ottawa River, the capital is a blend of vibrant culture, rich history, and stunning natural beauty. Ottawa, a city with a dynamic mix of English and French influences, offers a plethora of experiences for travellers.

From iconic landmarks and world-class museums to charming neighbourhoods and culinary delights, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re visiting for a weekend getaway or an extended holiday, Ottawa promises to captivate and inspire.

Travel to and Around Ottawa

Travelling to Ottawa is relatively straightforward, with various options to suit every traveller’s preference. Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW) serves as the primary gateway for international and domestic flights.

If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.

We chose to travel by rail. VIA Rail provides comfortable and scenic journeys from major cities such as Toronto and Montreal. In our case we were travelling from Toronto with a short detour via Gananoque.

Travel Around Ottawa

Once in Ottawa, getting around is a breeze. The city’s public transportation system, OC Transpo, offers an extensive network of buses and the O-Train light rail, making it easy to navigate.

Paying for your fares is also fairly straight forward as they offer contactless payments similar to Toronto’s TTC. All you have to do is simply tap your contactless bank/credit card and you’re good to go.

Having said this, you will find that some of the things in the below itinerary are located across the Ottawa river in the Quebecoise city of Gatineau. You might think that the transport network is seamless however, they are two separate entities, with two separate payment systems and fares.

This means that once you board a bus in Ottawa, cross over to Gatineau and wish to board another local (Société de transport de l’Outaouais – STO) bus, you will have to have either a local transport card or pay the exact fare in cash. If you don’t, the driver won’t give you change.

Whilst there are some integrations, you will find that contactless payments are not accepted in Gatineau. If you are planning to travel extensively in Gatineau also you might want to consider a local pass or Presto card. You can read more here.

For a more leisurely exploration, consider hiring a bicycle or simply stroll through the city’s pedestrian-friendly streets. Taxis and ride-sharing services are also readily available for convenience which is good if you are in a hurry for a particular appointment.

Where to Stay in Ottawa?

Ottawa boasts a wide range of accommodation options, catering to all budgets and preferences.

For a luxurious stay, consider the Fairmont Château Laurier, a historic hotel that offers stunning views of Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal.

Mid-range travellers might enjoy the Alt Hotel Ottawa, which combines modern amenities with a central location. We stood at The Business Inn Hotel & Suites which is a 15 minutes walk from Parliament Hill right on Elgin Street. Whilst, fairly dated, the hotel was great, clean and offered what any tourist desires – quick access to the city centre.

Budget-conscious visitors can also opt for the Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel, offering a unique experience in a converted historic jail.

If you prefer to stay in a hotel, we would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as or Agoda to get the best rates. Use the widget below to find the best accommodation in Ottawa for your specific dates.

Best Time to Visit Ottawa

Ottawa is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit largely depends on your interests. Spring (March to May) brings mild weather and beautiful cherry blossoms, perfect for outdoor activities.

We decided to travel during late May and we found the weather in Ottawa to be splendid. We had 25 C, on some afternoons even 30 C – a blessing indeed.

Summer (June to August) is ideal for festivals, such as Canada Day celebrations and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival.

Autumn (September to November) offers stunning fall foliage, making it a picturesque season for sightseeing. Winter (December to February) transforms the city into a winter wonderland, with activities like ice skating on the Rideau Canal and Winterlude, a popular winter festival.

Things to do in Ottawa

Ottawa offers a diverse array of attractions catering to various interests. History enthusiasts can visit the National War Memorial, Canadian War Museum, and the Canadian Museum of History.

Nature lovers will enjoy Major’s Hill Park, the scenic Rideau Canal, and the Canadian Museum of Nature. For architectural and cultural experiences, don’t miss the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Parliament Hill, and the Senate of Canada Building.

The ByWard Market provides a bustling atmosphere with shops and local delicacies. Unique perspectives of the city can be gained through Ottawa Boat Cruises, Ottawa Yacht Tours, and the amphibious Lady Dive Tours. Additionally, the Royal Canadian Mint offers an intriguing glimpse into coin production.

You will find that most are within walking distance with some exceptions so grouping these attractions would be key to saving time so you can enjoy more of Ottawa.

We also suggest reviewing the local museum pass which offers 30% discount on some of the attractions below. You can check it out here.

Below is a list of our top recommendations for Ottawa.

1. Reflect at The National War Memorial

Located in Confederation Square, the National War Memorial is a poignant tribute to Canadian soldiers who have served in various conflicts. The Changing of the Guard ceremony, held during the summer months, is a must-see.

2. Learn about Canada’s Military History at the Canadian War Museum

Delve into Canada’s military history at the Canadian War Museum. The exhibits offer a comprehensive look at the nation’s involvement in global conflicts and the impact on its society.

The museum is a good activity for families with kids, I can’t remember a time as a kid when I didn’t want to see a tank!

3. Learn about the First Peoples at the Canadian Museum of History

Across the river in Gatineau, the Canadian Museum of History provides a fascinating exploration of Canada’s cultural and historical heritage. As a piece of advice, do make sure you are aware that this museum is in Gatineau which requires you to travel with STO, not OC Transpo authority.

In the museum, we learned a lot about Canada’s indigenous population, known as the First Peoples of Canada. Similar to the Mayans in the Yucatan, they are believed to have originated from north China, crossing over through Alaska.

Don’t miss the Grand Hall, featuring the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles.

4. Enjoy the View at Major’s Hill Park

Situated between the Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier, Major’s Hill Park is an excellent spot for a relaxing stroll with panoramic views of the city.

We really enjoyed sitting down and watching the wonderful vista across Parliament Hill, overseeing the Parliament Library and the Ottawa river. It’s a great place to sit down and even have a picnic on a hot summer’s day in Ottawa.

5. Take a Moment at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica

This stunning basilica, with its twin spires and intricate stained glass windows, is the oldest and largest standing church in Ottawa, offering a serene retreat in the heart of the city.

Although designed and built by the early French settlers, we found this Cathedral to be very different than most of the French cathedrals from France or even catholic ones. We highly recommend a visit to the basilica.

6. Admire Ottawa on a Sightseeing River Cruise

Experience Ottawa from a different perspective with a scenic boat cruise along the Ottawa River. It’s a fantastic way to see major landmarks and learn about the city’s history.

During the cruise you will also see the Rideau Falls which, whilst don’t come even close to Niagara Falls, they are pretty nice to watch as the boat passes by.

The boat makes it’s way down river all the way to the official villas of the Governor General of Canada and the Prime Minister’s. You will notice how, there is no industry nearby and the city simply ends in a serene thick forest.

The intention behind this was to showcase to potential visitors, what Canada looks like and hence they designed the city to be as representative as possible.

Boarding for this tour can be done on the Gatineau side or Ottawa, be sure you know which side you are booked for. This boat tour is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Ottawa.

7. Have a stroll by the Rideau Canal

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal is a must-visit. In the summer, enjoy a leisurely boat ride or walk along its paths. There are a few places one could sit and have a drink but not that many.

In the winter, it transforms into the world’s largest skating rink. If you wish, you can also do the Rideau Canal Cruise. We didn’t do this as we had already booked the boat trip and the private yacht cruise on the Ottawa river, so thought this was enough 🙂

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8. Explore the Canadian Museum of Nature

Discover the wonders of the natural world at the Canadian Museum of Nature. From dinosaur skeletons and polar bears to interactive exhibits, it’s a hit with visitors of all ages.

We also really enjoyed the hanging Moon and Earth from the ceiling in the great Hall, it made the experience complete.

Inside the museum, there is also another chance to learn more about indigenous culture and learn how they sing. Spoiler alert – it’s like heavy breathing after a hefty buffet meal.

9. Try some Beaver Tails at ByWard Market

One of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets, ByWard Market is a bustling hub of activity. Explore its eclectic mix of shops, eateries, and stalls offering local produce and handmade crafts.

Named after Colonel By, this place is a great location for foodies looking to explore the local culinary scene. We ourselves tried a few places here and had the chance to try out the ByWard Market Food Tour.

The tour gave us a chance to explore some of the foods that locals tend to try everything from tacos to pizza and even casual fine dining. And to top it all off? – Beaver tails pastries! Why not!?

The market area also offers some outdoors furniture for you to enjoy the foods, however, there are many homeless nearby and whilst not violent, it might not be the best place to sit down for a meal.

10. Indulge Yourself with a Private Yacht Tour at Ottawa Yacht Tours

For a luxurious experience, consider an Ottawa Yacht Tour. It’s a splendid way to enjoy the serene waters of the Ottawa River while taking in the cityscape.

The boarding is done from the Gatineau side from the Rest’o’bord Marina in front of the Rest’o’bord Le Pirate Restaurant. We suggest you make your way there with a taxi from Ottawa, as the journey by car is 10 minutes versus 45 minutes or more using public transport.

Once at the Marina, you will be greeted by the staff and will be taken to one of their yachts. We were greeted by the owner Erik, and his captain, Mike. Both of them were amazing and very friendly throughout the whole journey.

You will start with a short safety briefing where they walk you through the typical things you should be aware of and some general house keeping rules. For safety reasons you will have to be barefoot as most shoes could slip when on deck.

As we wrapped up the safety briefing, we were offered a choice of adult beverages, we opted for the prosecco. Don’t judge!

The boat goes at a constant 20 kmph and offers a serene view of Ottawa, combined with spectacular sunset it was a dream come true. Both Erik and Mike tried to make conversation and even offered some light commentaries of the nearby attractions we passed by which was appreciated.

Although we were let know from the beginning, we still found it interesting that as we crossed over the Quebec half of the river, we had to hand over our drinks as the owner didn’t have a license for alcohol for Ontario.

We really enjoyed the views by Parliament Hill and managed to get some close-up photos. The advantage of the private tour is that you can ask the captain to set the boat in the direction you want to get that perfect shot!

They gave us back our drinks of course, as soon as we came back to the Quebec side of the river we started heading back to the harbor. We went past the Rideau Falls and saw the diplomatic villas one more time with the sunset behind us. An amazing view, one to stick with us for years to come!

As we came back, we arrived at the marina and said our goodbyes. This will definitely be one of our cherished memories. Find out more about Ottawa Yacht Tours here.

11. Learn about Coins at Royal Canadian Mint

Visit the Royal Canadian Mint to see where Canada’s circulation coins are produced. The guided tours provide a fascinating insight into the coin-making process and the history of currency in Canada.

The tour lasted around 45 minutes and we learnt about the minting process from start to finish, how coins are designed and we even saw some of Canada’s most famous coins. During the tour photos and videos are not allowed.

Here you will also be able to learn about the craft of making coins but also of purifying gold and silver to reach higher values.

12. Lady Dive Tours – Hop on Hop Off

For an efficient way to see Ottawa’s top attractions, get a Hop-on Hop-off bus. For an even more authentic experience hop on the Lady Dive Tours’ amphibious bus. This unique tour offers both land and water views of Ottawa’s landmarks.

We really enjoyed their hop on hop off bus, especially as we went past Rideau Hall on the way to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. It’s a very green and scenic route that part of town. One we recommend particularly for that reason.

13. Parliament Hill – House of Commons Tour

A visit to Ottawa wouldn’t be complete without touring Parliament Hill. The House of Commons, with its gothic architecture and historic significance, is a highlight. Free guided tours are available, but booking in advance is recommended.

Note that currently the actual House of Commons has been moved from Central block to West Block, and the inner courtyard has been adapted for the next 10 years to house the new House of Commons.

The visit overall, is great and offers an insight into the many symbols found in the Canadian Parliament but also draws the many similarities it shares with the U.K. Parliament in London.

14. Tour the Senate of Canada Building

Recently relocated to the historic Senate of Canada Building, which is Ottawa’s former train station, the Senate offers guided tours that delve into Canada’s legislative process and the building’s architectural grandeur.

Similar to the House of Commons tour, it delves a bit deeper into Senators’ activity and the different symbols and traditions one could expect from. Similar to the U.K.’s House of Lords, the Senate offers many similarities.

Unfortunately, the building is a former train station and ultimately we would love to revisit once the Senate reopens in its original building.

Top Restaurants in Ottawa

Ottawa’s culinary scene is a vibrant mosaic reflecting the city’s rich cultural diversity and innovative spirit. The capital boasts an eclectic mix of dining options, ranging from upscale eateries to cosy cafés, all showcasing the creativity and passion of local chefs.

In the heart of the city, ByWard Market stands out as a gastronomic hub. Here, visitors can explore an array of international cuisines, local produce, and artisanal treats. The market’s dynamic atmosphere makes it a perfect spot for sampling everything from gourmet meals to street food.

In addition to its restaurants, Ottawa hosts numerous food festivals and farmers’ markets throughout the year, celebrating seasonal produce and culinary innovations. During our visit, there was a Ribfest with an American and Canadian company serving delicious ribs and other foods.

Events like the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival and the Savour Ottawa initiative highlight the city’s commitment to farm-to-table dining and sustainable food practices.

Overall, Ottawa’s culinary scene is a testament to its diverse cultural influences and dedication to quality. Below is our list of recommendation where to eat in Ottawa:

1. Blue Cactus Bar and Grill

Located in ByWard Market, Blue Cactus Bar and Grill is known for its vibrant atmosphere and diverse menu, featuring everything from hearty burgers to fresh salads.

The food and service were simply amazing. We had the nachos to share which were really great and appreciated they weren’t all piled up, making each bite full of flavour with the toppings we had.

Following this, we tried the tacos with steak, chicken and prawns and I had the burger. The burger wasn’t cooked to temperature unfortunately, the restaurant manager cited that this is the law however, the tacos were divine! Still thinking of the steak tacos which were tasty and tender!

This, combined with amazing cocktails and excellent service, makes it a must visit place whilst in Ottawa.

2. BeaverTails Byward Market

No visit to Ottawa is complete without trying a BeaverTail, a deliciously sweet, fried pastry. The BeaverTails ByWard Market location offers various toppings, from cinnamon sugar to chocolate hazelnut.

The closest you can imagine them is fried bread such as langos (if you’ve been to Central Eastern Europe). They were good and made to order. The pastry felt to me a bit on the thin side for the heavy base of toppings.

3. Oh Canada Eh? Dinner with a Theatre

Enjoy a uniquely Canadian dining experience at Oh Canada Eh? This dinner theatre combines a hearty meal with entertaining performances that celebrate Canadian culture and history.

The show is a comedy, sing-along, musical performance showcasing songs from Canada’s various regions but also more modern songs in contemporary history. No Justin Bieber though, sorry if that may disappoint!

One funny aspect of the show is that they will ask the audience to echo the Eh!? bit further adding to the comedy effect of the show. So don’t be too stingy with your smiles and get in there!

As we live in the U.K., we found the food to be fairly similar to what we know and hence wasn’t anything to write home about. We had a roast dinner with pie and some battered fish. Good, but not amazing.

You will find that the performers are also your waiters; they will come for upsells on your drinks so don’t feel forced to get too many beers if that’s not your thing.

Other than that, the night left us happy of our experience in Ottawa since it also coincided with our last evening there.

4. MacLaren’s on Elgin

A popular spot for both locals and visitors, MacLaren’s on Elgin offers a relaxed pub atmosphere with a great selection of beers and comfort food favourites. We loved the atmosphere and even played a few games of pool.

The place is a great spot to hang around and have a drink or even a meal. We had their wings and nachos, the wings were great, whilst nachos not particularly amazing and felt slightly stale.

We also tried their 3 course set meal with a steak and for a sports bar that was actually very tasty. The steak, was cooked to temperature and was the right thickness, coleslaw was also pretty good alongside the asparagus which added some much needed vitamins to this otherwise rich meal.

Definitely a location to consider when in Ottawa and looking to have some good time.

5. The Clarendon Tavern

Situated in the bustling ByWard Market area, The Clarendon Tavern is a popular spot for both locals and visitors looking to enjoy a laid-back dining experience in a casual fine dining setting.

We had the warm salad with pumpkin and goats’ cheese accompanied by a gin based elderflower cocktail. Perfect on a hot May’s day! We wish we could stay longer however, we had to rush to get to our yacht tour.

With its friendly service, lively ambiance, and regular live music events, The Clarendon Tavern provides a welcoming setting for casual dining, social gatherings, and enjoying the vibrant nightlife of Ottawa.

Final Thoughts

Ottawa is a city that effortlessly blends the old with the new, offering a diverse array of experiences for every traveller. From its historical landmarks and cultural institutions to its vibrant markets and culinary delights, Ottawa is a destination that leaves a lasting impression.

Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:

  • Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.

  • Transport – consider for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.

  • Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide, Klook or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.

  • Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.

  • Internet abroad – with Airalo or Nomad you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.

  • Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.

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