If you want to stay away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Ottawa is the ideal destination for you. This place puts on itself a peaceful, tranquil and poetic beauty with many trees, lakes, harbours and quaint buildings, pleasant atmosphere that promising to bring tourists an interesting journey. Today, we will share everything about this Canada’s capital city to help you plan a wonderful upcoming trip. So, what to do, where to go and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Ottawa, Canada for the first-time? Let’s check out our Ottawa blog (Ottawa travel blog) with the fullest Ottawa travel guide (Ottawa canada travel guide, Ottawa city guide, Ottawa guide, Ottawa tourist guide, Ottawa visitor guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!
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Ottawa means “to trade”. This name comes from the desire to turn this place into a large commercial and trading center of the French and Irish in the early days. However, today, the capital of Canada is a peaceful, quaint city with many heritage sites, museums, trees and parks. Therefore, visiting Ottawa, you can hear the birdsong in the morning, bask in the warm sun or sit on the sidewalk to sipping a cup of hot coffee with some pastries and watching people pass by.
Moreover, the city is surrounded by wildlife parks. Here, you can comfortably observe the bears or reindeer hibernating. In particular, traveling to Ottawa without skating once is a pity because the city has the world’s largest skating rink called Rideau Skating Rink. And if you’ve never been to Ottawa, don’t forget to plan a Canada trip right away. Ottawa promises to bring visitors an exciting journey.
Hint: For those of you who do not know or are confused, Toronto is not the capital of Canada. But Ottawa is the capital of Canada. Surprise? Before, I met many of you confused, but now it’s over.
Ottawa blog: Overview of Ottawa
Ottawa is 190km west of Montreal and 400km northeast of Toronto. With a population of over 1.4 million people and covering an area of 2,790 km², Ottawa is considered the 4th largest city in Canada. It can be said that Ottawa is a multicultural city. The locals speak both English and French. It is also home to a high standard of living, low rate of unemployment and owns many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Like some capitals like Canberra in Australia or Ankara in Turkey, Ottawa is home to an administrative apparatus with government offices, agencies. But that does not make this place lose its charm, because there are still many Ottawa tourist attractions for you to explore. Traveling to Ottawa, you will have the opportunity to visit museums, art galleries and many famous architectural works. In particular, these main attractions are only about a 20-minute walk from the city center.
Ottawa blog: When should you visit?
Depend on your preference and travel style, you can travel to Ottawa at any time of the year.
Spring: The best time to visit Ottawa is May every year. At this time, Ottawa jubilantly held the Tulip Festival – Canada’s most loved spring festival. Ottawa is known as the “Tulip Capital” of North America. The weather is also pleasant, suitable for outdoor activities, sightseeing.
Autumn: In addition to the tulip festival, another good time to visit Ottawa is in autumn, from September to November every year. Not only Ottawa, Canada’s scenery is covered with yellow and red colors of maple leaves in the changing season, bring the gentle, romantic atmosphere.
Summer: Visitors can also come to Ottawa in the summer, from May to August, the weather in this season is relatively cool, not too cold, very suitable for Asian tourists and ideal for European visitors.
Winter: If you are afraid of summer in Ottawa, you can come here in winter. From December to March next year, the weather is very cold. If you travel to Ottawa this season, you will experience the world’s longest ice skating rink of 7.8 km long Rideau Skating Rink. This is also the season for snow festivals and ice sculptures. If you choose to come in this season, you also will see bears or reindeer hibernating.
In addition, if you go on the weekend, often on Bank Street, the road will be closed to organize the night festival. You can check out events in Ottawa from the Ottawa Tourism page.
Canadian Tulip Festival
When Nazi forces invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Dutch Royal Family fled to Canada. Dutch Princess Margriet was born on this trip. Years later, the bonds between the nations were strengthened when Canadian troops helped liberate the Netherlands. As a symbol of gratitude, the Dutch Royal Family sent 100,000 tulips to the people of Canada. Since then, the Netherlands has sent Canada 20,000 tulips each year. In the spring of 1953, the Canadian Tulip Festival was born. Every spring, the city is transformed into a sea of colorful tulips, giving locals and tourists many opportunities to enjoy the beauty of this flower.
Also interesting is that there are many similarities between the Netherlands (Amsterdam) and Ottawa, both have beautiful canals and lots of bike paths!
Ottawa travel guide: Transportation
In my experience, Ottawa is quite small, so when you come here, you should combine to visit Montreal in one itinerary for convenience. Otherwise, a day or two is enough for you to explore Ottawa. Staying too long is a bit boring.
Getting to Ottawa
There are several carriers such as VIA Rail, Greyhound Lines or CarShare… To get the best price, you should book as soon as possible, the cheaper the price. You can choose to take the VIA Rail during the day to enjoy the scenery along the way. Travel time from Toronto to Ottawa is about 5 to 6 hours. Or if you have a G2 driver’s license or higher, rent a Zipcar to drive, go in the morning, return in the afternoon or come back when you want.
If you like to arrive early, choose the trip at 1am, when getting to close Ottawa, you will be able to watch the sunrise from the bus. After arriving, walk around for sightseeing, have breakfast, visit Parliament Hill (early arrival will get early tickets at 9am). If you have a good health conditions, you should choose this option.
After arriving in Ottawa, you can find a grocery store or Shoppers Drug Mart to buy a bus ticket. If you travel a lot, ask to buy a Day Pass for comfort.
Ottawa travel blog: What to do & where to go in Ottawa?
Canadian Parliament Buildings (Parliament Hill)
Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A9, Canada
Hours: 8:30AM–6PM/Friday: 8:30AM–5PM/Saturday; Sunday: Closed
Parliament Building is located in the most beautiful location in Ottawa, on a 50m high hill overlooking the vast and poetic Ottawa River. This is the workplace of the Federal government with Gothic Revival style, put into use in 1866. At the beginning of the 20th century, the building burned down, but was later rebuilt and kept the same original architecture.
Right in front of the parliament building, you will see the Centennial Flame. This heroic flame marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the country. Surrounding the flame is a fountain containing the shields of the 13 Canadian provinces and territories. If you want to visit this place, you should go a little early to get free tickets.
When stepping inside, you will be checked like at an airport and have a guide to guide you inside the building. If you are lucky, you will see people working or be led to the Peace Tower (this is your luck, you don’t always get it).
If traveling to Canada from mid-May to the end of August, visiting Parliament Hill, do not miss the opportunity to participate in free yoga on the lawn in front of Gothic-style buildings with the locals. From late June to late August, visitors can also witness the Changing of the Guard Ceremony (a tradition that dates back more than 50 years).
Tips: Tickets are distributed for free in the building opposite from 9am. If you come early, you should line up to get tickets early because sometimes around 11am to 12am, the tickets are run out. The door is opened when the bell on the Peace Tower rings, waiting while listening to the bell is also very interesting. After getting tickets and choosing a visit timeframe, you can send your belongings for free at upstairs. Send it and then come back to pick it up in the afternoon.
Canada’s Governor General (Rideau Hall)
Address: 1 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, Canada
The Governor-General’s Palace is the Queen’s official office in Canada, and is also the place to receive honorary delegations. Although it is a Government agency, visitors can freely walk within the grounds of Rideau Hall with beautiful forests. You can relax on wooden benches, watch squirrels run around on dry leaves to looking for food, and feel autumn filled with every breath and look.
Built between 1827 and 1832, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America. With a length of up to 202 km, extending from the capital Ottawa to the port of Kingston, Ontario, the Rideau Canal was applied the most advanced construction technologies of Europeans at that time. This is one of the first canals in the world built to accommodate steamboats and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Besides, the canal was also built as a stronghold against the US army. Today, the Rideau Canal is a famous Canadian tourist destination with many parks, gardens, museums and romantic walkways lining on the both sides of the canal.
In the warm summer or fall months, visitors can see boaters and cruisers on the canal. Tourists can rent canoes, kayaks, rowing boats around there, or experience cycling activities, leisurely strolling by the canal. When winter comes, this place is transformed into the largest skating rink in the world as recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Rideau Canal Ottawa Locks (Locks 1 – 8 – Ottawa)
Address: Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4, Canada
This is a must visit UNESCO world heritage site in Ottawa. Located right on the Rideau Canal and to the left of the parliament building is the Ottawa Locks. This is an amazing engineering achievement of Canadians in the early 19th century and is a must-see when traveling to Ottawa.
Because the water level of the Ottawa River is 25 m lower than that of other parts of the city, in order to bring ships and boats into the city, people have to open the locks one by one, pump water for 2 inside and outside the lock until balance then unlock the ship to enter. A ship will take 30 minutes to pass all 8 locks on the Rideau Canal to get into the city.
The view from the observation deck at the top of Peace Tower (98m high), Ottawa’s highest point includes Parliament Hill, the entire city, the river, the Gatineau (a city in western Quebec) and the hills to the north. On your way up the elevator, you’ll see the tower’s bells and there’s a memorial room for Canadians who died in WWI.
Address: 55 ByWard Market Square; Ottawa, Ontario; K1N 9C3
Located near Parliament Hill, visit that place first and then walk here. It is like a farmers market, selling all kinds of products. In particular, there is the Obama cookies. He just dropped by but people named these cookies after his name. This is considered the Canada’s largest and oldest market, selling all kinds of fresh fruits and handicrafts. In particular, there are very fresh maple syrup prepared at the farms in the area, besides there are many restaurants and cafes also.
Also located in the ByWard market, at its original stall on George Street is the Beavertails store. A Canadian classic snack that was born here and is now available across the country is the Canadian Deep-Fried Pastry (Canadian Donuts) with a choice of sweet condiments such as confectionery, chocolate, oreos, whipped cream and cinnamon sugar.
Hog’s Back Park & Prince of Wales Falls
Address: 600 Hogs Back Rd, Ottawa, ON K1V 1H8, Canada
The idea of a waterfall near the city center sounds far-fetched. But in Ottawa, with its perfect blend of urban and rural, nothing is impossible. Hog’s Back Park is an ideal place to roam and explore. This place owns a green space with the highlight of the 16m-long Prince of Wales Falls. In the summer, rushing water brings poetic and majestic scenery to this place. In winter, the river freezes and entire park is covered in snow.
Address: 3929 Carp Rd, Ottawa, ON K0A 1L0, Canada
Hours: 10AM–4PM/Monday, Tuesday: Closed
The Canada’s Cold War Museum Diefenbunker is a four-story bunker, with an area of 100,000 square meter built between 1959 and 1961. During the Cold War, the Diefenbunker was built as a safe space for the Canadian government, in case of a nuclear attack. Currently, Diefenbunker has become an attractive Cold War Museum for tourists to visit.
National Gallery of Canada
Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada
Hours: 10AM–5PM/Thursday: 10AM–8PM/Monday; Tuesday: Closed
Visitors to the National Gallery of Canada will be impressed by the model of a giant spider lying outside. The National Gallery of Canada houses a large collection of more than 30,000 national and international artworks from across the ages. It’s the perfect place to learn about Canada’s rich artistic heritage, from indigenous carvings to the nation’s latest contemporary art. You should spend about 1 to 2 hours to go around and admiring.
Mackenzie King Estate (Gatineau Park)
Address: MacKenzie King Rd, Chelsea, Quebec J9B 1H7, Canada
Hours: 10AM–5PM/Tuesday: Closed
This estate belongs to Canada’s 10th prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, about a 15-minute drive from Parliament Hill. The estate sits on 9,000 acres, including several lakefront cottages, containing numerous exhibits that explore the history of the prime minister’s life. Mackenzie King is open to the public to visit and admire.
Inside the main Moorside house, guests can enjoy afternoon tea or a meal in the dining room while admiring memorabilia from the Mackenzie King era. The park, with its walking trails and poetic gardens with picturesque ruins, is often used as the setting for weddings and special occasions.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
A 3-min walk from the National Gallery of Canada
Address: 385 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 1J9, Canada
Hours: /9AM–6PM/Sunday: 8AM–8:30PM/Monday: 11:30AM–6PM
If you go to the National Gallery, you should visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica also. Why so? Because it’s opposite, if you don’t visit now, when will you come? This is also considered one of the oldest historical sites in Canada. Particular attention is paid to the interior mahogany sculptures of Philippe Parizeau and figures of the four missionaries. This historic building, started construction in 1841 and completed in 1880, is the largest and oldest church in the nation’s capital.
Canadian Museum of Nature
Address: 240 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON K2P 2R1, Canada
Hours: 10AM–4PM/Monday; Tuesday: Closed
This is one of my favorite favorite places. The museum displays a lot of natural things such as rocks, geology, insects, animals… and very vivid models. The Canadian Museum of Nature takes visitors to the world of dinosaurs, the evolution of animals to the present day, giving visitors a more comprehensive view of nature, from dinosaur fossils to mammal.
Canadian Museum of History
Address: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M8, Canada
Hours: 10AM–4PM/Thursday: 10AM–7PM/Monday; Tuesday: Closed
Although this museum is not in Ottawa but it is very close, from Ottawa you can walk across the Alexandra Bridge (connecting Ottawa with Quebec) or take a water taxi from the Rideau Canal to the history museum. This is one of the treasures of architecture and culture. You can go through 20,000 years of Canadian history in just one day here. Especially, this place attracts tourists by the giant moon sculpture inside the Queen’s lantern to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Address: 285 Laurier St, Gatineau, Quebec J8X 3W9, Canada
This 55-acre park is a favorite place to visit for many locals. In the summer, you’ll enjoy hiking on green trails, biking to the shores of Lake Leamy for a scenic view of Rideau Falls, and playing water games on the Ottawa River. In winter, the park turns into a snow-covered wonderland.
This place is a bit special because two of my friends led me here, but you can’t find it in regular way. Perfect for an afternoon trip to see the birds, river and sunset…
There are also some other interesting places to go, you can visit such as Canadian War Museum, National War Memorial, Canada Aviation and Space Museum… (Google yourself to find your way).
Participate in events and festivals
Ottawa serves as the host to a wide range of festivals, events and activities, from Canada’s largest blues festival and North America’s second largest called the Ottawa Bluesfest to the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway. The most popular celebration in the capital is Canada Day. Every year on July 1, the city welcomes thousands of visitors with fireworks, city-wide live music, troubadours and other festivals to celebrate all things of Canada.
The nightlife in Ottawa isn’t as exciting as Toronto’s, but it’s also bustling and vibrant. At Zaphod Beeblebrox, a band that plays fold-rock or blue all night is ready to melt your heart. Quite a few bars in the capital are suitable for those who like to drink a few local beers, cocktails like Zoe’s Lounge or a few shots of whiskey on the ground floor of Union Local 613.
Ottawa blog: What and where to eat?
Although already one of the modern cities in North America, Ottawa still retains the traditional market right in the center. This open-air market, selling fresh vegetables and flowers from farmers’ farms. Therefore, when traveling to Ottawa, you can buy and enjoy fruits and food right on the spot.
In particular, near the market there is a rather large Le Moulin de Provence bakery. There are more than 250 different kinds of sweet and savory pastries. Guests can sit and sip coffee by the roadside and enjoy delicious pastries. The already famous shop is now more famous after the visit of US President Obama in 2009 as mentioned above.
Ottawa offers a wide range of dining options, whether you fancy some French, Italian or Chinese food or seafood, all of which can be found in Canada’s capital city. A classic Canadian dish, a must-try while in Canada is Poutine. It’s a dish with french fries and cheese curds with brown sauce. It was recently named Canada’s national dish.
In addition, below are the places to eat that I have tried.
Address: 325 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7G1, Canada
Hours: 6–10PM/Friday; Saturday: 5PM–12AM/Monday; Tuesday: Closed
Located on the 16th floor of the Andaz Hotel, Copper Spirits & Sights boasts the title of the city’s highest rooftop bar. Here you can enjoy the incredible outdoor views of the bustling ByWard Market neighborhood below, enjoying the fiery sunset over Gatineau Hill in the distance. During the warmer months, the terrace is a great place to sit down and have a few drinks.
Address: 453 Laurier Ave. E, Ottawa, ON K1N 6R4, Canada
This is Canada’s best culinary training school in the city of Ottawa with 120 years of experience. Tourists will experience short baking classes within an afternoon, they can make and bake delicious and beautiful cakes by themselves. The restaurant also serves a variety of dishes from appetizers, main courses to desserts, ready to satisfy the most demanding diners.
Address: 179 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5X8, Canada
This is a long-standing chain store established in 1987. Breakfast is delicious and nutritious because there are a lot of vegetables and fruits. Remember to consider when ordering, lest you not eat all.
Ginza Ramen Sushi and Sake Bar
Address: 280 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1M2, Canada
Hours: 11:30AM–10PM/Saturday: 12–10PM
The ramen here is quite delicious. It has 2 locations, remember to check Google maps to choose which one is convenient for you.
Address: 69 George St, Ottawa, ON K1N 1K1, Canada
This is a typical Canadian donuts in Ottawa as mentioned above. Located at Byward Market, when you come here, remember to try once.
Address: 1073 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1S 3W9, Canada
Located in the Glebe neighborhood, it serves coffee and local grilled food by day and Ontario craft beer and live music by night.
Address: 250 City Centre Ave #112, Ottawa, ON K1R 6K7, Canada
Hours: 8AM–3PM/Sunday; Monday: Closed
Arts-is-in-Bakery is inspired by the fine bakeries of Paris and the funky cafes of Brooklyn. You can find bread classics and exquisite pastry trays at Arts-is-in-Bakery, satisfying any diners’ cravings. In addition, the restaurant also serves a very rich breakfast and lunch, including vegan dishes.
Address: 1077 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1S 3W9, Canada
Hours: 4–11PM/Monday; Tuesday; Wednesday; Thursday: Closed
House of Targ is located in the old Ottawa South neighborhood owned by local musicians, which specializes in live music and video games. Everyone is welcome to come here, but when the show started, the bar only served customers 19 and older. If you come here on a Sunday evening after 8pm you don’t need a full wallet, just 6 USD, you are allowed to play unlimited free on all games until the bar closes.
Address: 139 Preston St, Ottawa, ON K1R 7P4, Canada
Sometimes you want to have the opportunity to shop for unique items while sipping a great cocktail. Ward 14 is all you need, a unique consignment store and bar. There are all things antiques, art, vintage maps, statues and hundreds of fine jewelry.
Play Food & Wine
Address: 1 York St, Ottawa, ON K1N 6Z5, Canada
Hours: 12–3PM, 5–10PM/Tuesday; Wednesday; Sunday: 5–10PM/Monday: Closed
The restaurant is located in the ByWard Market. A great relaxing atmosphere with the best food you can think of. It’s a kind of tapas restaurant with all the plates and dishes to enjoy.
Tip: Most restaurants and bars will add a 13 percent tax on your total bill – but you should still anticipate tipping. An appropriate tip should be between 20 and 25 percent – but 15 percent is considered the minimum.
Ottawa Canada travel guide: Shopping
Although, it’s not Toronto or Montreal when it comes to shopping, Ottawa still has a substantial number of shops and markets to explore. Be sure to head to ByWard Market – a mix of tourist shops, boutiques and farmers’ markets, this open-air market in the middle of the city attracts locals and visitors alike. From there, explore the CF Rideau Centre (Address: 50 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 9J7, Canada), a large four-story shopping mall with distinct Canadian retailers, including The Hudson’s Bay and Chapter’s.
Ottawa travel blog: Where to stay?
A good tip for you is to choose a morning trip because hotels or Airbnb usually allow to check-in at noon, so when you arrive, you can send your things and rest. Once you’re well, go sightseeing. In the sunny afternoon, you can take selfies comfortably.
In addition, you should choose a hotel with location located in the center between Parliament Hill and the bus station. Because walking from the bus station to Parliament Hill is only about 2km. Not too far to walk and also convenient to catch the bus.
Below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- The Business Inn & Suites (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Brookstreet Hotel (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Fairmont Chateau Laurier (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Novotel Ottawa City Centre (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Les Suites Hotel Ottawa (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
Happy traveling! Read more Canada travel guide here.