Ottawa is a wonderful city – probably the most wonderful city in Canada, if not the whole world.
Yes, I might be slightly biased because I spent the most fantastic year studying there while I was at uni. But I also went back to visit last year, and I can confirm that the Canadian capital is as lovely as ever.
Situated right between French-speaking and English-speaking Canada, Ottawa is a cultural hub and the nation’s political centre. However, it is often overlooked as a tourist destination, with many choosing instead to visit Toronto, Montreal or the rocky West. These people are seriously missing out.
There’s so much to see and do in this historic city, even throughout the very long, very cold and very snowy winters. Today, I’m focussing on things to do when it’s not -40°C outside (and when things are back to relative normality after the lockdown.)
I’ve put together this list of things to keep you busy in Ottawa. From museums to waterfalls, there’s something for everyone.
Here’s 10 awesome things to do in Ottawa this summer.
1) Take in the views at Nepean point
Why save the best until last? Nepean Point is probably my favourite spot in the world. Just a short stroll from Byward Market (“What’s that?” You ask. You’ll soon find out), Nepean Point provides the most stunning views across Ottawa and Quebec’s Gatineau.
The scenic hill features a statue of the famous French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who gets to look out and soak up the views 24/7. The lucky devil.
If you’re in downtown Ottawa, even for just a few hours, a visit to Nepean is a must.
2) Fill your belly at Byward Market
If you’ve done any research into Ottawa at all, you will have already come across mentions of Byward Market. With countless restaurants, shops, bars and cafes, as well as the bustling farmers’ market, the market is the entertainment hub of the city.
Byward Market is Ottawa’s number one tourist attraction and for good reason. Pop along for a delicious meal or a drink on one of the many patios that are open throughout the summer.
It really is the place to be.
3) Get cultural at the National Gallery
The prestigious National Gallery of Canada is situated right in the heart of Ottawa. You can’t miss its imposing, glass structure towering over the city, and the sights inside are just as impressive.
The gallery houses over 40,000 works by artists from Canada and abroad, and there’s an impressive collection of Indigenous works. It’s well worth a visit.
This is the first activity on my list that isn’t free. Visiting the gallery will set you back between $8 and $16. But, if you happen to be around on a Thursday between 5-8pm, it’s free! In fact, all of Ottawa national museums are. Yay for free things!
4) Take in the sights on Green Island
Depending on how active you’re feeling, you can either walk or take the bus to this cool little Ottawa area. There’s a few hotspots to explore.
On your stroll around the Island, you’ll find the impressive Rideau Falls (pictured above) surrounded by a beautiful little park, as well as several historic monuments.
Head a little beyond the island and you’ll stumble across Rideau Hall. I’ve never actually been inside, but they offer free guided tours which you can reserve in advance. Otherwise, it’s well worth exploring its extensive grounds.
Go a little further and you’ll pass the French Embassy and find yourself right outside Justin Trudeau’s official Sussex Drive residence. What a treat!
If you’re super lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of someone important.
5) Eat Ottawa’s best poutine at 3 Brothers
Yes, “Ottawa’s best poutine” is a big claim, but I stand by it.
In my year living in the city, I ate poutine a shameful amount of times. Multiple times a week, certainly. More than an Canadian I met there. It’s no wonder I put that weight on…
That’s why I feel confident declaring 3 Brothers as the best poutine in Ottawa. There’s 3 restaurants in the city – so it’s even easier for you to try it for yourself.
They’re more famous for Shawarma – but don’t let that fool you. It’s all about the poutine for me.
No trip to Ottawa would be complete without a taste of Canada’s most famous dish.
6) Rent bikes and explore Gatineau
One of the best ways to get a fantastic view of Ottawa is to hop across to Gatineau and peer across the river.
Rent a bike from downtown Ottawa (we got ours from here) and make your way through the lovely Major’s Hill Park and over Alexandra Bridge.
Ta-da! You’re now in Quebec, and the rest is up to you.
There’s plenty of cycle paths along the river bank – I’d recommend heading left once you’re over the bridge.
Follow your nose, take in those stunning views, and burn off some of those poutine calories. You might even find your way as far as Gatineau Park.
Take yourself across one of the many bridges back to Ottawa when your legs start to fall off.
7) Join the other eager tourists at Parliament Hill
This one is so obvious I almost didn’t put it on the list. You simply cannot visit Ottawa without visiting its most famous landmark.
Parliament Hill is undoubtedly an impressive site, and there’s lots of things going on within the grounds.
8) Get historical at the Canadian War Museum
If you’re got any interest in history at all, the Canadian War Museum is one of the very best things to do while you’re in Ottawa.
It is without doubt one of the most amazing museums I’ve ever been to. And as a history graduate, I’ve been to a lot.
Inside its unique structure you’ll be taken along a fascinating timeline of Canada’s military history, from the Europeans’ initial conflicts with Canada’s First Peoples, through the wars of the 20th century, and right up to the present.
It’s easy to get lost in this huge museum for hours.
Admission is $17 for an adult, with various concessions for students, seniors and children. As with the National Gallery, though, it’s free between 5pm-8pm on Thursdays.
9) Marvel at Hogs Back Falls
Just a 12 minute drive from downtown Ottawa (or a slightly unfortunate 50 minute bus ride), Hog’s Back Falls is a really impressive sight.
This series of waterfalls was constructed to divert water from the Rideau River to the newly-created Rideau Canal.
Today, they’re surrounded by open green spaces, leafy wooded areas and peaceful flat rocks where you can stop for a picnic or bask in the sun.
Get on down.
10) Stroll along the Rideau Canal
Easy, free, and full of beautiful views, a long walk along the Rideau Canal is the thing to do on a sunny day in Ottawa.
It doesn’t take much explaining either. Walk as far as you want, on whichever side takes your fancy, and be ready to explore anything you come across on your route.
If you head away from the Ottawa River, you’ll end up in the youthful neighbourhood of The Glebe, which is full of cool restaurants, cafes and shops.
The ground is mostly flat and the sights are wonderful, so it’s easy to clock up a few miles here without even noticing.
All year round, walking along the Rideau Canal is the perfect way to experience the wonderful city of Ottawa.
And there you have it! 10 awesome things to do in Ottawa this summer.
These are just my favourites. There’s plenty of other exciting things to see and do too, which you will see for yourself.
Get over there and explore this fascinating city for yourself!