December 10, 2023

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The Best Things to Do in Ottawa, Canada’s Capital

The Canadian capital, Ottawa has an antiquated reputation of being a sleepy or even uneventful town, full of civil servants and government dignitaries. But over the past decade the tides began to turn, and the city really came into its own. Between an abundance of new restaurants and bars to exceptional art galleries and museums, the city is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves as a world-class destination to be discovered.

The city of Ottawa might be small in size (the entire downtown core is only about half a square mile) but the compact nature of the century-old city makes it perfect for exploring on foot over a long weekend. Considering a trip to Ontario? Here are the best things to do in Ottawa, Canada’s most underrated city.

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Getting there

Downtown is only about a 15-minute drive from the Ottawa International Airport, which connects the capital city to 39 international destinations and 17 cities within Canada. That said, Ottawa is also conveniently located about two hours from Montreal by car, and just under seven hours from New York.

The exterior of Ottawa Art Gallery

Simone Dicosta

Ottawa Art Gallery’s interior and cafe

Kevin Belanger

What to do in Ottawa

No trip to the capital city of Canada is complete without paying a visit to Parliament Hill, the home of Canada’s federal government. Free guided tours of the neo-Gothic parliament buildings—including the Senate of Canada Building and the House of Commons—have slowly started to become available again after a two-year pandemic hiatus. Visitors looking for a more impromptu look at the striking block of buildings are still welcome to visit the outdoor grounds on their own in order to enjoy the 1800s-era architecture and sweeping views of the Ottawa River without being tied to a schedule.

The ByWard Market is a short 10-minute walk from Parliament Hill and makes for a great stopping ground to slow down and fuel up while exploring the city center. Dating back to 1826 when the market was stocked by horse-drawn carriages, it is considered to be one of the oldest and largest public markets in Canada. The four-block community hub is now a pedestrian-only part of town made up of both outdoor farmers’ market stalls and permanent indoor shops and sellers that range from colorful crafts and gifts to Canadian-centric snacks like BeaverTails and fresh maple treats.

Whether you’re planning a summertime trip or you’re looking for things to do Ottawa in the colder months, the Rideau Canal is a must-visit for outdoor and leisure enthusiasts. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally opened in 1832 as a preventative measure in case war broke out with the U.S.—but today it’s primarily used for leisure purposes. In wintertime the canal transforms into the world’s largest skating rink. In the summertime, the canal provides the perfect spot for renting kayaks and canoes and exploring the city by boat.