I recently visited Ottawa in collaboration with Tourism Ottawa. I must say that Ottawa is quite under-rated. Many people don’t think of Ottawa as a weekend trip from Toronto but I think it’s an excellent option. Ottawa offers a strong arts and culture scene. Foodies will be delighted at the number of options available throughout the city. You are submersed in history and there’s a photo to snap at every corner in downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill. Here are my picks when you’re planning your visit to Ottawa. If you want assistance with your next trip, please be sure to reach out to Tourism Ottawa and check out their site. I’ve listed my carefully curated picks below.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada hosts a collection of the largest amount of Canadian Art in the world. Be sure to indulge in Canadiana with over 1,000 artworks and 5 Canadian exhibitions under 1 roof. This vast collection includes a curation of Indigenous Art. As mentioned in my ‘Where to Eat in Ottawa‘ post, the National Gallery is also home to a lovely Café with epic views of Parliament. The Gallery is an architectural gem so many tourists come just to take photos of the exterior including the beautiful spider sculpture at the entrance. Plan your visit.
Guided Tour of Parliament
You cannot leave the capital city of Canada without taking a free guided tour of Parliament. The tours take you on an interesting journey where you will be given an inside look into the history of Canada’s Parliament and it’s function. Be on the lookout for fine art and some hand me downs from the British Government such as a disproportionate painting of the Queen. The tour guides are knowledgeable interns who provide insightful facts of Canadian History. You will get to see the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament and the Senate. If you have time, please be sure to check out the Peace Tower as well. Tours are available free of charge but you do need to get a ticket ahead of time from across the street. Plan your visit.
Guided Tour of Rideau Hall
The tour of Rideau Hall takes you through the stunning state rooms of the official residence of Canada’s Governor General. I adored the design details. The tent room was my favourite space with striking striped walls and carefully selected chandeliers. You will find another well curated selection of Canadian art as you tour through this mansion. As each new Governor General moves in, Rideau Hall is redecorated a bit to reflect the flare of their new resident. Rideau Hall engages the public and offers tours as well as various activities through the year. In the winter you can go ice skating on the grounds. In the spring and summer, you can tour the gardens. During the summer you will also find foot guards at the entrance of Rideau Hall – they’re just as serious as the ones outside of Buckingham Palace! During Halloween, children can actually go trick-or-treating at Rideau Hall. Plan your visit.
The Haunted Walk
This is a one and a half hour walk so bring some comfy shoes. I participated in the Original Haunted Walk of Ottawa which took us by the Chateau Laurier and around the Canal. I’ve always toured around Ottawa during the day so getting a night perspective was a treat. The tour guides are extremely passionate and charismatic. I appreciate how the company does their research and reaches out to historians to get all the facts straight. You can tell how much work went into creating the walks and narratives. There was never a dull moment with my enthusiastic and lively guide. He told us how the company interviews individuals who have experienced ghost interactions to get their account first hand. On one of the tours they play a recording of an individual describing their eye witness account of a ghost encounter. The Haunted Walk of Ottawa seems to be a very popular option. The night I went, there were about 6 tours taking place at the same time. I would be sure to book ahead of time. Reserve your walk.
The National Arts Centre
I consider the National Art Centre to be a must visit arts institution in Ottawa. It is the largest performing arts centre in Canada. They work hard to provide a diverse repertoire so I would urge you to take a look at what’s taking place when you plan your visit. Currently, in the lobby, they host an exhibit called the Cloud which is an interactive art piece that is made out of over 6,000 light bulbs. You can stand under it and pull the strings to turn the lights on and off. I literally want one for my place, maybe half the size though. Plan your visit.
The Byward Market is a well known treasure which hosts a variety of shops and restaurants. During the weekend you can find fresh produce and handmade goods. Whatever you’re craving for dinner, the market has it. A few of my favourite spots in the market are listed in my Ottawa Foodie Picks. You must try a Beavertail if you haven’t had one before. I still remember when I travelled to Ottawa for the first time and I tried my very first beaver tail ever in Byward Market. After enjoying all the culinary delights, you can head over to the Market’s several night clubs and bars so that you can get your drink on. There is famous 24 hour McDonald’s near the market that you can go to after your late night of partying. If you are in the mood to go for well-crafted cocktails and take in a view of the city, be sure to check out the Andaz Rooftop which is a hop and skip away from the market. Plan your visit.
High Tea at Chateau Laurier
High tea at the Chateau Laurier is a rite of passage for all Ottawans. I recommend high tea at the Chateau for anyone that wants to appreciate the finer details during their visit. The tea service is similar to every other High Tea I have been to but the menu has its own unique flare. Chateau Laurier offers additional touches such as branding the brioche buns with the Fairmount logo and the Tea Sommelier allows you to select tea from a vintage tea cart. The Zoe’s Lounge which I like to refer to as the tea room exudes elegance and takes you back in time. At the moment the Tea Room is currently under construction so I would wait until they are done construction to reserve (. Did you know that rumour has it that the Chateau may be haunted? Find out more If you decide to muster up enough courage to go on the Haunted Walk of Ottawa.
Canadian Museum of Nature
I went to the Canadian Museum of Nature just before it closed so I can’t vouch for their galleries. I have heard that they have excellent collections of fossils and skeletons. I went quickly to admire the architecture. What I can tell you is that this museum is an ideal event space. I went on a day that the a part of the museum was being prepped for a marriage ceremony and it was done up to the nines. My favourite part of the museum is a space called the Queen’s Lantern which is a mix of old and new; heritage stained glass windows, 100 year old floors, a 65-foot high glass tower, and marble wainscoting. I spent quite a bit of time taking in all the design details and a million snaps. Plan your visit.
I’m sorry to tease you like this but MosaiCanada 150 is now over. You missed out big time. I was amazed by the vast collection of horticultural art on display. Each piece of art was larger than life and it felt like I was roaming through a floral fairy tale in Jacque Cartier Park. I requested a guided tour and the guide was knowledgeable and spoke of how each piece related to Canada’s History. The railroad played a large part in shaping Canada and was symbolized front and centre as you entered. There was also a respectfully large section which honored Canada’s indigenous culture. Each province and territory of Canada was represented through this spectacular exhibit. Pieces were also donated from the Government of China to represent the close ties of Canada and China. Enjoy the photographs as this exhibit ended mid-October.
Hop on Hop Off – Gray Line Bus Tours
I’ve been to Ottawa many times but I had never tried the Gray Line Bus tour. Usually when I visit a new city, I like taking the bus tour as it gives you the lay of the land. This tour in particular was nice as it drives you around all of the prominent areas and you get to see where the ambassadors live, a variety of consulates, as well as most of the major museums and arts organizations. If you have a couple days, you might as well purchase the 24 hour bus tour and use it to get around from attraction to attraction. It starts off at very central location. This is also close to where you can reserve your haunted walk tour.
The Royal Canadian Mint
I was super excited about the Royal Canadian Mint but actually very disappointed. The guide talked way too much and the tour was not very exciting at all. I went on the weekend when the Mint is actually closed for operation so there weren’t any machines running or people working. You walk around a tunnel that looks over the plant and simply go from video to video and the guide speaks about the video. During the week would be better as you can see the factory in action. However, they are extremely strict and have a no photo, no video, and no cellphone policy. I wasn’t even allowed to type notes on my cellphone regarding what I was learning so that I could share it with all of you. If I had known, I probably would not have gone as I wanted to document my video and generate exciting content. Enjoy the photos below of the beautiful exterior though! And on the plus side, if you are a coin collector, the boutique is worth a visit and they have some fancy coins for sale. Lastly, one positive takeaway from the tour was that I now appreciate the attention to detail and fine craftsmanship that goes into making each coin – this is something that I feel I take for granted on a daily basis.