It is not surprising that Americans choose their northern neighbor, Canada, as a convenient and attractive holiday destination. However, the attention tends to gravitate towards Vancouver, Quebec or Montreal and not towards Ottawa, the country’s capital city. Even though it may seem unexciting at first, the truth is that it is a wonderful place to visit.
Ottawa offers an interesting combination of history, culture, art and outdoors. Whether you are interested in museums, visiting historic sites or being in touch with nature, the city will not disappoint you at all! It is also a clean, compact city and the biggest attractions and landmarks are not far from each other.
Located in the SE of Ontario and in close proximity to Quebec, Ottawa is Canada’s hidden gem. Those interested in exploring the country or visiting its more important cities should not leave Ottawa out. If a road trip across Canada sounds tempting, do not forget to consider insurance if you will take a rental car across the border. With so many options available in the market, Bonzah offers one of the most comprehensive and affordable ones.
Are you ready to discover what you cannot miss in Ottawa? Go on reading then:
If there is a place you have to see while in Ottawa, that is Parliament Hill, home to the Gothic Revival-style Parliament Buildings and Canada’s federal legislature. The area attracts thousands of visitors every year who come to admire the most important democratic institutions in the country: the Senate, the Library of Parliament and the chambers of the House of Commons. Parliament Hill is the focal point, the star in Ottawa as the three neo-Gothic parliamentary buildings sit alongside the Ottawa River and are home to the country’s national government.
When the weather is nice, it is really a pleasure to spend some time near the Centennial Flame and taking in the beautiful sights. Perched high above the Ottawa river, the Parliament buildings are stunning both on the inside and on the outside.
The Central Block, with the imposing Peace Tower, is home to the Canadian House of Commons. It closed in February 2019 for decade long renovations but it has been relocated close by to its new temporary wing in West Block and it is open for free public tours. The tour would be particularly interesting for older children as a way to peep inside the country’s democratic institutions.
The Peace Tower is 92 metres tall and it’s home to the first inclined elevator in Canada. It contains a time capsule in its cornerstone that was laid in 1919 and it features almost 200 sculptures including gargoyles and grotesques. Although the original clock no longer works, it is on display in the observation deck. The Peace Tower is a memorial to those who served and died for Canada in WWI. You can climb to the top of it for breathtaking views over Canada. Access to the tower is free but you must get a ticket beforehand and check when it is open for visitors. Inside the tower there’s a 53-bell carillon that chimes every 15 minutes. You can see the huge bells as you ride the elevator on your way up. The Dominion Carillonneur also does some memorable tunes occasionally.
The Parliamentary Library, at the back of the building opposite the entrance, is a wonderfully finished octagon. It is a true architectural gem! Beneath the formidable Gothic rotunda there is an almost goddess-like marble statue of Victoria surrounded by the early prime ministers of the country. The area is decorated with coats of arms, each reflecting the provinces of Canada.
The National War Memorial was built in 1939 as a reminder of the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers in WWI and it is now a shrine for all Canadians who gave their life for their country. It is the focal point of the Confederation Square and it can be found just a short distance from Parliament Hill.
It is 21 metres tall and it is granite arch is adorned with striking sculptures that represent various branches of the Canadian forces. These bronze figures can be seen emerging from the arch, allegorically passing from war to peace and liberty. Lying at its foot is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and ceremonial sentries who perform the Changing of the Guard every hour.
The National War Memorial is also known as “The Response” and it is a very peaceful and quiet place. Each year, on Remembrance Day, Canada’s veterans march past the memorial laying wreaths of flowers before observing two minutes of silence.
The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. It is used mainly for recreational purposes including pleasure boating and it is one of the main attractions in Ottawa both for locals and tourists. It connects Ottawa with Kingston on Lake Ontario; it’s 200 kilometres long but only 1.6 metres deep. You cannot miss a visit to the locks, an engineering marvel that allows boaters to travel up or downhill without having to traverse rapids.
It does not matter if you visit Ottawa in summer, spring, autumn or winter; whichever season you come to town, you will discover plenty of opportunities to have a great time here.
In winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the world’s largest naturally frozen ice rink. Visitors can rent skates or explore on foot and indulge in the city’s favorite sweet treat: the Beavertail (a long, flat deep-fried pastry). Passing through downtown Ottawa ice skating is one of the best ways to enjoy winter in the city!
In spring, the pathways alongside the canal are laden with tulips and, in summer, the canal is a great destination for those who love kayaking, canoeing and boating. It is also a fantastic place for a bike ride or a hike!
Located close to Rideau Canal and right across from the National Art Gallery, the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica will immediately catch your attention. It is a beautiful and ornate cathedral in gothic style that is recognized by its twin spires. It is another landmark in Ottawa and one that cannot be missed. It was consecrated in the mid 1840s and is the oldest and largest house of worship in Ottawa.
If you are interested in architecture then you will be delighted here! Notre Dame Basilica is a stunning example of Gothic Revival. It’s full of eye-catching design details, from its two silver tin-covered steeples to soaring arches, terraced galleries, wonderful stained-glass windows and the star-studded blue ceiling. There are guided tours available or you can visit the church on your own daily between services.
Notre Dame Cathedral is a beautiful Roman Catholic minor basilica that was once home to the small wooden St Jacques Church that was built in 1832. Take your time to admire the hundreds of sculptures of religious figures and carvings in its choir, which is particularly impressive. Do not miss the huge pipe organ and the gorgeous altar will leave you mesmerized without a doubt with its intricately designed interiors that include carved mahogany!
The National Art Gallery is a must-see museum for art lovers. Founded in 1880, it is home to an impressive collection of European and Canadian paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and photos. It hosts the best collection of Canadian and indigenous art. It is one of the most acclaimed art institutions in the world and it’s also a remarkable architectural piece. Families with young kids will be fascinated with Louise Bourgeois’s Maman, the giant spider sculpture that looms outside of the gallery! Kids will love visiting the Gallery on Sundays when there are special themes focused on families.
The Gallery’s Great Hall, with its glass walls stretched tens of metres above your head, offers stunning panoramic views of Parliament Hill and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Alongside renowned names such as Michelangelo, Picasso and Da Vinci, you can also find exquisite artworks by the indigenous peoples of Canada.
While at the National Art Gallery, do no miss Rideau Street Chapel, a XIX century place of worship that historians reconstructed piece by piece inside the gallery. It used to be part of a girls’ boarding school run by nuns, and its fan-vaulted ceiling was unique. It is decorated with a Tudor-style-fan-vaulted ceiling, slim cast-iron columns, giltwood, and colored glasses.
Head for the Canadian Gallery for artworks from the New France era during the XVIII century, works by pioneering women artists such as Emily Carr and abstract paintings by groups of artists such as the Automatistes in Montreal, Painters Eleven in Toronto or Regina Five in Saskatchewan. The Indigineous galleries are also very interesting! With almost 100,000 pieces of art on display, you can find both classical and modern artwork.
Amongst the artists you can admire we can mention: da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso along with indigineous and contemporary pieces. You will also find some works by famous Canadian artists like Joseph Légaré and Antoine Plamondon.
The Canadian Museum of History is the most visited museum in Canada and it welcomes 1.2 million visitors annually and it is home to many outstanding exhibitions that showcase Canada’s history, world history and the history of civilization. Exhibits include the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles! There are more than 3 million artefacts to admire and it offers a unique and memorable experience for people of all ages.
There are also several special exhibitions organised yearly and the high-tech exhibitions tell the history of Canada from the earliest human inhabitants to the present day. Visitors can also explore the Canadian Children’s Museum, which is a place that immerses you in a great adventure by allowing you to travel the world through an interactive setting.
It is located in Gatineau, directly across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill. There are three fantastic exhibition halls: the Grand Hall, the Canadian History Hall and the First Peoples Hall. The Grand Hall is the architectural marvel of the museum, featuring a panoramic wall of windows that provides views of Parliament Hill and the river.
Opened in 1989, even the building is attractive with its undulating curves and cascades to mirror the shapes found in nature.
The First People’s Hall is absolutely impressive with its ceiling designed to resemble a dugout canoe, a floor like a glistening pool and the largest indoor collection of XIX century totem poles in the world! It also includes life-sized recreations of Canadian settlements over the past 1000 years.
Large parts of the museum are devoted to Canada’s relationship with Britain, France and the other nations whose people came to the country as early settlers.
The Museum is also home to the Canadian Postal Museum and an IMAX theatre and it is a must-visit landmark for families.
The Canadian History Hall is a walk through 15,000 years of history presented in an interesting format. There are displays of personal items, audio and visual presentations. From the Vikings to the Basque whalers from Spain and the French occupation to how English-speaking immigration changed the course of history for colonial Canada, there’s nothing you can’t learn about.
Make sure you allow plenty of time to explore this fascinating museum as it showcases Canada’s peoples and cultural diversity. There are very interesting collections related to ethnology, traditions, art, archaeology and folk heritage. Take time to fully appreciate the displays in the three permanent galleries and do not miss the several temporary exhibitions that are organized yearly.