As Canada’s capital city, Ottawa is an essential destination for any traveler. While the city boasts plenty of official attractions, it’s also home to countless festivals, beautiful parks, world-class culture, and a growing food and cocktail scene. Mark your calendar and get ready for an unforgettable trip to Ottawa.

Top Things to Do in Ottawa

Ottawa may be on the small side by capital city standards, but you can easily fill a long weekend with activities and events throughout the area. Find out how to prepare for your trip and how to plan a great day in Ottawa.

Before Your Visit: Check the Festival Calendar

While Ottawa makes for a fun and friendly destination any time of year, Canada’s capital city truly comes alive during the summer months. Before your summer visit, be sure to check the city’s festival calendar to be sure you aren’t missing the coolest event of the year. Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Glowfair: Start summer on the right foot with this dynamic festival in mid-June. Glowfair transforms downtown Ottawa into a giant party, complete with electronic music, light-based art installations, and street performers.
  • Ottawa Fringe Festival: Each year, this creative festival showcases some of the province’s top visual and performing arts. Since a lottery determines the festival slots, there are always at least a couple of surprises on the schedule. Catch one or a few of the festivals 50-plus shows, many of which happen late at night.
  • Ottawa Jazz Festival: Whether you’re a jazz aficionado or you love live music, you won’t want to miss the Ottawa Jazz Festival, which is many locals’ favorite week of the summer. This festival has come a long way since the 1980s, when it first gained steam and attracted jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and Stan Getz. Now more than 30 years old, this festival shows no signs of slowing down and draws about 300,000 visitors each year.
  • Ottawa BluesFest: If blues, rock and roll, or electronic music is more your speed, you won’t want to miss Ottawa BluesFest, which features dozens of artists who represent all types of genres. this lively festival lasts for 10 days in mid-July, and with everything from a VIP area to a carnival to an autograph tent, BluesFest offers plenty of interactive opportunities.
  • Canada Day: The nation’s birthday calls for a major celebration, and Ottawa is the place to be every year. Start the day with a flag raising ceremony, watch demonstrations and cultural shows throughout the day, and stay for the fireworks in the evening. While many of the day’s events take place on Parliament Hill, you can take in the fireworks show from most downtown spots.
  • Ottawa Beer Fest: Beer enthusiasts won’t want to miss the annual Ottawa Beer Fest, which is the province’s largest craft beer festival. Enroll in Beer School, compete in the Craft Beer Run, and sample brews from the province’s top craft brewers.
  • Lebanese Festival: The Ottawa Lebanese Festival has delighted locals and visitors alike for nearly three decades. This annual festival takes place over several days in mid- to late July, with great Lebanese food, a midway, cultural performances, and travel information that may prompt you to book your next trip.
  • Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival: For over 20 years, this late summer festival has brought the best small ensembles and solo performers to Ottawa. Chamberfest is the largest of its kind in the world and regularly wins provincial awards, so it’s an event not to miss.
Rideau Canal
Rideau Canal (also known as the Rideau Waterway).

Early Morning: Start With Coffee

Canada is known for its love of Tim Horton’s, the ubiquitous coffee shop found on most corners. When you visit Ottawa, however, much more hip spots will call your name. At Café Morala, you can start your day with a regular coffee amidst the Latin decor or spice things up with a Mayan hot chocolate. At Happy Goat Coffee Company in Little Italy, choose from beans sourced from all over the globe and feel good about this shop’s ethical sourcing methods.

At Equator Coffee Roasters, you can sip a cup of organic, fair trade coffee or stick around for a tutorial in the Cupping Lab. Get ready for some seriously innovative java at the Ministry of Coffee, a shop that pours everything from Nitrogen cold brew to Nutella-enhanced lattes and offers a variety of classes to boot.

Midmorning: Tour Ottawa’s Historic Sites

Start your tour of Ottawa with a walk along the Rideau Canal, which dates back to the 1830s. The canal spans 125 miles, but the most scenic part is located in downtown Ottawa, where it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. While it’s worth a v­isit in any season, the Rideau Canal is especially vibrant in the summer and winter. When the weather is warm, walk or bike along the waterway or take a canal cruise. When the temperature drops, bring your skates and go for a spin on the world’s largest skating rink.

Just across the canal, Parliament Hill beckons visitors with historic sites and beautiful views. Take a free guided tour of the stunning buildings, which feature several areas open to the public. Don’t miss the impressive view from the Peace Tower’s observation deck or the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which you can catch on summer mornings at 10 a.m.

Noon: Snack Your Way Through ByWard Market

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Why commit to one lunch joint when you could snack your way through several? Once you’ve had your fill of Ottawa’s historic sites, stop at the nearby ByWard Market, a public market that’s a historic destination in its own right. You’ll find vendors serving produce, candy and baked goods, and local products all year round. When the weather warms up in the summer, several vendors open up stalls outdoors, where they serve up freshly baked bread and Canadian delicacies like gravy-covered poutine.

Afternoon: Stroll Through Gatineau Park

Just a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa lies a natural oasis that offers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Gatineau Park spans an impressive 90,000 acres and offers a long list of activities. Summer is the perfect time for swimming and hiking, while winter brings cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The park’s Champlain Lookout offers one of the best scenic views in town, where you can see all across the Ottawa Valley.

Visit the Mackenzie King Estate, an early 20th-century mansion, and stroll along the shady paths that surround the property. If you’re feeling peckish, stop inside the tearoom for a cup of tea.

Ottawa cityscape
Ottaway cityscape.

Late Afternoon: Visit Ottawa’s Museums

Ottawa’s museums bring the area’s history, art, nature, and science to life. You could spend a week exploring these sites, so choose the ones that appeal most to your crew.

For local history, head to the Bytown Museum, housed in the city’s oldest stone building. It’s named for Ottawa’s canal builder and pays homage to the city once named Bytown. Peruse the period rooms and see how Canada’s capital city got its start in the 19th century. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive view of history, head to the Canadian Museum of History. which explores 20,000 years of history. This engaging museum is also home to an IMAX theater and the Canadian Children’s Museum, so there’s plenty to do and see.

Ottawa is also home to a world-class art collection, which you’ll find at the National Gallery of Canada. Inside this distinctive glass structure, you’ll see artwork spanning both centuries and nationalities, with everything from Renaissance-era Leonardo paintings to works by contemporary Canadian artists like Antoine Plamondon. Check the museum’s temporary exhibition calendar for some of the coolest and most cutting-edge shows in town.

At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, you’ll have the chance to see the nation’s largest collection of aircraft. Learn how the nation’s aviation industry developed through the 20th century, and see over 100 military and civil aircraft. If you’re traveling with a real aviation fan, consider splurging on a special sightseeing tour in a vintage biplane.

Dinnertime: Find a Fun Spot for Dinner

Ottawa’s food scene is rapidly gaining steam, and you can take your pick from dozens of hotspots that are ideal for dates, families, or groups. Grab a table at the funky Supply and Demand, where the inventive menu changes every day. Look forward to delicious bites like oysters, scallop crudo, or roasted brussels sprouts, and prepare to be surprised.

At Two Six Ate, indulge in the daily charcuterie plate, treat yourself to a foie gras burger, or try the chicken confit poutine. Be sure to save room for the playful desserts.

If you want a few drinks with your dinner, check out the Manx, a basement spot that offers tons of creative vegetarian and meaty dishes. Nosh on the burger special, try one of the massive sandwiches, or share an order of tofu tacos and wash down your meal with a pint of the house brew.

After Dinner: See a Play

Ottawa is known for its performing arts, and you can take your pick from shows at several renowned theaters. The Ottawa Little Theatre puts on classics like “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” thrillers like “Toward Zero,” and contemporary performances like “Other Desert Cities.”

For more than 40 years, the Great Canadian Theatre Company has delighted audiences with political performances like “Trudeau Stories” or “1979” and contemporary plays like “The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble” and “The Last Wife.” The Gladstone once housed the Great Canadian Theatre Company, but today it’s home to some of the city’s best independent theater. Get tickets for avant-garde performances like “Burn,” “bent,” or “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill at night.

Late Night: Be Awed by “Northern Lights”

If you’re visiting during the summer months, plan to stay out late to see “Northern Lights,” a free multimedia show that takes place on Parliament Hill each night. The show, which dates back more than 30 years, reveals Canada’s history in five parts. The first explores the nation’s early settlements, while the fifth part celebrates the nation’s diversity and future. Catch the sixth version of “Northern Lights” on summer nights through 2019, and look forward to an updated version in 2020.

Where to Stay in Ottawa

Whether you’re looking for a high-end hotel with a long list of amenities or a budget-friendly place to rest your head, Ottawa’s accommodations have you covered. Discover the best places to stay in Ottawa, no matter your preferences.

Top Ottawa Hotels

If you’ve ever seen the majestic Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier might look familiar. The French Renaissance-style hotel features period decor, along with views of the Rideau Canal and downtown Ottawa. The hotel is located next to the Parliament building, and it’s just steps from the ByWard Market and many of the city’s top sights.

A few blocks away, the Metcalfe Hotel also dates back more than a century but features plenty of contemporary touches. You’ll appreciate the hotel’s inviting interior, the on-site coffee shop and bar, and the proximity to Parliament Hill.

Looking for a boutique hotel in Ottawa with even more contemporary design flair? Try ARC The Hotel, which offers stylish rooms in the heart of the city’s business district.

Byward Market
Byward Market in Lower Town, Ottawa.

A few blocks east, the Andaz Ottawa Byward Market offers quick access to the city’s market and other attractions. With a unique design inspired by Canada’s provinces and a renowned rooftop bar, however, you may never want to leave the Andaz.

Best Ottawa Hostels

Hostels in Ottawa offer much more than just wallet-friendly prices. Some even offer bizarre history, such as the Ottawa Jail Hostel. This historic property was once a prison, and guests can sleep in completely renovated cells. You’ll get a tour of the property, a free continental breakfast, and a spooky night’s sleep when you stay at this centrally located property.

Nearby, the Ottawa Backpackers Inn is known for its friendly vibe and affordable rooms. Here, you can reserve a bed in one of the hostel’s dorm rooms, socialize in the common room, and prepare your own meals in the shared kitchen area.

Coolest Private Rentals

Private rentals offer extra space during your stay and the chance to see what it’s like to live in Ottawa, even if it’s only for a couple of days. Since many Ottawa private rentals are in the coolest parts of the city, they can even give you a better sense of the city’s art and design scene.

Score a great rental in Centretown, and you’ll be right in the center of the action as well as walking distance to the Canadian Museum of Nature and countless restaurants along bank street. Just southeast of Centretown, the Glebe is also a great place to settle into your own private rental, thanks to its bustling commercial strip and proximity to Lansdowne Park.

Just west of Centretown, Little Italy is still the center of Italian culture in Ottawa. It’s mere steps from Chinatown and hosts the city’s Italian Week festival every June.

Hintonburg might be a little west of center, but it’s packed with beautiful historical homes that make for quaint rentals. This neighborhood also offers quick access to hip Wellington Street West and the Bayview O-Train station.

How to Get to and From the Airport

Located on the southern edge of town, Ottawa International Airport is just a 15 to 20-minute drive from the city center. The airport handles nearly 5 million passengers each year on airlines ranging from Air Canada and WestJet to American Airlines and Delta. Find out the easiest way to get to and from Ottawa International Airport and make your trip stress-free.

Car Rentals

Getting around Ottawa by car is easy, and you can pick up your vehicle of choice as soon as you land at the airport. You’ll find car rental desks for several major companies at Ottawa International Airport, including Alamo, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National. Though some car rental agencies may offer vehicles for walk-up clients, you’ll have a better chance of getting the car you want at an affordable rate when you reserve in advance.

Taxis and Ride Hailing Options

If you’d rather explore Ottawa car-free, you can easily get a ride into town. Local taxis are plentiful at the airport, and Uber drivers can pick you up directly from the airport. After you’ve cleared the baggage claim area, look for taxi or ride hailing signs to find the appropriate pickup spot.

Public Transit

Going green in Ottawa couldn’t be easier, thanks to the city’s public transit system. The OC Transpo 97 bus takes you right to the airport and allows for seamless connections to bus lines in every direction.

Starting in 2018, OC Transpo plans to replace several bus lines in the center of the city with the O-Train Confederation Line, the city’s new light rail option. This new service should make taking public transit in Ottawa easier, faster, and more convenient than ever before.

From summertime festivals to year-round dining and imbibing to decades of history, Ottawa has it all. Plan your dream trip to Ottawa on GoDoTrip and build an itinerary that’s perfect for your crew.