Welcome to the heart of Canada, where history, culture, and natural beauty converge—Ottawa! In just one day, you can experience the essence of this vibrant city, exploring iconic landmarks, indulging in delicious cuisine, and immersing yourself in the unique blend of Canadian traditions. Buckle up for an unforgettable adventure as we guide you through the perfect one-day itinerary in Ottawa.
Ottawa is Canada’s capital. The center of the National Capital Region is a dynamic city encapsulating history and modernity. Parliament Hill’s iconic architecture dominates the skyline, complemented by the scenic Rideau Canal. Museums like the National Gallery and vibrant areas like ByWard Market showcase its cultural richness.
Ottawa is a bilingual city with English and French as its official languages, reflecting Canada’s bilingual identity. It is the fourth-largest city in Canada by population. The population of Ottawa is diverse, with residents representing various ethnicities, cultures, and languages.
Best Time to Visit Ottawa
Ottawa’s welcoming atmosphere and natural beauty make it a year-round destination.
Summer (June to August)
Pros: Warm weather, vibrant festivals (like Ottawa Bluesfest and Canada Day celebrations), outdoor activities, and the Rideau Canal Skateway turns into a scenic pathway.
Cons: Expect higher tourist numbers.
Fall (September to November)
Pros: Crisp weather, stunning fall foliage, and fewer tourists. It is ideal for exploring parks and outdoor attractions.
Cons: Some outdoor activities may close as winter approaches.
Winter (December to February)
Pros: Winterlude festival, skating on the Rideau Canal, winter sports, and a festive atmosphere during the holiday season.
Cons: Cold temperatures, snow, and ice. Some attractions may have reduced hours.
Start your day at Parliament Hill
Begin your journey at the iconic Parliament Hill, Ottawa’s political and cultural epicenter. Marvel at the stunning Gothic architecture and take in the breathtaking views of the Ottawa River.
Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a traditional display of precision and ceremony.
Explore the National Gallery of Canada
Just a short walk away, immerse yourself in the art world at the National Gallery of Canada. Home to an impressive collection of Canadian and Indigenous art and international masterpieces, this gallery is a visual feast for art enthusiasts.
Brunch at ByWard Market
Head to the historic ByWard Market for a delightful brunch experience. With many cafes and restaurants, you’ll find the perfect spot to savour local flavours and recharge for the day ahead.
Discover the Canadian Museum of History
Cross the river to Gatineau and explore the Canadian Museum of History. Dive into Canada’s rich past through engaging exhibits, including the stunning Grand Hall and the First Peoples Hall. The museum offers a captivating journey through time.
Lunch at Le Moulin de Provence
Return to the heart of Ottawa and indulge in a delicious lunch at Le Moulin de Provence, famous for its delectable pastries and iconic Obama cookies. This bakery and café offer a charming atmosphere with a French touch that adds to the culinary diversity of Ottawa.
Stroll along the Rideau Canal
After lunch, take a stroll along the picturesque Rideau Canal. Marvel at the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s historic locks and enjoy the scenic views. In warmer months, locals and visitors might enjoy boat rides or cycling along the canal.
Visit the Royal Canadian Mint
Learn about the art and history of coin-making at the Royal Canadian Mint. Take a guided tour to witness the fascinating process of crafting coins and explore the Mint’s interactive displays showcasing unique coins from Canada’s past.
Dinner at Elgin Street
Head to Elgin Street, known for its diverse dining scene. Whether you’re in the mood for fine dining or casual fare, Elgin Street has various options to suit every palate. Enjoy a delicious dinner in this vibrant part of the city.
Experience the Lights at Parliament Hill
As the sun sets, make your way back to Parliament Hill. During the summer months, witness the awe-inspiring Sound and Light Show that illuminates the Parliament Buildings with captivating visuals and narrations. It’s a magical way to end your day in Ottawa.
Nightcap at The Whalesbone Oyster House
Conclude your day with a nightcap at The Whalesbone Oyster House. This popular spot offers a great selection of craft beers and cocktails. Unwind in a cozy atmosphere and reflect on the incredible experiences of your day in Ottawa.
More on Things to Do in Ottawa
Dive into Canada’s military history at the Canadian War Museum. The exhibits showcase the country’s involvement in various conflicts, highlighting the bravery and sacrifices of its military.
Historic Haunted Walk
The Haunted Walk in downtown Ottawa is a popular and spooky attraction that takes visitors on guided walking tours, exploring the haunted history and ghostly tales of the Canadian capital. There are various tours offered by the company, and each provides a unique perspective on the city’s dark and mysterious past.
Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
Venture outside Ottawa to explore the Diefenbunker, a former underground bunker built during the Cold War. It’s a unique and fascinating glimpse into Canada’s preparedness during that era.
Explore the official residence of the Canadian monarch and the Governor General. The beautifully landscaped grounds and historic architecture make for a pleasant visit.
Just a short drive from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hike, bike, or drive to scenic viewpoints like Champlain Lookout, and in the winter, enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This list of hiking trails in the park includes family hikes to challenging hikes for all ages and levels.
Major’s Hill Park
This centrally located park offers stunning views of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River. It’s an excellent spot for a stroll, a picnic, or simply to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Ottawa River Pathway
Walk or cycle along the Ottawa River Pathway, which stretches for miles on both the Ontario and Quebec sides. It’s a scenic route with beautiful river views and connects to various parks and attractions.
Ziplining over the Ottawa River
Ziplining over the Ottawa River offers an exhilarating adventure for thrill-seekers and those looking for a unique perspective of the city. From one province (Gatineau, Québec) 120 feet long and 1200 feet high over the river to the other province (Ottawa, Ontario), this interprovince zipline promises lasting memories. InterZip operates from June to September.
Family-Friendly Ottawa Activities
Canadian Museum of Nature
Perfect for families, this museum features interactive exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to the Arctic. Kids will love the Discovery Zone, an interactive play area.
Science and Technology Museum
Explore the wonders of science and technology at this museum, which boasts diverse exhibits, including interactive displays and artifacts showcasing Canada’s technological advancements.
Mooney’s Bay Beach: Although not a natural beach, Mooney’s Bay features a man-made sandy beach along the shores of the Rideau River. It’s a popular destination during the summer months for swimming, picnicking, and playing beach volleyball.
Petrie Island Beach: Situated on the Ottawa River, Petrie Island features sandy shores and is known for its ecosystems, nature trails, and birdwatching opportunities. The beach area provides a place for sunbathing and swimming.
Britannia Beach: Located along the Ottawa River, Britannia Beach is a recreational area with a mix of sand and grass. It offers a scenic spot for walking, picnicking, and enjoying the river views.
Westboro Beach: Along the Ottawa River, Westboro Beach is a waterfront area with a sandy stretch and grassy picnic spots. While it may not be as expansive as coastal beaches, it offers a pleasant place to relax and enjoy the river.
Ottawa Summer Events and Festivals
Held in May, this festival features stunning displays of tulips throughout the city, a tradition dating back to Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands during World War II.
The Ottawa Bluesfest is one of Canada’s largest and most renowned music festivals. It takes place annually in Ottawa in July. The festival has earned a reputation for showcasing a diverse lineup of artists across various genres, with a particular focus on blues, rock, pop, hip-hop, and electronic music.
Things to Do in the Ottawa Winter
Skating on Rideau Canal
Skating on the Rideau Canal is a quintessential winter experience in Ottawa, often considered one of the city’s most iconic and enjoyable activities. The Rideau Canal Skateway, the official name for the skating rink, is the world’s largest naturally frozen outdoor skating rink.
Skate rental facilities are available along the canal, making it accessible for those without skates. There are also warm-up stations, rest areas, and food vendors along the route.
Tips for a Great Experience:
- Dress Warmly: Given the cold temperatures, it’s essential to dress warmly with layers, hats, gloves, and suitable winter footwear.
- Night Skating: Skating under the stars can be a magical experience. The canal is often beautifully lit during the evenings.
- Hot Beverages and Treats: Many vendors along the canal offer hot beverages and snacks, allowing skaters to take a break and enjoy winter treats.
If you visit in the winter, attend Winterlude, a festival celebrating all things winter. It typically takes place in late January or early February.
Enjoy ice carving competitions, ice sculptures, snow slides and tobogganing, live performances, concerts, and entertainment.
The iconic Canadian treat, the Beavertail (a deep-fried pastry) and hot chocolate are popular in the Winterlude experience.
Christmas Market in Lansdown
The market is adorned with festive decorations, lights, and holiday-themed displays, creating a magical and Christmassy atmosphere. Various vendor stalls offer a diverse array of holiday goods, including handmade crafts, ornaments, gifts, and seasonal treats. Food vendors offer a selection of seasonal treats, traditional holiday snacks, and warm beverages. Visitors can enjoy festive treats while exploring the market.
Fancy a Guided Tour in Ottawa?
The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a prominent waterway in Ottawa. Ottawa Boat Cruise offers boat tours on the canal that provide a unique perspective of the city from the water.
They also offer visitors a sightseeing river cruise providing a scenic way to experience the capital city and its surrounding landmarks, including Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Canadian Museum of History.
Helicopter tours offer a thrilling aerial perspective of Ottawa and its iconic landmarks.
Companies like Heli-Tremblant offer helicopter tours that showcase breathtaking views of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, and other notable attractions. Helicopter tours are often available in various durations, allowing you to choose the experience that suits your preferences.
Amphibious Bus Tour
The amphibious bus tours, often referred to as “duck tours,” are a fun and unique way to explore both the streets and waterways of Ottawa.
Lady Dive Amphibus: Lady Dive offers amphibious bus tours that take you through the streets of Ottawa before splashing into the Ottawa River for a water portion of the tour. The guides provide entertaining commentary along the way.
In just one day, you’ve explored the best Ottawa offers—its rich history, diverse culture, and natural beauty. Every moment from Parliament Hill to the Rideau Canal has been a snapshot of Canadian charm. Ottawa’s unique blend of tradition and modernity ensures that your one-day itinerary is packed with memories that will last a lifetime. Ottawa has something for everyone in this perfect day-long adventure.
This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash