So you’re looking for activities and things to do when in Ottawa? Well, you’ve come to the right place. To have spent 80% of my life (roughly 22 out of my 26 years) living in the Ottawa/Gatineau region, I know a thing or two about what the city has to offer.
I do admit, for a local, sometimes the bigger cities (Montreal, Toronto) do seem like the funner places to be, but in all honesty, Ottawa and Gatineau do have lots to offer! Going back home with Marie and exploring things that I take for granted makes me appreciate my hometown even more than before.
Here are my top places to see and things to do in Ottawa! Along with Marie’s help, I’ve tried to create a 3 to 4 day trip jam packed with things to do; you won’t need to have a car for many of these activities #moneysaving.
Byward Market and Downtown Core
If you’re staying on the Gatineau side close to the Alexandra bridge (or anywhere for that matter), visiting the Musée canadien de l’histoire in the morning is a great place to start. If you’re traveling with young children, make sure to hit up the Children’s Museum inside the main museum; I have the best memories of this magical place, and as an adult, you’ll enjoy it too!
You can then walk across the Alexandra Bridge to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Parliament Hill and the surroundings, and make your way to either the National Gallery of Canada or the Byward Market.
Once in the market, there are so many little restaurants to try and boutiques to see! We wanted to take the time to single out some of our budget friendly places! If you’re looking for a place that will please the fam and your wallet, check out El Furniture Warehouse where all foods on the menu are at 4.95$ (portions are great and the food is excellent… service isn’t always top notch so expect some time between the time you order and the time you eat). If you’re into traditional Mexican food, we HIGHLY recommend Ahora’s, which has been our default restaurant for years, and we’ve recently discovered Zak’s Cantina, which is well worth your time. They offer fresh and delicious authentic but with a twist meals, and also have HAVE A BUS INSIDE THE RESTAURANT. It’s not just for kids, fyi. Oh! For a traditional diner’s experience, Zak’s is the place to go. Finally, if you want to taste some local products with a twist, we suggest trying out Das Lokal, however, you might want to make a reservation before you pop in, the seating is limited!
Once fed, you can wander around the Market and up to the Parliament Hill: walking around the Parliament is well worth it! Also, before the Main Block becomes off limits due to construction, you might want to book a free tour of the Peace Tower and the Parliament library! Oh! if you’re there on a Wednesday, bring your yoga mat for the free yoga session on the hill at noon!
All the bus routes pass through the downtown core, so you can make your way back to your accommodations easily from there.
Little Italy, Chinatown, The Glebe, The Canal and more
There are many ways to do this, but my favorite renting a bike or grabbing a VeloGo bike and riding along the Canal from the Rideau Center downtown all the way to Dows Lake. The ride is smooth and refreshing, and you also get to see some beautiful houses along the way. Once at Dows lake, you can rent a kayak or pedal boat and paddle around the bay, or go down Preston in Little Italy to find some delicious treats and snacks. From there, you can go up Somerset st into Chinatown for some traditional meals.
Looping back to the downtown core, you can also go down Bank st to explore The Glebe: you’ll find so many quirky little shops and vintage stores. If you have the time, make your way to Lansdowne Park: it’s a huge sporting complex with stores and entertainment, and if you’re lucky, you can catch a RedBlack season game.
Crossing the river to Gatineau
No needs for cars! Grab a bike and follow the bike paths across the river to discover new places! If you stay in the areas near the main bridges, you’ll find yourself in the “downtown” section of Hull (since the amalgamation, it’s technically Gatineau, but for locals, it’s Hull). On Portage st and Laval st you will find all the pubs and clubs that Hull has to offer. You can check out local microbrew and gastropub Le Gainsbourg, pub and music hall Minautore, or even walk down Montcalm st to the BDT (Brasseur du temps) a known brewpub on the water.
If you stick onto the bike path, and make your way west, you will cycle along the river bank and make your way to Aylmer, an anglophone part of Gatineau. The bike path will bring you right down the the Marina where you can sit on the beach and enjoy a picnic. You can also cycle up Rue Principale for a drink at L’autre Oeil and a bite at The British Pub & Hotel.
If you feel more adventurous and are a ready for a challenge, you can cycle through the Gatineau Park (beware of VERY steep hills) and wind your way over to Chelsea… you could also avoid the pain and suffering of the hills and just drive there. Once in Chelsea, you can visit the Nordik Spa for a relaxing day and finish at the Chelsea Pub, or stop by La Cigale for a delicious local ice cream treat.
Now, I’m probably missing a ton of other places, but these are just some of my favorites. Also, since it is Canada’s 150th, there are a bunch of super fun and cool activities to do in the Capital, so make sure to check out their website before hand so you can plan your day out!
cover picture: Ottawa Celebrations Bureau