It is so easy to be a tourist in Ottawa. And the best part is that there are so many family-friendly destinations in walking distance, even for little legs in TOw. We spent a quick weekend in the National Capital. It’s impossible to fit in all the sights in one go but here are some not-to-miss highlights for a day of exploring:
PARLIAMENT HILL: You’d be crazy not to visit The Hill when in Ottawa. Sure you can drive by and be wowed by the buildings but you can go inside for free with a guided tour of Centre Block, East Block and/or the Peace Tower.
Trip tip: The full schedule of tours is here. Be warned: The Parliament buildings will be closing for a big chunk of time, like 10 years, next year for a major rehabilitation of the building. Tickets are free and available on a first-come first-served basis across the street at 90 Wellington Ave as of 9 a.m. daily. (Individuals can get up to 9 tickets.) Go early to ensure you get in. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. on a weekday in summer and while the queue moved quickly all the English tours were already ‘sold out.’ You can still go on a French language tour even if you don’t speak French.
Trip tip: You can also do your own wandering around the buildings. In the evenings until September 16, 2017 there is a free bilingual show Northern Lights that is projected onto the buildings.
Trip tip: If you’re really into history and the workings of our government, head to Rideau Hall for a free tour of the official residence of the Governor General of Canada.
MUSEUMS: There are SO MANY museums in Ottawa. Just along Sussex Drive around the corner from the Parliament Buildings you have the National Gallery of Canada (see below – check out Family Sundays), the Royal Canadian Mint (guided visits only) and across the bridge the Canadian Museum of History (within it the awesome Children’s Museum.)
Trip tip: This was recommended to me by so many Ottawa friends: Kontinuum, a free multimedia show within the city’s future Lyon Light Rail Transit station, is on until September 14, 2017.
BYWARD MARKET: In easy walking distance from Parliament Hill is the Byward Market. It’s great for a meal or snack stop, pick up some fresh fruit and veg, go for a Justin Trudeau cookie (yeah this is a thing) or Beaver Tails.
Trip tip: Tavern on the Hill is a new restaurant serving ‘gourmet’ hotdogs in Major Hill’s Park. What makes it a must-visit is the view. Opens at 11 a.m. and at the time of this post has live music Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Trip tip: Walk, cycle or roller blade along the Rideau Canal – in the winter of course you skate. On Sundays from May to September, you must bike. Bikedays in Ottawa means vehicular traffic is shut down on three major routes and bikes and roller blades take over the street. (Why can’t Toronto do this?)
QUEBEC: If you’re going to be this close to Quebec, you must cross the border. Just across the Alexandra Bridge (by car, bike or by foot) is the Museum of History in Gatineau.
Trip tip: Gatineau Park, Gatieau Parkway, Champlain and Fortune Lake Parkways are closed to motorists from 6 am to 11 am.