Is Ottawa Worth Visiting in 2023?
If you’re thinking about visiting Canada’s capitol city, you’ve probably found yourself wondering if Ottawa is worth your time.
After all, it’s not the biggest city in the country, and it doesn’t have the same reputation as some of Canada’s other tourist destinations.
So, what is Ottawa known for? And what are the best things to do in Ottawa? We’ve put together a list of everything you need to know about Ottawa to help you decide if it’s worth visiting.
Is Ottawa Worth Visiting?
If you’re a Canadian and you’ve never spent time in Ottawa, then we think making the trip to this iconic city is definitely worth doing at least once!
It’s a great city to explore, and there are plenty of things to see and do. From historical sites to cultural attractions to the must-see Parliament Hill, Ottawa will leave you feeling proud to be Canadian and more informed about the country we call home.
And if you’re visiting Canada as a tourist, then we think Ottawa is also definitely worth your time! While it isn’t the nation’s largest city, it offers some of the best experiences you’ll find in the eastern half of the country and offers some of the greatest opportunities to get to know the history, politics and culture of Canada.
Not to mention, a trip to Ottawa offers an easy opportunity to check out French-speaking Gatineau and Hull on the Quebec side of the river, making your Canadian experience even more unique!
From outdoor adventures to unique museums and delicious food, Ottawa has something for everyone and will likely be one of the highlights of your Canadian itinerary.
What is Ottawa Known For?
Ottawa is known for being the political center of Canada, as it houses both the country’s Parliament buildings and the Prime Minister’s residence. You’ll find plenty of political history here, as well as some beautiful, historic architecture. Ottawa is also known for its museums, monuments, festivals, and winter activities.
It’s also a truly bilingual city, meaning if you’re from an English speaking home it’s time to brush up on your français, mes amis!
As a tourist, you may associate Ottawa with skating on the Rideau Canal while eating a deep-fried Beaver Tail (not literally the tail of a beaver!). Perhaps you’ve heard of ice carving competitions at the city’s famous Winterlude Festival. Or if you’re like us, you think of images of red and white lights shining on Parliament Hill on Canada Day.
This iconic Canadian city is known for all of these great things to do and more, making it truly one of the most unique Canadian cities to visit.
Things to Do in Ottawa
There are plenty of things to do in Ottawa, no matter what time of year you visit. Here’s a list of some of the top attractions and things to do in Canada’s capitol city:
1) Visit Parliament Hill and take a tour of the Parliament buildings: Tour Canada’s government buildings, including the Senate of Canada Building and the House of Commons.
2) See the Changing of the Guard ceremony: This ceremony happens every day in the summer on Parliament Hill. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in Canadian military history or simply wanting to experience a bit of Canadian pageantry.
3) Visit the National Gallery of Canada: This art museum is home to a world-renowned collection of Canadian, indigenous, and international art.
4) Go skating on the Rideau Canal: The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the world’s largest skating rink! It’s the perfect activity for a cold winter day in Ottawa.
5) Check out the ByWard Market: This is Ottawa’s oldest and largest public market, where you’ll find fresh produce, local food vendors, and more.
6) Visit museums: Ottawa is home to a number of world-class museums like the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canadian War Museum. These are two of the most popular, but there are many others to choose from depending on your interests.
7) Take a bike tour of Ottawa: Give your legs a workout and explore the city by bike on this well-loved tour.
8) Sightsee on a Lady Dive tour: For a great way to see the city by land and water, take a tour on the amphibious bus (the bus which becomes a boat) along the city streets and down the Ottawa River.
9) Take a boat cruise down the Ottawa River: There are a number of boat tour operators in Ottawa offering cruises down the Ottawa River. This is a great way to see the city from a different (and relaxing) perspective.
10) Enjoy winter activities: Ottawa is a great place to be in the winter, with plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, like ice skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
11) Attend festivals like Winterlude, Tulip Festival, and Bluesfest: Ottawa is known for its festivals, which take place throughout the year. These are just a few of the most popular ones, but there are many others you can attend in the city.
12) Visit Gatineau Park: This is a must-see for nature lovers, with its many hiking trails, lakes, and lookouts. Located north of Ottawa in Gatineau, this vast conservation area is the second most visited park in Canada is an easy day trip from Ottawa.
13) Walk Sparks Street: This is a pedestrian-only street in Ottawa’s downtown core, lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely stroll and some people watching.
14) High Tea at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier: This is a must-do for any tea lover visiting Ottawa. Located in the beautiful Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, Afternoon Tea at Zoe’s is a luxurious and relaxing experience.
15) Ottawa Night Tour: This is a great way to see Ottawa’s top attractions lit up at night. The tour includes stops at Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, and other popular Ottawa landmarks.
16) Hit the Beach: Yes, you read that correctly! Ottawa has a number of great beaches along the Ottawa River. We visited Ottawa in August and enjoyed cooling off at Britannia Beach. Even though Ottawa’s beaches are on the river, they do not lack the beach vibe and are a great way to spend a summer day.
17) Visit the Canadian Mint: See how Canadian coins are made and take a tour of this working mint.
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do in Ottawa! This city has something for everyone, making it a great place to visit whether you’re interested in history, culture, nature or just simply Canada.
There’s also a ton of incredible places to check out near Ottawa, in Ontario’s cottage country. Small, towns like historic Perth and friendly Sharbot Lake, nature spots like popular Algonquin Provincial Park are easy day trips from Ottawa that will give you a more complete picture of what this part of Canada has to offer.
Where to Stay in Ottawa
There are many great places to stay in Ottawa, depending on your budget and preferences. When deciding where to stay, you’ll first want to determine which neighbourhood is a good fit for your needs.
Best Neighbourhoods in Ottawa
Here’s a look at the top neighbourhoods to stay in when visiting Ottawa:
Centretown Ottawa: This is the city’s central neighbourhood and where you’ll find Parliament Hill, Canadian Museum of Nature, access to the Rideau Canal, and many of Ottawa’s top attractions.
ByWard Market: This is a great neighbourhood for foodies, with its many restaurants and cafes, as well as the ByWard Market itself. With a lively night scene, ByWard Market is also a great place to stay if you’re looking for somewhere with a bit more of a party atmosphere.
The Glebe: This is a great neighbourhood for exploring Ottawa’s arts and culture scene. The Glebe is home to many of the city’s museums, as well as the Rideau Canal National Historic Site.
Westboro: This is a great neighbourhood for shoppers, with its many boutique shops and cafes. Westboro is also home to a number of parks and Westboro Beach on the Ottawa River, making it a great place to stay for those who want to explore the outdoors.
Old Ottawa South: This is a great neighbourhood for families, as it is a beautiful residential area with large historic homes, situated between the Rideau Canal and Rideau River.
Surrounding Suburbs: The surrounding suburbs of Ottawa (Gloucester, Vanier, Nepean, Hull & Gatineau in Quebec, and so on) offer a variety of accommodation options, from hotels to bed and breakfasts. If you’re looking for a more quiet and relaxed atmosphere, the suburbs may be a good option for you, especially if you are on a budget. And keep in mind the taxes are lower in Quebec!
Of course, a city the size and caliber of Ottawa means there’s a lot of choice when it comes to hotels, from ultra high-end to comfortable and affordable.
Here are a few of our top picks for hotels in Ottawa:
*We stayed at WelcomINNS Ottawa during our last trip to Ottawa (bought with our own money) and can genuinely say that our stay was great. The room was comfortable, clean and updated, and we were very satisfied with our stay. The neighbhourhood wasn’t fancy, but there was a great coffee shop (Ten Toes Coffee House) within a short walking distance.
Getting Around Ottawa
Ottawa is a very walkable city, and many of the top attractions are located within the downtown core. If you’re staying in one of the more central neighbourhoods, you’ll likely be within walking distance of many of the city’s main attractions.
If you’re travelling further distances, or if you’re looking to explore some of Ottawa’s outlying neighbourhoods, there are a few different options for getting around:
By Public Transit: The OC Transpo is Ottawa’s public transit system and it operates buses and light rail trains throughout the city. If you’re staying in the downtown core, you’ll likely be within walking distance of one of the city’s many bus or train stations.
By Taxi or Uber: Taxis and Ubers are readily available throughout Ottawa.
By Car: If you’re planning on renting a car during your stay in Ottawa, you’ll find that most of the city’s attractions are accessible by car. However, keep in mind that parking can be tricky and costly in the downtown core, so you may want to leave your car at your hotel and explore the city on foot or by public transit.
Thankfully, traffic isn’t as bad as you can expect when driving in Toronto, but during rush hour it can still cause significant delays.
Ottawa Car Rentals: There are a number of reputable car rental companies in the Ottawa area, including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz Car Rental, Avis Rent A Car, and Hertz Car Rental and National Car Rental.
We personally have rented cars with Enterprise many times (though not in Ottawa) and have always had great service and a reliable car, which is why we typically recommend this company when renting a car in Canada.
Ottawa Car Share: Ottawa has a couple options when it comes to car sharing: Communauto and Zipcar. Both offer competitive rates for hourly and daily car sharing, though they do require a membership to use their service.
Traveling from Ottawa to Toronto? Check out the best ways to get between both cities.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Ottawa?
How many days we recommend staying in Ottawa really depends on what you’re interested in doing and seeing while you’re in the city.
If you’re mainly interested in exploring the downtown core and visiting some of the main attractions, two or three days (a weekend) should be sufficient.
However, if you’re looking to explore some of Ottawa’s outlying neighbourhoods or take a day trip to neighbouring cities and conservation areas, you may want to consider staying for a longer period of time. Especially if you’ve made the long drive here from almost anywhere else in Canada!
If you only have one day in Ottawa (like we did on our last trip to the city), we recommend focusing your time on the downtown core and visiting some of the city’s most popular attractions, such as Parliament Hill, Rideau Canal, National Gallery of Canada, and ByWard Market.
When is the Best Time to Visit Ottawa?
Ottawa is a great city to visit year-round, though the best time to visit will likely depend on your interests and what you’re looking to do while you’re in the city.
If you’re interested in outdoor activities, the spring and summer months are probably the best time to visit Ottawa, as this is when you’ll be able to take advantage of the city’s many parks and green spaces.
The Ottawa Tulip Festival is also held in May, and is definitely worth trying to catch if you know you’ll be traveling in spring.
On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of Canadian winters (unlike us!) or if you’re interested in seeing the Ottawa Christmas lights and skating on the Rideau Canal, winter may be the best time for you to visit.
Winterlude, a festival celebrating all things winter and famous for hosting the National Ice Carving Championships, is also held in February, and is a reason to see the city all on its own!
Note: Ottawa experiences hot summers and cold, snowy winters, so be sure to pack appropriate clothing if you’re visiting during these seasons.
Is Ottawa Safe for Tourists?
Yes, Ottawa is generally a very safe city for tourists, as are most places in Canada. However, as with any major city, it’s always important to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
Conclusion: Is Ottawa Worth Visiting?
Without a doubt, we think Ottawa is worth visiting for Canadians and international travelers alike. It’s definitely a bit of a hike from many other cities in Ontario, and (if you’re reading this) chances are you’re on the fence about making the long drive from home to see this eastern Ontario city.
While we think there’s reason to make the trip to Ottawa in and of itself, another great option is to pair time in Ottawa with time in other popular tourist cities like Montreal and Quebec City.
We hope this has shown you that Ottawa has a lot to offer in terms of attractions, activities, and cultural experiences, and we think it’s definitely worth adding to your Ontario travel itinerary at any time of the year!
Erie is the owner and author of Everywhere Ontario. She’s lived and traveled around Ontario for over 30 years, visiting small towns and big cities from the shores of Lake Erie to the crisp northern air of Hearst along the Trans-Canada Highway. She is passionate about maximizing fun and supporting local tourist businesses and is always looking to provide the best recommendations to her fellow Ontario travelers. Read more about Erie here.