5 free things to do in Ottawa, Canada’s capital

5 free things to do in Ottawa was written by travel blogger Emily Kydd of See Her Travel.

Ottawa is not only the capital of Canada; it’s a fantastic city in its own right. Often overshadowed by its more cosmopolitan sisters, Montreal and Toronto, Ottawa is the political centre of Canada and home to all kinds of Canadian attractions. Additionally, the city is beautiful, popping with historic architecture, the Rideau Canal, and fascinating public art. A few days in Ottawa, in either winter or summer will start your education on what makes Canada so special. Here are my favorite free things to do in Ottawa

Tour Government buildings

free things to do in Ottawa - The Canadian Parliament, photo Emily Kydd

The Canadian Parliament, photo/Emily Kydd

Three of the most popular sites to visit in Ottawa are the Supreme Court, the Centre Block of Parliament and Rideau Hall. These governmental landmarks offer free tours for visitors. The Supreme Court and Centre Block of Parliament in downtown Ottawa are an easy walk from each other. Here visitors can learn about lawmaking and policy writing. Rideau Hall, official residence of the Governor General, who is the Queen’s representative, is a simple bus or bike ride from downtown. The free tours of Parliament offered daily, are the most likely to get snapped up each day, so head to the Ottawa Visitors Centre across from Parliament first thing in the morning to make sure you can get on one of the scheduled tours. Tours last for between 20 and 50 minutes depending on parliamentary activity. If you plan it properly, you can see all three important Canadian sites in one day.

Visit Museums

free things to do in Ottawa - The Great Hall of the First People, Museum of Canadian History, Ottawa, photo Emily Kydd

The Great Hall of the First People, Museum of Canadian History, photo/Emily Kydd

The National Museums in Ottawa are of all excellent quality. Unfortunately, almost all of the museums charge an entry fee, and some of those entry fees are not cheap. Luckily, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum all offer free admission on Thursday nights, giving the visitor an excellent opportunity to visit, or revisit, these National museums while saving some cash.

Rideau Canal

free things to do in Ottawa - Ice skating on the Rideau Canal, photo Emily Kydd

Ice skating on the Rideau Canal, photo/Emily Kydd

Rideau Canal, a man-made river, is the lifeline streaming straight through the heart of Ottawa. Locals use the bike paths along “the Canal,” as it’s known, for daily commuting and enjoy its scenic walkways and waters in every season. In summer, stroll or cycle along the Canal’s friendly paved pathways and avoid all car traffic, or get out on the water with a canoe, kayak or even a paddleboat. You will beat the heat of Ottawa’s summer days!

The Canal is equally exciting and accessible in the winter. The Rideau Canal actually holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest naturally frozen ice rink. Frozen solid for most of the winter, the thick ice on the 7.8 kilometer-long canal provides the most Canadian of experiences for winter visitors. Strap on a pair of skates or hop onto a push sled, and glide through the national capital. Recently, Ottawa has embraced the equally Canadian tradition of cross-country skiing on the Canal. Those same walkways and bike paths that are enjoyed in the summer are used for skiing in the winter.

Take an art walking tour

free things to do in Ottawa - Discover the Oscar Peterson sculpture on an art walking tour, photo Emily Kydd

Discover the Oscar Peterson sculpture on an art walking tour, photo Emily Kydd

Ottawa is a fantastic walking city. The many public art installations, murals, sculptures, and statues fanned around the downtown core beckon visitors to explore the city streets. Start on Parliament Hill with a visit to the Famous Five Monument immortalizing the fight for women’s rights in Canada. Then move across the street to the Terry Fox statue which honors a true Canadian hero. Walk towards the War Memorial to the statues of iconic people in Canadian history that stand guard across from historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier. A statue of jazz musician Oscar Peterson sitting at his piano is in front of National Arts Centre. Some of his best-known music plays in the background. Wander further afield, especially along the Canal; you never will know exactly what you may find around the next corner.

Canada Day

free things to do in Ottawa - Canada Day Celebration on Parliament Hill,, photo Emily Kydd

Canada Day Celebration on Parliament Hill,, photo/Emily Kydd

There is nowhere else you want to be for July 1st (Canada Day) than on the green of Parliament Hill. Whether Canadian or not, the family-friendly it’s all free. Events happening on the Hill will stoke the pride of the Great North in everyone. With musical performances, diverse food, The Musical Ride, Mountie parades, fireworks, and maybe even an appearance from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ottawa does Canada’s birthday up right. If you are visiting Ottawa for Canada Day in 2017, book early; it’s Canada’s 150 Birthday, meaning this year’s celebrations will be even more extravagant and memorable, an even better reason to visit this fantastic city.

With so many free things to do in Ottawa, it can be tough to pack it all in with just one trip. Ottawa is a fantastic destination in any season, easily walked in the summer but equally accessible on the cheap in the winter with excellent public transport. Whether it is enjoying the outdoors, breathing in history and culture, or immersing yourself in our government institutions, Ottawa isn’t just for Canadians and truly does have something for every taste.

What are your favorite free things to do in Ottawa?

Emily Kydd is a Canadian solo female nomad and editor of the blog See Her Travel.  In her travels Emily has explored diverse countries including Kyrgyzstan, St. Lucia, Nepal, Myanmar and Fiji. She loves discovering new cultures, meeting wonderful people and having a laugh while on the latest crazy adventure.  She’s currently based in Jamaica. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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