Now that summer is almost upon us, I’m compiling ideas for cheap family outings in and around Ottawa. We’re so lucky to live in a city with walking trails, waterways, parks and other inexpensive or free things to do with kids, but there are also plenty of things to do on a rainy day. Some of these things are full-day adventures, but most will occupy at least a couple of hours. I started with a list of 15 things, then aimed for 25, and finally ended up with FORTY!!
Diesel dogs (street vendor hot dogs) under Maman the Spider makes for a memorable if not nutritionally sound lunch
Watch the ceremonial parade and changing of the guard on Parliament Hill every morning at 10:00
Take a tour of the Parliament Buildings and check out the view from the Peace Tower
Explore the grounds of Parliament Hill, from the statue of Sir Gallahad to the colony of feral cats
Peruse history in the collections at Library and Archives Canada
See the horses at the RCMP stables and musical ride centre
Visit the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum
Tour the gardens at Rideau Hall
Admission to the National Gallery is free on Thursday nights
The Canadian Museum of Nature also free on Thursday nights.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization, including the absolutely stellar Children’s Museum, is free on Thursday nights after 4 pm.
Borrow a free museum pass through the Ottawa Public Library’s Museum privilege program
See a bit of local history at the always free-of-charge Nepean Museum
Admission to the Experimental Farm animal barns is free in the winter months.
Watson’s Mill in Manotick is free every day, with milling demonstrations through the summer months. (They’re closed through a lot of the winter months – check for times before you go!)
In the west end, walk the boardwalk along the Rideau River wetlands in the Chapman Mills conservation area
In the east end, walk the boardwalk through the Mer Bleu bog, an “internationally significant wetland”
There are some wonderful hiking trails in the Greenbelt. The Jack Pine Trail is about a 40 minute loop, plenty easy for little legs.
For an easy walk with a stroller, wander the paved bike path from Hogs Back Falls to Vincent Massey park. Take the high trail on the way back and visit the oft-missed stone patio overlooking the river, and bring some birdseed to hand-feed the chickadees and nuthatches
Feed the ducks and geese on the Rideau River near Billings Bridge
Take a wander around Rockcliffe Park and enjoy the gorgeous stone gazebo and the lookout onto the Ottawa River
Visit Rideau Falls and the gorgeous parkland around old city hall
On Sundays in the summer, Colonel By Drive is closed to traffic and open for bikes, blades and strollers
Chapters has a great kids section, and most of them have a train table or other toys to play with while mom and dad browse
Ross’ Independent Grocer in Barrhaven has a free playzone where you can drop the kids while you shop
Drop off the kids at Ikea’s ball pit and play centre for a free hour while you browse
Take me out to the park
There’s a terrific splash pad and playground off Longfields in Barrhaven. We pack a picnic and could spend the whole day there.
The playground at Brewer Park has always been awesome, but it’s just been retrofitted to be especially accessible for those with disabilities
There are dozens of wading pools of various shapes and sizes tucked away in parks throughout the city. You can get a list of them here
Did you know the city offers free swimming lessons?
Take a Sunday morning browse at the Ottawa Farmers Market at Landsdowne Park, then stay a while and play at the lovely little park on Fifth just before the Driveway.
Plan a day of sun at the beach at Britannia Beach. Buy yourself some fries for lunch, but don’t feed the seagulls (they’re a leading cause of beach-closing e-coli.)
Visit the recently-improved Petrie Island beach and nearby trails
There’s a great list of urban parks and a bit of a history lesson on the NCC site
Consider a playground tour. New is interesting, especially to kids!
For a few dollars more (not quite free, but mostly around $10 for the family)
Doesn’t every preschool boy love trains? A round-trip on the O-Train is only an hour or so.
Get out of town
Tour the Hershey Factory in Smiths Falls (it’s open until December 2008) and get your free sample
Spend a day at Lac Phillip and spelunk the Lusk Caves
Enjoy an afternoon getaway to the Mackenzie King estate at Kingsmere
(you’ll have to pay a per-vehicle fee less than $10 if you drive)
Hike the Eardley Escarpment in Gatineau Park, especially lovely in the fall (you’ll have to pay a per-vehicle fee less than $10 if you drive)
Edited to add: this post is quite a few years old, but still very popular. Sadly, some of these things like the Hershey Factory have disappeared. If you’re looking for other ideas, check out these blog posts about family fun in and around Ottawa. 🙂