An old bloggy friend reached out recently and said he and his family were thinking of visiting Ottawa for the first time this summer, and asked if I had any recommendations for things to see and do. Yes, I might know a thing or two about family activities in Canada’s capital! While I’ve got oodles of blog posts about ideas for family adventures for those who live in Ottawa, I don’t think I’ve ever written a tourist’s guide for families that visit Ottawa.
There are a few things I’d recommend for anyone and everyone who visits Ottawa. There are obvious choices, like the Parliament Buildings (take the free tour and don’t miss the Parliamentary Library!) and the Peace Tower. The Byward Market is always good for a wander, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who would say no to a Beavertail, or a visit to Sugar Mountain. I also think the Diefenbunker, Canada’s quirky cold war museum and living time capsule should be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list.
If you like the Diefenbunker, you’ll also be intrigued by Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, we have no shortage of excellent museums in Ottawa, and each will appeal to different visitors. Families with young children should make time for the always intriguing Museum of Nature and the Children’s Museum in the Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada is exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but we were surprised by how accessible and fun their Artissimo children’s programming is. Don’t forget to visit our famous Maman, the 10m (30 ft) bronze spider sculpture who guards the National Gallery courtyard.
If you like history, I’d highly recommend Parks Canada’s excellent (and affordable) Voyageur Canoe tours on the Rideau Canal. You’ll choose between one and two hour guided tours and learn about the history of Ottawa and Canada as they are tied to the building of our iconic Rideau Canal, all while paddling along in a huge voyageur-style canoe. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Bytown Museum at the lock station beside the Chateau Laurier for a little bit more history of Ottawa, formerly known as Bytown, and the Canal. Speaking of the Canal, it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s lock stations to see the Parks Canada employees turning the cranks to open and close the locks by hand, just like they’re been doing for the past 170+ years. If paddling isn’t your style, another Ottawa activity that’s been on our bucket list for a while is the Haunted Walks. I hear they are quirky, entertaining and generally awesome.
If you’re looking for outdoor adventures during your stay in Canada’s Capital, I hear that the zip-lining park at Camp Fortune is amazing. (It’s on our to-do list for this year!) Waterpark lovers will not be disappointed by the waterslides at Mont Cascades (on the Quebec side) or Calypso water park. Based on our experiences, I’d probably recommend the more expensive and slightly further from downtown Calypso for families with very young children, but we have preferred the smaller and less busy Mont Cascades the past few years.
Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy Canada’s flora and fauna at Parc Omega, about 45 minutes from downtown. During the drive-through tour you can see many animals native to Canada, including deer and elk, foxes and coyotes, wolves, bison, bears and many more, all in natural habitats. For something more domestic in the heart of the city, the animal barns at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are always a hit with the littlest animal lovers. A little further out in the suburbs is Valleyview Animal Farm, also great for the youngest kiddies.
Through the summer there are two excellent FREE daily spectacles on Parliament Hill. Every morning (late June through late August) at 10 am, you can see the Changing of the Guard, immediately preceded by a short march up Elgin Street from the Cartier Drill Hall. Every evening through the summer, you can also see the Northern Lights sound and light show on Parliament Hill. I’ve heard it is excellent. And free, did I mention free?! Also free on Parliament Hill, every Wednesday at noon there is a huge yoga class on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Just bring your yoga mat and show up to claim your space, weather permitting.
Speaking of free and quirky, the unusual and beautiful rock scupltures by John Ceprano on the Ottawa River are worth a visit, too. If the weather is warm, wade out onto the limestone flats in the shallow water and make your own!
Oh my goodness, there is so much more! History buffs will also enjoy Rideau Hall, home to the Governor General, and its extensive grounds perfect for picnics and wandering. Of course there is my neighbour and muse, the stately Watson’s Mill in Manotick. And don’t forget the Cumberland Heritage Museum and its throwback to life in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, with dozens of true-to-the-era reproduction buildings – including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge – heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.
Phew, that’s a long list. Ottawa is a great place to visit with families! If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my archives where I’ve been blogging for years about Ottawa’s hidden treasures and fun family activities. There’s so much more to say – this may have to become a series. Consider me your bloggy ambassador to Ottawa!
Ottawa friends, how did I do with this list? Did I miss anything important? What’s at the top of your list of recommendations for tourists to our beautiful city?
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