A Visitor’s Guide to Ottawa 2017 Family Fun

by DaniGirl on February 10, 2017 · 7 comments

in Ottawa Family Fun, Ottawa's hidden treasures

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.

Ottawa is a beautiful city to visit in any season, but this summer promises to be especially full of fun with the Canada 150 celebrations, and the Ottawa 2017 agenda.

ottawa2017-footer-logo

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.

Diefenbunker-14

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.

Ottawa Family Fun: Artissimo at the National Gallery

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.

Voyageur canoe tour

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.

The grey wolves of Parc Omega

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.

Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

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!

rocks

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 ā€“ including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge ā€“ heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.

Watson's Mill

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!

Peace Tower tour

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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  1. Celebrate Ottawa’s history with free family fun at the Rideau Canal Festival this weekend All summer long, I have been meaning to write a series of posts about the history of the Rideau Canal and how it is tied up with the history of Manotick. Each day I work I drive 20 km back and forth beside our gorgeous Canal, and I often think...
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Avra Gibbs Lamey February 13, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Hope you’ll make the War Museum part of a future update! Perhaps a revisit of an old Family Day blog post? :-)

2 Mary @ Parenthood February 17, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I actually like the zip lines at Lafleche better than Camp Fortune, although they are both fun. Not only a summertime activity either…

3 erica February 26, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Almonte is a fun small Ontario town to explore. Hummingbird Chocolate offers tours and tasting, which is fun to take kids to, and the Textile Museum has a fascinating exhibit about early mills along the river (including information about child labour – there’s even a Dear Canada book written about a girl who worked in the mill Days of Toil and Tears) Lots of neat shops to wander through, with a great ice cream stand at the bottom of the hill. We love to eat lunch at the Barley Mow, on the patio right by the falls, go for a swim in the Mississippi River – or better yet, rent the purple bikes at the Old Town Hall to ride to Blakeney Falls. Almonte is about 45 minutes from Ottawa, so a great destination for a day trip! Early August there’s also a BRILLIANT puppet festival, popular with families of all ages!!!!!!

4 mencius May 30, 2017 at 10:55 pm

There are certainly some wonderful things to see in Canada, but I think tourists should stay away from Ottawa this summer (2017). The crowds on Canada Day tend to be masses of out of control drunkards, and this year will be many times worse. Americans are actually much better behaved at major crowd events. In addition, the city has always had a problem with aggressive street people and panhandlers who come out in force during the warm weather. This year looks particularly bad re the street trash, and they are becoming even more violent and aggressive than usual. I wouldn’t want children to be exposed to this, and, apparently, the local authorities don’t think it is a problem.
It is worse than Washington, DC unless you go into the really bad areas of DC.
Also, Ottawa like Vancouver, encourages street drug use by providing “safe” injection sites. Not a really good place for families to visit.

Don’t walk within two mile of Parliament if you come. Possibly being on a tour bus would be ok.

5 Mary @ Parenthood July 2, 2017 at 6:49 am

I’m really looking forward to the fire breathing dragon coming later this year!

As for the “street trash” commenter, I don’t know what on earth you are talking about but methinks volunteering with OIM or Shepherds of Good Hope or similar would help you get a handle on reality. Ottawa is a super family friendly city and this year in particular is going to be a great time to visit.

6 DaniGirl July 5, 2017 at 3:10 pm

I almost deleted your comment, Mencius, because I completely disagree with it. Ottawa is a safe and friendly city, and as someone who has worked downtown for years, I’ve rarely encountered a problem with “aggressive” panhandlers. A little compassion, a nod and a smile, go a long way.

7 Marie Smith July 13, 2017 at 6:49 am

I studied in Ottawa, years ago now, but always felt safe in that wonderful city.

Great post!

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