15 Free Things to do in Ottawa
Do you have a date with Canada’s capital city?
It’s no surprise. Ottawa sits on the south side of the stunning Ottawa River and is home to several cultural institutions such as the National Gallery and the National Arts Centre. It’s also considered the political center of the country.
A city filled with cultural centers and politicians might sound like an expensive holiday destination. However, you don’t need to empty your life savings to holiday in Ottawa. There are many free activities you can partake in that caters to all walks of life.
If you’ve always wanted to visit the nation’s capital but never had the funds to do so, then choose a time and check out these free attractions while you’re exploring the city.
1. Take a Tour at Parliament Hill
Government buildings might not be high on many people’s list of attractions to see, but Ottawa’s Parliament Hill should be an exception. The stunning structure overlooks the glorious Ottawa River and has a pristine landscape surrounding it.
The site features a neo-Gothic aesthetic, and standing tall in the middle is the Peace Tower. You can take a free guided tour of the facility, and if you hang around long enough, then you’ll see the changing of the guards.
2. Get Creeped Out by a Giant Spider
If you suffer from arachnophobia, then feel free to move on to the next attraction. But if you’re brave enough, there’s a giant spider sculpture waiting for you outside of the National Gallery of Canada.
Standing at 10 meters tall, the exhibit was created by Louise Bourgeois. It’s dangling out in the open and is available for photos if you’re not too scared getting close to it.
3. Cool Off at Mooney’s Bay Park
Summer at Mooney’s Bay Park is a relaxing affair. There’s plenty of space for the kids to play and a large sandy beach on the eastern side of the Rideau River. The area always looks like an image off a postcard with its well-manicured landscape.
Even the water is placid. You can float for hours and forget about all your worries without a single wave disturbing your zen state. There are plenty of other sporting activities on offer too, if you’re after something a little more energetic.
4. Visit a Museum
Ottawa is home to several fantastic museums. It can quickly become a costly affair if you try to visit every single of them. But the trick is to attend on the days or hours when admission is free to the public.
On Thursdays, between 4 pm and 8 pm, you can stroll into the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History. Alternatively, you can head to the National Gallery of Canada or the Canadian Museum of Nature on the same day between 5 pm and 8 pm. You can also go to the Aviation and Space Museum between 4 pm and 5 pm any day of the week.
5. Stop by the Governor’s Office
Are you interested in seeing how Ottawa’s governor spends their free time? Then you can take a free tour of the prestigious Rideau Hall. Block out around 45 minutes as there is plenty of Canadian art to see in this luxurious manor.
Don’t forget to stop by the historical gardens on your way out. There are lots of botanical beauties and some other artifacts that can’t be seen anywhere else.
6. Check out the Byward Market
There is tons to see and do down at the Byward Market. It’s the main commercial hub in Ottawa and home to a larger outdoor marketplace. You can find a slew of fresh produce and can even taste test some of the delicacies.
The highlight though is the street performers. You’ll find a number of different artists performing various forms of entertainment. Be amazed by the magicians, rock out with the musicians, and look on in awe at the acrobats.
7. Enjoy the Sound and Light Show
Throughout the summer, Parliament Hill displays a glorious multimedia show upon the government buildings in the area. Every year is unique, and it somehow manages to top itself each and every time.
The show often highlights important milestones in the history of the country. There is narration available in multiple languages and an original haunting score that can’t help but move you. Check the website for start times as the show can only go on after the sun sets.
8. Browse the Farmers Markets
If you’re in the mood for some fresh food, then you’ve got several options available to you. The Main Farmers Market might sound like Ottawa’s premiere event. However, it’s only called this as it’s located on Main Street. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide some fantastic fresh goods.
The Landsdown Farmers Market is the best one to visit on a Saturday morning. You’ll find plenty of free samples, some great options for a delicious lunch, and multiple cooking demos if you’re after some kitchen hacks.
9. Skate Down Rideau Canal
You don’t need to worry about bumping into anyone on this ice rink. That’s because it spans over 200 km. You can hop on the ice in the downtown area and then make your way all the way to Dow Lake if you’re in the mood.
If you’re visiting Ottawa in the summer, then you won’t miss out on the fun. You’ll just need to trade in the ice skates for a canoe. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a nice relaxing cruise down the canal.
10. Learn About Art Around the City
During your travels through Ottawa, you might notice some monuments and public art displays around the city. If you’re interested in learning more about these pieces and the artists themselves, there is an app that you can download on your phone to help.
You can access the app for free and scan the QR codes next to the exhibits. Your phone will then provide you with everything that you need to know about the art as well as other locations that you should check out before you leave the city.
11. Hike Through Gatineau Park
If you want to explore the great outdoors, then Gatineau Park is a great place to head to. It’s about 15 minutes outside of the downtown Ottawa area and features a visitor center with all the recommended spots to stop by.
You can hit the hiking trails to check out abandoned sites and waterfalls. There are also biking trails that can take you past all the places to see. In the winter, many locals and tourists hit the slopes at this park as it provides some challenging runs for experienced skiers.
12. Pay Your Respects at the National War Memorial
It’s impossible to miss the National War Memorial on Wellington Street. It features a giant granite arch and several bronze statues resembling Canadian soldiers who fought in World War II.
The area is also home to the Valiants Memorial, National Aboriginal Veterans Movement, and Peacekeeping Monument. The Chateau Laurier is nearby too and is one of Ottawa’s oldest hotels.
13. Stare at the Stars at The Science and Technology Museum
Usually, you’d have to pay an admission charge to enter The Science and Technology Museum. There are several exhibits that both educate and entertain people, young and old. It features everything from sound design to the evolution of technology.
But on select days throughout the year, the museum allows visitors to explore the night sky through its telescope for free. Learn about the different constellations and, if you’re really lucky, you might even spot one of Earth’s neighbors lighting up the atmosphere.
14. Tip Toe to the Tulip Festival
There’s only one event worth attending in May, and that’s the Canadian Tulip Festival. It’s the world’s largest event dedicated to the delightful flower. There are over a million of them on display in stunning exhibits.
The festival has been running since 1953 and sees 650,000 attend annually. The highlight is Commissioners Park, where there is a display of 300,000 tulips bursting with color along the shores of Dow’s Lake and Rideau Canal.
15. Swing by the Central Experimental Farm
There are hundreds of acres to explore at the Central Experimental Farm. You can find it in the downtown area, where it’s home to an abundance of interesting agricultural research the city has been working on.
Make sure that you stop by the Fletcher Wildlife Garden while you’re in the area. It features tons of native animals, including beavers, bats, birds, and more. You can even get up close and personal with them if you’re an animal lover.
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