25+ Things to Do in Ottawa

A complete guide to the best things to do in Ottawa, places to eat, where to stay, and how to plan the perfect Ottawa itinerary.

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Year Visited: 2023

Time of Year: December

Cities like London, Edinburgh, Boston, New York City, Cape Town... these are on my radar.

Ottawa... was not.

In fact, I didn't even know that Ottawa was the capital of Canada!!!

Because, let's be honest, does anyone really know what goes on up in Canada...?

But Ottawa was suddenly on my radar when I discovered how many Hallmark Christmas movies are filmed there and in the surrounding area!

And, after a bit of digging, I found that there are some REALLY COOL things to do in Ottawa!

We're talking afternoon tea in a castle, croffles (croissant/waffles), Hallmark filming locations, the world's longest ice rink, and SO. MUCH. MORE.

If you too want to live out your real life Hallmark Christmas movie dreams (or just want a cool city to explore), I have all the information you need on things to do in Ottawa to plan your trip.



About Ottawa

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. There are about 1.4 million people living in the greater National Capital Region, with approximately 1 million living within the city of Ottawa itself.

Where is Ottawa?

Ottawa is in the southeastern corner of the Province of Ontario in Canada. It is 4 1/2 hours northeast of Toronto, and just north of the Thousand Islands in New York State.

It is also right on the line that divides the Province of Ontario from the Province of Quebec. In fact, the city of Ottawa is just across the river from the city of Gatineau, which is in Quebec.

The two cities are so close together, that they are basically the same city. It is easy to include things to do in Ottawa and things to do in Gatineau in the same trip, so this article will include some highlights from both provinces.

What province is Ottawa in?

This is a common question, along with the question “Is Ottawa a province or a city?”

Ottawa is a city, and it is in the Province of Ontario. However, it is just across the river from another city, Gatineau, in the Province of Quebec. Together, the two cities are known as the “National Capital Region.”

What airport to fly into for Ottawa?

If you are flying into Ottawa, you will fly into the Ottawa International Airport, or the YOW. The airport is very close to the city, just a 15 minute drive (pending traffic) from the city centre.

If you are taking public transportation into the city, you can take Bus 97 from the Ottawa Airport into the city, and then pick up a local bus to take you to your accommodations.

What language do they speak in Ottawa?

The official language in Ottawa is English. However, the official language of the Quebec Province, just across the river, is French.

All signs, pamphlets, and announcements were written/spoken in both French and English. We heard multiple people speaking French on the streets. Many locals will be able to speak both languages, so you should have no problem communicating if you speak either one of these languages.

Is Canada a territory of England?

This honestly surprised me (again, no clue what’s going on up in Canada…). I always associated Canada with the French, and had no idea that it was actually under the Royal Family of England.

Canada was ceded from France to Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Since then, Canada has been a dominion of the British Empire, slowly becoming more and more independent of the British government. Today, Canada is a sovereign nation, but they are still tied to the royal family of England.

To be honest… I don’t really understand all the politics of this situation. But you can read more about Canada’s relationship with Britain here, or you can learn about it (and then completely forget it all again…) on a tour of Rideau Hall.

Is Ottawa safe?

This is a question I have for most big cities, especially when I am visiting by myself. Jason went with me to Ottawa, and I was very glad he did, otherwise there definitely would have been situations where I felt uncomfortable.

We stayed pretty much to the main tourist areas of the city, so there were usually lots of other people around, which made me feel better, but there were also A LOT of homeless people around! I was actually surprised by how many homeless people we saw.

I wouldn’t say that Ottawa was particularly unsafe, but I was very glad to have Jason with me, and not be exploring by myself.

What is Ottawa known for?

  • Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. It is the home of the Canadian Government, including the Houses of Parliament and the home of the governor general.

  • Architecture-Ottawa has some beautiful buildings with Gothic architecture, like the Parliament building and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

  • City of Musuems-Ottawa is referred to (at least by themselves) as the City of Museums, because they have so many different museums you can visit throughout the city.

  • City of Festivals-Ottawa also calls itself a “City of Festivals.” There are a lot of festivals throughout the year in Ottawa, like Winterlude in February and the Canadian Tulip Festival in May.

  • Croffles-Not quite as famous as the cronut (or quite as tasty, but definitively more fun to say) the croissant/waffle combo was invented in Ottawa.

  • Beaver Tails-Much more famous than the croffle, beaver tails were also invented in this Canadian city, before making their way as a common dessert across the country.

  • Christmas Movies-You may run into a film crew on your trip to Ottawa. This is because it is easier for small budget films (AKA cookie cutter Christmas movies!) to film in Canada than in the US, so a lot of them film in Ottawa and the surrounding areas.


Best Time of Year to Visit Ottawa

Christmas

Christmas time is one of the best times to visit Ottawa, especially if you are a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies! A lot of these movies are filmed in the city of Ottawa and the surrounding small towns, so you can visit the real life places seen in Hallmark movies.

It is generally warmer in November and December than in January and February, with the average temperatures at this time being in the 30s F (single digits in C), but you should still bring some layers to wrap up in. When we visited at the beginning of December, the first day was warm and in the 40s, but the second day was snowy and freezing cold! I was glad I had my good winter boots to walk around in.

February

February is one of the coldest, and perhaps the most miserable months to visit Ottawa… BUT, if you want to visit Ottawa in the winter, this is the best month to do it.

The world’s longest natural ice rink, the Rideau Canal will be frozen over so you can go ice skating on it (the canal is not usually open for skating before January). The highlight of February in Ottawa is the incredible ice sculpture festival known as Winterlude.

Be sure to wrap up warm if you come in February. The average temperatures are in the 20s F (below zero in C)!

Summer

Summer is one of the best times to visit Ottawa, because the weather will actually be comfortable for walking around outside and exploring the city! This is the best time of year to come if you want to bike around Ottawa, float down the canal, maybe hike in one of the nearby parks, or zipline between provinces!

The average temperature in the summer will be in the 70s F (30s C), making this an ideal time to visit the city. The only downside with the summer months (as is everywhere) is that the city will be at its most crowded. A small price to pay for being warm, I think!

Fall

If you’re not interested in reliving your favorite Christmas movies, I would say that September and October are the absolute best months to visit Ottawa. You can start to see fall foliage, which is absolutely beautiful, a lot of seasonal activities will be open, the crowds will be fewer, and the weather “should” be excellent.

The average temperature in Ottawa during the fall months is in the 60s F (20s C)


How to Get Around Ottawa

Outside of Rideau Station. Notice the giant red donuts (as I call them) marking the bus stops.

Walking

The best way to experience the main things to do in Ottawa is just to walk around the city centre. A lot of the best things to do are within a 10-15 minutes walk of each other.

By Car

Having a car is helpful if you plan to do day trips from Ottawa, like to Almonte or to the Nordik Spa.

You don’t really need a car in the immediate downtown area, but it can also be helpful to get to some of the things to do in Ottawa, like a hockey game at the Canadian Tire Centre or to visit some filming locations on the outskirts of the city.

Public Transportation

Public transportation in Ottawa can be confusing. Read our story about how we failed at using public transportation in Ottawa!

Eventually I started to figure it out, but being from a small town area where Uber is non-existent and everyone drives themselves everywhere, I was very frustrated with Ottawa for a hot cold minute.

There are two main forms of public transportation in Ottawa, run by OC-Transpo:

  • The O-Train line

  • The city bus system

The O-Train follows a single line from the outskirts of the city through the main stops in Ottawa. You will probably not need to ride an O-Train (unless you accidentally take a bus out of town like we did) if you are just traveling around the main things to do in Ottawa.

We took a bus from the city centre to Rideau Hall, and another bus to the Christmas market at TD Place at Lansdowne Park.

You can buy a single ride ticket, or buy a day pass, like we did, with unlimited bus trips that day. Tickets are sold at convenience stores, or you can get them from the ticket machines at the O-Train stations. For example, we bought our day-passes at the Rideau Station (pictured above). Just go down the escalators to the train station and buy tickets at the kiosks just inside.

Look for the giant red “Os” (or donuts, as I like to call them), to mark a bus stop or train station. Also, make sure you are on the correct side of the road for your bus stop, for the direction you want to travel.


Where to Get the Best Views in Ottawa

Alexandra Bridge

The best views of Parliament Hill in Ottawa are from the Alexandra Bridge. The bridge is within easy walking distance from downtown Ottawa, and is right next to the National Gallery.

It’s an easy way to walk between cities, from Ottawa to Gatineau, and get good views along the way. If you don’t want to walk all the way across the bridge, there is a lookout spot before you get on the actual bridge.

Peace Tower

The Peace Tower is the central clock tower standing on Parliament Hill. You can go up in the Peace Tower (either by stairs or elevator) on a guided tour of Parliament. There is an observation deck near the top of the tower that offers beautiful views out over the city.

  • Note: The guided tours of this section of Parliament are currently unavailable, as the buildings undergo rennovations.


Things to Do in Ottawa

There are so many fun and unique things to do in Ottawa. From trying Beaver Tails to chasing down movie filming locations, there is something for everyone here.

I’ll start this list of things to do in Ottawa around the city centre, and then work out from there.

Map of things to do in Ottawa:

Take a Walking Tour of Ottawa

The first thing to do in Ottawa is to get to know the city by taking a free walking tour. You can find all sorts of walking tours (some free, some cost money) to suit your tastes, whether it be a generic overall city tour, a tour focused on history, or one focused on art, or maybe even food (beaver tail, anyone?)

Do a Scavenger Hunt

In addition to a walking tour, you could get to know the city in a more fun and unique way, by doing a scavenger hunt. You can do this as part of a group tour, or download an app and do it on your own.

You can find even more scavenger hunt options just by Googling “Ottawa scavenger hunt” and picking the option that’s best for you.

Tour Parliament

Touring Parliament is one of the most popular things to do in Ottawa. The buildings are utterly gorgeous, with their Gothic architecture and old-world feel. You can book a free tour of the Parliament buildings, including the Senate and the House of Commons.

  • Note: Tours of the main (and prettiest!) buildings in Parliament Hill are currently unavailable, due to the reconstruction project. But you can tour other buildings, like the Senate and House of Commons, as well as do a virtual immersive experience in lieu of the in-person tour.

Things to be sure to see while you explore Parliament Hill is the Centennial Flame and the evening light show.

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier

One of the most iconic things to do in Ottawa is to visit the castle-like structure of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, just across the canal from Parliament Hill.

It is a popular spot for afternoon tea (because who doesn’t want to have afternoon tea in a castle?!), but you can also just explore the lobby and admire the decor if you don’t want to pay for tea. Or of course you could also come for lunch or dinner.

The Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal is one of the most famous sites in Ottawa. There are a lot of ways to experience the canal:

  • Go for a walk along the 202K (125 mile) canal, past iconic Ottawa sites.

  • Rent a bike to ride along the scenic canal.

  • If you’re tired of walking, relax on a boat tour of the famous canal.

  • If you’re here in the winter (and you’re more coordinated than me) you can ice skate along the canal—the world’s longest natural ice rink!

Explore the ByWard Market

The ByWard Market building, built in 1864.

First, allow me to explain what I mean when I say the ByWard Market.” The ByWard Market is two things:

  • The original covered market area, with stalls both inside and outside of the building that was built in 1864. The market itself was started in the area in 1826, and is one of the oldest public markets in Canada.

  • The whole neighborhood around the ByWard Market building, encompassing several blocks worth of shops, restaurants, galleries, entertainment and photo ops.

It is here you can find the “Ottawa” letters sign, the original BeaverTails kiosk, the home of the croffle, several Christmas movie filming locations, and so many other restaurants, shops and street art installations. The ByWard Market is definitely a must-see on any Ottawa itinerary.

Eat a Beaver Tail

Which brings me to the next item on my list of things to do in Ottawa: Eat a beaver tail!

No… it’s not a real beaver tail…

If you’ve never had a beaver tail, it’s basically an elephant ear. And if you’ve never had an elephant ear, it’s basically fried dough. And if you’ve never had fried dough… well just start living a little and try one!

Beaver tails have become a popular treat across Canada, but they were created in Ottawa. The original BeaverTails kiosk is just outside of the covered market area in the ByWard Market neighborhood, but you can sometimes find other places to get them around the city, like at the Christmas market or along the Rideau Canal.

They come in a variety of flavors, including the original cinnamon fried dough in the shape of a beaver tail (thus the name), and other flavors like strawberry cheesecake and chocolate hazelnut.

Eat a Croffle

In addition to inventing the Beaver Tail, Ottawa is also the birthplace of another sweet treat: the croffle! A croissant/waffle, from First Bite Treats.

Though, to be honest, the croffle itself is not on the same level as the cronut (it’s more fun to say though!), but the toppings! I had a Biscoff croffle, and it was so good I wanted to go back and get another one as soon as I walked out the door!

Eat Poutine

Poutine: the classic Canadian dish of fries with gravy and cheese curds… This is definitely a must-try when you are visiting Canada. Pretty much any restaurant you go to will have poutine available, either as its own dish, or you can upgrade your side of fries to be poutine.

The original is just gravy and cheese curds, but everywhere had different kinds of poutine to try, like BBQ pulled pork poutine. In other words… loaded fries.

Try Out an Escape Room!

Escape rooms are one of the most fun and unique things to do in any city you visit. Since my cousin owns an escape room on Cape Cod (and is slightly obsessed), we’ve been bitten a bit by the escape room bug.

If you’re looking for a good escape room in the area you’re visiting, be sure to check out the Facebook page: Escape Room Enthusiasts (also, if you’re still not sure what an escape room is, check out this article).

Unfortunately, the escape room we wanted to try had a flood just before our trip, so they are currently closed down for repairs. But here are a couple suggestions if you want to try an escape room in Ottawa:

  • Jigsaw Escape Rooms- This escape room is the easiest to get to, as it is located right in the ByWard Market neighborhood. They also had a lot of fun themes to their rooms, so Jason and I were excited to try them! (Note: They are currently closed due to flood damage).

  • Room Escape Ottawa-This was the most highly recommended escape room, based on my research. We chose to go with Jigsaw Escape Rooms over Room Escape because it was easier to get to (You will have to either drive or take the bus to Room Escape), and because we were personally more interested in their room themes.

  • Escape Manor-Escape Manor is another popular escape room in Ottawa. They also have a restaurant/bar, darts AND bocce ball, so if you are looking for some entertainment, look no further. It is also easy to walk to their downtown location.

See a Show at the National Arts Centre

Another one of the best things to do in Ottawa is to visit the National Arts Centre. There are a variety of entertainment options available here, and it is right in the center of downtown, making it one of the easiest things to get to.

The Arts Centre hosts a variety of events you can attend on your trip to Ottawa, from orchestra concerts, to hip hop shows, to art classes, to 5-course dinners with famous chefs! So not only is this a fun thing to do in Ottawa, it also can be one of the best places to eat in the city!

Go Shopping

Because budgets don’t count on vacations (right?), Ottawa is a great place to do some shopping. Especially if you come from a small town without a lot of options. Or a country without Amazon. Because that’s a thing!

Here are some areas to check out if you want to go shopping in Ottawa:

  • The ByWard Market-This is the best place to do some shopping in Ottawa. In addition to all the restaurants in the neighborhood, there are plenty of boutique stores and specialty shops. You can pick up some Canadian souvenirs (or some Obama cookies!), artisan chocolates, or a fancy designer ball gown!

  • Rideau Centre-What we thought was a train station was actually a mall (above the train station)! So if you enjoy shopping, this is the place for you.

  • The Glebe-Another fun neighborhood in Ottawa is the Glebe. This is the area where the Christmas market is held, but it also has tons of shops and restaurants open all year round, and the neighborhood itself is adorable (and sometimes a Hallmark movie filming location). They even have a community wide garage sale held in May.

  • Ottawa Christmas Market-If you are around at Christmastime, there is no doubt that one of the best (and coldest) places to shop is the Ottawa Christmas market. You can find adorable ornaments, unique gifts, and lots of food and snacks too! Just be sure to dress warm.

Notre Dame Cathedral

I found the Notre Dame Cathedral on a list of things to do in Ottawa while I was planning our trip, and then I forgot to visit (I was too busy being frozen from missing the bus and waiting in the cold for an hour!).

But the interior of the church is truly worth a stop on your Ottawa itinerary, even for just a quick visit. You can visit on your own, or join a guided tour.

It is stunning inside, and since the cathedral is just across the street from the National Gallery, and right on the edge of the ByWard Market neighborhood, it is easy to get to.

So you really should have no excuse…

Visit a Museum

The iconic glass dome of the National Gallery of Canada.

Ottawa is often called a “city of museums,” because they have so many different museums to explore. This is also one of the best things to do in Ottawa, because you can do it in any season and any weather.

There are so many options as far as museums go, that you are bound to find one that interests you. Here are some of the most popular museums in Ottawa:

  • National Gallery of Canada-The National Gallery is one of the most popular museums, simply because it is the easiest to get to. It is easily within walking distance of the city centre, and is famous for the giant spider statue out front (that I tried to avoid looking at as much as possible…).

  • Canadian Museum of History-This is the most visited museum in Canada, and is especially fun to visit at Christmastime. They even host a Christmas market here the last weekend in November. The museum is technically in Gatineau, across the river, but it is just across the bridge from the National Gallery, and would be easy to walk to.

  • Canadian Museum of Nature-The Museum of Nature is a bit further to get to, but it is housed in a beautiful historic building, and has some really cool exhibits, including the fossil gallery and the arctic gallery.

  • Some of the other popular museums in Ottawa include the Canadian War Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.

Zipline between Provinces

One of the most unique things to do in Ottawa is to zipline over the river between provinces! You start out in Quebec on the Gatineau side of the river, and end up in Ontario, on the Ottawa side of the river!

Interzip Rogers is a seasonal activity that is open from June-October, depending on the weather.

Tour Rideau Hall

The tent room, the most fun room to see on a tour of Rideau Hall!

I read about Rideau Hall (home of Canada’s Governor General) on a local’s blog of things to do in Ottawa that touted the more “hidden gem” ideas, as opposed to the main tourist stops. I have to say that I greatly questioned this logic when we got lost in the snow trying to get to Rideau Hall on public transportation… (but maybe that’s just us…).

Rideau Hall was fun and interesting to see (and free!), but I wouldn’t put it high on your list of priorities, when there are so many more accessible things to do in the downtown area. Especially in the winter… although the grounds would be beautiful to walk in the summertime.

Good things to know: There are no public bathrooms in Rideau Hall. There are bathrooms (washrooms) available at the visitor’s centre by the entrance to the grounds. These will be open, even if the visitor’s centre is not (thank goodness!!).

See a Movie at the Mayfair Theater

The Mayfair Theater is the oldest operating theater in the city of Ottawa, having been in operation since 1932. It’s a fun place to see a movie while you’re in the city. They show a variety of films, including old classics, horror, and indy films.

Go to a Hockey Game

Hockey is Canada’s national pastime! So it makes sense when you’re in the capital of Canada to check out a hockey game. You will have to either drive or take a bus to the Canadian Tire Centre to see a hockey game (or another big show!).


Christmas Things to Do in Ottawa

If you’re visiting at Christmastime (because you love cheesy holiday movies!), there are so many Christmas things to do in Ottawa:

The Ottawa Christmas Market

Absolutely one of the best things to do in Ottawa, the Ottawa Christmas market was both my husband’s and my favorite part of our trip, despite it being absolutely freezing.

There were so many delicious foods to try, cute souvenirs to buy, tons of adorable Christmas lights to take selfies with (if you could avoid the crowds), live music, and little fireplaces to (attempt to) warm up at. As Jason said, the only thing that would make this more “Hallmark-y” was if they had an outdoor ice rink.

And then we found the outdoor ice rink.

  • There are bathrooms available at the Christmas market.

  • Be sure to wear lots of layers and dress warm!

  • You can pay with credit cards at the Christmas market.

  • Don’t forget to also explore the cute Glebe neighborhood while you’re here.

Go Ice Skating

As I said, the only thing needed to make it more “Hallmark-y” was the ice rink (of course, we did not actually skate because we are too clumsy…).

Outdoor ice skating is one of the best things to do in Ottawa in the wintertime. However, if you come at Christmas, many of the outdoor rinks will not be open yet because it is (believe it or not) not cold enough yet. You can find the ice rink at the Christmas market though!

Here are some places to go ice skating in Ottawa:

Take Selfies with the Christmas Lights on Sparks St.

It’s much less crowded than the Christmas market, but you can find a lot of the same fun decorations on the pedestrian only Sparks St. in downtown Ottawa. It’s a good place to go for dinner and then walk around and enjoy the festive lights.

Check out the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Christmas Trees

Even if you’re not staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (or even paying for afternoon tea!), you can still pop in the lobby to enjoy the festive Christmas decorations and see all the different trees.

Many different companies donate trees that are all decorated according to a theme (last year’s seemed to be Candyland, which I loved!), so you can find them all and pick out your favorites.

Find Christmas Movie Filming Locations

There are so many Christmas movie filming locations in Ottawa! The Ottawa Tourism website has a comprehensive list of most of the recent movies (there are a lot) filmed here, and the locations where they filmed (including nearby communities).

Here are a few of the specific locations in Ottawa that we visited:

  • Elgin St. Happy Goat Coffee Co.-filming location of Midnight at the Magnolia

  • Macdonald Gardens Park gazebo-filming location of Midnight at the Magnolia

  • Fairmont Chateau Laurier-filming location of Hotel for the Holidays

  • ByWard Market-filming location for multiple holiday movies

  • Sparks St.-filming location for multiple holiday movies

  • The small town of Almonte, 40 minutes from Ottawa-filming location for MULTIPLE holiday movies

Christmas Market at the Canadian Museum of History

The last weekend of November, the Canadian Museum of History hosts its very own Christmas market. The market kicks off with the annual lighting of their Christmas tree, which is a highlight to come see, even if you miss the Christmas market.

A lot of the museums in Ottawa will have multiple special events going on during the holiday season, so be sure to check the upcoming events before your trip.

Visit a Christmas Tree Farm

Like the outfit? Hat and boots from Amazon, sweater from Maurices, coat from Macy’s.

Technically this falls under the “day trips from Ottawa” category, but I’m listing it here as well, because it is absolutely one of the best things to do in Ottawa at Christmastime!

Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Ottawa. They have a large Christmas store, free wagon rides, hot apple cider, lots of adorable photo ops, and of course, Christmas trees!


Day Trips from Ottawa

Some of the best things to do in Ottawa, especially at Christmastime, aren’t exactly in Ottawa. But they are easily visited as a day trip or even a half day trip from Ottawa.

Explore the Small Town of Almonte

There are a lot of cute small towns around Ottawa where Christmas movies are filmed, so feel free to explore all of them! But Almonte is the most famous and the most popular. So many Christmas movies are filmed here, the list is at least as long as everywhere else combined!

There are actually a lot of things to do in Almonte, besides just pretend you are in a Hallmark Christmas movie:

Cedarhill Christmas Tree Farm

As mentioned above, Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm is about 45 minutes from Ottawa, or 20 minutes from Almonte. It makes a great add-on to an Almonte day trip from the city.

Even if you’re not cutting down your own Christmas tree (I’m not sure the border agents would be happy with that one), you can still visit this cozy Christmas farm, shop in the store, eat lunch by the bonfire, enjoy the free wagon ride and more.

It’s also a really great place to take families, with their playground and mini zipline.

Nordik Spa

Another place to make you feel like you might have stepped into a Christmas movie is Nordik Spa, a Norwegian inspired spa just north of Ottawa (in Quebec).

But you don’t have to be a Hallmark fan (or here at Christmastime) to enjoy the relaxing vibe of the spa treatments, pools and saunas here. It’s a great place to get away from the bustling city, relax for a while, and test out that hot, cold, rest thermal cycle theory.

Thousand Islands National Park

Boldt Castle, on the NY side of the Thousand Islands. You can see this castle on a cruise from Canada (photo thanks to my sister, who has done more than drive over a bridge and gawk at the islands).

The Thousand Islands are another natural setting that is shared with both the US and Canada (much like Niagara Falls to the west).

It is just over an hour from the city to the start of the Canadian National Park, though a bit further to get to some of the best things to do there. However, if you are visiting in the summertime, this is definitely worth it, as the area is gorgeous! We only saw a little bit of it, driving over the bridge from NY, but it was stunning.

In the summer you can get a boat tour, and see the best of both sides of this park.


Places to Eat in Ottawa

There are a lot of good places to eat in Ottawa. Here are some good areas to look for restaurants, as well as suggestions of specific restaurants to try in those neighborhoods (don’t forget to try some poutine while you’re out!):

ByWard Market

The ByWard Market is one of the best places to eat in Ottawa. You can check off a top tourist destination and dinner, all in one go.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in ByWard Market. We ate at Dunn’s Famous, which wasn’t bad, but I also wouldn’t suggest it as a top place to eat. Here are a few good suggestions:

  • King Eddy-Good for burgers and poutine, has a good atmosphere and great reviews.

  • Zak’s Diner-With other locations as well. We walked by the one on Elgin St. and it was adorable!

  • Fatboy’s Smokehouse-A western-themed place for BBQ, this restaurant has stellar reviews!

  • Heart & Crown-This Irish Pub is a popular place for tourists in the ByWard Market. They also have other locations across the city.

  • Cacao 70-With a location in the ByWard Market, and at Lansdown, this place is renowned for their desserts.

  • BeaverTails-Of course, you have to make a stop at the iconic BeaverTails kiosk in the ByWard Market.

  • First Bite Treats-If you want to try a croffle (croissant/waffle) while you’re in Ottawa, this is the place to go. If you have a sweet tooth (like me!) I highly recommend the Biscoff croffle.

Sparks Street

Another great place to find some dinner in Ottawa is Sparks Street.

Sparks Street is a pedestrian only street in downtown Ottawa. It is fun to walk along, especially at Christmastime, when it is full of festive light displays. Note that there are also a lot of lunch spots around this street that are closed at dinner time.

Here are several dinner recommendations on Sparks Street:

  • 3 Brewers-We ate at 3 Brewers on Sparks St. and it was the best meal we had in Ottawa! The food and atmosphere were fantastic, and I’m pretty sure we became best friends with the waitress in the hour that we were there. I highly recommend eating here!

  • The Office Resto Pub-This is another fun place to eat along Sparks St. Maybe you’ll be around for karaoke or trivia night.

  • The Rabbit Hole-Another fun place to eat with a great atmosphere on Sparks St. is the Rabbit Hole.

The Scone Witch

I read on multiple blogs to try the Scone Witch in Ottawa, so I was super excited that our hotel was literally around the block from one of their locations.

This is a great spot for breakfast or lunch. You can get a sandwich on a scone (a sconewitch), or just get a scone on its own (yum!).

The Glebe

Another super cute neighborhood with lots of restaurants to explore is the Glebe. We came here to go to the Ottawa Christmas market, and passed blocks and blocks of really nice shops and restaurants.

Here is a list of all the restaurants in the Glebe you can choose from. If you’re looking for something unique, might I suggest a Korean corndog from Chung Chun? Jason tried one from their booth at the market, and really liked it.

The Christmas Market

Last of all I would suggest, if the Christmas market is open while you’re in Ottawa, you should definitely check out the food there! You can get hot apple cider, beaver tails, Korean corndogs, baked potatoes, smoked brisket, and more!

Trying all the different foods available at the Christmas market was one of our favorite things to do in Ottawa!


Where to Stay in Ottawa

There are a lot of places to stay in Ottawa! I would suggest trying to stay somewhere close to the city centre, so you can easily walk to the main attractions in Ottawa.

Here are a few suggestions of places to stay that are close to all the best things to do in Ottawa:

Sonder Rideau

We stayed at the Sonder Rideau. It was a perfect location, with easy walking distance to Ottawa’s main attractions, and a great price! I would definitely recommend this location if you’re staying in Ottawa.

There are two other Sonder locations in Ottawa where you can also stay:

Sheraton

We walked past the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel several times, so this is also a great location if you’re looking to stay close to everything. It is very close to Sparks Street, a fun, pedestrian only street in Ottawa.

Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market

If you want to stay right in the historic ByWard Market area (and close to lots of good restaurants!), the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market is a great place to stay.

ByWard Blue Inn

If you want to stay in the ByWard Market, but you want to save some money, the ByWard Blue Inn is a great budget choice, on the far side of the market neighborhood, but still close to everything.

Fairmont Chateau Laurier

If you really want to treat yourself, splurge at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, or as I lovingly call it, the Castle. You can’t get any closer to the action than this gorgeous hotel, just steps away from Parliament and the ByWard Market.

Or just book yourself an afternoon tea. Or just… walk through the lobby. Either way, make sure you stop by this hotel when you’re in Ottawa.


Sample Ottawa Itinerary

If you’re a little overwhelmed by all the things to do in Ottawa (it is a big city!), here is a sample 1-day and 2-day itinerary for you, with all the things I think would make the best Ottawa itinerary:

Ottawa Itinerary Day 1:

For your first full day in Ottawa, have breakfast at the Scone Witch on Elgin St. Then head up to Parliament Hill, where you will meet your tour guide for a 2-hour walking tour of the city. You can pick the focus of your walking tour, or even do a scavenger hunt.

The walking tour will show you the highlights of the city and help you get a feel of areas you would like to explore more. After your tour ends, head over to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier for an afternoon tea lunch (be sure to book in advance).

After your tea, you can further explore Parliament Hill to see areas that were not included on your tour, and take a tour of Parliament.

If it’s a nice day out, you can enjoy a walk or a boat ride along the Rideau Canal this afternoon (or if it’s winter, you can go ice skating!). Then walk along Sparks Street to find a restaurant for dinner.

For your evening entertainment, you can book one of the Ottawa escape rooms, see a show at the Arts Centre, or go back up to Parliament Hill to see the evening light show on the buildings there.

Ottawa Itinerary Day 2:

Find a local diner or coffee shop (or Tim Hortons—if you don’t live somewhere that already has 6 Tim Hortons) for breakfast. Here are a couple good choices:

After breakfast, head over to the National Gallery of Canada (or have breakfast at the Happy Goat Coffee Co. in the National Gallery!). Also be sure to take a peek inside Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral, just across the street from the gallery.

Wander around the nearby ByWard Market neighborhood and find somewhere to eat lunch. Be sure to get yourself a BeaverTail, if you haven’t already.

After you’ve fully explored the area, you can walk across the Alexandra Bridge to Gatineau and visit the Canadian Museum of History. Or if you’d rather visit one of the many other museums in the area, take a bus to the nearest bus stop for those museums.

In the late afternoon, take a bus to the Glebe neighborhood for dinner, and explore the adorable area. If it’s Christmas, visit the Christmas market here (note the opening hours). There might also be sports or other events happening at TD Place.

If there is nothing that interests you that night at TD Place, you could also do the escape room, the Arts Centre, or an event at the Canadian Tire Centre this night. Or just go back to the room and sleep. That’s what I would do…

Extra Day:

If you have an extra day in the area, day trip to some of the fun places near Ottawa, like Almonte, Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm, or Nordik Spa.


Movies to Watch Before Visiting Ottawa

The Happy Goat Coffee Co. on Elgin Street in Ottawa, where Netflix’s “Midnight at the Magnolia” was filmed.

There are plenty of movies filmed in Ottawa and the surrounding areas (not all of them Christmas movies, either! And not all of them Hallmark!).

You can find an entire list of movies filmed in Ottawa from 2015 onward on the Ottawa Film website. If you’re a Christmas movie fanatic, check out the list from the Ottawa tourism website of Christmas movie filming locations, and the movies that were filmed there.

Here are a few choice selections I think you should watch before you travel to Ottawa:

Fatman

The 2020 Mel Gibson movie is a different kind of Christmas movie from the ones you usually see come out of Ottawa. So for those of you who aren’t hopeless romantics, this one’s for you.

Midnight at the Magnolia

This 2020 Netflix original film showcases many recognizable places in Ottawa, including Happy Goat Coffee Co. and the gazebo at MacDonald Gardens Park. In my opinion, it’s also one of the better cheesy holiday movies.

The Most Colorful Time of the Year

This is a typical Hallmark movie from 2022, with many easy to spot scenes in Ottawa, including Matthew’s Anglican Church and Wellington Vision Care.

Batman & Robin

Just to switch things up a bit here, this 1997 film was mainly shot at the Warner Brothers Studios in LA, but parts of it were filmed in Austria and Canada, including Ottawa. So go ahead and watch this classic, in addition to all of the predictable holiday movies!


Any more questions?

If you have any questions about things to do in Ottawa or planning a trip to the capital city, don’t hesitate to email me or comment below.

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