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Places to visit in Ottawa, Canada (winter is a great time)

When we ask anyone outside of Canada what Canada’s capital is, we tend to get a lot of wrong answers.

Despite the fact that Toronto, Ontario, is our country’s largest and best-known city, Canada’s capital actually lies northeast of it.

The city of Ottawa is the capital.

Ottawa is Canada's picturesque capital -- and there are many great places to visit in Ottawa!
Ottawa is Canada’s picturesque capital

Non-Canadians also quite understandably scratch their heads when it comes to understanding our home city of Victoria.

The capital of our province, British Columbia, is Victoria. It’s located on Vancouver Island. But the city of Vancouver isn’t – it’s found on the mainland.

Now that we’ve thoroughly confused you, let’s go back to Ottawa, Ontario…

Sporting massive Parliament buildings, uniquely designed museums and a thriving downtown core, there are many interesting places to visit in Ottawa.

Got a crush on Canada? Read this! It’s blooming at the 5 best gardens in Victoria, BC

Places to visit in Ottawa

Here’s the scoop on places to see in Ottawa.

And seeing as it’s the New Year, we’re putting a wintery spin on our winter guide to Ottawa.

Parliament Hill

Conceived as early as 1859, Parliament Hill has housed Canada’s federal government ever since the complex was completed in 1876, nine years after the formation of Canada in 1867.

Winter guide to Ottawa: Parliament Hill
Ottawa’s beautiful Parliament Hill buildings

A major fire destroyed much of the complex in 1916, and though Canada was at war at the time, rebuilding Parliament became a priority.

Eleven years later, the Peace Tower was built as well, commemorating those lost in World War I.

The Parliament buildings are one of the best places to visit in Ottawa.
The Peace Tower

Parliament Hill has been the scene of many historic ceremonies in Canada, including the VE Day celebrations, the first raising of Canada’s new flag in 1965, and the celebration of Canada’s Centennial in 1967.

Today, Parliament Hill is a beautiful area to tour on foot.

It features many statues of famous Canadian figures (like Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister), monuments commemorating veterans and police, and also the Rideau Canal.

The National War Memorial near Parliament Hill commemorates the Canadians who died in World War I.
The National War Memorial near Parliament Hill commemorates the Canadians who died in World War I

Rideau Canal

One of Canada’s most popular and iconic sites, the Rideau Canal is a top Ottawa attraction – and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ottawa’s Rideau Canal in summer

For decades, families have skated and played ice hockey on the canal. Skating in winter, in fact, is what the Rideau Canal is most famous for today.

You’ll love skating on the groomed “Skateway.” It stretches for almost five miles from Ottawa’s downtown area to Dows Lake.

Put on your skates and skate the Rideau Canal!

Cool fact: Together, the canal and Dows Lake form the “largest, naturally frozen skating rink in the world”.

Gliding along the ice as a way of getting around has even been done by members of Parliament and prime ministers over the years!

Yes, it’s a truly Canadian tradition.

Ice skating along Rideau Canal - credit Saffron Blaze
Ice skating along Rideau Canal

If you get the chance, do hop on the ice and go for a skate on this picturesque canal.

It’s one of the best things to do in Ottawa in winter!

Museums

There are three Ottawa museums you’ll want to check out.

First is the National Gallery of Canada.

The National Gallery of Canada is one of three Ottawa museums you'll want to visit.
The National Gallery of Canada is one of museums in Ottawa you’ll want to visit

Considered one of Canada’s finest galleries, this museum focuses on Canadian art.

But it also has some foreign collections, including several of Andy Warhol’s most famous pieces.

Outside in front of the gallery, you can’t miss the sculpture of a gargantuan spider (“Maman”), complete with a sac of large white marble eggs under her belly – a great photo opp, by the way!

winter guide to ottawa - national gallery of canada
What do you think of this 30-foot-high bronze statue of a spider? (Credit: National Gallery of Canada)

Next is the Canadian Museum Of Nature. It has an impressive fossil collection, a live insectarium and other nature-inspired exhibits.

And then there’s the Canadian War Museum, which features displays from Canada’s war history.

Ottawa in winter

Enjoy your trip. Pack woolies if visiting in winter and stay warm!

Visiting Vancouver? Read our post about bicycling Stanley Park and best Stanley Park bike rentals

Ready to book your trip?

See the following helpful services:

Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips. Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies. And find crazy useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one.

GetYourGuide | Check out local guided tours and book tickets to attractions.

Our Travel Shop | Find the best travel gear.

CDC | We follow the CDC travel guidelines to see what medications and vaccinations are needed for trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.

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There are no end of fabulous places to visit in Ottawa. In winter, be sure to go skating on Rideau Canal!

Have we piqued your interest? Would you like to visit Ottawa?


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Jeanne

Monday 7th of March 2016

Hi Janice and George. Having grown up in Ottawa, I love seeing posts about my home town. Just to let you know you can skate from Carleton University to Ottawa University!

Janice and George

Monday 7th of March 2016

Thanks for taking the time to write in :-).

Dominique

Thursday 14th of January 2016

I've always wanted to visit Canada! Lovely photography in this post, I love the photo of the Peace Tower, and the one of the spider sculpture!

Janice and George

Thursday 14th of January 2016

You must visit Canada! But it's a BIG country here. So you have to choose what you want to do and see. Of course, we'd say be sure to include the beautiful west coast and our home city of Vancouver in your visit :-).

Frank

Wednesday 13th of January 2016

I lived my teenage years in Ottawa, living there 10 years. When I hit 18 I was happy to move to Montreal, a much more exciting city. But having come back a few times to Ottawa, and now being older, there is a LOT to appreciate about Ottawa. It is a quiet, clean, safe capital with tons of green spaces (well, in the summer - can be really nasty in the winter), has great museums, nice cafes, and the people are much more laid back than in either Montreal or Toronto. At this age, having to chose between any of these cities, it would be Ottawa. Nice post, Frank (bbqboy)

Janice and George

Wednesday 13th of January 2016

Okay, we secretly agree with you - Montreal is more exciting (hope people in Ottawa don't mind us saying that). Montreal is bigger and has a European flair, very cosmopolitan... But Ottawa, as you know, still has its own charms, as we've written about :-). We hear it's also a great place to actually live (and great for raising a family).

Evelyn

Monday 11th of January 2016

Thanks for the refresher on our capital of Ottawa. Our most memorable time in Ottawa was during Canada Day celebrations with our 3 preteens. The city was alive with special events, concerts and street buskers. We viewed the evening fireworks - spectacular from our spot on the lawn beside the Rideau Canal. Too bad Ottawa is a long drive from the populated GTA. We would visit more often. Always, of course, recommend a trip to our capital to our visitors from abroad. The "back road" drive to Ottawa can be very picturesque as well, as my daughter and I discovered when we drove to Ottawa for her summer posting at the Natural Science Museum. We did not encounter a single fast food chain between the 401 and Ottawa, quite remarkable in itself! Small town Ontario still existed at the turn of the millennium.

Janice and George

Monday 11th of January 2016

That would be something - to take in the Canada Day fireworks in Ottawa :-). Amazing there was no McDonalds staring down at you on your back road drive to Ottawa! Sounds like it was a lovely drive...