What's going on in Ottawa
Tips for a Day in Ottawa: Sights, Food & More
Spending a day in Ottawa, Canada? Here are our tips!
Would you like to see Ottawa, the Canadian capital, but have little time? Maybe you are taking a day trip from Kingston or Montreal? Or maybe you only have one day before you fly on / back? Whatever the case, if you're looking for tips on how to spend a day in Ottawa, you've come to the right place!
We like Ottawa. After visiting the city a few times, we have a pretty good idea of what to see and do during your first, short visit.
There are definitely a few must-see attractions if only one day in Ottawa - and we cover most of them below. Think of this article as a kind of mini-itinerary that pretty well recreates one of the days we spent in Ottawa - and gives you ideas for things to do, food, drinks, and more!
We'd like to address one more thing before we start: We don't recommend taking a day trip from Toronto to Ottawa. The time it would take to get there and back is roughly 10 hours and then there would only be a few hours left to see Ottawa. It's just not worth it.
So, here's our version of an Ottawa daily schedule (for both summer and winter seasons) - from ByWard Market to Parliament Hill! We love exploring Ontario (and traveling around Canada). If you'd like to see more of Ontario, our other blog posts may help you plan:
Getting around Ottawa
In general, the city of Ottawa is pretty sprawling, but basically all of the best attractions are within walking distance, as they're in or near downtown - with the exception of a few (which we'll mention).
In addition, the city is relatively flat. However, there is a bit of a hilly area if you walk from Wellington Street to the Ottawa River or from Parliament Hill to ByWard Market.
If you enjoy taking the bus, you can check out the city buses and prices on the Ottawa Transport (OC Transpo) website. There are also day tickets if you plan to use the bus more than once.
A rental car would even be rather inconvenient for a pure city trip and will not necessarily help you, as many of the most important sights are within easy walking distance. Finding a parking space in downtown Ottawa could only be a nuisance.
If you want to make it super easy for yourself to explore the city, you can also consider a guided tour. This way you can see a lot of sights and don't have to worry about how to get from A to B.
For example, you can check out this ultimate Ottawa sightseeing tour with a private guide. Of course, you can also try the Ottawa Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour and see the top attractions in Ottawa!
If you want to get active, you can also take a guided bike tour of Ottawa to get to know the surrounding area of Ottawa! In a nutshell, there are many tour options to get the most out of your day in Ottawa.
Read Also - Our Canada All Seasons Packing List
Our plan for a day in Ottawa
Okay, now that you have a better idea of how to get around Ottawa, let's dive into our version of a day in Ottawa. This article covers many of the things we did in Ottawa in one day - with a few additions from our other visits. We'll also give you the addresses and websites (as far as it makes sense) so you can plan your day quickly and easily.
Just so you know: You can follow our daily schedule at any time of the year. The only difference would be that in winter you would replace the Ottawa boat tour with skating on the Rideau Canal and a bit more indoor activities (aka museums) as it can be very cold in winter!
Before we go any further, just in case you're looking for somewhere to stay in Ottawa (and want to spend a night on the town) - check out Ottawa hotels and other places to stay here. You have a few to choose from!
Check out the Novotel Ottawa City Center for a hotel in a great location near ByWard Market or the Alt Hotel Ottawa right downtown. Of course, you can also spend the night in the famous Fairmont Chateau Laurier right next to the historic canal locks!
Breakfast: Wilf and Ada’s
It's breakfast time in Ottawa. You will need a hearty breakfast to strengthen yourself for the day. Before we left our accommodation in Centretown, we did a quick search online for a good breakfast café and went straight to Wilf and Ada's. We are very, very glad we did that!
This little diner off Hwy 417 is on Bank Street. So it's very easy to get to from the city center. Inside we found a small cozy place that was already pretty full (it was 9 a.m. on a weekday!). Luckily we were only two people and got hold of the last free table.
The menu is really good - with sweet and savory brunch classics for all tastes. Eric had a classic breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans (and more), while Lisa opted for the Eggs Benedict Florentine. She can only recommend this dish - it was so good. The waiter was also super nice - and that's always a plus!
If you are looking for a good breakfast then we can only recommend this place to you. Incidentally, the coffee was refilled for free (if that matters to you). You can find out more about Wilf and Ada’s here.
Address: 510 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1Z4, Canada
Read Also - The Best Time To Travel To Canada By Region
Morning activity: Explore Canadian history, culture, and art
When you've finished breakfast, it's time to walk (back) downtown along Bank Street. Go as far as you can to reach Parliament Hill. This is also where we started our day and looked at the following attractions / highlights in or near the city center.
Of course we visited Parliament Hill first to have enough time. As the center of Canadian politics, this whole area is full of history and things to see.
We were there right after Canada Day when workers had just dismantled the stage. In any case, there is a lot to see on Parliament Hill, such as the Centennial Flame and many statues.
We also walked down the sidewalk behind Parliament's center block. From there you have a great view of the Ottawa River and other sights.
Although there are renovations going on all over Parliament Hill at the moment, this path was still freely accessible. We would therefore definitely recommend this little walk! You also get a great view of the Library of Parliament - the historic, circular building at the back of the Center Block. It looks really impressive!
The buildings on Parliament Hill include the center block with the bell tower known as the Peace Tower and the east and west blocks that flank the central building. You can usually tour the buildings - but some are currently undergoing major renovations, so some tours are not possible.
If you are interested in a tour, you can view the current tour schedule here. Tours of the Senate and the House of Commons are free, but must be reserved in advance.
Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A9, Canada
National war memorial
After finishing Parliament Hill, we walked down Wellington Street towards Elgin Street. Here you will find, for example, the famous locks of the Rideau Canal. We took a closer look at them later that afternoon, but you might want to check them out now if that fits your schedule better.
Instead, we went to the square across from the lock to the large monument that you cannot miss. This is the National War Memorial - a tribute to Canadians who served in armed conflict. It also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Generally speaking, the memorial is a quiet, respectful place - we even saw it at a time when the guards were changing posts. South of the monument, very close by, is Confederation Park - a large green space on the Rideau Canal. It's a nice place to relax when you want to take a little break!
Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A4, Canada
Lady Dive Amphibus Tour
Our next activity was a guided tour - but not just any tour: the Lady Dive "Duck Boat" tour! Yes we did the tour that drives you around on land and then takes you in the water and turns into a boat tour!
We bought our tickets online in advance, but they also have a booth near the meeting point so you can buy your ticket on the spot. The tour itself was fun - the live guide spoke English and French and gave us a good overview of Ottawa's sights. If you've never been to Ottawa before, this is a great way to get your bearings.
We then went on the tour to Quebec and the Ottawa River - a strange feeling, but absolutely safe! Exploring Ottawa from the water allowed us a different perspective which we really liked. Children on the tour were able to snap a picture with the captain which made for a fun atmosphere.
After a big loop, the boat left the water and became a bus again, and we toured other attractions like Rideau Hall. Overall, we would recommend the Lady Dive Boat Tour if you're looking for an easy way to get a glimpse of some of the most iconic landmarks.
When we were there (in midsummer) we decided to take a morning tour as it wasn't that hot yet. It was a good decision. If you want to explore the Ottawa River on a tour, but the Lady Dive Tour is not to your liking, you can also take a normal boat trip with Capital Cruises.
This excursion boat departs from the bottom of the locks, making it easy to get to from the city center. We passed one of their boats when we were on our tour and it looked quite nice (see above).
Lady Dive Exit: At the end of Sparks Street near Elgin Street
After we finished our tour we were a little hungry but decided to walk down Sparks Street for a moment before heading to lunch. Fun fact: Sparks Street is considered to be the oldest pedestrian street in Canada.
The street crosses the entire city center from west to east (so to speak) and is filled with shops, stalls, restaurants, etc. Lisa finally bought postcards here to send to her family in Germany. If you have some time, you can just stroll through part of the street and see what you can find!
Lunch: The SconeWitch on Elgin Street
We only walked a few minutes until we finally found a place for our lunch. Keep in mind that downtown everything is pretty close together - so you shouldn't have a problem finding something that suits you. For lunch we settled on another cafe / bistro that we read about online and that had good reviews: The SconeWitch on Elgin Street.
They are known for making their own scones and other fresh produce. So we made our way there shortly after noon during the week. It was busy (as a lot of people were spending their lunch break here) but we didn't have to wait long.
As for the food, SconeWitch was great. We shared a "SconeWitch" - a scone with goat cheese that was really very good. We also ordered an iced coffee and a hibiscus iced tea - both were delicious too.
We recommend the place if you are looking for a lighter and quick lunch. You can learn more about SconeWitch on their website. They have a couple of different locations!
Address: 150 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1L4, Canada
Afternoon Activity: Explore the Gatineau / ByWard Market area
It is now afternoon - what are you doing now? When we visited Ottawa it was a hot summer day so we decided to stay in the shade as much as possible and / or explore the area around the water.
Having already conquered Parliament Hill, we decided to devote the afternoon to the ByWard market area and possibly museums near the Ottawa River. Below are a few suggestions of things to see on the afternoon of your Ottawa day
Rideau Canal / ByTown Museum
One of the most famous attractions in all of Ottawa (and Canada) is the Rideau Canal. The Rideau Canal and Ottawa Locks (see above) are Ontario's only UNESCO sites in the "Culture" category. The entire waterway is over 200 km long and extends to Lake Ontario in Kingston!
In Ottawa, the waterways are great for boating in the summer and turn into the famous ice rink in the winter. Also near the river and locks is the Bytown Museum, which takes visitors through the history and development of Ottawa!
Address: 1 Canal Ln, Ottawa, ON K1P 5P6, Canada
** If you want to follow this article word for word, here is the part where we say you should cross the river to get to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.
To get there you can walk / drive over the bridges - but if you are already at the locks you can also take a water taxi to Gatineau. Tickets are cheap and the boats are environmentally friendly (with an electric motor)! Here you can find the timetables and prices.
If you don't want to go to the museum, you could instead visit the National Gallery of Canada (see below) on the same side of the river you are on. There is also a lot to see there. **
Canadian Museum of History
Across the river, between the locks and Parliament Hill, is one of Canada's most famous museums - the Canadian Museum of History. This museum is huge, has a large hall with impressive works of indigenous peoples and takes visitors through over 20,000 years of Canadian human history!
We didn't have a chance to visit the museum on this trip, but Eric was there on one of his previous visits and we want to see it together soon. If you want to visit the museum, you can buy your ticket in advance here.
Address: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada
National Gallery of Canada
After you've seen enough across the river (or maybe you've never been there), consider visiting the National Gallery of Canada. It is known for the beautiful glass constructions and the very large spider in front of the entrance. Inside you will find lots of Canadian artwork.
The gallery has a courtyard and an on-site café. If you want to visit the National Gallery, you should plan a few hours. This place is also a good stop in winter when it's very cold outside and you want to warm up a bit. Here is the official website to find out more.
Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada
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