Looking for free things to do in Ottawa in a budget-friendly way to explore Canada’s capital city? Look no further with these 11 free activities to do. From iconic landmarks like Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal to fascinating museums and beautiful outdoor spaces, there’s no shortage of things to see and do without spending a dime. Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, or just looking to enjoy some fresh air and beautiful scenery, these free activities are sure to keep you entertained and engaged during your visit to Ottawa, the National Capital of Canada.
Here are the 11 free activities to do:
- Visit Parliament Hill
- Explore the National Gallery of Canada
- Take a walk through the Rideau Canal
- Visit the ByWard Market
- Discover the Canadian Museum of Nature
- Explore Gatineau Park
- Visit the Canadian War Museum
- Discover the Canadian Museum of History
- Explore the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum
- Visit the Bank of Canada Museum
- Wander around the historic Rideau Hall
1. Visit Parliament Hill: This is one of the most iconic landmarks in Ottawa, where you can see the Parliament buildings, the Peace Tower, and the Centennial Flame.
Parliament Hill is a must-see for any visitor to Ottawa, Ontario. As the seat of the Canadian government, it’s where important decisions are made and laws are passed. The stunning Gothic Revival architecture of the Parliament Buildings is a sight to behold, and the Peace Tower, which stands 92 meters tall, offers breathtaking views of the city.
During the renovation, visitors can take a guided tour of the iconic House of Commons at West Block and the Senate at the newly renovated Senate of Canada Building – Ottawa’s old train station. Please note that the historic Library of Parliament is closed for visiting. In summer, the Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place on Parliament Hill, which is a spectacle not to be missed.
In addition to the government buildings, the Centennial Flame is also located on Parliament Hill. This flame was lit in 1967 to mark Canada’s centennial year and burns year-round, symbolizing Canada’s unity and diversity.
Don’t forget to take a look behind the Central Block with an amazing view of the Outaouais River.
Plan your visit here: https://lop.parl.ca/sites/Visit/default/en_CA/ – visits are free of charge but you MUST reserve online!
2. Explore the National Gallery of Canada: The gallery is home to an extensive collection of Canadian and international art.
The National Gallery of Canada is a must-visit for art lovers and culture enthusiasts. Located close to Bayward Market, this impressive gallery showcases a diverse collection of Canadian and international art, with works spanning from the Middle Ages to contemporary times.
Visitors can explore the gallery’s many exhibits, which include everything from paintings and sculptures to photographs and multimedia installations. Highlights include the Group of Seven collections, which feature works by some of Canada’s most celebrated landscape painters, and the Canadian Photography Institute, which boasts a vast array of photographs from across the country.
The gallery offers free admission on Thursday evenings from 5-8 pm, making it an affordable option for those on a budget. Visitors can also take advantage of free tours and talks, which provide insights into the artwork and the artists who created it.
Plan your visit here: https://www.gallery.ca/visit/hours
3. Take a walk through the Rideau Canal: The canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is stunning to walk along in any season.
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a beloved Ottawa landmark that offers scenic views and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
In the summer, visitors can stroll along the Canal and enjoy the beautiful green spaces and historic sites that line its banks. It is particularly picturesque at night, when the lights of the city reflect off the water, creating a magical atmosphere.
During the winter months, it becomes the world’s longest ice skating rink, stretching over 7 kilometres from downtown Ottawa to Dows Lake. Skating on the Canal is a beloved winter activity for locals and tourists alike, and skates can be rented on-site.
It is also a great place to explore by electrical boat, with canal cruises available throughout the summer months. Visitors can take a leisurely tour of the Canal and its many locks, learning about the history and engineering behind this impressive feat of human ingenuity.
Plan your visit here: https://parks.canada.ca/culture/spm-whs/sites-canada/sec02n – Please note that the Canal is managed by Canada Park.
4. Visit the ByWard Market: This historic market is a great place to wander around and shop for local products.
The ByWard Market is a bustling public market located in the heart of Ottawa. Established in 1826, this historic market offers a lively and colourful atmosphere, with vendors selling everything from fresh produce and artisanal cheeses to handmade crafts and clothing.
Visitors can explore the many stalls and shops that line the streets, sampling local delicacies and browsing unique goods. The market is particularly lively on weekends when street performers and musicians entertain the crowds.
In addition to the market itself, it is surrounded by a vibrant neighbourhood filled with restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. Visitors can explore the area’s many shops and eateries, soaking up the lively atmosphere and enjoying the sights and sounds of this vibrant urban community.
Whether you’re looking for fresh produce, unique souvenirs, or just a fun and vibrant atmosphere, the ByWard Market is definitely worth a visit during your time here.
Plan your visit here: https://www.byward-market.com/
5. Discover the Canadian Museum of Nature: it has a great collection of exhibits.
The Canadian Museum of Nature is a fascinating and educational destination that showcases the natural beauty and diversity of Canada’s wildlife and environment. Located just south of downtown Ottawa, it boasts a vast collection of exhibits, specimens, and interactive displays that provide a wealth of information about the natural world.
Visitors can explore a wide range of exhibits, including everything from dinosaur skeletons and ancient fossils to stunning dioramas of Canada’s diverse ecosystems. Highlights include the “Birds in Flight” exhibit, which features a stunning collection of bird specimens and interactive displays, and the “Nature Live” gallery, which allows visitors to get up close and personal with live insects, reptiles, and other animals.
Entrance is free on Thursdays from 5-8 pm, making it a great option for budget-conscious visitors.
Plan your visit here: https://nature.ca/en/visit-us/plan-your-visit/
6. Explore Gatineau Park: it is just a short drive from downtown Ottawa and offers hiking, biking, and skiing trails, as well as scenic views of the Ottawa River.
Gatineau Park is a stunning natural playground located just a short drive from Ottawa. Spanning over 360 square kilometres of rugged wilderness, this park offers a wide range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and more.
Visitors can explore the many trails that wind through the forest, offering stunning views of the Ottawa River and the surrounding landscape. Hiking trails range from easy walks through the woods to more challenging climbs up steep hills and rocky terrain, providing something for all skill levels.
In the winter months, the park is transformed into a winter wonderland, with over 200 kilometres of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails that wind through the snow-covered forest. Skiers and snowshoers can take in breathtaking views of the park’s winter scenery, with options for all levels of experience.
Whether you’re looking for a peaceful hike in the woods or an adrenaline-filled day of skiing or biking, Gatineau Park is the perfect destination for outdoor adventure. With its stunning scenery and wide range of activities, it’s no wonder that this park is a favourite among locals and visitors alike.
Plan your visit here:
7. Visit the Canadian War Museum: it tells the story of Canada’s military history.
The Canadian War Museum is a fascinating educational destination that is dedicated to preserving and sharing Canada’s military history. Located just west of downtown, this impressive museum features a vast collection of artifacts, exhibits, and interactive displays that provide insight into Canada’s military past and present.
Visitors can explore a wide range of exhibits, including everything from ancient weaponry and armour to modern military technology and vehicles. Highlights include the World War I and World War II galleries, which offer immersive experiences that transport visitors back in time to these pivotal moments in history.
In addition to the galleries, it also features a number of special exhibitions and events throughout the year, including talks by experts and veterans, film screenings, and family-friendly activities.
Admission is free on Thursdays from 5-7 pm, making it a great option for those on a budget.
Plan your visit here: https://www.warmuseum.ca/visit/
8. Discover the Canadian Museum of History: it is one of Canada’s most popular museums, showcasing the rich cultural and social history of the country and its people.
Located just across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, this impressive museum features a vast collection of exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays that provide a fascinating glimpse into Canada’s past.
Visitors can discover a wide range of exhibits, including everything from ancient artifacts and Indigenous culture to the history of Canadian sports and popular culture. Highlights include the First Peoples Hall, which features exhibits on the history and culture of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the Canadian History Hall, which showcases the key events and figures that have shaped Canada’s history.
Admission is free on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. but a timed ticket is required.
Plan your visit here: https://www.historymuseum.ca/visit/
9. Explore the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum: it is home to a great collection of aircraft and space artifacts.
The Canadian Aviation and Space Museum showcases Canada’s rich aviation history and contributions to space exploration. Located just a short drive from Ottawa, this museum is a must-visit destination for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
The museum’s collection features a vast array of aircraft and space artifacts, including everything from vintage biplanes and fighter jets to cutting-edge spacecraft and satellites. Visitors can explore the exhibits at their own pace, learning about the history of aviation and space exploration and the role that Canada has played in these fields.
Highlights of the Museum include the full-scale replica of the Avro Arrow, a supersonic interceptor aircraft that was designed and built in Canada in the 1950s, as well as a collection of vintage military aircraft and a replica of the Canadarm, a robotic arm that was used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
Admission is free to visit daily between 4 pm and 5 pm. Advanced ticketing is strongly recommended.
Plan your visit here: https://ingeniumcanada.org/aviation/visit#admission
10. Visit the Bank of Canada Museum: it explores the history of money in Canada and admission is always free.
The Bank of Canada Museum explores the history of money in Canada and the role that the bank has played in the country’s economy. Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, this museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in finance, economics, or Canadian history.
One of the best things about the Bank of Canada Museum is that admission is always free, making it a great option for budget-conscious travellers. Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits at their own pace, learning about everything from the history of Canadian currency and the production of banknotes to the role of the Bank of Canada in managing the country’s monetary policy.
The museum’s collection includes a range of fascinating artifacts and exhibits, such as rare banknotes and coins, interactive displays, and multimedia presentations. Highlights of the museum include the Currency Gallery, which features a selection of rare and historical banknotes and coins from Canada and around the world, and the Museum Theatre, which offers a range of informative and entertaining presentations on the history of money and finance.
In addition to its collection of exhibits, the museum also offers a range of fun and educational activities for visitors of all ages. From hands-on exhibits and interactive displays to workshops and guided tours, there is always something new and exciting to discover at this fascinating museum.
Plan your visit here: https://www.bankofcanadamuseum.ca/visit/your-visit/
11. Wander around the historic Rideau Hall: This official residence of the Governor General of Canada is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is open to the public for free tours.
Rideau Hall is a historic mansion located in Ottawa and serves as the official residence of the Governor General of Canada. This beautiful estate features stunning architecture and sprawling grounds that are open to the public for free tours, making it a popular destination for visitors to the city.
The mansion’s rich history dates back to 1838 when it was first built as a summer residence for Thomas McKay, a wealthy businessman and politician. In 1864, the mansion was purchased by the federal government and has since served as the official residence of Canada’s Governor General. Today, the mansion is open to the public for guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into Canada’s political history and the grandeur of its official residences.
Rideau Hall is surrounded by beautiful gardens and grounds that are perfect for a leisurely stroll. The grounds feature a wide variety of plant species, including trees that are hundreds of years old, as well as several fountains and other water features. Visitors can also explore the greenhouse and vegetable gardens on the property, which supply fresh produce for the Governor General’s kitchen.
Plan your visit here: https://www.gg.ca/en/visit-us