10 Free Things to Do in Ottawa

Ottawa for Budget Travellers

Ottawa offers a cool combination of culture and history backed by beautiful Canadian scenery. The best thing is, you can enjoy most of that without breaking the bank. Below, we’ve gathered some great ideas in Ottawa for budget travellers, which happens to include some of the Canadian capital’s top attractions. 

The seat of the Canadian government, Parliament Hill, is a sight to behold and which offers visitors free tours. For more history and arts, you can make your way to Ottawa’s museums on certain days and hours for free entry. Do check out the festive celebrations that take place each year in Ottawa. Read on for all the free things to do in Ottawa. 

1

Tour Parliament Hill

Witness the changing of the guards

You can see Ottawa’s symbol of Canadian national pride set against beautiful riverside scenery at Parliament Hill. As the seat of Canada’s federal legislature, this vast complex is set on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River. The majestic Parliament Buildings feature neo-Gothic architecture, and the Peace Tower at its centre towers tall against the sky. 

Guided tours are offered free. Visit in the summer mornings for a chance to see the colourful drills taking place, as well as the changing of the guards.

Location: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4, Canada

Open: Monday – Friday from 8.30am to 5pm

Phone: +1 613-992-4793

  • History
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2

Make use of free museum hours

Art and history for everyone

Admiring science and technology or art and history in Ottawa is made easy for budget travellers thanks to a selection of museums that offer admission on certain days and hours. 

On Thursdays, the Canadian Museum of History and Canadian War Museum are free to visit from 4pm to 8pm, as well as Canadian Museum of Nature and National Gallery of Canada from 5pm to 8pm. If you’re fascinated by planes and space exploration, Ottawa’s Aviation and Space Museum is free every day from 4pm to 5pm. 

Most museums are free to visit on Canada Day, every July 1st.

  • Families
  • History
  • Budget
3

Peek inside the governor's office at Rideau Hall

Impressive halls and lovely gardens to explore

The official residence of Ottawa’s governor, Rideau Hall, offers free tours that last around 20 to 45 minutes. During these tours, friendly guides show around some of the building’s impressive state rooms that are usually frequented by the governor and dignitaries. They're filled with a great collection of Canadian art and furniture. 

Outside, a tour of the historical gardens can be very relaxing. You’ll walk past a collection of trees that were planted by dignitaries, inuksuk and totem poles, as well as blooming roses.

Location: 1 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, Canada

Open: Monday – Friday from 8.30am to 4.30pm (May to October)

Phone: +1 800-465-6890

  • History
  • Photo
  • Budget

photo by Thomas1313 (CC BY-SA 4.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

4

Watch buskers perform at Byward Market

Shop, snack, and enjoy free live entertainment

Buzzing with life, Byward Market is Ottawa’s main outdoor marketplace and commercial hub where you can expect a lot going on. A variety of farmers’ stalls showcase fresh local produce. You can buy a small basket of cherries or bright-red strawberries at around $5, great for snacking on your walks through its open courtyards. There’s an assortment of shops where you can pick up some great local souvenirs. 

Without buying anything, you can simply enjoy the scene and watch occasional street performers, ranging from musicians to magicians and acrobats.

Location: 55 Byward Market Square, Ottawa, ON K1N 9C3, Canada

Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm (Thursdays and Fridays until 8pm, Sundays until 5pm)

Phone: +1 613-244-4410

  • Shoppers
  • Budget
5

Browse Ottawa's farmers markets

See and sample the fresh local produce

There are a few great farmers’ markets around Ottawa where you can see and sample the freshest local produce. The Landsdown farmers’ market in the Glebe neighbourhood is one, where you can have lunch while enjoy cooking demos and tastings. 

Main farmers’ market on Main Street might be small, but it’s packed with fresh goods and its compact size makes it very navigable. At Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market on Bank Street, you’ll also get to meet locals who’ll give you plenty of info on healthy foods and nutrition. All these markets open on Saturday mornings. 

  • Shoppers
  • Food

photo by Peter Burka (CC BY-SA 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

6

Skate Rideau Canal in the winter

Boat out in the summer for great sightseeing

Rideau Canal is one of the top free things to do in Ottawa that's good in any season. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans over 200 km, stretching from Ottawa's downtown hub to Dow Lake. The canal system is the oldest functioning waterway of its kind in North America, with its well-preserved hand-operated locks and blockhouses. 

Summer time on the canal offers plenty of fun, be it on a pleasurable boat cruise or an adventurous kayaking trip. For several weeks during the winter, the canal becomes one of Ottawa’s must-sees, as it naturally freezes to allow locals and visitors to skate on the world’s largest ice rink.

Location: Queen Elizabeth Dr, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Phone: +1 613-283-5170

  • History
  • Photo
  • Adventure
7

Hike forest trails at Gatineau Park

Great scenery with lakes and waterfalls

You’ll find no shortage of angles for scenic photos at Gatineau Park. This conservation area is around 15 minutes’ drive from Downtown Ottawa. It features a series of moderate forest hiking trails, as well as mountain biking routes that surround you with magnificent scenery. 

Some wilderness trails lead you to waterfalls and abandoned sites, such as the Carbide Wilson ruins that date back to 1911, complete with its river-powered power station and collapsed dam. Some areas of the park become favourite skiing spots in the winter. 

Location: 33 Chemin Scott, Chelsea, QC J9B 1R5, Canada

Open: The visitor centre is open daily from 9am to 5pm

Phone: +1 866-456-3016

  • Photo
  • Budget
  • Adventure

photo by Shawn Kent (CC BY 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

8

Swim at Mooney's Bay in the summer

Fun on a riverside beach in Ottawa

You can take the kids for fun summer days out at Ottawa’s Mooney’s Bay Park. This riverfront park features spacious manicured grounds with a large playground, as well as a sandy beach on the eastern bank of Rideau River. 

You can swim in the placid waters or soak up some summer rays on the sand. The beach itself frequently hosts summer events, including one of Ottawa’s biggest weekend celebrations where over 20,000 people hit the beach to play volleyball for charity.

Location: 2960 Riverside Dr, Ottawa, ON K1V 8N4, Canada

Open: Daily from 5am to 11pm

Phone: +1 613-580-2595

  • Families
  • Budget

photo by MichelCastagne (CC BY-SA 3.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

9

Explore the history route past National War Memorial

Walk past historical landmarks in Ottawa

You can enjoy historical walks through Ottawa, past several of the city’s landmarks and memorials. One significant site is the National War Memorial on Wellington Street, with its tall, granite arch and a series of bronze sculptures of Canadian WWI soldiers in various poses. 

The memorial is the centrepiece of Confederation Square, which is right between Parliament Hill and Ottawa’s magnificent historical hotel, Château Laurier. Other memorials nearby include National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, Peacekeeping Monument, and Valiants Memorial.

Location: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A4, Canada

Phone: +1 866-522-2122

  • History
  • Photo
  • Budget

photo by Robert Linsdell (CC BY 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

10

Visit Ottawa's annual fairs and festivals

From springtime blooms to summer fetes

There’s a festivity to mark almost every season in Ottawa. In the winter months, around February, you can check out Winterlude, with skating on Rideau Canal and ice sculpture exhibitions in a snowy Confederation Park just 5 minutes from Confederation Square. 

Come springtime, expect a burst of colours at Commissioner’s Park and city promenades through Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. This usually comes around in May. Mooney’s Bay Park and Beach regularly hosts summer festivities, including the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival which also includes cultural presentations on the Rideau riverbank. 

  • Families
  • Photo
  • Budget

photo by Heather (CC BY 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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