As the capital city, Ottawa has tons of awesome festivals year round. From live music, to delicious food, to yoga or kayaking, Ottawa is sure to become a top destination on your itinerary due to these great activities. Check out a list of our favourite festivals in the city below:
20. Tulip Festival
Normally occurring in mid-May, the Tulip Festival literally brings the city back to life after a long and arduous winter season. Empty flower beds are filled with bright flowers that make the city beautiful again. They also have fireworks on opening night, activities and art galleries! The best places to view the tulips are Dow’s Lake and Major Hill’s Park, but tulips can be seen throughout the city.
19. Glow Fair
One of the most unique events held in Ottawa, Glow Fair (in mid-June) is a block party over 10 blocks on Bank Street, one of Ottawa’s major streets! Here you’ll be able to listen to live music (they have 2 different stages) and dance the night away for FREE! The fair is family friendly so parents you can bring your little ones along. Be sure to check out their website for a list of all the amazing activities during the fair, from a silent disco, to yoga to story-telling just to name a few!
18. City Folk Fest
One of the many awesome outdoor music festivals held in Ottawa over the course of the summer months, the City Folk Fest focuses on folky/hipster type of music. For example, this year’s line-up includes Van Morisson and Of Monsters and Men. The festival normally occurs in mid-September and lasts about 5 days, with festival passes costing around $100.
17. Busker Fest
Ever wonder what it would be like if the streets of Ottawa were filled with performers and entertainers at every street corner? This is your chance to experience it! Buskers (i.e. street performers) fill every inch of Spark Street from 11AM to 11PM over the course of the last weekend of July. It’s great fun in the heart of the city and completely FREE!
16. Jazz Fest
If you like jazz, then this is the place to be! Normally occurring the last week of June, the Jazz Festival presents a lineup of some of the best jazz artists in the business. It’s a classy affair held in the heart of the city at Confederation Park. You can purchase festivals passes to attend all shows or pick specific days you’d like to attend. Be sure to get there early if you want front row views as it fills up pretty quickly with jazz enthusiasts.
Tip: Unlike many other music festivals, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own lawn chair to sit back and enjoy the show. Just be sure to note our above comment about getting there early for prime viewing spots.
15. Dragon Boat Festival
Boasting over 200 teams, the Dragon Boast Festival, held the last weekend of June at Mooney’s Bay Park is a huge race of spectacularly designed Dragon Boats. It’s really quite a site to see! Admission is free and you’ll be able to check out tons of different activities such as “marquee concerts, amusement attractions, sports demonstrations, a variety of artisans, exhibitors, delicious culinary treats, beach-side bar, children’s area and non-stop racing.” It’s a really fun family activity that we attend every year!
14. Upper Canada Village Medieval Festival
Though this festival takes place at Upper Canada Village (about a 1 hour drive from Ottawa), this is one of our favourite festivals to attend. First, Upper Canada Village is really cool within itself as it is a village meant to transport you back in time to the 1860s. The village has authentic buildings, activities and even people dressed in that time period! When this little gem is combined with everything Medieval, then you are sure to have a great time! For $21 per day (adult admission) in mid-June, you’ll be able to witness colourful medieval re-enactors, musicians, buskers, artisans, falconers, archers, merchants and jousting Knights in shining armour on horseback. There are also tons of tents, mini-stages, and livestock quarters that feature a “weapons of war” competition, children’s games and activities, and a medieval marketplace. Why not even make a weekend of it and go camping at the nearby campgrounds?!
13. Great Glebe Garage Sale
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Nothing has ever been more true at the Great Glebe Garage Sale (last weekend of May)! Here you’ll find rows upon rows upon rows of individual garage sales all located in one convenient area.
Pro Tip: Be sure to get here early (like 6AM early) if you want first pick at everything!
12. Curd Fest
Basically the most Canadian festival EVER, the Curd Festival (AKA Festival de la Curd) is held in mid-August on the fields beside St-Albert Cheese Coop in St-Albert (about a 45 minute drive from downtown Ottawa). There are various prices/packages of admission, so be sure to check out their website for more pricing info. They have some great entertainment and you’ll be able to taste some of the freshest, most delicious cheese you’ve ever had in your life.
A fan favourite for anyone who likes beer, Brewfest (Festibiere) is held on the last weekend of May on the lawns of the Canadian History Museum. Here you’ll be able to taste beers from around Canada for the low admission price of $15 per day or $30 for the festival (**these are pre-sale prices if you buy tickets online beforehand and include a festival glass**) plus the price of your drinks. While you’re sipping away at your brew you’ll be able to enjoy a concert, chat with your friends and eat delicious food at the many food stands.
10. Yoga Fest (City of Om)
City of Om = Yoga. All. Day. Long. We are avid yoga lovers (well Katherine is anyway) and this festival is a dream come true! For about $50 you get to attend as many yoga classes throughout the day as you like. They also have some really cool vendors and delicious healthy food for you to enjoy. Plus, you can even participate in their 5km run of you sign up in advance. Last but not least, they have an after-party where food and a cocktail are included in your admission ($20). City of Om normally occurs the first weekend of June.
9. Doors Open Ottawa
Ever wonder what the inside of embassies or a coffee roastery looked like? Doors Open Ottawa is your chance to find out! Every year during the first full weekend in June buildings from Carp to Cumberland will open their doors for FREE for the public’s viewing pleasure. For a list of all the buildings ‘opening their doors’ this year, click here. The city also offers a free shuttle bus to and from many of the sites! Our favourite venues to check out are the Bridgehead Roastery, Global Affairs Canada Headquarters and various embassies.
8. Fringe Fest
Fringe Fest is Ottawa’s largest theatre festival! Theatre pros and amateurs alike flock to shows at this fantastic festival. You can check out a schedule of all the performances here. Our favourite part of the festival is that all ticket sale proceeds go directly to the artists! So more money in their pockets = better shows for you 🙂 The festival lasts about 2 weeks (last weeks of June), with shows happening pretty much daily, all at a very reasonable price at venues all around the downtown area.
7. Poutine Fest
There are actually 2 poutine festivals in Ottawa annually. The first occurs on Sparks Street during the first weekend of May, while the second occurs at City Hall on the second weekend of May. We aren’t really sure why there are two festivals two weekends in a row at very close-by locations BUT we aren’t complaining 😉 There are tons of different vendors offering every kind of poutine imaginable, from classic (your basic fries, gravy and cheese curds) to general tao’s! Our favourite poutine was the pad thai flavour from Green Papaya. A word of warning: be prepared to wait 30 mins to 1 hour and a half for your poutine and bring cash as some trucks/stands don’t accept cards.
Nerds unite! Ottawa Comic-Con is normally held in mid-May at the EY Centre and is basically a fair featuring everything video game/fantasy/animation possible. IT’S AWESOME! We were able to take pictures with Dean’s Impala (from Supernatural), see tons of Star Wars characters, shop around tons of booths that sold games, t-shirts and other cool things (Kat bought a time turner from the Harry Potter movies). There are also artists and actors that come to the fair (you can line up to get their autographs!).
Pro Tip: People take their costumes really seriously at Comic-Con, so although you can show up in just jeans and a t-shirt, it’s also perfectly acceptable to show up in the most outrageous and intricate costume possible. Just be prepared to take pictures with tons of people if your costume is really good.
Tip: Get here early if you plan to drive as parking fills up fast (and costs $8 by the way) or better yet, take the bus (97 direction airport)!
5. Rib Fest
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, Ottawa has a lot of food-related festivals! This one’s our favourite because, well, ribs. Once again, there are 2 Rib Festivals, one on Sparks Street (mid-June) and one at City Hall (last week of July). And again, we aren’t complaining! Much like Poutine Fest, vendors line the streets to sell you some of the tastiest ribs/pulled pork/BBQ chicken you will ever taste. The same tips apply here: bring cash and be prepared to wait in long lines!
4. HOPE Volleyball
A day where charity meets volleyball! In mid-July hundreds of volleyball players line the beaches of Mooney’s Bay to raise money for various charities (the recipients change each year) at HOPE volleyball. There are both competitive and recreational leagues so there is a chance for people of all skill levels to play! Be sure to sign up a team as soon as possible as slots fill up pretty quickly. If you aren’t into playing volleyball and would just like to attend, you can do so for $20. They blast music all day, you can play/watch volleyball (of varying skill levels), grab a beer and tan on the beach. It’s one of the largest events in Ottawa and one of our top recommendations for the summer.
One of the best festivals of the year, Winterlude is a great excuse to put on your warmest jacket and boots and head outdoors during the cold winter months. Occurring annually in February, Winterlude lasts about 3 weeks. Here you’ll be able to enjoy family-friendly activities, see beautifully carved ice sculptures, enjoy maple taffy (made on ice!), sip hot chocolate and skate on the Rideau Canal. This is our favourite festival to attend when we’ve got the inevitable winter blues.
2. Canada Day
There’s nothing quite like experiencing Canada Day (July 1) in Ottawa. From morning until night, the streets of downtown Ottawa are closed to vehicles and are filled with tons of pedestrians. It’s a day filled with tons of activities in all corners of the city and for all ages. The entire city (and many visitors from all around the world) come together to celebrate the birth of our wonderful country. You’ll be able to see fireworks around Parliament Hill and even listen to concerts (but be sure to get there early to get a good spot!).
Tip 1: Be sure to wear our national colours (white and red) and don’t be afraid to wear as many Canadian flags or maple leafs as possible on your body! People go all out 🙂
Tip 2: OC Transpo buses are free and are the best way to get around (other than walking).
Tip 3: Bring a lunch and lots of water (and sunscreen!) if you plan to stay out all day as food tends to be expensive.
Number one on our list of festivals because it is our absolute FAVOURITE festival of the year! Bluesfest is a two week (starts the second week of July) outdoor music festival featuring some of the biggest names in the music industry. Don’t let the name fool you, they have so many different types of music available, from rock to country to DJs. Some of the past years have included Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Nickleback! The best part? Tickets are very affordable! Festival passes are $100 for those under 21 that purchase it in advance (they sell out quickly so be on the ball about when the sale begins), or $230 for adults. You can also purchase 1 day, 3 day or 5 day passes if you don’t want to attend the entire festival. Better yet, you can get a free festival pass if you volunteer (5 shifts)! They have tons of beer, food and music so you’re sure to have a good time!
Tip 1: Get there early if you’re keen on being close to the stage.
Tip 2: Bring a re-usable water bottle with you to fill up once you are there – they have free water stations!
Tip 3: Don’t even try to sneak in alcohol or get a drink (if you’re under the age of 19) as this is grounds for the removal of your festival pass!
What’s your favourite festival in Ottawa?
Do you have anything similar to these in your hometown?
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