On the first sunny day of the year, where the breeze is warm and the snow has melted, the city of Ottawa seems to come alive. We absolutely love walking the streets of Ottawa and playing tourist as there are so many great things to see and do. To help new comers (and even locals) get a feel for the city and see the major sites in one day, we’ve come up with a DIY Ottawa walking tour. As a warning, this is a pretty ambitious schedule so do feel free to play around with, take things out that don’t interest you or spread it out over a couple of days. Let’s get started!
1. Royal Canadian Mint
Ever wonder how coins are made? If so, that’s great because the next stop on your walking tour is the Royal Canadian Mint. Here you can take an interactive guided tour where you can learn how the Mint produces collector’s coins, medals (like the ones for the 2012 Vancouver Olympics) and many other cool things. You’ll even be able to hold a gold bar! Tours are very reasonably priced at $6 for weekdays and $4.50 for weekends. Tours last about 45 minutes and run between 10AM – 5PM Monday to Sunday.
Tip: If you plan on visiting other museums in Ottawa, we would recommend purchasing the Canada’s Capital Museums Passport. It costs $45 and will give you access to 7 museums in 7 days!
2. Coffee at I Deal Coffee
Stop and smell the coffee at I Deal Coffee, a funky retro coffee house on the edges of the Byward Market area and close to your next stop. This place will be great to have a quick snack and coffee to refuel so that you can continue on your walking tour. If you’re not feeling this place there are tons of other great coffee shops in the area that you can stop in at. There is also a cafe inside the National Gallery of Canada (your next stop) if you don’t want to make this detour.
3. National Gallery of Canada
One of our favourite places in Ottawa, the National Gallery of Canada has tons of great exhibits year-round and a killer permanent collection. If art isn’t really your thing or you’re starting to get sick of museums, snap a pic with the giant spider located at the main entrance (you really can’t miss it) and check out the amazing view at Nepean Point, located at the top of the hill behind the museum (there is a statue of Samuel Deschamplain at the top).
If you are really keen on exploring the museum, we would recommend coming back another day so that you have enough time to properly explore its halls. The museum if open daily from 10AM-6PM during the summer months (10AM-8PM on Thursdays) and has an admission fee of $12 for the permanent collection.
Tip: The Gallery has free admission on Thursday nights from 5-8PM!
4. Lunch at La Bottega / Major Hill’s Park
At this point you must be getting hungry for some lunch after all that walking! Grab some sandwiches at La Bottega (for under $6!) and pick a bench to sit on in the Byward Market to enjoy your lunch, listen to music played by buskers and people watch. If you’re looking for something a little bit more chill, you can even bring your sandwich over to Major Hill’s Park where you can lay in the grass and see more pretty views of the city. If you’re not in the mood for sandwiches, check out our list of the best cheap eats in the city for our other recommendations!
5. Byward Market / Rideau Centre
While you’re in the area, shop around the stalls and shops of the Byward Market. Here you’ll find some of the freshest produce in the city as well as some cute handmade items for sale. If you’re in the mood for some intense retail therapy, head over to the Rideau Centre where you’ll be able to shop to your heart’s content. The Rideau Centre is home to some awesome Canadian brands like Lululemon, Aritzia and Sage!
6. Fairmont Chateau Laurier / National Arts Centre
On your way to your next destination, walk by the famous Fairmont Chateau Laurier, one of Ottawa’s most upscale hotels (that looks like a castle). Feel free to take a peek inside or if you want to stay a while, have some afternoon tea!
Across the street from Chateau Laurier, you’ll be able to see Ottawa’s National Arts Centre where locals and visitors alike flock to enjoy its orchestra, French and English theatre, ballet and opera. Try to catch a show here while you’re in town!
7. Ottawa Locks
Located right beside the Chateau Laurier, you’ll be able to get an awesome view of the Ottawa Locks before you go down and get up close and personal with them. These are super cool as they allow boats coming in from the Ottawa River to gain access to the Rideau Canal. You can actually see the whole (very long process) happening right in front of you during the summer months. This little area is a relaxing place where locals come to hang out, walk, bike or rollerblade.
If you’re curious to know more about the evolution of Ottawa there is also the Bytown Museum located here. The museum is open daily from 10AM-7PM (until 8PM on Thursdays) and has a $6.50 admission fee.
Tip: Entrance to the museum is free from 5-8PM on Thursdays!
8. Parliament Hill
Probably the most famous site in Ottawa, Parliament Hill is where all of Canada’s political decisions are made. Here you can take a guided tour of the building (one of our top choices) and walk around the grounds if you so desire. Tours are free and run daily from 9AM-4:30PM during the summer months. We suggest getting your ticket first (at the ticket office located across the street at 90 Wellington) and then walking around the grounds as there is likely to be a small wait.
Tip 1: There is a changing of the guard on Parliament Hill daily at 10AM during the summer months so if this is a must see, make this your first stop on the walking tour or come back the next day.
Tip 2: Lululemon hosts free yoga on the lawns of Parliament Hill every Wednesday from 12-1PM so if you want to get a workout in then grab your mat and head on over! It’s great fun and our Prime Minister has even joined in 😉
9. Supreme Court
Your last tour of the day, the Supreme Court is a really cool place to see. It looks really ominous from the outside, but the law students that give free tours throughout the building are really friendly! The Court is open daily from 9AM-5PM during the summer months, with free guided tours start every hour on the hour (except between 12-1PM). If you’re ‘toured’ out for the day, you can skip this part of the walking tour and head back to your hotel to chill a bit before going out for the evening. However, if you decide to do this we do recommend you make your way to the Court another day over the course of your stay as this is a pretty cool place to see.
10. Catch a show at the National Arts Centre / the Light Show on Parliament Hill
As mentioned above, you can catch a variety of different shows at the National Arts Centre. We love going to the English theatre shows, especially when they are playing classics (they always put such a funny twist on them!). We can’t really give you an estimate on tickets as this varies a lot between performances. Check out what they have coming up here.
If the performing arts really aren’t your thing, head over to Parliament Hill once again to check out the light show called Northern Lights. It’s free and gives a really creative explanation of Canada’s history in 30 minutes by displaying the video feed on the outside walls of Parliament. Shows are between 9-10PM depending on the month.
11. Dinner at Play Food & Wine
Probably our favourite restaurant in the city, Play Food & Wine serves amazing small-sized sharing plates of food with the perfect wine pairings. If you aren’t a wine connoisseur the staff is very knowledgeable and will be able to recommend something delicious based on your tastes. The atmosphere is casual chic here, so no need to wear your ball gown/tuxedo. That said, it is a pretty popular place so if you’re coming here on a weekend be sure to reserve in advance to avoid a wait!
12. Drinks at Heart & Crown
A really great and lively bar, Heart & Crown is an Irish pub with plenty of nooks and crannies to get lost in. We especially love coming here to unwind with a pint of Guinness after a long day. They have entertainment nightly as well as a great patio during the summer months, so if you aren’t too tired after all that walking then this is the place to be!
Phew! What a day! We hope you enjoyed your day of sightseeing in Ottawa and would like to congratulate you on finishing our awesome DIY Ottawa walking tour.
Have you ever been to Ottawa?
What are your favourite sites to visit?
Like it? Pin it!
Never miss an update – sign up to our newsletter!
Bonus: You’ll even get a free copy of our printable His & Hers Carry-On Essentials Packing List!