19 FREE Things to Do in Ottawa This Summer
So you want to explore more of Ottawa this summer but you have a severe lack of cash to do it? (I feel ya!) Or maybe you just fancy saving some money so you can spend more on that winter getaway? Or MAYBE, you just have no idea how many free things to do in Ottawa there actually are? Well, look no further than right here.
I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to tick off as many things as possible from my Ottawa Bucket List and have been pleasantly surprised by how many free things to do in Ottawa that there are. A lovely surprise!
So to help all you Ottawa explorers out, I’ve compiled a list of 19 FREE things to do in Ottawa this summer than should hopefully help you to make the most of those summer days whilst they last.
Whether you live in Ottawa or are just here for a short break, check out these top things to do in Ottawa for some adventure inspiration this summer.
19 FREE Things to Do in Ottawa This Summer
ONE / Take a tour of the Canadian Parliament
Discover the history and beautiful architecture of Ottawa’s most iconic buildings in a FREE tour of the Canadian Parliament Buildings. Tours can last from 20-50 minutes and include a tour of the incredible Parliament Library. Definitely jump on a tour that includes the Peace Tower – the views are fab!
Tickets for the day become available each morning from the ticket office at 90 Wellington Street (just opposite Parliament). I overheard a local tourist guide telling one couple that tickets are usually all gone by 11am so I’d recommend getting your tickets and securing your time as early as possible. More info here.
TWO / Hang out on Parliament Hill
After the tour why not take some time to explore the outside of the building too? The architecture is incredible and the views across the Ottawa river from behind Parliament are pretty great too. There’s usually something happening on Parliament Hill or if not, it’s still a beautiful place to soak up the sunshine and catch some rays.
THREE / Catch the Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard takes place everyday at 10am on the lawn of Parliament Hill and it’s pretty fantastic. Definitely stop by for this one – maybe after you pick up those free tour tickets?
I’d recommend arriving 15-20 minutes before the start as it does get quite busy. Try and grab a spot directly in front of Parliament if you can – you’ll see the the new duty arrive and be the closest to run after them when they leave to snap that all important photo for instagram too ;)
This year the Changing of the Guard is taking place everyday between 10 July and 25 August 2017.
FOUR / Take part in Yoga on the Hill
Ever fancied joining in with a giant yoga class in a beautiful spot? Then this is the activity for you! Every Wednesday at 12pm Lululemon hosts a free class on the lawn of Parliament Hill. All you need is a mat!
This year these classes are running until 30 August 2017.
FIVE / Watch the Northern Lights Show on Parliament Hill
ANOTHER free activity taking place on Parliament Hill! But this one is totally worth the effort, I promise.
Throughout the summer the bilingual Northern Lights sound and light show is projected onto the Parliament buildings and tells the history of Canada in a stunning visual presentation. The show is brilliant and the location is fab so it’s definitely going to at least once. Get there early if you want to grab a spot on the lawn!
The show takes place each night at 9.30pm in August and 9pm in September. It runs until 16 September 2017 but may be cancelled if the weather sucks.
SIX / Take a tour of the Supreme Court of Canada
Between May and August you can take one of the free daily guided tours of the Supreme Court of Canada to learn more about Canada’s highest court and to admire the architecture inside. I’ve not done this one yet but I’ve been told that it’s worth the time – it’s on my Ottawa Bucket List.
The building is open to the public between 9am and 5pm daily and the tours last 30 minutes. English tours start on the hour and French tours start on the half-hour but no tours are offered between 12pm and 1pm (because even lawyers need to eat lunch).
SEVEN / Hang out in Major’s Hill Park for the Views
Not only is Major’s Hill Park a beautiful place to hang out in the sunshine but it also offers some pretty great views of the Parliament Buildings. A nice place for a picnic and some people watching perhaps?
If you’ve got some cash to spare then definitely check out Tavern on the Hill for a fab outdoor patio overlooking Parliament that serves excellent gourmet hot dogs and cold beer. Perfect.
EIGHT / Take a stroll along the Alexandra Bridge across the Ottawa River
The Alexander Bridge allows you to walk across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, Ontario to Gatineau, Quebec and it offers some pretty great vistas of Parliament Hill. It’s also the best way to walk to see MosaiCanada at Jacques-Cartier Park and the Canadian Museum of History, both of which are located in Gatineau – more free things to do, yay!
NINE / Discover Magnificent Garden Sculptures at MosaiCanada
If you’ve read my latest blog post then you’ll know that I think MosaiCanada is brilliant. It’s a free horticultural exhibition in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau and it’s a great way to spend a few hours. The magnificent garden sculptures tell the story of Canada’s history to celebrate Canada 150 and they’re pretty fab. Go see it! You won’t be disappointed.
MosaiCanada is running until 15 October and is open daily from 10am – 7pm.
TEN / Explore Gatineau Park
Gatineau Park is just a short drive away from Ottawa and is the perfect way to escape the city for a few hours or a few days. There’s so many pathways to explore on foot or on bike as well as beautiful lakes, old ruins, campsitea and much more.
I definitely haven’t taken advantage of this place yet but I fully plan to, don’t you worry!
ELEVEN / Watch the Rideau Canal Locks in action
If you’ve never seen a lock in action before then this is one for you. In the summer months numerous fancy and expensive looking boats float up and down the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River. Watching these boats navigate the Rideau Lock system is a great way to spend an hour of so on a nice day.
I like to sit down by the locks on a sunny day with a book but there’s also a great walking path along the Ottawa River for those who want to be a little more active.
TWELVE / Go for a run/walk/cycle/skate along the Rideau Canal
This one is a personal fave of mine and doesn’t really need much explanation, does it? You can either head towards Downtown Ottawa and explore the city centre or you can head in the opposite direction and check out the Dow’s Lake and Hog’s Back Falls areas – all great options!
If you fancy renting a bike then check out Escape Bicycle Tours who have a Downtown office location. I used them last time I rented a bike and would highly recommend them. 4 hours was more than enough to cycle to Hog’s Back Falls and back :)
THIRTEEN / Hang out by the water or at a lake
Another personal fave of mine! There’s just something so nice about being able to relax near the water and listen to the sound of waves, and Ottawa definitely has no shortage of water. Be it by the canal, the river or a nearby lake, grab your partner (or your dog) and a book and just chill out.
FOURTEEN / Have a picnic in one of the parks and catch a sunset
If you’ve been at work all day but still want to make the most of the summer sunshine, why not make up a quick picnic instead of your usual dinner and head out to your nearest park to relax and catch the last of the sun’s rays? (Also, who doesn’t love picnics??)
In the evenings I like heading up to Dow’s Lake as the sun sets across the water but there’s so many other pretty places along the canal that would make great stops too.
FIFTEEN / Experience the power of Hog’s Back Falls
Hog’s Back Falls is where the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal split to take their separate routes down through Ottawa. It’s surrounded by a beautiful park is a great place to explore in the sunshine by foot or on bike. You can also get some pretty cool photographs here.
It’s not a huge waterfall or a waterfall as stunning as ones you might see in Iceland (for example) but how often do you get to see a waterfall right in the middle of a city? I thought it was pretty cool anyhow!
SIXTEEN / Get cultural at one of Ottawa’s best museums or galleries
Thursday nights are great nights to visit some of Ottawa’s museums as they offer FREE entry. That’s right, free! Save yourself those dollars and visit during one of these times if you can. All of the museums also have really cool architecture so if you’re not free on a Thursday evening then you should definitely swing by to admire the outside anyway.
Canadian Museum of Nature: 5-8pm
National Gallery of Canada: 5-8pm
Canadian Museum of History: 4-8pm
If you do have the cash or aren’t free on a Thursday evening then I would recommend paying to go into a few of these places anyway as they’re definitely worth seeing. My favourite museum was the Canadian War Museum but the Museum of Nature comes a close second for the super cool building it is in.
SEVENTEEN / Experience Kontiuum, an underground sound and light show
In 2018 Ottawa is finally getting an LRT (light rail transit) and to celebrate and build anticipation for it, a fun sound and light multimedia show has been installed in one of the new stations. The best bit? You can become a hologram! You can see mine and JS’s below – pretty cool, right?
Kontinuum is open daily from 10am -10pm and is running until 14 September 2017. It’s located at Place de Ville Theatre (300 Sparks Street) and should take about 30-45 minutes to go through. Get your tickets here.
EIGHTEEN / Explore the Byward Market
The Byward Market is one of Ottawa’s top tourist destinations and it’s not hard to see why. There’s so many shops, restaurants, bars, market stalls and street performers in this area that you’ll be sure to find something you love. Byward Market is also home to the iconic Beaver Tails (which every tourist must try!) as well as the Obama cookies, and (my personal fave) cookies with Justin Trudeau’s face on.
This summer it is also home to Inspiration Village which is part of the Canada 150 celebrations here in Ottawa. And what better way to celebrate than with a selfie by the giant Ottawa sign? Make sure you get your snap whilst it’s still there!
Inspiration Village is open daily from 12pm – 8pm and is running until 4 September.
NINETEEN / Marvel at the architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral
Home to probably some of the best architecture in Ottawa, the Notre Dame Cathedral is definitely worth a stop. Whether you simply marvel at the interior or decide to jump on one of the free guided tours, this building will blow you away. I’d recommend taking the tour as it was only 15 minutes long but I learnt some fascinating facts about the history of the Cathedral,.
During the summer Notre Dame is open daily but check the website for exact timings because it does vary day by day. Tour times also vary and are only currently available up until 2 September.
As you can see, there are so many things to do in Ottawa that it’s entirely possible to explore the city this summer without breaking your budget. Whilst it is super easy to spend lots of money in Canada’a capital (hellooo cocktail patios and indulgent ice cream shops!) there is still plenty to do if you are trying to save some cash this summer.
What do you think? Have you been to any of these attractions? Do you have any other recommendations for me?
Enjoy your Ottawa exploring :)
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Have you done anything on this list? What was your favourite?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!
Lots of love,
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