As a backpacker, traveling through Canada is an ideal destination to explore to experience kind people, stunning landscapes, and a diversity of cultures. This safe northern country is the home of poutine, ice hockey, and some of the most pristine wilderness left in the world. Along your travels through Canada, you might find yourself visiting Niagara Falls in Montreal, the Sky Tower in Toronto, or the alpine pristine mountains in Whistler. Another one of the must-dos in the country is to visit the capital of Canada, which is Ottawa.
In this guide, you will find the list of the best things to do in Ottawa for backpackers and tourists, whether you have one day or one month to explore this city.
How To Get Around Ottawa
If you wish to get around Ottawa, there are several affordable methods to travel to the city.
- Aqua Taxi: For only $3 per person, one way, the aqua taxi will take you from the Rideau Canal Locks to Gatineau.
- Uber and Lyft: It is an affordable way to get around the city. However, Uber and Lyft operate in Ottawa and not Quebec.
- Car Rental: If you wish to travel a little further out of the city, there are affordable car rental places available in the city.
- Bike Rentals: Ottawa is a bike friendly city, which makes it a great way for backpackers and tourists to get around.
White Water Rafting
If you are a fan of adventure sports and adrenaline, then the Ottawa river’s world-class whitewater rafting is something you need to add to your bucket list. It attracts professional rafters and kayakers to challenge themselves on the class 5 rapids. Also, the rapids are situated a short 1-hour drive downtown of Ottawa where there are three rafting companies happy to take you for a rafting experience fit to your level.
Have you ever wanted to fly in a genuine World War II Biplane? Because during the summer months, the Canada Air and Space Museum offers exactly such an experience. The open cockpit biplane from 1939 allows tourists to enjoy a 25-minute riveting flight. It features views of Gatineau Hills and Downtown Ottawa. Also, considering the historic value of the plane and the sheer uniqueness, the $65 price tag is worth it.
Aviation & Space Museum
If you are a fan of planes, you will certainly enjoy visiting the Aviation and Space Museum. It’s packed full of vintage planes dating back to 1909. There are 130 aircraft carriers, military jets, WWII fighter planes, helicopters, and an abundance of information about each craft available for perusal. You can also opt for an exciting flight simulation. It will certainly give you an almost realistic feeling of being in one of these unique airplanes.
SUP With Urban Ocean
A great way to tone your body while exploring the waterways is the Gatineau River. You will be able to see the beautiful parliament buildings of Ottawa while paddling up and down the Gatineau River. You will be able to see the Rideau Canal Locks, Parliament Buildings, Supreme Court of Canada and panoramic views of Ottawa.
Don’t worry, stand-up paddleboarding is relatively easy. Even without any experience, you will be able to keep your balance very easily.
There are always a couple of buildings in any city worth visiting, and in Ottawa, it is unmistakably the beautiful Parliament building. Whether you opt for taking in the architectural splendor from the outside and along the river or you choose to attend one of the free 45-minute tours, you will greatly appreciate the magnificence of these buildings.
Changing Of The Guards
Just like in the United Kingdom, Canada has its own version of changing of the guards. Every day, there will be a change of guards in two places; at the WWI memorial and on the East Lawn of Parliament hill. While the former is the changing of two guards at their duties by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the latter is a considerable spectacle every morning at 9:50 from June until August. Also, the latter is accompanied by a full marching band and dozens of members of the Canadian Armed Forces dressed in red and black.
Hiking Carbide Wilson Ruins
A short 30-minute walk that gives you a break from city life is one of the popular Instagram spots in the Ottawa region. The trail leads backpackers to a laboratory and summer residence of the inventor Thomas Wilson who invented the industrial chemical calcium carbide. The estate is hidden inside a forest along with a dam, which he felt would be the best way to keep his work a secret.
While not directly inside Ottawa, Gatineau is a city in Quebec which is located right across the river from Ottawa. There are two bridges that connect these two cities. With aqua-taxis or taxis, it’s easy to go to and from neighboring provinces. The bridge itself is also a beautiful walk if you wish to take the slower and more scenic route. Gatineau itself has many hiking trails, nightlife, and museums to visit. So, if you are a fan of the outdoors, hiking is an absolute must do. The Gatineau Park features 139 square miles of conservation park crisscrossed with walking trails. There are options for people to hike, mountain bike, along with a road cycle. There are also beaches to swim, lakes to canoe, and camping opportunities to get away from the city.
John Ceprano Rocks
For picturesque views of the setting sun over the river, you must head to the park on the river. Also, it is home to the Muskoka Chairs and the imagery of the John Ceprano Rocks. These rocks were placed there by the artist John Ceprano, who spends his summers working on his displays. If you see him, he would be more than happy to chat with you. He’ll also let you feature his art on your Instagram.
Maple Syrup Experience
You cannot visit the capital of Canada without going and finding yourself some maple syrup to feed that sweet tooth. The maple syrup season starts in late February until April. However, you can experience the sugary sweetness year-round in all forms in Ottawa. You can either opt to buy some of the syrup or opt for spa products featuring this sugary goodness.
Also, check out Omega park, which is just a 45-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. Here, you can see Canadian animals, first nations history along with living demonstrations of wood carving. Furthermore, you’ll be able to see traditional farming methods of the tree sugar syrup. Make sure to head over to this park to get a Canadian style safari through the animals’ natural habitat. While exploring, you can spot deer, elk, bison, caribou, and even wolves!
There is a striking building which is the home to an extensive collection of Canadian art. When you reach the national gallery, you will be met by a sculpture of a giant spider outside. Trust us, you will not be able to miss it. This sculpture is designed by Louise Bourgeois who has the same ones located in art museums across the world. These places include Missouri, St. Petersburg, Tokyo, Seoul, Doha, and Des Moines!
This national historic site is the home to one of the most important figures in the Canadian Government. You can participate in group and private tours offered to visit the quarters of the Governor General. The tour would take you through the façade that has been the official welcoming room for dignitaries visiting Canada and giving out awards. Sometimes, it’s even featured on Canadian TV.
Fairmont Chateau Laurier
If you want to get a truly exquisite look into the way the rich and famous stay when visiting Ottawa, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier is one of Canada’s most famous landmarks that was built in 1912. It has historic chambers, beautiful architecture, and a great atmosphere located a short 5-minute walk from the Parliament buildings. While this may be out of the typical backpackers’ overnight price range, it is a building worth visiting. Even if it’s just from the outside.
If you wish to combine an exploration of the Rideau Canal and an educational afternoon, make sure to take the Canal Cruise. It departs from Chateau Laurier to Dow’s Lake. The guides are always friendly and they include many jokes amongst their descriptions of the historic landmarks you will pass while cruising through the canals. You will get all the highlights of the city of Ottawa. This includes City Hall, National Arts Centre, Canadian Museum of Nature, and Lansdowne Park.
Sunset From The Andaz Hotel
To view the spectacular sunset from a panoramic viewing point in the city, grab yourself a drink and sit down on the sunset terrace of the Andaz hotels. They offer a myriad of signature cocktails along with beautiful views of the city and setting sun in the background. You can make the evening a romantic one with a fine wine and cheese plate, before continuing straight downstairs to Ottawa’s entertainment district.