Ottawa loves kids! I guess that sums up everything. Rain or Shine, there’s no shortage of things to do in Ottawa with kids.
The capital of Canada, Ottawa is as charming as its Victorian architecture. From historic or cultural attractions to outdoorsy fun and everything that lures family travelers, Ottawa has heaps of awesome things to do and see with the family. In short, Canada’s crown, Ottawa cuts out to be a best family travel destination.
Our guide to Ottawa will give you suggestions for what to see and do, where to eat, where to stay and how to get around the attractive capital when traveling with kids.
The most prominent structure or should I say the heart of Ottawa city is Parliament Hill. The political hub of the city is a gorgeous structure sitting on the top of a hill on banks of river Ottawa. Three magnificent structures adorned around the sides of a huge lawn. The heart of the parliament is the Center block while the arms on two sides are the East and West block.
There are free bilingual tours in English and French available for the Center and the East block. Since we visited in summer which is the peak tourist season, we had to go in an hour early of opening to get tickets for desired time slots.
Update as of 2020: The Center block is closed for large scale renovation and restoration. The House of Commons has been moved to the newly renovated West Block. The Senate has moved to a new location a block away to Ottawa’s historic train station. There are tours available for West and East Block along with the Senate. The tours can be booked at the new Visitor Center between Center and West Block. The guided tours can even be reserved online to avoid the lines.
If you are awed by the magnificence of the outdoor then wait to see the grandeur of indoor.
We began our tour from the East block, office of the parliamentarians. After a strenuous screening, we entered the building into a grand staircase. Climbing our way we were eagerly waiting to explore the 150-year-old history. It was impressive to see that rooms of famous personalities from the 19th century like first Prime minister, Governor-general, have been restored with some original furniture to give a glimpse into their opulence.
It was fascinating to hear the stories of these icons and their offices. The more powerful the personality, bigger would be his office space and luxurious the upholstery. While, not only the space and furniture would show the prominence, but the design and detailed work on the ceiling or the placement of the fireplace as well. Isn’t that amazing???
Continuing our quest, we made our way to the Center block – the heart of the Parliament. A two-level security check is required to go in. The center block houses the Senate, the House of Commons (Members of parliament) and the beautiful library.
Beginning the tour, we entered a big hall with marble interiors, intricate carvings on the pillars and beautiful stained-glass window. The hall leads to the House of Commons, whose members are democratically elected and called Members of Parliament. The chamber is decorated in green color. The governing party sits on one side of the speaker with Prime Minister in the front row while the opposition on other. The interiors are decorated with stained-glass windows on both sides depicting flora and fauna of the states.
The interiors of the Senate are red in color to represent the British monarchy. There are many symbols in the Senate chamber and at its entrance representing the monarchy. In fact, there are chairs for the monarch and their consort behind the speaker’s chair. Interestingly, the ceiling at the entrance has stained glass depicting many royal symbols.
There are paintings of monarchs in the foyer and the guide told us that the painting of Queen Victoria was partially burned in a fire and the burnt portion was cut and framed back.
The most exquisite room in the Center block is the Library which welcomes you with a huge white marble statue of Queen Victoria. The most striking feature of the library is the extensive use of wood with ornate carvings. The circular room with huge dome-shaped ceiling and intricate woodwork is an architectural marvel. We were awed by its beauty and wondered if we could sit and read there.
Walking in the arched hallways, admiring the detailed carvings and artwork, reminiscing the told and untold stories, we felt lucky to have witnessed the 150-year-old historical marvel up and close.
Climb the observation deck of Peace Tower to enjoy the mesmerizing view of the Ottawa city.
Updated as of 2020: The Center Block and Peace Tower have been closed for restoration for long.
Climb to Nepean Point to get some spectacular views of the Parliament Hill and National Gallery. Nepean Point is a hill with a scenic lookout located overlooking the Ottawa River giving an unobstructed view.
Kids are sure to love the vibrant spectacle of changing of the guard ceremony which takes place at Parliament Hill every morning during summer (June-August). Do check the schedule and other details.
Pro Tip: Come early to get a nice spot.
Evenings at Parliament Hill are filled with music, words, and grandeur. Summer evenings pull guests to Parliament Hill to witness the Light and Sound Show that depicts the history of Canada.
We visited when Canada was celebrating 150 years and witnessed a spectacular Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light Show depicting the journey of Canada. The spectacular visuals with bold narration and impressive background music leave you spellbound. The fireworks light up Ottawa’s sky above the Ottawa River. The timing of the show varies from every month from July to September. Do check the schedule to avoid hassles.
Pro Tip: I would highly recommend it but do take blankets and chairs to sit and enjoy the adventure.
The National Gallery of Canada displays world-class art which attracts the art-lovers across the world. It certainly is a great place for kids to learn more about the art and culture of Canada. The Giant bronze sculpture of Spider just outside the gallery captivates kids more than anything
Check the free admission days here to save some money.
The Children’s Museum makes the kids explore the world in their own way. Kids learn while having fun. They through varied exhibitions, props, costumes, a collection of toys and games and artifacts learn about art, culture, and history.
The museum features objects from different countries like auto-rickshaw from Thailand, a local bus from Pakistan and many more. A must visit when traveling with kids!
The guided tour of the Royal Canadian Mint in French or English is a great way to learn how coins are made. Interestingly, you get to touch and hold the world’s first million-dollar coin here.
Entrance fee: The tickets cost around USD 8 per person and tour timings are from 10 in the morning to 4 in the evening. We’d recommend booking the tour in advance.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site of Canada, the Rideau Canal connects Kingston, Ontario, to Ottawa with its many lakes, and rivers. You can leisurely walk along its beautiful green banks.
Cycle lovers can rent a bike to explore the canal by riding a bicycle along the dedicated pathways running on both sides of the canal.
If you happen to visit in May, you’d be lucky to see the tulips bloom along the canal. That’s when the Canadian Tulip Festival is celebrated.
To get the different perspective of the capital of Canada, take a Rideau Canal Cruise that takes you from downtown to Dows Lake. They use the eco-friendly electric boats, to tell you if you too believe in responsible tourism like us.
Canoeing and Kayaking are popular ways to explore the canal from spring through fall.
Located in the oldest stone building of Ottawa on the canal, Bytown Museum showcases the history of the creation of the canal. See the way Ottawa Locks (gates to make the water navigable) are operated the way they were 200 years back, manually.
A set of eight locks can be walked over when closed. Enjoy a stroll past the Ottawa Locks along the popular Château Laurier Hotel towards the Sussex drive or look down on the Ottawa Locks from the Plaza Bridge.
The canal is metamorphosed into a Rideau Canal Skateway in the winter when the canal is frozen. It’s known to be the world’s largest skating rink and guess what, it’s absolutely free!
Rideau Hall, the official residence of the governor-general of Canada is open to the public and can be explored by taking free guided tours. You must explore the phenomenal and royal heritage gardens.
The guided tours take you through the opulent State rooms, tastefully done ballroom – the Tent Room and even know more about the Governor General.
During summer, you can witness the Changing guard of the sentries at the Rideau Hall.
Not to miss is the beautiful garden outside spread over 79 acres. With beds of roses and flowers will surely make you smile. The park is open to public all year round from 8 a.m. to an hour before sunset. So plan a picnic, watch a cricket game or skate in winter.
Note: The tour to Rideau Hall might get cancelled when a dignitary is visiting before prior notice. We were not able to take the tour due to this reason.
The largest and oldest in Ottawa, Notre Dame Cathedral is not to be missed. The silver twin spires, bell towers, and mesh windows add charm to Ottawa’s skyline. Not to mention the lavishly adorned interior of the basilica with intricate carvings and vibrant textures is one of the finest in the country.
From May through October, guided tours are available on prior reservations. It’s open to visitors daily unless closed for the funerals or weddings. Hours vary according to the seasons and days of the week.
Ottawa’s first park, Major’s Hill Park is a perfect place to relax in between the exploration. It, being Ottawa’s main venue, hosts several important and big events like Canada Day. But for us, it was the oasis of peace amidst all the hustle and bustle of the capital city.
One of the oldest and largest public markets in Canada, Byward market houses the historic farmer’s market, cafes, restaurants, and shops. With over 600 shops, you are sure to have an ultimate shopping experience.
We recommend buying a local craft and tasting a Canadian Maple Syrup.
Head to Gatineau Park for all the outdoorsy fun with kids. The park offers outdoor adventure activities like swimming, geocaching, camping, hiking, and cycling. You can get your nature fix while the kids engage in activities.
Do not miss the amazing umbrella display at Laval Street in Gatineau.
Kids need to experience Canadian nature when in Canada! Isn’t it? Take them to Eco-Odyssee! It’s a great place for kids to learn and experience the marshland/wetland habitat in a fun way. It’s located on the other side of the Ottawa river so technically a part of western Quebec, Canada.
Ottawa is one of the effortless cities to get around. Public Transportation is smooth and their dedicated paved pathways make it easy to walk or cycle around the city without the concern and hassle of navigating through the power-driven traffic.
You can easily explore the city on foot and/or rent a bike.
There are numerous car rental options to choose from but the reservations should be made in advance. Taxis and Limousine Services are expensive enough to blow your travel budget so wouldn’t recommend. Uber can be an affordable way to get around Ottawa.
OC Transpo and STO are the bus systems in Ottawa that operate buses in Ottawa-Carleton and Outaouais region respectively.
Water Shuttle Services or Aqua-Taxi is another way to navigate Ottawa. They have short and long trips and run between major attractions or sites.
Freshii – Food so fresh that you could feel the flavors of each and every ingredient. It’s a Freshii. A perfect place for travelers who prefer healthy and vegan food options. From rice bowls, burritos, Wraps, soups and smoothies there is a wide variety to choose from.
There are many outlets around the city to dine in or take-away.
East India Company Restaurant – offers an elaborate Indian Dinner Buffet with a variety of pickles, chutneys, and desserts. Highly recommended, even if you aren’t a fan of Indian Food. Try it!
ByWard Market is a great place to eat. Sample the delicious Canadian staple sugary treat at BeaverTails Pastries at ByWard Market.
Located in downtown, The Westin Ottawa is one of the most family-friendly hotels in Ottawa, Canada. The huge floor to ceiling windows offers a beautiful view of the city from the rooms. The hotel has separate kid’s menu and indoor swimming pool with an outdoor seating area. It’s directly connected to the shopping mall through an indoor walkway from the third floor and the proximity to many famous tourist attractions makes exploration easy for you. Highly recommended.
We flipped through just a page or two of a book called Ottawa because of the time constraints. It being the political hub isn’t stodgy and stern as you may think but a great fun city to visit with family.