The 11 Best Museums in Ottawa

Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau
Bob Hilscher / Getty Images

Despite its relatively small size, the capital city of Canada is home to a wide variety of public museums and galleries that are well worth taking the time to explore. The city boasts an impressive seven national museums, including one of the largest art galleries in North America, and most of them are located right in the city’s downtown core. Whether you’ve found yourself in Canada’s capital on a particularly rainy day or you’re looking for an afternoon activity to satiate your family’s curious minds, here are the absolute best museums in Ottawa.

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National Gallery of Canada

Large spider sculpture in from of the National Gallery of Canada
Colin Temple / Getty Images
380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada
Phone +1 613-990-1985

The National Gallery of Canada is a must-visit for contemporary and fine art aficionados. The sprawling museum is home to the world's most comprehensive collection of Canadian art and is considered to be one of the largest art museums in North America in terms of exhibition space. Don’t have time to explore the interior of the museum? It’s still worth passing by the exterior—which is home to "Madam," a gigantic spider sculpture by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois.

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Canadian Museum of Nature

Facade and welcome sign of the Canadian Museum of Nature
Marc Bruxelle / Getty Images
240 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON K2P 2R1, Canada
Phone +1 800-263-4433

Established by the Geological Survey of Canada in 1856, this national natural history museum contains more than 14.6 million specimens within its permanent collection and it plays host to a rotating curation of traveling exhibitions. The Canadian Museum of Nature is also a patron of various science research programs across the country and has taken part in various scientific expeditions worldwide including the China-Canada Dinosaur Project and other dinosaur-specific excavations.

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Canadian War Museum

Low-angle view of the exterior main entrance sign to the Canadian War Museum
Scott Cressman / Getty Images
1 Vimy Pl, Ottawa, ON K1A 0M8, Canada
Phone +1 800-555-5621

While a museum commemorating war history doesn’t exactly sound like a walk in the park, the Canadian War Museum is much less macabre than the name implies. The national museum focuses on the country’s military history, from an educational and remembrance standpoint, and includes a distinctly Canadian perspective on early wars in Canada, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and more contemporary war history.

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Canada Aviation and Space Museum

Two flags in front of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum

Courtesy of Canada Aviation and Space Museum

11 Aviation Pkwy, Ottawa, ON K1K 2X5, Canada
Phone +1 613-991-3044

Who doesn’t love a deep dive into the world of aviation and space advancements? The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is an incredible resource for families and individuals alike who are curious to learn more about the history of air travel in Canada and its influence on the rest of the world—from the pioneer era before WWI to the present day.

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Canada Science and Technology Museum

facade of the Canada Science and Technology Museum

Courtesy of Ingenium

Scientique, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, ON K1G 5A3, Canada
Phone +1 613-235-7053

The Canada Science and Technology Museum examines technology and science from a distinctly Canadian lens—from medical developments to wearable technology. The museum also plays home to a children’s innovation zone with various kid-friendly activities as well as practical resources for parents (like a bottle-warming station and diaper-changing area).

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Canadian Museum of History

person running on a path next to the Canadian Museum of history
Allan Baxter / Getty Images
100 Rue Laurier, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada
Phone +1 819-776-7000

Formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, this museum explores more than 20,000 years of human history, including Canadian history as well as other cultures and civilizations from the past. The museum is also a practicing research institution and staff includes leading experts in folk, archaeology, and ethnology history, should you have any questions or are interested in booking a rich guided tour. Note that the Canadian Museum of History is technically located across the Alexandra Bridge, in Gatineau; about a 5-minute drive from downtown Ottawa.

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Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

Large museum designed to look like a red farmhouse

Courtesy of Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

901 Prince of Wales Dr, Ottawa, ON K2C 3K1, Canada
Phone +1 613-991-3044

Curious about the history of food and farming in Canada? The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum explores all aspects of practical agriculture science in the country, from both past and present. The museum is set on a practicing “Central Experimental Farm” that includes a variety of farm animals, including a herd of 50 dairy cows, beef cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep, all of which guests can observe and interact with during their visit.

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Diefenbunker Museum

Large siren near entrance of Diefenbunker (emergency shelter/bunker) museum
Mike Steinhauer / Getty Images
3929 Carp Rd, Ottawa, ON K0A 1L0, Canada
Phone +1 613-839-0007

The Diefenbunker was originally built in 1959 as a response to the escalation of the Cold War and was commissioned to act as a safe house for key parliament members in Canada. It was left empty until 1997 when it was turned into a public museum—and it’s well-worth the visit for anyone interested in military history or general survivalism. While the bunker itself is interesting to walk through and explore, the museum is also home to a rotating artist in residence and various visiting exhibitions on the Cold War.

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Bytown Museum

stone Bytown Museum in Ottawa beside the Rideau Canal locks b
SkyF / Getty Images
1 Canal Ln, Ottawa, ON K1P 5P6, Canada
Phone +1 613-234-4570

Hoping to learn a little more about the history of Canada’s capital? The Bytown Museum takes visitors on a whirlwind tour of past and present Ottawa—and everything in between. From the construction of the Rideau Canal to exactly how the city emerged as Canada’s capital, this charming history museum is well-worth the visit for anyone interested in learning how Ottawa became the center of Canadian politics. The museum is also very centrally located right across from the ByWard Market.

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Laurier House

Stone house partially obscured by trees
Colin Temple / Getty Images
335 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa, ON K1N 6R4, Canada
Phone +1 613-992-8142

Deemed an official National Historic Site in 1956, the Laurier House was the former residence of Canadian prime ministers Sir Wilfred Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King. The house has welcomed international guests including King George VI, Charles de Gaulle, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today, it serves as a historic house museum with artifacts dating all the way back to 1878. Note that the museum is only open to the public for tours from Victoria Day in May to Canadian Thanksgiving in October

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Bank of Canada Museum

 museum of the Bank of Canada at the headquarters on Wellington Street in Ottawa
george socka / Getty Images
30 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G9, Canada
Phone +1 613-782-8914

Located in the heart of the downtown core, the Bank of Canada Museum (formerly Canada’s Currency Museum) offers an interesting perspective on international currency, counterfeit money, and other currency-related discoveries that date all the way back to the Middle Ages. The museum features more than 100,000 currency-related artifacts from around the world showcase the powerful impact currency and coinage have on society.

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The 11 Best Museums in Ottawa