Like many of the world's finest capital cities, Ottawa showcases national finery in the way of museums, shops, architecture and governmental and historical highlights. The city has a cultured, yet friendly vibe. Building height restrictions and multiple pedestrian-friendly areas have kept it human in scale and comfortable to navigate.
Sitting at the convergence of three major rivers in northern Ontario, Ottawa has a beautiful natural geography and expanse of green space and waterways, including the Rideau Canal that runs right through the city and transforms into the world's longest skate way in winter.
Parliament Hill is an impressive group of buildings that house Canada's government. Free tours are offered throughout the year and the Hill is also the setting for national celebrations, like Canada Day - a holiday when Ottawa really comes to life.
The ByWard Market is an open-air market one block from Parliament Hill. This pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in Ottawa offers a year-round farmers' market plus dozens of arts and crafts vendors, charming boutiques and restaurants.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is a grand glass and granite structure that houses superb Canadian and international works of art and features important seasonal exhibitions. Kids will love the giant bronze spider sculpture, Louise Bourgeois's "Maman," that greets visitors outside the gallery.
The Chateau Laurier is an Ottawa landmark set majestically in the heart of the city overlooking Parliament Hill, the ByWard Market, Congress Centre and the Ottawa River. Originally one of the historic Canadian Pacific Railway hotels, the Chateau Laurier features turrets and other architectural elements of a French château.
Even if you don't rent a room, do pop in for high tea—a real gala affair and a big thrill for kids (they have pink "princess tea" and other kid-friendly beverages). Alternatively, arrive early for the exquisite morning breakfast buffet.
Don't miss the famous photographs by Yousuf Karsh on the first floor. Winston Churchill and Alfred Einstein are two of the people that posed for Karsh, who for years lived at the Chateau.
Today, the hotel is run under the Fairmont hotel name.
Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History is actually in Gatineau, Quebec, but only a five-minute drive away from downtown Ottawa and visible from Parliament Hill. The museum houses the Canadian Postal Museum, Canadian Children's Museum and IMAX theatre. Other exhibition space is devoted to Canada's First Peoples, Canada's history and history-makers.
The museum is spacious and architecturally intriguing. A great visit for families.
Canadian War Museum
Though war history may not be the first thing visitors to this largely peace-loving nation may consider exploring, the Canadian War Museum is a fascinating journey through the personal, national and international dimensions of the Canadian military as well as special exhibits on international and armed conflict. The Museum’s collection includes medals, works of art, military artillery as well as a CF-Voodoo jet fighter. These artifacts convey the experiences of women, men, and children who lived through the conflicts that have shaped Canada, Canadians and the world.
The Rideau Canal is a chain of lakes and waterways that winds 202 km from Kingston, at the head of Lake Ontario, to Ottawa, Canada's capital city. The canal is a World Heritage Site that, in below freezing weather, turns into the the world's biggest skating rink.
Gatineau Park—technically located in Quebec—is protected green space about 15 minutes from Parliament Hill. Hundreds of kilometres of biking and hiking trails, forests containing more than fifty species of trees, abundant wildlife and numerous crystal-clear lakes typical of the hills of the Canadian Shield.
Year-round camping and overnight stays in cabins and the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa are available. See rates and read reviews of the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa on TripAdvisor.
The Royal Canadian Mint and Currency Museum
The Royal Canadian Mint and Currency Museum is in a central downtown Ottawa heritage building. Here, hand-crafted collector and commemorative coins, gold bullion coins, medals, and medallions are created and where the master tooling is done to create the dies that strike coin designs for both circulation and commemorative issues.
The museum is of interest even if you're not a coin and history buff, in large part because the history and stories of Canada are brought to life by the well trained and engaging tour guides.
The Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada is the country's highest court. Visitors are invited explore the building, which is notable for its architecture and art collection as well as to learn about the operation of the Canadian judicial system from tour guides, all of whom are law students. Your guide will explain legal issues of public importance are dealt with by the Supreme Court of Canada. If Court is in session, you may be able to sit in on the hearing of an appeal.