48 Hours in Ottawa

From historic sites and architecture to galleries and theatre, Canada’s capital city offers lots to explore.

48 Hours in Ottawa

Visit the national capital for a perfect short-break getaway. There’s no shortage of things to do in Ottawa and before you know it, you’ll wish you had another day to explore.


DAY 1 – Day


  • Built between 1859 and 1927 on a majestic bluff overlooking the Ottawa River, the Parliament Buildings are neo-Gothic and Gothic structures with copper-covered roofs. The Library of Parliament, the only part of the original structures to survive a disastrous fire in 1916, has been fully restored. From late June to late August catch the colourful Changing of the Guard ceremony each morning at 10:00 a.m.


  • The Centennial Flame on the lawn facing the Centre Block was lit in 1967 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. A little-known fact is that dozens of cats run wild behind Centre Block, slightly to the west. A dedicated volunteer feeds them on a daily basis.


  • The Rideau Canal, built between 1826 and 1832 by Lt. Col. John By, is a chain of beautiful lakes, rivers and canals winding 202 km/125 miles from Ottawa to Kingston. In summer, enjoy boat cruises or rent a bike and ride, run or inline skate along the recreational pathways that line the waterway. In winter, the Canal becomes the largest skating rink in the world, as designated by Guinness World Records, stretching 7.8 km/4.8 miles through downtown Ottawa. In 2007, the Rideau Canal celebrated its 175th anniversary and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


  • The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada, as well as the name of the eclectic neighbourhood that surrounds it. It’s Ottawa’s entertainment district, filled with great restaurants, clubs, bistros, coffee shops, boutiques and food retailers. In the height of summer up to 175 outdoor stalls sell plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables as well as arts and crafts. During the rest of the year, you’ll find maple syrup, Christmas trees, firewood, decorations, clothing, crafts and more. Be sure to enjoy a BeaverTail – a hot pastry treat topped with a variety of sweet or savoury toppings. It’s an Ottawa delicacy that was born (and is still sold) in the ByWard Market.


  • The National Gallery of Canada is one of the country’s finest art museums and the permanent home of the world’s most comprehensive collection of Canadian art, including Inuit art. The Gallery sits on one of the most spectacular sites in Ottawa, near the historic ByWard Market, and its award-winning architecture, featuring the luminous Great Hall, spacious galleries, interior gardens and courtyards, is itself worth the visit. Look for the Gallery’s iconic landmark – Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, a mammoth 9.25 m/30-foot bronze spider (complete with 26 marble eggs) located in the plaza.


Day 1 – Night


  • If you missed taking a guided tour of Parliament Hill earlier in the day, don’t miss their evening tours – featuring shorter lineups and smaller groups. Each night, from early July to early September, there’s a free Sound & Light Show – Canada: The Spirit of a Country. Fantastic lighting effects and impressive, gigantic images are projected onto the Parliament Buildings to share the songs, poems, stories and visions that highlight many of Canada’s cultural and technological achievements.  


  • In the evening, when the lights are low and the atmosphere is just right for a good ghost story The Haunted Walk of Ottawa offers tours highlighting Ottawa's ‘darker’ history. The tour guides wear cloaks and carry a lantern as they lead their group from one haunted spot to the next. The company also offers historical tours including the ‘Crime & Punishment Jail Tour’ or the ‘Naughty Ottawa Pub Walk’ through the ByWard Market. 


DAY 2 – Day


  • Sussex Drive is one of the most prominent streets in the city. Along this street you will find exclusive shops, stores, galleries, the Royal Canadian Mint, embassies and stately homes – including the Prime Minister’s residence (24 Sussex) and Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Canada). Continue farther and you will reach the Rockcliffe Parkway – home to the nearby RCMP Musical Ride Centre and the Canada Aviation Museum.


  • From May through early September, several streets – including the Rockcliffe Parkway and Colonel By Drive (which are both extensions of Sussex Drive) – are closed to motorized vehicles on Sunday mornings so that cyclists, inline skaters and runners can have free rein. It’s called Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays and it’s a popular free family activity that encourages people to stay active!


  • Visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Stables to see the training facility for the riders and horses of the Musical Ride, a cavalry drill choreographed to music. Here, you can experience a living tribute to Canadian heritage and history at the RCMP Musical Ride Centre, which includes a small museum facility with photos and artifacts. The Musical Ride originated from the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) as they made the Great March West across Canada in 1874. Although the original NWMP were scattered in small groups over tens of thousands of miles of unsettled prairies, they routinely practised both mounted and foot drills. The Musical Ride tours extensively, but always performs at the facility in late June each year (and on Parliament Hill on Canada Day every July 1st). At other times, you can often see trainees who will join future Musical Ride tours. 


  • An architectural masterpiece, the Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada’s largest and most popular museum, housing a thousand years of Canadian history, the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles and the magnificent First Peoples Hall. It also houses an IMAX™ Theatre, the Canadian Children’s Museum and the Canadian Postal Museum. 


  • The Canadian War Museum is a living memorial to Canada’s proud military history – from the earliest days of New France to current-day operations. The Museum’s collection includes magnificent war art, large artifacts such as tanks and airplanes, as well as riveting explanations of the effects of war on various groups. 


Day 2 – Night


  • Enjoy English and French theatre, dance and orchestral performances at the National Arts Centre, Canada’s premier performing arts centre. Or catch a show at the theatre at the Casino du Lac-Leamy. The local arts scene is also very lively, with the Ottawa Little Theatre, Great Canadian Theatre Company and many smaller companies offering a variety of options.


  • Cap off your visit with a drink at one of the ByWard Market’s hippest nightspots:

Fat Tuesdays New Orleans Experience 
Get in the true Mardi Gras spirit at Fat Tuesdays New Orleans Experience, which magically conjures up that Big Easy feeling, complete with Cajun Creole cuisine.

Irish Village (Heart and Crown)
The little Irish Village had its humble beginnings in 1992, when the now-famous Heart and Crown opened its doors. Also inside: The Snug Pub, Mother McGintey’s and Roisin Dubh (The Black Rose) – each location a treasure in its own way and a nostalgic reminder of old Ireland.

Zaphod Beeblebrox
Zaphod Beeblebrox, the original pub at the edge of the universe, is an intimate live music venue and dance club. The nightclub has played host to an eclectic mix of performers, including Alanis Morrissette.

The Rainbow
The Rainbow Bistro isn’t called Ottawa’s Legendary Home of the Blues without good reason. Matinée and evening live music acts are offered almost every day of the week, and a surprise appearance by none other than Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd (an Ottawa native) has happened on occasion.


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