What To Do In Ottawa

Explore these lesser-known gems in the country’s capital 

Bytown Museum, photo courtesy Ottawa Tourism

As Canada’s capital city, Ottawa is home to some of the nation’s most impressive and iconic attractions, from Parliament Hill to the National Gallery to the Canadian War Museum. But the city also boasts a variety of charming, lesser-known spots worth checking out. Here are some of our favourites. 

Bytown Museum

Located beside the Rideau Canal’s Ottawa locks, right between Parliament Hill and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, the Bytown Museum explores the history of Ottawa, from the early days when it was known as Bytown up to today. The exhibits here share compelling stories about the women and men who helped build and shape the city and will give you a deeper understanding of Ottawa’s story.

Nearby: Once you’ve visited the museum, take some time to stroll along the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that turns into one of the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rinks each winter.

Orange Art Gallery

Located in Ottawa’s now-trendy City Centre area, Orange Art Gallery showcases the work of local artists—in a very cool space. The gallery is housed inside an historic brick building that once served as the CN Rail bank. The wide floorboards and high ceilings of this refurbished space may nod to the building’s rich past, but the walls are lined with exciting contemporary art from both established and up-and-coming artists who are making a splash in the city’s growing arts scene.

Nearby: After your gallery visit, enjoy a different form of creative inspiration at the Art-Is-In Bakery—one of Ottawa’s best-loved spots for artisan breads, pastries and all things baked.

Le Cordon Bleu

For foodies, a visit to Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute in the city’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood is a must. Le Cordon Bleu is one of the world’s most prestigious culinary schools, and Ottawa is home to its only Canadian campus. Students from around the globe come here to train in intensive culinary programs, but the school also offers short courses and demonstrations (two to four hours) that are open to everyone and cover such topics as cake decoration and cooking a classic stew. If you’d rather just enjoy a fabulous French meal, you can dine at the on-site Signatures Restaurant

Nearby: Just a five-minute walk away is Laurier House, a national historic site that served as the home of two of Canada’s former prime ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Tour this rambling house built in 1879 and get a glimpse at a fascinating collection of authentic, personal artifacts from both men.

ByTowne Cinema

If you’re a film-buff, don’t miss taking in a show at this single-screen movie house on Rideau Street. Considered an Ottawa institution by film-loving locals, this is the place to go for independent movies. It’s one of the oldest theatres in the city, and its old-school, indie vibe is evident in everything from the balcony seating and tiny lobby to The ByTowne Guide, a printed “tabloid” that shares information on all the films scheduled to run over a two-month period.

Nearby: If you’re in the mood for a live performance, take the three-minute walk from the cinema to Ottawa Little Theatre, a beloved community theatre that has been operating in the city for more than a century.

Ottawa Farmers Market

This year-round market at Lansdowne Park features more than 40 local vendors selling everything from fresh produce and award-winning cheeses to baked treats and arts and crafts. Open three days a week (Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays) during the warmer seasons and on Sundays inside the Aberdeen Pavilion during the winter, this popular market is a great spot for picking up edible, made-in-Ottawa souvenirs.

Nearby: After you’ve had your fill at the Farmer’s Market, head down Bank Street to browse the eclectic, multi-era wares at the Ottawa Antique Market, a massive indoor space shared by more than 25 professional antique dealers.