Explore Ottawa Through Five National Museums

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Rideau Hall / Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism

With an exciting cultural scene, world-class festivals and located only steps away from the countryside, Ottawa is the ultimate summertime destination. Want to make the most of your visit? Pick up Canada’s National Museums Passport, which grants you access to any three of seven national museums over three days for only $35! Let Ottawa’s top museums lead you to incredible experiences—both inside and outside their walls.

Guards on Parade, Parliament Hill / Photo credit: Dwayne Brown / Exterior dusk / Photo credit: Canadian War Museum

1. Parliament Hill + Canadian Museum of War

Topping the list of iconic locations to visit in our nation’s capital is Parliament Hill. By day, experience the impressive Changing of the Guard ceremony—band, pipers, bearskin hats and all—and come nightfall, watch the Gothic-revival buildings become the backdrop for a larger-than-life Sound and Light Show. The downtown area is also home to the annual TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, this year with headliners like Norah Jones, Chicago and The Roots (June 21 to July 1, 2019).

Visiting with a history fan? Head southwest to the Canadian War Museum, where military gear, weapons and vehicles are on display in the imposing LeBreton Gallery. Don’t miss the world premiere of the Highland Warriors exhibit while you’re there!

ByWard Market / Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism / National Gallery of Canada at night / Photo credit: National Gallery of Canada

2. ByWard Market + National Gallery of Canada

A stroll through the ByWard Market, one of the country’s oldest and largest public markets, is an essential Ottawa experience. It’s the perfect place to eat, pick up local produce, shop independent boutiques, catch a live show, and hop into a gallery.

Of course, the ultimate gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, is just a short walk away. Look for the 30-foot spider (Maman, a sculpture by artist Louise Bourgeois) and enter to discover works by influential Canadian and international artists. This summer, don’t miss Gauguin: Portraits, a unique in-depth examination of the French artist’s portrait work.

Glowfair / Photo credit: Dwayne Brown / Canadian Museum of Nature / Photo credit: James Peltzer

3. Bank Street + Canadian Museum of Nature

A walk along Bank Street (head south from Parliament Hill) is arguably one of the loveliest things to do on a sunny summer afternoon. Visit in mid-June to enjoy GlowFair , a free celebration bringing Canadian indie darlings like Milk & Bone, Stars, and Coeur de Pirate to Centretown. No matter when you come, though, this vibrant neighbourhood is packed with fabulous eateries, craft breweries, charming boutiques, entertainment venues and more—not to mention the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Ever wanted to see the biggest – and arguably weirdest – flying creature soaring over a prehistoric landscape? After sampling a Moo Shu small-batch cone, head to the museum to do just that as part of the cutting-edge Pterosaur: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs exhibit.

Main museum entrance outside / Photo credit: Canadian Museum of History / Photo credit: © Sculpture Elisabeth Daynes, Neanderthal-La Chapelle-aux-Saints. Photo: S. Entressangle.

4. Sightseeing Cycling Tour + Canadian Museum of History

Ottawa is compact and bike-friendly, making it a wonderful city to explore on two wheels. Follow an easy 7.5-kilometre route to tour key sights like the Royal Canadian Mint, Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Bytown Museum and the Canadian Museum of History.

If you can visit just one, make it the latter: It is home to everything from the largest indoor display of totem poles to the Children’s Museum (a must-visit for kids under 12), plus Neanderthal, a temporary exhibit investigating humanity’s long-lost cave-dwelling cousins.

Vintage biplane, Canada Space and Aviation Museum / Photo credit: Destination Canada / Credit: Ottawa Tourism

5. Rideau Hall + Canada Space and Aviation Museum

While visitors flock to Parliament Hill, they shouldn’t skip Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence, which is a slightly off-the-beaten-path attraction. Open to the public, the estate’s 79-acre property is modelled after an English garden but with a distinctly Canadian twist. (Think inukshuks and totem poles.) Free tours of the State rooms (outfitted with Canadian art and architecture) run throughout the summer months.

From Rideau Hall, drive or cycle the scenic Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum where you can earn your wings in a flight simulator, learn about life on board the International Space Station or take a ride over the city in an open-cockpit vintage biplane.

To enjoy an unforgettable Ottawa experience this summer, buy the Museums Passport to visit three museums over three days for $35. For more information and to start planning your getaway, visit Ottawa Tourism.