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Ottawa is the humble capital city of Canada, quietly nestled between Montreal and Toronto. Brimming with charm and history on every corner, the best way to explore it is through a self-guided walking tour of Ottawa.
I’ve visited Ottawa numerous times throughout my life, and I’ve always left hungry for more. And, as my dad was born-and-raised in Ottawa, I got to discover this enchanting gem through the eyes of a local.
And today, I am going to share this experience with you! On this Ottawa walking tour, I will guide you through Parliament Hill, introduce you to the best cafés and restaurants in the ByWard Market, and take you to one of the best parks in Ottawa (offering fabulous views of Quebec!).
So, if you’re ready to discover Ottawa, then let’s dive right in.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of Ottawa
While this self-guided walking tour of Ottawa only covers a small portion of the lovely city, you’ll get to experience its vibrant culture, stunning architecture, and picturesque landscapes (and I’ve also provided some extra essential Ottawa sights down below!).
This walking tour might also take you all day to complete, but don’t worry; you can take things out if they don’t fit your schedule. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
1. Parliament Hill
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Open 24 hours/day
- Time Estimate: 60 to 90 minutes (not including a guided tour)
- Website: https://visit.parl.ca/sites/Visit/default/en_CA
First, let’s start our Ottawa free walking tour at its biggest and most gorgeous attraction: Parliament Hill.
With its soaring Peace Tower, breathtaking, European-influenced architecture, and vast, delightful grounds, Parliament Hill is hands-down one of the most beautiful spots in Ottawa.
Whenever I visit Ottawa, whether it’s for a week or a weekend, I always stop by Parliament Hill.
I personally love admiring the majestic views of the Ottawa River from the hill. And in the summer, you can even see the changing of the guard!
Needless to say, even if you’re planning an Ottawa 1 day itinerary, Parliament Hill has to be at the top of your list.
Some of the top things to see and do include:
- Admire the Peace Tower, Centre Block, and Centennial Flame (while they are currently under renovation, they’re still worth checking out!).
- Book one the free guided tours. Right now, tours are being offered at the Senate of Canada Building, House of Commons at West Block, and East Block. They are 30 to 60 minutes long. They also fill up fast, so book in advance!
- Explore the main Parliament Building on a self-guided tour, which takes around 45 minutes.
- Check out some of the statues scattered around the hill. My favorites statues are Terry Fox, the Famous Five (who won the “Women are Persons!” case in 1929), Lester B. Pearson, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
- Appreciate the War of 1812 monument.
You can easily spend a whole day at Parliament Hill. However, we’re going to continue on our Ottawa walking tour.
After you’ve soaked in all of the charming views and sights, head northeast on Wellington Street (near the Centennial Flame) to our next destination: the National War Memorial.
2. The National War Memorial
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Open 24 hours/day
- Time Estimate: 15 minutes
- Website: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/national-inventory-canadian-memorials/details/9429
The National War Memorial commemorates all Canadian Armed Forces personnel who have sacrificed in times of war. Also referred to as “The Response,” it is a solemn and powerful monument, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at its center.
Unveiled in 1939, it was initially built to pay respect for the soldiers in World War I. However, it has since evolved to commemorate all Canadians who have served in time of war.
As this is one of my favorite monuments, it is an essential stop on all walking tours in Ottawa. To truly appreciate the National War Memorial, I recommend taking a moment to read the inscriptions and reflect.
When you’re ready, you can head to our third destination: the Rideau Canal Locks. Only 260 feet (80 meters) away, you can get there by continuing northeast on Wellington Street.
3. The Rideau Canal Locks
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Open 24 hours/day
- Time Estimate: 20 minutes
The third stop on our walking tour of Ottawa are the Rideau Canal Locks. Built in the early 19th century, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a marvel of engineering and a must-see Ottawa attraction.
The Rideau Canal covers around 125 miles (202 kilometers) of the Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers, and it’s probably one of my favorite Ottawa walking routes. With the picturesque and idyllic views, I always find it meditative to wander along the canal.
And in the winter, a portion of the Rideau Canal turns into the world’s largest skating rink! While I’ve never had the pleasure to skate on the Rideau Canal, it definitely sounds like an extraordinary experience and one of the best things to do in Ottawa in winter.
Nevertheless, on this walking tour of Ottawa, we’re just going to quickly stop and admire the locks. The canal locks allow boats to travel up or down the steep hill by filling or emptying a chamber with water. While there are 47 locks total, our stop showcases locks 1-8.
Once you’re ready to move forward, it’s time to head to the ByWard Market. Head northeast on Rideau Street, then turn left onto Dalhousie Street; it should take around 10 minutes to complete the journey.
4. ByWard Market
- Cost: Free to enter (but the amount you spend depends on the amount you eat!).
- Hours: Most vendors are typically open from 9 am-5 pm, but it depends on the business.
- Time Estimate: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Website: https://www.byward-market.com/
This stop on our self-guided Ottawa walking tour is essentially an Ottawa food tour. The Byward Market is a bustling and vibrant outdoor market with over 600 vendors selling a wide array of goods – from fresh produce and local meats to delicious pastries and artisanal cheeses.
It’s also home to numerous restaurants and cafés, making it the perfect spot for foodies (and for our lunch break!). I personally love gorging myself on some iconic BeaverTails (a Canadian fried dough pastry with a ton of sweet toppings) and bubble tea.
However, you can treat yourself to any sort of cuisine: poutine (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), pizza, pub food, Thai, Mexican, French, Italian… the list goes on and on.
So, take a break and have a delicious bite to eat! And don’t forget to explore the market as well, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells while sampling some of the tasty treats on offer. Don’t forget to pick up some maple syrup to take home as a delicious souvenir!
When you’re ready to get moving again, head northwest on Dalhousie Street to our next stop: the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.
5. Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm. Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm.
- Time Estimate: 20 minutes
- Website: https://notredameottawa.com/
The next stop on our Ottawa travel itinerary is the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. Not only is this stunningly beautiful church free to visit, but it’s also one of the most iconic and beloved landmarks in Ottawa.
As you step inside, the grandeur of the cathedral will take your breath away. The intricate details and vibrant colors of the stained glass windows are truly a sight to behold. Take a moment to admire the ornate altar and intricate ceiling, and feel free to snap some photos (without flash, of course).
The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is also a functioning church, so be sure to check their website for mass times if you’d like to attend a service. And don’t forget to take a moment for quiet reflection or prayer while in this beautiful space.
The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica also offers guided tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2 pm to 5 pm. Tickets cost $10, and you can buy them in the Café des Tours in the church.
After you’ve absorbed all the beauty and history of the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, it’s time to head to our next destination: the National Gallery of Canada.
6. Optional: The National Gallery of Canada
- Cost: $20 for adults, $18 for adults ages 65+, $10 for students and those 24 and under, and free for children ages 11 and under.
- Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
- Time Estimate: 2 to 3 hours.
- Website: https://www.gallery.ca/
Next, the National Gallery of Canada is home to a vast collection of Canadian and international art. From traditional paintings to contemporary sculptures, this museum has something for every art lover.
While I’ve listed this stop as optional (due to the time it takes to tour and appreciate all the art), it’s an essential visit on any Ottawa itinerary. I personally love art galleries, so I make sure to visit at least one gallery every trip.
Once inside, I recommend taking your time exploring the various galleries and exhibitions. Don’t miss out on the Canadian and Indigenous art collections, which includes pieces from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists.
And if you’re on a budget, don’t worry – the National Gallery has plenty of free options as well. Every Thursday from 5 pm to 8 pm, you can visit the Gallery for free! But you still have to book a ticket, so plan your trip in advance.
After you’ve appreciated the stunning artwork, it’s time to proceed to the final stop on our walking tour Ottawa: Major’s Hill Park.
7. Major’s Hill Park
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Open 24 hours/day
- Time Estimate: 30 to 60 minutes
- Website: https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/majors-hill-park
Last but not least, the final stop on our Ottawa self guided walking tours is Major’s Hill Park. Located next to the National Gallery of Canada, Major’s Hill Park is an enchanting downtown oasis that offers breathtaking views of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill.
This is one of my favorite parks in Ottawa, and I love to simply wander around its grounds (especially at sunset!).
While the park has been used since 1826, it wasn’t officially established as a park until 1875. Covering 5.06 hectares of land, this historic park is perfect for a leisurely stroll, a picnic, or simply taking in the stunning views. Needless to say, visiting Major’s Hill Park is one of the best things to do this summer in Ottawa.
As you stroll through the park, take a moment to check out the various monuments and sculptures, from the Anishinabe Scout to the Rideau Canal Celtic Cross.
And after you’ve had your fill of Major’s Hill Park, feel free to head back to Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal Locks, or even the Byward Market for dinner; you are officially done my self-guided walking tour of Ottawa.
Thinking of taking a day trip from Ottawa to Montreal, and wondering what to do? If so, click here for my self-guided Montreal walking tour!
Other Things to Do in Ottawa
Now that we’re done our walking tour, you may be wondering… other than the Ottawa free walking tours, what else is there to do in Ottawa?
Well, I like to split the rest of the sights into two categories: the absolute best tours in Ottawa, and the most insightful and incredible museums.
These are the most awesome Ottawa tours that you have to check out:
- Admire the Breathtaking Views of Ottawa by Helicopter: If you’re interested in marveling Ottawa’s beauty from up high, then you have to book this scenic helicopter tour.
- Book an Exciting Night Tour with a River Cruise and Light Show: Starting with a lovely sunset cruise on the Ottawa River, this tour provides charming views of the bustling city of Ottawa and offers front-row seats to the “Northern Lights” show on the parliament buildings!
- Fill your Growling Stomachs on a ByWard Food Tour: If you’re looking for the best Ottawa food tours, then you have to book this 2.5-hour tour. Guiding you through the vibrant ByWard Market, you’ll get a true taste of Ottawa.
- Explore Ottawa through a City Bike Tour: One of the best Ottawa city tours, this 2-hour bike ride is the perfect way for families, couples, friends, and solo travelers to get a feel of the quaint city.
- Experience Ottawa on Water with a Rideau Canal Cruise: If you’re interested in exploring Ottawa and Gatineau City by water, then this tour is the way to go.
And here is my list of the absolute best museums in Ottawa:
- Canadian Museum of Nature: At the top of our list is my favorite museum in Ottawa! From dinosaur fossils to marine mammals, this museum is a great pick if you want to learn more about natural history.
- Canadian War Museum: This fantastic museum outlines Canada’s rich military history, including World War II, the War of 1812, and more.
- Canadian Museum of History: Located across the river in Gatineau City, the Canadian Museum of History focuses on anthropology, culture, and ethnology (which includes special exhibitions on the First Nations people).
- Canadian Aviation and Space Museum: If you’re interested in Canada’s history of flight and space exploration, then you have to check out this museum.
- Canada Science and Technology Museum: Another great museum that’s part of the Ingenium family, this one focuses on science and technology throughout Canada’s history.
- Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum: Located 25 miles (40 km) west of downtown Ottawa, this Cold War museum is located in a large, underground concrete bunker.
Accommodation in Ottawa
After spending all day on your feet on my Ottawa walking tours, you may be craving for a comfortable and homey place to rest. So, you may be wondering, where should I stay in Ottawa?
Well, here are my top picks!
- Fairmont Chateau Laurier Gold Experience: The most famous, luxurious, and stunning hotel in Ottawa is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. This majestic castle is also conveniently located next to Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal Locks.
- Le Germain Hotel Ottawa: Located in downtown Ottawa, Le Germain Hotel Ottawa is a modern and sleek hotel with accommodating staff and spacious, beautiful rooms.
- The Business Inn: For a comfortable stay filled with great amenities, from a free continental breakfast to a 24-hour fitness room, the Business Inn is the place to go.
- ByWard Blue Inn: If you’re looking for a homey and comfortable hotel offering daily breakfast and afternoon tea, then I recommend the ByWard Blue Inn.
- Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel: Interested in sleeping in a restored jailhouse? Then the Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel is the place to stay! With clean and (very) secure rooms, I highly recommend this unique hostel.
- Auberge des Arts Bed and Breakfast: For a bed and breakfast located around 650 feet (200 meters) from the ByWard Market, the Auberge des Arts Bed and Breakfast is the perfect choice.
And That’s It for our Walking Tour of Ottawa!
I hope you enjoyed this walking tour of Ottawa. It’s one of my favorite cities in all of Canada, and I’m not biased (even though my dad and grandmother are proud Ottawans).
The city has so much to offer, from stunning architecture and history to delicious food and outdoor adventures. So, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a regular, I hope this tour gave you a fresh perspective on Ottawa and all it has to offer.
Now go out there, explore, and don’t forget to grab some tasty poutine while you’re at it!
Thanks for reading the article! If you have any questions, feel free to comment down below, and if you want to see more self-guided walking tours and travel itineraries, make sure to check out my other articles.
Photos by Mia and Pixabay.
If you’re interested in my other self-guided walking tours around Canada, check out my Vancouver walking tour!
About to embark on an incredible trip around Canada? Here are some of my favorite Canadian destinations:
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Montreal Walking Tour
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Vancouver Walking Tour
- The Perfect 7-Day Canadian Rockies Road Trip: How to Drive from Calgary to Vancouver
- The 15 Best Hikes in Vancouver
- 22 Incredible Hikes Near Vancouver
- The 6 Best Hikes in Whistler, Canada
- 18 Spectacular Weekend Getaways from Vancouver
And here are some helpful articles and additional links to make your trip as awesome and stress-free as possible:
- Click here for my walking tours
- Click here for my travel itineraries
- Click here for my hiking guides
- Click here for more posts on North America
- Click here for more posts on Canada
- Click here for more resources
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