parliament hill one of the free things to see and do in Ottawa, Ontario

Free Things and Stuff to Do in Ottawa

Ottawa is Canada’s Capital! Home to the federal government, history, culture, galleries, museums and gorgeous excuses to get outside–great stuff and it’s all free to experience.

In this city you’ll hear people speaking in both official languages – English and French – as well as a host of other tongues.

Passionate about tulips? Then visit in May when the city abounds with their cheery presence.

4 affordable Ottawa Hotels to consider

Business Inn & Suites, TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Winner.

Albert at Bay Suite Hotel, TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner.

Best Western Plus Victoria Park Suites, TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner.

Travelodge Hotel Ottawa, largest hotel waterpark in Ottawa.

More ideas: Cheap Hotels & Places to Stay in Ottawa

Roam Parliament Hill

Want to learn something about Canada’s political past and present? The Parliament Buildings are a great – and free – place to start.

Guided tours of the Centre Block – the building in which the House of Commons is located – are held daily year round. But don’t stop there.

You can also tour the older East Block, where you’ll find the office of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald restored to its original form and function.

Free tour tickets are available year-round at 90 Wellington Street (across from Parliament Hill). TIP: This is one of Ottawa’s most popular attractions. Therefore to ensure you get your free tour tickets for the time you would prefer, lineup before the ticket office opens (9:00 AM).

Not tired yet? There’s more stuff to see.

Explore the grounds of the Hill in search of the statues of former prime ministers and other significant historical figures from Canada’s past.

If you love music, then rest your feet while you enjoy a Carillon concert performed with the Peace Tower Carillon.

In summer, the Hill heats up with daily 10 a.m. performances of the Changing of the Guard (weather permitting) and late evening presentations of the Sound and Light Show, an exploration of Canada’s physical, historical and cultural landscapes.

Need a photo of a Mountie to make your Canadian tour complete?

Summer’s the time to find Mounties in the full splendour of their scarlet dress uniforms.

Hang out on the hill on July 1 – Canada’s birthday – and you’ll likely see an abundance, as well as experience the musical extravaganza that accompanies the day. Some years you’ll even get to snap a picture of one of the British Royals on a visit.

Track around the Downtown

Done with Parliament Hill? No problem. There’s still lots of stuff to see and do – for free — downtown.

Walk west along Parliament Street and you’ll encounter the Supreme Court of Canada, where you can indulge in a free guided tour – and perhaps witness some frisbee or soccer on the front lawn!

Just a little further west, at Library and Archives Canada, a free exhibit or two about Canada’s documentary heritage can often be found.

Window shopping anyone? Head across the street for the Sparks Street Mall, a pedestrian haven from downtown traffic. Pause around O’Connor Street, though, if you want to find the site of the 1868 assassination of Canadian politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee.

Once you reach the end of Sparks Street, you have options.

Head south on Elgin to reach the oasis of Confederation Park, a lovely green space in the heart of the city. Or head north on Elgin to check out Confederation Square, where the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are located.

Historic Buildings

If you wander back up to Wellington and head east to the point where Wellington becomes Rideau Street, you’ll encounter the famous Fairmont Chateau Laurier.

Named after one of Canada’s most prominent prime ministers, this hotel was originally owned and operated by Canadian Pacific.

Take a gander across the street, and you’ll spot the original railroad station the Chateau served, what is now known as the Government of Canada Conference Centre.

Work your way behind the Chateau to discover Major Hill’s Park. It’s a great place to wander or rest for awhile, and you can delight in a magnificent view of the Ottawa River.

Striking Landmarks

From Rideau make tracks for Sussex Drive – from this street, you’ll see the imposing if youthful US Embassy as well as the stunning and decidedly more historical Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica (not to mention it’s a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner too).

Keep going, and you can gawk at more embassies, the official residence of the Prime Minister (21 Sussex), and — at the very top of the street — Rideau Hall, the elegant residence of the Governor-General, the Queen’s representative in Canada and another TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner. Guided tours of the Hall are available at no charge. As well, visitors can pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour of the grounds, and then explore them at their leisure.

Once you’re done, be sure to check out the Byward Market. Named after John By,who founded it in 1826, the Byward Market is one of Canada’s oldest public markets. There is lots of stuff to see here, so take your time if you want to catch all of it–you’ll need to dip in and out of buildings, as well as wander the streets.

Bike, Walk or Skate the Waterways

Test your biking muscles by riding the paths that run alongside the Ottawa River, or some of the other Biking Routes that abound in Ottawa and its environs– including Gatineau Park, a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice winner.

Certainly no visit to Ottawa is complete without a stroll alongside the Rideau Canal. The path that runs alongside the canal is used by walkers, cyclists and roller bladers, so keep an eye out!

To the west of the lake, you can find the Arboretum and Ornamental Gardens of the Ottawa Experimental Farm, which you can tour for free.

In the same vicinity is the Canada Agriculture & Food Museum. This is a full-fledged, working dairy farm whose animal barns can be explored daily between 9 P.M. and 5 P.M. at no charge.

Steep Yourself in History and Art

Broaden your historical knowledge of the history of Canada – and the world — by visiting an array of museums at special days and times when admission is free.

The Canadian Museum of Nature, whose dramatic architecture by Douglas Cardinal is worthy of a visit alone, offers free admission every Thursday between 4 P.M. and 8 P.M.

If you’d like to learn more about Ottawa’s history, then between 5 P.M. and 9 P.M. on Thursday go to the Bytown Museum, located in the city’s oldest stone building at the Rideau Canal Locks.

Other specialized museum experiences are to be found at the Canadian War Museum (free admission Thursday 4 P.M. to 8 P.M.), the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (free admission between 4 P.M. and 5 P.M. each day), and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography [(free admission Thursdays after 5 P.M.).

Add some artistic flair to your historical explorations with a visit to the magnificent National Gallery of Canada (free admission to regular exhibits Thursdays 5 P.M. to 8 P.M.) or by visiting the Ottawa Art Gallery, which operates on a pay-what-you-can basis.

Visiting Ottawa during the winter?

Ottawa is a magical place in the winter time.

One of the biggest reasons why it’s a destination city for so many when the temperature drops is the Rideau Canal. Why? Because during the winter this waterway becomes the world’s largest skating rink.

The “rink” stretches 7.8 kms from just in front of the Chateau Laurier hotel to Dow Lake at the other end. A TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner, admission to skate on the Rideau Canal is free.

If you don’t have skates, there’s a skate rental booth. There’s an indoor skate changing area too or just plop down on the frozen bank and put your skates on there.

Ready for a break?

There are rest stops along the way and kilometre markers every kilometre so you know how far you’ve skated.

Need to warm up or grab a bite?

There are hot chocolate and food stops at the beginning, end and middle of the canal.

Can’t skate? No worries.

There is lots of room on the canal if you would prefer to walk or if you have friends who don’t mind pushing, you can rent a sled and have them propel you down the ice.

TIP: If you skate all the way to the other end of the Rideau Canal (7.8 kms) and decide you don’t feel like skating all the way back to the other end, no worries. There is a free shuttle bus you can take.

After your skate, if you’re in Ottawa in February during Winterlude, be sure to head over to Confederation park where there is free music, ice sculptures to admire and hot chocolate to warm you up.

Check Groupon for Deals on Ottawa Things to Do

ad for Groupon, another way to save on cheap things to do in torontoA great way to enjoy almost-free things to do in Ottawa is to check Groupon, the money-saving website that features local discounts in 150 cities.

Visit the Ottawa Groupon page and you’ll find savings of anywhere from 40-90% on attractions, tours, boat cruises, theatre tickets, dinner spots and accommodations.

The Groupon Ottawa page is a smart place to check out when you’re first planning your trip and even when you’re in the middle of your Ottawa visit because new deals get added weekly and even daily many times.

Get last minute tickets to a concert or game

You never know who might be in Ottawa playing a concert or show, or what sporting event could be going on.

A great, reliable source for last minute tickets is Stubhub.

Be thrifty and practical! This information was accurate when published, but can change without notice. We recommend you confirm all details with the provider in question before planning your excursion.

Photo Credits: Kumar Appaiah, Jamie In Bytown, michaelnugent, Dougtone, irishmexi, nic_r, Gronkca and NCC – CCN.