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Top 10 Things to Do in Ottawa with Kids

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Canada's capital city of Ottawa combines cultural attractions with outdoorsy fun for family travelers. Ottawa is a pretty and welcoming city that is easy to explore on foot. Located on the border of Québec, visitors eager to put their high school French to use can brush up on their language skills in this bilingual city. As a proud Canadian mom, I am excited to share with you these top things to do in Ottawa with kids.

Visiting Parliament Hill is a must when in Ottawa with kids

Parliament Hill in Ottawa (Photo credit: tiger_barb, Depositphotos.com)

1. Explore Parliament Hill.

If each city has a focal point, then Parliament Hill is the star in Ottawa. The three neo-Gothic parliamentary buildings sit prominently on a limestone bluff alongside the Ottawa River and are home to the national government of Canada. The House of Commons, the Senate, and the Library of Parliament are located in Centre Block.

You could just stroll the lovely grounds of Parliament Hill to pass some time. But anyone who wants to learn more about the Canadian legislative process and the history of the buildings should sign up for a free guided tour. They're available in both English and French. Ambitious visitors will enjoy the self-guided trek to the observation deck of the Peace Tower and will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the city of Ottawa.

Families enjoy watching the Changing of the Guard in Ottawa

The Changing of the Guard (Photo credit: ClickImages, Depositphotos.com)

2. Watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

During summer, kids love the colorful Changing of the Guard. This ceremony takes place each morning at Parliament Hill. July through early September, the unique Sound and Light Show tells the story of Canada via images projected onto Parliament buildings along with music.

It's hard to miss the "Maman" spider sculpture in front of the National Gallery

It's hard to miss the “Maman” spider sculpture in front of the National Gallery (Photo credit: sainaniritu, Depositphotos.com)

3. View artwork at the National Gallery of Canada.

The National Gallery of Canada showcases Canadian art and hosts a family program of hands-on activities. It might be the sculpture of a giant spider outside, however, that kids remember the most.

History buffs will definitely want to visit the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa with kids

The Canadian Museum of History (Photo credit: hstiver, Depositphotos.com)

4. Learn about the country's past at the Canadian Museum of History.

At the Canadian Museum of History (known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization until 2013), visitors stroll through a thousand years of the country's history in Canada Hall. You can also get a close-up look at the world's largest indoor collection of totem poles in the Grand Hall. The exceptional Canadian Children's Museum takes youngsters on an interactive tour of the world.

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is fun for families in Ottawa

The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is fun and educational for families (Photo credit: Canada Agriculture and Food Museum)

5. Visit museums that suit your family's interests.

As the nation's capital, Ottawa is home to a number of world-class museums. Some options that are popular with families include the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canadian War Museum. Young children particularly enjoy the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, a working farm and learning center.

Kids and adults learn how money is made at the Canadian Mint in Ottawa

Kids learn how money is made at the Canadian Mint (Photo credit: citylights, Depositphotos.com)

6. Tour the Royal Canadian Mint.

Kids love guided tours of the Royal Canadian Mint, where Canadian coins are made. Visitors learn about the art of coin making and may even get an opportunity to hold a gold bar that's worth almost $1 million. Reservations are strongly recommended. To book a 45-minute tour, call (613) 993-8990 or 1-800-276-7714 (toll-free).

ByWard Market is a must when visiting Ottawa with kids

ByWard Market is one of Canada's oldest and largest public markets (Photo credit: macinlondon, Depositphotos.com)

7. Shop and eat at Historic ByWard Market.

Established in 1826 when Ottawa was known as ByTown, ByWard Market is one of Canada's oldest and largest public markets. Today there is still a farmer's market on-site as well as many restaurants, cafés, shops and galleries.

Get a BeaverTail pastry at ByWard Market in Ottawa with kids

Get a BeaverTail pastry at ByWard Market (Photo credit: paulmckinnon, Depositphotos.com)

ByWard Market is the original location of the famous Canadian BeaverTail pastries. Even U.S. President Barack Obama made a point of sampling one of these sweet treats during his visit to Ottawa. There are many flavors available but you can't go wrong with my personal favorite — the original cinnamon sugar.

The Rideau Canal is a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Rideau Canal is a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Photo credit: ClickImages, Depositphotos.com)

8. Enjoy the Rideau Canal.

The Rideau Canal's system of lakes, rivers, and canals connects Ottawa to the city of Kingston on Lake Ontario. The canal is a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Budding engineers can learn about the construction of the canal at the ByTown Museum, located on the canal between Parliament Hill and the Château Laurier Hotel.

In summer, the canal is popular for canoeing and kayaking. Visitors who don't wish to take to the water can stroll the walking trails alongside the canal instead. A Rideau Canal boat tour or Ottawa River boat tour provides a beautiful vantage point of the city as well as spectacular photos.

Take your kids ice skating on the Rideau Canal in winter

Take your kids ice skating on the Rideau Canal in winter (Photo credit: Sublimage, Depositphotos.com)

During winter, the canal is transformed into the Rideau Canal Skateway. It's the world's largest ice skating rink, at more than 7.8 kilometers (nearly 5 miles) in length. Rent skates to participate in this quintessential Ottawa past-time. Take a break at one of the many rest areas along the route to warm up by a toasty fire and sip hot chocolate.

Get your nature fix at Gatineau Park near Ottawa with kids

Get your nature fix at Gatineau Park near Ottawa (Photo credit: anderm, Depositphotos.com)

9. Play in the great outdoors.

Ottawa residents love to spend time outdoors, as evidenced by the many parks and green spaces in the city. Active families can walk, run, cycle or rollerblade along more than 300 kilometers of pathways. Located just a few minutes from downtown, the Gatineau Park offers all sorts of outdoor activities including hiking, camping, swimming, geocaching, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.

Expect to see ice sculptures like this bear during Winterlude Festival in Ottawa with kids

Expect to see ice sculptures like this bear during Ottawa's Winterlude Festival (Photo credit: Sublimage, Depositphotos.com)

10. Attend an Ottawa festival.

Ottawa hosts many festivals over the course of the year. Attending a festival will make your visit to Ottawa with kids all the more memorable. Winterlude, a three-week celebration of winter held each February, is one of the most well-known Ottawa festivals. Meanwhile, each May the Canadian Tulip Festival features more than a million tulips blooming across the city. On July 1st, the patriotic Canada Day party on Parliament Hill celebrates the anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

Ottawa with kids is especially pretty during the Canadian Tulip Festival

Ottawa is especially pretty during the Canadian Tulip Festival (Photo credit: chiyacat, Depositphotos.com)

With so much to see and do, Ottawa makes wonderful choice for a family holiday any time of the year!

If you're planning a trip to Canada with kids, you're definitely going to want to check out 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit. Take a look at The Travel Mama's full review of this informative book, or buy your copy now.

10 Top Things to Do in Ottawa with Kids

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What time of year would you most like to visit Ottawa? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Spunky Travel Mama: No media rates, complimentary services or compensations were received related to this post. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

Comments

  1. Sarah at Journeys of The Zoo says:

    I am the worst tourist in the world but I’m pleased to say that I’ve done at least ONE of these activities. Especially because I live in Ottawa. The only other idea that I suggest to people (and it’s seasonal) is taking a boat or bus tour around the city.

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      Thank you for your comment, Sarah! Isn’t it funny how we rarely make time to visit the popular tourist attractions in our home towns? On our last trip to Ottawa my younger daughter and I went on one of the Lady Dive tours that drive around the city before heading into the Ottawa River. It was so much fun and a great way to see the city!

  2. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Lisa – I’ve been meaning to leave a comment on this since it posted! Your posts about Canada make me want to go explore more of your big, wonderful country. When I went to Quebec a couple of years ago, I was able to drive past the Parliament Hill but that was about it. I hope to someday return and do all of the things you suggest in Ottawa!

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      Colleen, you definitely need to spend more time exploring Canada – there are so many places that you would love! Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City would be a great place for you to start!

  3. Nadia Burke says:

    Will be in Ottawa in early to mid May…with a 4, 6 and 8 year old. Any ideas on how to keep busy between hockey games?

    • Lisa Goodmurphy says:

      Hi Nadia, May is a great time to visit Ottawa – the tulips should be blooming and the city will be gorgeous! The Canadian Tulip Festival runs May 11-21 this year and there will be special activities happening during that time around Ottawa. Not sure how much time you have between hockey games but Ottawa/Gatineau is home to a number of great museums. The Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Museum of Nature and the Canadian Museum of History were favourites of ours when my kids were young. The Canadian Children’s Museum is part of the Museum of History and is a fantastic hands-on museum for younger kids. Ottawa is a great city for spending time outdoors – there’s lots of parks where you can take the kids to run around. Hope that helps – enjoy your visit!

      Lisa

  4. robin rue says:

    I have never been to Ottawa before, but it sounds like a super cool place to visit. I will definitely think about planning a trip there.

  5. Bill Sweeney says:

    Ottawa sounds like a great place to take the kids. We’ve never been, but wouldn’t rule out a Sweeney family vacation some day!

  6. Witnessing the changing of the guards is always an awesome experience. I just love watching their snappy, coordinated movements. Oh, and the Tulip festival is also a sight to see.

  7. Veronica Vilora Solomon says:

    I have big plans for visiting Canada one day soon, and I want to do all these things in Ottawa

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Wonderful! I hope you have a fabulous time in Ottawa and beyond in Canada, Veronica.

  8. Ice skating on a canal?! That sounds so cool. I’ve never been to Ottawa, but it looks like a great place to take the family.

  9. I have never been to Canada but it looks amazing!! It just seems so fresh and fun–ready for exploring!

  10. I love going to Canada but I’ve never been to Ottawa. I would love to see the changing of the guard there. There is so much to do and it’s perfect for kids, too.

  11. Becca Wilson says:

    I have always wanted to visit Canada. Ottawa looks like it has so much to offer and so much fun to be had.

  12. Shannon Gurnee says:

    I’ve never been to Ottawa before, but would love to go someday. Looks like a lot of fun things to do.

  13. These are such great ideas to do with kids! I’ve had Ottawa on my bucket list for quite sometime now!

  14. I actually just heard about the famous BeaverTails in Canada. I know when I get a chance to visit I want to try a beavetail!

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