Most Canadians think of Ottawa as the capital city, but you can’t know its true charm unless you go there for a visit. Since Ottawa is a calm place with just the right amount of excitement, it’s the perfect destination for a laid-back summer vacation. You’ll find urban convenience and amenities without all the hustle and bustle of the big city, so you can relax with family and friends. Since there are so many things to do in Ottawa, we’ve made a list of them so you can experience the history, culture and natural landscapes while taking in the summer sun.
1. Visit Parliament Hill
As one of the most iconic Canadian symbols, Parliament Hill’s Peace Tower defines Ottawa’s skyline. Anyone looking for things to do in Ottawa this summer should stop here first! On weekdays, you might even catch the changing of the massive Canadian flag at the very top of Peace Tower.
No matter what season of the year it is, you should take a tour of Canada's Parliament. You can start on your own in the Memorial Chamber at the base of Peace Tower, dedicated to every Canadian that died in war and conflict around the world. Then, take a guided tour of Canada’s Parliament buildings and get to know the history of Canada’s government. The tours are free. While you can tour other parliamentary buildings in provincial capitals across Canada, touring the federal buildings is a unique Ottawa experience.
Local tip: don’t want to waste the sunshine? Bring your yoga mat and leggings to Parliament Wednesday at noon in the summer to catch Yoga on Parliament Hill , a massive open-air yoga event.
Starting in late June and running throughout the summer, you can see the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill. These guards are usually reservists in the Canadian Forces, and they march with their own pipe band in full regalia. Be warned though, that this is a very popular Ottawa attraction. If you’re going with kids, it’s best to show up at least 15 minutes early so they can get a good spot to see it all.
2. Spend Time on the Water
If the Ottawa summer sun is shining, get out on the water! The Rideau Canal , a National Historic Site, runs throughout Canada’s capital.
If you like fishing, the Rideau Waterway is home to numerous species, including Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, and Lake Trout. Bring your fishing pole or rent one from a local shop, but make sure you’ve got a fishing licence.
For a relaxed boating excursion, visit Dow’s Lake and rent a canoe or a pedal boat. Alternatively, find a marina and rent a boat from one of the many companies in the city. Visit Ottawa in summer and get to know one of Canada’s most historic waterways on your own or with a guide.
Keep cool in the summer heat with a refreshing lake swim. Although the Rideau Canal maybe your first bet, we recommend heading to Philippe Lake instead. Just 45 min outside Ottawa, this lake has three sandy beaches to choose from, all patrolled with lifeguards in the summer.
If water parks are more your style, or perhaps your little ones spotted the giant slides from the highway, you should head to Calypso Waterpark. This is Canada’s biggest waterpark and a blast for the whole family.
Local tip: going to Ottawa in late spring instead of summer? You’ll be just in time for the Canadian Tulip Festival; the best flowers are along the Rideau Canal.
3. Check out the Summer Festivals in Ottawa
When it comes to thinking up fun things to do in Ottawa this summer, you can’t miss the city’s festivals and fairs.
In late June, the Ottawa Jazz Fest has been bringing jazz performers from near and far to play for Ottawa audiences since 1980. In early July, the Ottawa Bluesfest serenades locals and visitors with the best blues talent from Canada and beyond. The Bluesfest is one of the biggest annual summer festivals in Ottawa, with multiple stages packed with talent. If you’re into classical music, the Ottawa ChamberFest welcomes the biggest names in chamber performance each year during late July and early August.
Local tip: in addition to enjoying the on-stage jams, you can check out some of the festival’s other attractions and activities. You have to make your way to THE FORT, a flurry of activity beside the Canadian War Museum.
If you’re looking for Ottawa summer fun in early August, catch an evening of the Sound of Light festival. Technically held in nearby Gatineau, this is a fireworks festival that features some of the best international fireworks experts. If you’re not interested in crossing the river to see the show, no worries -- you can see it all over Ottawa.
Finally, catch the Capital Fair at the end of summer. Be sure to bring the kids, because under-fives get in for free.
There are rides, games and booths serving up indulgent fair food. Additional events during the fair can include highland games, monster truck rallies, dance battles, and much more.
4. Have Fun Outdoors
For a low-key activity, a picnic is a great idea for families, friends or couples. Picnics are one of the most underrated things to do in Ottawa, but there are some great spots to lay down your blanket that not everyone thinks about visiting.
If you stop by Miltons Mill on the west channel of the Rideau river, you can sit by the water and snack while taking in the historic wood mill built in 1860. For a more scenic picnic experience, head to the Dominion Arboretum. This is Canada’s oldest arboretum, home to over 1000 tree species from all over the world. There are panoramic views of the Rideau River and waterside spots to sit at. This is a popular spot, but with its 64 acres, it never feels crowded. For a more woodsy picnic experience, find a spot near the Pink Lake in Gatineau Park.
While you’re in Gatineau park, take the opportunity to go for a summer hike. Gatineau is technically in Quebec, but you can get there by car in 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa. There are good hiking spots here; we’ve featured them on our list of best hiking spots in all of Canada. Check out the Lusk Cave as well.
Some other scenic places to visit near Ottawa in summer are the waterfalls. Princess Louise Falls are a sort of diamonds in the rough. Hidden within a suburban land development, this unusual waterfall makes for a unique photo. Many couples take their engagement photos here. The best-known waterfall in the area is the Rideau Falls. These two big waterfalls are split by an island, making them resemble two curtains or rideaus. The falls were named after this and so was the lake that empties into them!
Local Tip: If someone you’re travelling with loves wildlife, check out Petrie Island. It has more birds and amphibians per square foot than anywhere else in Ottawa. With the Ottawa summer weather, it’s a fun place for kids to catch some frogs!
5. Visit a Summer Market
When the Ottawa summer weather heats up, the local farmers markets are filled to the brim with fresh local produce.
The Lansdowne Summer Market, located in Lansdowne Park, features farmers and producers with food and goods they’ve made, baked, or grown within 100 kilometres of the city. While some fruits might come from further away, you can be assured nearly everything else here is local and the best of Ottawa. In addition to food and produce, you can find jewellery and artisan crafts on sale. Bring home a piece of Ottawa culture.
If you’re really in a market mood, head to the ByWard Market as well. Temporary outdoor vendors and more permanent shops mingle with places to eat and people watch. Thousands of locals and visitors alike make their way to the ByWard Market every weekend, so if you want to avoid crowds, go on a weekday.
Throughout the summer, the ByWard Market holds a number of eventsin Ottawa. Try out a walking tour, held for free Thursday to Sunday throughout the season. You’ll learn about the history of the ByWard Market. If you stop by at night, there are lots of clubs and restaurants offering nighttime entertainment.
6. Check Out the Sports Scene
Ottawa has three major sports teams that play in the summer.Football fans can catch the Redblacks, Ottawa’s CFL team, at the TD Place Stadium. The Redblacks usually play two home games a month. If your trip is timed right, you can check them out. Make sure you cheer loudly!
If baseball is more your speed, the Ottawa Champions have over 25 home games a year. Come on a Saturday game for a fireworks show as well. Thursdays are a good alternate day to catch a game, as the stadium has dollar hot dog deals, great for treating the kids.
Not interested in football or baseball? Good news -- Ottawa also has its own soccer team, the Fury FC. Soccer may not be huge in Canada just yet, but if you’re looking for things to do in Ottawa this summer, why not get into a new sport?
There are more than 50 kilometres worth of paths in and around Ottawa that are closed to motorists every Sunday morning. These extra special paths join the 980 kilometres of multi-use paths throughout the city that already exist, so even if you’re not going for a ride on Sunday, you’re spoiled for choice.