If you fancy escaping the city for a day, Ottawa’s proximity to other amazing places makes it easier than ever to pack up the car and head off for a spontaneous adventure. From charming villages and nature parks to some of Ontario’s most culturally diverse cities, each of our recommendations can be reached in less than three hours.
Tours of the Bonnechere Caves have been running for almost 60 years and are a favourite with locals and visitors. Experienced guides take you on a journey through these otherworldly structures, past waterfalls and fascinating fossils. Enjoy a picnic lunch, or stop in at the town of Renfrew on your way back. The caves are about 90 minutes’ drive from Ottawa and are open all summer. Tours last for around one hour and run every 20-30 minutes. Wear comfortable shoes with grip and bring warm clothing as it can get quite cool when you’re inside.
Just across the river from Ottawa, Gatineau Park stretches 220 square miles (361sq km) from within the city of Gatineau through wooded parkland, past lakes and beautiful waterfalls into the heart of Québec’s wilderness. This huge nature park has tons of hiking and cycle trails for all levels, as well as a popular sandy beach at Meech Lake, perfect for swimming, kayaking, and other fun water activities. Don’t leave without visiting the Champlain Lookout, for panoramic views of the rolling Gatineau Hills and Ottawa Valley.
If you have the time and you’re passing through Gatineau Park, carry on to the village of Wakefield. Around 30 minutes from Ottawa, this popular spot also has hiking and biking trails, but is perhaps best-loved for its quaint boutiques, antique shops and eateries, including MJMD Pizza de Luigi, Pipolinka Bakery and Cafe Le Hibou. Those who fancy staying the night can treat themselves to luxury spa treatments before relaxing in a bubbling hot tub with panoramic landscape views at Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa.
One of eastern Canada’s other major cities, Montréal is conveniently located just a couple of hours away, making it a great choice for a day trip. Grab a bite to eat in the buzzing Mile End neighbourhood, visit the Botanical Garden, stop off at the city’s amusement park, La Ronde, or explore Old Montréal’s narrow cobblestone streets — home to La Grande Roue de Montréal, the highest Ferris wheel in Canada. If you’re there in winter, escape the cold in a huge underground shopping centre underneath Downtown Montréal.
Also around two hours from Ottawa is the city of Kingston, which was originally Canada’s capital. With a thriving cultural scene, incredible waterfront views and an abundance of cafes, restaurants, shops and festivals, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Fort Henry will transport you back to 19th-century military life in Canada, with tours, performances and demonstrations. The city’s food and beer walking tours also come highly recommended, showcasing foodie favourites such as Italian restaurant Olivea, and the subtle French-influenced dishes at Chez Piggy.
The perfect destination for wine lovers, Prince Edward County is among Ontario’s fastest-growing wine regions, home to over 40 wineries. Not to be confused with Prince Edward Island — Canada’s smallest province — the county also plays host to food festivals, art studio tours, and jazz and classical music events. Spend time exploring galleries, boutiques and gourmet restaurants, or hire a bike and discover the area’s uncrowded roads and gently rolling hills. In winter there’s also cross-country skiing, ice fishing and skating.