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Travelers often overlook Canada’s capital city in favor of its neighbors, Toronto and Montreal, but it is a great destination with a wealth of sightseeing opportunities and attractions on offer. From cultural pursuits to beautiful natural landscapes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Here are 12 of the best things to see and do in Ottawa.
Canada’s political centerpiece and the home of the city’s government buildings, Parliament Hill is distinguishable by its impressive gothic-style architecture, which dominates the downtown area overlooking the Ottawa River. Ottawa’s Canada Day celebrations are also centered around this landmark, as are the light and sound shows that take place in the summer and during the festive season. It offers free guided tours, which are a great way to learn more about the area’s history and familiarize yourself with the city’s importance in Canada’s cultural landscape.
At the center of the Canadian parliament buildings, the Peace Tower is a national landmark in its own right. Its ornate stone carvings and clock face make the structure one of Canada’s most widely recognizable symbols (also largely thanks to its appearance on the national 20-dollar bill). While it’s an impressive sight from ground level, the tower’s observation deck offers unrivaled 360-degree views of the city from more than 300ft (91m) up. Tours of the Peace Tower are free of charge, with ticket numbers limited and issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
Completed in 1846, this cathedral basilica is the oldest and largest church in Ottawa and currently functions as a dual-language place of worship, with services conducted in French and English. Behind its relatively modest facade hides a vibrant and brightly painted interior, featuring beautiful stained glass and gothic iconography. It’s open daily for self-led and guided tours. It’s also worth checking online, as it hosts various concerts sporadically throughout the year, many of which receive rave reviews.
Dive into Canada’s rich political history as you explore the former residence of prime ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Daily tours offered during the summer give you the chance to learn more about these important Canadian leaders and admire the historic estate’s collection of their personal objects and artwork. The site is also home to a World War II-themed escape room where your task is to complete a recipe for the prime minister’s dinner party in a 1940s kitchen. Other attractions include an interactive theater and the opportunity to enjoy tea on the veranda.
There’s truly no better way to engage in Canadian culture than at an ice-hockey game. The Senators – Ottawa’s professional team in the National Hockey League (NHL) – play outside the downtown area in Kanata at the Canadian Tire Centre. Try the Senators’ official pulled-pork sandwich and savor the experience with your choice of merchandise from the arena’s Sens Store. Alternatively, you can watch the city’s Ontario Hockey League team, the Ottawa 67s, play. Named after Canada’s 1967 centennial year, they play at the TD Place Arena.
Additional reporting by Emma Gibbins.