As the capital of Canada, Ottawa is a fantastic destination to visit, offering a great number of attractions and activities. Better still, you don’t have to break the bank to get an amazing Ottawa experience as there are a whole host of brilliant free things to see and do. From tours of interesting government buildings to beautiful canals, parks, and world-class museums, there’s plenty to keep you busy and your wallet closed. If you are planning on making Ottawa a key stop during your holiday to Canada, read on to discover a handful of free activities to look forward to.

A tour of Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Parliament Hill in Ottawa is the home of the Parliament of Canada and thus the focal point of Canada’s political life. Situated on the banks of the Ottawa River, it is made up of a suite of Gothic-revival style buildings that are a true sight to behold. The area was developed into a governmental precinct after Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as Canada’s capital and today visitors can look forward to exploring Parliament Hill for free. The guided tours of this iconic Canadian structure are free for visitors, and this includes the wonderful Peace Tower, which serves as a memorial for those who died serving Canada.

There are incredible views to be had at the top of the Peace Tower and the tours of the House of Commons and Senate provide plenty of interest. You also have a chance to see the changing of the guard at Parliament Hill and just relax on the lawn out front if it’s a nice summer’s day.

Crystal, from the blog Dreams etc, has visited Parliament Hill herself and shares this insight: “Guided tours aren’t always my favourite thing to do, but I knew I wanted to get into the building and our tour guide made it so much fun! She loves mysteries, so she pointed out the ‘mysteries’ of Parliament Hill and it was such a cool and interactive way to see the building.” Crystal also adds: “The building was stunning, and I just stood there snapping photos whenever we stopped for the tour guide to talk or wait for another tour group to pass.”

Explore Rideau Hall

Rideau Hall in Ottawa Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa, Ontario

Rideau Hall is another key location to visit during your Ottawa holiday, being one of two official royal residences for the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as the Governor General of Canada - the official representative of the queen. Consisting of 175 rooms across 9,500 square metres, Rideau Hall is an impressive building and is mostly used for state affairs with a small portion dedicated to a private residence.

Rideau Hall has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada and is open to the public to enjoy for free via guided tours. You can look forward to seeing the glorious equestrian monument to Elizabeth II, exploring the elegant staterooms used by the governor and various dignitaries, as well as seeing a wonderful collection of Canadian art and furniture. There is also a tour of the historical gardens to enjoy, making this a truly excellent free attraction and a great way to learn more about Canada’s capital.

READ ALSO: 48 hours in Ottawa

Relax in Gatineau Park

Abbey Ruins in Gatineau Park
The Abbey Ruins, Gatineau Park, Quebec

When it comes to free things to do in Ottawa, it isn’t all about historic buildings, there are great outdoor spaces, including the wonderful Gatineau Park, just 2.5 miles north of downtown Ottawa. If you are willing to take a brief 15-minute drive outside the city to the main conservation area, Gatineau Park will truly reward you. Boasting beautiful natural scenery, a collection of fantastic walking trails, waterfalls, mountain biking routes, as well as lake-side beaches, picnic areas, campgrounds, and it’s even a hotspot for cross country skiing.

Gatineau is home to a plethora of fun activities and would be a great way to unwind during your time in the area. Paula, from the travel blog, Thrifty Mommas Tips, has been to Gatineau Park herself and shared with us what she enjoyed most about the park as well as suggesting a few favourite activities to try during your visit:

“You could spend days in Gatineau Park: it’s just that large and stunning. Gatineau Park is the perfect example of why a visit to Québec is a must-do when you are in and around Ottawa. Have you ever seen a meromictic lake, where the layers don’t mix creating a gradient of numerous natural pink, green and blue shades? Pink Lake and Pink Lake Trail are brilliant and educational. I’d drive just to see both of those favourites.

“The beaches inside the park are clean and picturesque. The biking and hiking trails in the park are exceptional, with various levels of difficulty and distance. Also inside Gatineau Park is Camp Fortune where you can zip line or do a mountain coaster in the sunny mild months.”

Enjoy Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal and Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Ontario
Rideau Canal and Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Ontario

Connecting Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River, Rideau Canal is one of the premier attractions in the capital, being a 202-kilometre-long waterway that never fails to attract locals and visitors. Whether you want to enjoy a leisurely stroll on a hot summer’s day, go for a bike ride or simply watch the Parks Canada staff operate the locks that connect the canal to the Ottawa River, it’s a relaxing and fascinating place to be. It’s in winter, however, that the Rideau Canal really makes a name for itself, with this UNESCO World Heritage Site becoming the world’s largest ice-skating rink, stretching for 7.8km through downtown Ottawa to Dow’s Lake. If you have your own skates, it’s free to join in, though rentals are available too.

Someone who has enjoyed Rideau Canal is Zoё, from the travel blog The Quirky Traveller. She has been down the canal on a boat and spoke to us about why she so enjoyed her time there: “What I enjoyed most about the Rideau Canal trip was the tranquil way I was transported along a significant part of Canada’s past, discovering more about the architecture, history, scenery and daily life of the capital city. It’s great for all the family, for all weathers (it was raining when I did it!) and a relaxing way to experience more of this vibrant capital city.”

READ ALSO: 6 magical places to see on your next Ottawa visit

Head to a museum

National Gallery of Canada
National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario

As Canada’s capital, Ottawa has no shortage of fantastic, world-class museums, and while they typically charge a fee to enter, on certain days and times, the fees are waived, giving you free access to these brilliant attractions.

For example, you could head to the National Gallery of Canada for free on Thursdays between 5pm and 8pm. It is home to one of the finest collections of indigenous and Canadian art in the world so is well worth a visit.

Or how about the Canada Museum of History, where you can learn about the nation’s heritage to give you a better understanding of the amazing country that you are visiting. The museum is free every Thursday from 5pm to 7pm (book tickets online in advance), as well as on Canada Day (1st of July), on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (30th September), and on Remembrance Day (11th November).

Perhaps you would rather dive into the world of science at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, featuring 11 interactive exhibitions. The museum offers free admission every day between 4pm and 5pm with a ticket reserved online in advance.

Other museums in Ottawa that offer free admission at certain dates and times include:

- Canada Aviation and Space Museum: 4pm to 5pm with a reserved ticket.

- Canada Agriculture and Food Museum: 4pm to 5pm with a reserved ticket.

- Canadian Museum of Nature: To permanent galleries on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm (tickets released Monday at 8am), Canada Day, and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

- Canadian War Museum: Thursday from 5pm to 7pm (book tickets online in advance), Canada Day, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and Remembrance Day.

What free things are there to do in Ottawa?

- A tour of Parliament Hill

- Explore Rideau Hall

- Relax in Gatineau Park

- Enjoy Rideau Canal

- Head to a museum

Hopefully, this guide has given you a few ideas of some amazing things you can do in Ottawa, without having to spend a penny. There is so much to be excited by when it comes to visiting Canada’s capital city and if you would like to experience it yourself, we can make it happen. We are the Canada travel experts and can tailor a bespoke Canada holiday that includes everything you want to see and do.

For more tips, guides, and advice, make sure to visit our blog.

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