Canada’s capital is a tale of two cities. In winter, Ottawa is an icy tundra, where citizens huddle past Parliament with scarfs wound up to their eyeballs, or commute across the frozen Rideau Canal, a Canadian wonder. But with the onset of summer comes a chameleonic change in personality so extreme, you wonder if it was really that cold after all. Music festivals fill up calendars from here until Labour Day, nature is once again ripe for excellent hikes in Gatineau Park, and green spaces are, well, green again.

Byward Market is Ottawa’s premier tourist destination, and for good reason. But it’s way more than just BeaverTails and the Ottawa sign — in the summer, its four blocks are heaving with live music, farmer’s markets and patios bathed in sunshine.

Ottawa is also home to some of the country’s best museums and galleries. Check out the world's largest indoor collection of totem poles at the Canadian Museum of History (the country’s most visited museum), and dig into the history of Indigenous Nations in Canada in the First Peoples Hall.

Once you’ve got your bearings, branch out into some of the city’s most eclectic neighbourhoods. Wander the leafy streets and graffitied walls of the historic Glebe district for entertainment, shopping and sports; sip and stroll your way through Wellington West’s quirky shops, making pitstops for doughnuts and craft beer; and cycle or rollerblade your way across Westboro Village, exploring the beaches, parks and modern architecture as you go.

Many have visited, perhaps in childhood, but in a city this resilient and regenerative, it’s long overdue a part deux. It’s time to take a summer sojourn to soak up the flavours and culture of Bytown and make new memories in Canada’s capital.

What to do in Ottawa

Nordik Spa-Nature

16 Chem. Nordik, Chelsea

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On the other side of the river in Chelsea, Quebec, Nordik Spa-Nature is a sprawling, outdoor wellness waterpark for grownups. For $90 admission, spend as long as you want relaxing your way through 10 baths with varying temperatures, an infinity pool and nine unique saunas — all part of the thermotherapy circuit. Take breaks at the cozy resting places or in one of four restaurants. Oh, and you can bring your glass of wine in the hot tub.

ByWard Market

What to do in Ottawa on a weekend trip | ByWard Market

A trip to the capital isn't complete without a stroll through the colourful ByWard Market, one of Canada's oldest and largest public markets. The four-block square of indoor and outdoor stalls and shops holds over 600 independent businesses. You'll find everything from art and jewelry to tasty snacks and grocery items from the ByWard farmers' market, which runs May to October. If you get shopping fatigue, settle in at one of the many restaurants, cafés and breweries in the market.

The Rideau Canal

What to do in Ottawa on a weekend trip | The Rideau Canal

Regardless of the season, the Rideau Canal is one of the most popular spots in the capital for locals and tourists alike. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Rideau is the oldest operating canal in North America. It winds its way around the city, connecting the Ottawa River to the Saint Lawrence. On either side, tree-lined pathways are prime for strolling in warmer weather. Rent paddle-boats, canoes or kayaks to take out on the water, or sign up for a guided boat tour for panoramic city views. You can also rent a number of floating devices at Dow's Lake, a picturesque man-made marvel near Carleton University. Or, float to Dow's Lake along the canal on a Rideau Canal Cruise which departs near the National Art Centre and takes you past landmarks such as the ​Chateau Laurier hotel enroute to the lake.

Escape Bicycle Tours

79 Sparks St.

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A five-minute walk from Parliament Hill's Centennial Flame is Escape Bicycle Tours where you can rent a bike for the day or join a small-group guided tour through Ottawa's must-see neighbourhoods and sites like Sussex Drive, the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Rideau Falls.

Diefenbunker Museum

3929 Carp Rd.

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The Diefenbunker is a departure from the city’s big-name national museums. Just outside Ottawa, in Carp, Ont., this Cold War-era bunker scores cool points for its name alone. It was built in 1959 to shelter the Canadian government, including Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, in the event of a nuclear attack. Tours of the 100,000 square-foot subterranean facility visit the living quarters, war room and emergency broadcasting studio, all of which have a restored layout.

Alexandra Bridge

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You don't have to talk (or even like) politics to admire the neo-Gothic Parliament buildings and the symbolic Peace Tower overlooking the Ottawa River from this iconic lookout spot. You could cross the Alexandra Bridge to explore Hull over in Gatineau, Quebec or stay for sunset from the bridge's lookout. 

Where to eat and drink in Ottawa

Absinthe Café

1208 Wellington St.

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Sophisticated service and fine dining fare meet a down-to-earth atmosphere at this modern French bistro in Wellington Village. It’s relaxed enough that you could stumble in after a day of sightseeing, while still feeling high-end. Start with one of their namesake absinthe cocktails before moving to French or local wine. Focused on locally-sourced ingredients, the seasonal menu changes often, but during our visit we tucked into a savoury and spicy mushroom velouté, lamb cavatelli and steak frites.


40 Adeline St.

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The only woman to compete in the 2022 Canadian Culinary Championships took home the gold — and she did it all without the assistance of meat. Briana Kim’s passion for sustainability led to a plant-based menu in Alice’s residential kitchen in Ottawa’s Little Italy. The delicious byproducts include savoury broths, fermented veggies and unreal dipping sauces featured on the b​lind eight-course tasting menu. Kim’s artistic foodscapes and delicate dioramas might look too good to eat, but we implore you to dig in.

The Third

1017 Wellington St. W.

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Point blind-folded to a map of the Wellington West/Hintonburg hood, and you’re bound to land on a brewery or gastropub. And while you really can’t go wrong with the award-winning lagers and ales at Tooth and Nail down the street, The Third is our pick for a lazy afternoon hang. The cornerstone of the neighbourhood maintains its old-school vibes with a top-notch roster of local brews (Dominion City, Kichessippi, Broadhead Brewing), updated diner faves like burgers and grilled cheese, and a laidback community feel that makes standing up feel impossible.

Restaurant e18hteen

18 York St.

After a day of exploring the market or people watching on the Rideau Canal, feast your eyes on a fine-dining experience you won't forget at Restaurant e18hteen. Situated in a stunning reconstructed 1867 heritage building, the location is as spectacular as your meal. Focusing on traditional French cuisine with seasonal Canadian influences, e18hteen is the place for a treat yo'self steak or seafood dinner.


425 Bank St.

The best things to do in Ottawa, Ontario | Artistic plate at Fauna

Fauna checks all the boxes you could want from a dinner spot: an inviting vibe, great food and an approachable wine list. The restaurant’s small-plates menu focuses on quality, mostly local, seasonal ingredients. The artfully-plated dishes draw influences from around the world with options ranging from lamb tartare with miso aioli to guinea fowl with Parisienne gnocchi.

Elgin Street eats

Various locations

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You could spend all afternoon on this iconic, village-like street lined with heritage buildings, restaurants and shops. You literally can’t miss the Elgin Street Diner because it’s always open (their famous poutine is best as a late-night, post-bar snack); next door, get your fill of steamed buns, noodles and dumplings at Asian bar Datsun. Don't miss carb-loading at SconeWitch for the city's best, you guessed it, scones. 


1433 Wellington St. W.

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It’s easy to see where popular brunch spot Chesterfield's gets its name, with its interior decorated with mismatched chesterfields (that unique and unnecessary Canadian term for “couch”) and 1970s-style knick-knacks. Most of the furniture is secondhand, in keeping with the restaurant’s commitment to eco-friendly practices — they’re powered by hydroelectricity and don’t use styrofoam. Although the menu at Chesterfield’s channels classic diner fare, the restaurant bills itself as “a not-so greasy spoon” thanks to their grease-free cooking methods.

Where to stay in Ottawa

Fairmont Château Laurier

1 Rideau St.

What to do in Ottawa on a weekend trip | The Fairmont Château Laurier and Parliament Hill

The iconic Fairmont Château Laurier is situated right in the beating heart of Ottawa. The imposing French Gothic Revival Châteauesque structure, just a short stroll from the Parliament buildings, boasts one of the city’s best summer patios. Snag a seat at La Terrasse, order a cocktail imbued with honey from the hotel’s own apiaries, and enjoy panoramic views of the city and the Ottawa River.

Le Germain Hotel Ottawa

30 Daly Ave.

The best things to eat and do in Ottawa | Le Germain Hotel Ottawa

This boutique hotel brings artistic charm, homey vibes and impeccable lighting to your downtown Ottawa stay. Rooms range from the Classic to the Prestige Suite and each one comes with heavenly goose-down duvets, stunning printed images by Montreal photographer Julie Couture and design-forward accents. The central location puts main attractions like Confederation Park, Elgin Street and Parliament Hill all within walking distance.