How to spend 48 hours in Ottawa in the summer

Friendly, peaceful and easily accessible by bike or on foot, the Canadian capital has everything to offer. From an Indigenous past to a colourful street art scene, explore Canada in one city.

By Ottawa Tourism
Published 19 Mar 2020, 22:06 GMT
Tent Room at Rideau Hall.
The colourful Tent Room at Rideau Hall, the official residence in Ottawa of the Governor General of Canada.
Photograph by Ottawa Tourism

A wealth of historic monuments, numerous world-class museums, a great outdoors and vibrant urban scene: Ottawa, Canada’s dynamic capital, embodies both the past and present of the country. It's a place with an all-around appeal; in summer, visitors can while away entire afternoons strolling around its streets and enjoying refreshing ice creams or try their hand at adventurous watersports. Far smaller than Toronto, and with most attractions located within the Downtown core, it’s an easy city to explore over two days.

Day one

With almost 500 miles of cycle pathways, Ottawa is well suited to exploring by bike. Get your gear from RentABike’s outlet at the north end of Rideau Canal — Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site — and start the day with a cycle along the family-friendly waterside pathways. Head south to cross the Corktown Footbridge, adorned with numerous love locks, and turn off towards the Canadian Museum of Nature. Opened in 1912 and recently renovated, Canada’s first national museum is home to dinosaur fossils, a lifelike gallery of moose and bison and an impressive blue whale skeleton.

Continuing the cultural adventure into the afternoon, head to the Canadian War Museum, whose striking, energy-efficient design is a must-see for architecture buffs. Allow plenty of time for a journey through the country’s past, from early wars to the present, as well as for the special exhibitions. If time permits, head over the Ontario River and cross into Quebec for the Canadian Museum of History, the country’s most-visited museum. Don’t miss the First Peoples Hall, housing extensive artefacts relating to Canada’s First Nations populations.

After a busy day of exploring, return to the bike drop-off point next to the Valiants Memorial, a monument dedicated to 14 significant men and women in Canada’s military past. Feel like a sweet treat? Head to the award-winning Stella Luna Gelato Café for an ice cream and a buttermilk waffle, or perhaps even a gelato cocktail. Right beside the cafe is the historic Mayfair Theatre, one of Canada’s oldest surviving independent cinemas.

View of the parliament buildings from Major's Hill Park in downtown Ottawa.
Photograph by Ottawa Tourism

Day two

Now to see Canada on foot, beginning with a walking tour of the creative scene. Start with coffee in downtown Rideau, an area packed with street art exhibits — including a mural featuring icons of Franco-Ontarian history at 98 George Street. Make your way to the nearby ByWard Market, a historic neighbourhood with lively restaurants, boutique shopping and a farmers’ market selling locally grown food and artisanal produce. Dalhousie Street is a hive of street art, while George Street features mural depicting a giant whale and hunter, made by the Ottawa School of Art and a group of Inuit artists. Look out for mythical animals, multicoloured birds and 14 small bronze alley cat sculptures. The Glebe and Little Italy are two other notable neighbourhoods tattooed with brightly coloured murals — as well as plenty of photo opportunities.

After lunch, take in Laurier House, the former residence of two Canadian prime ministers and an important reference point in the country’s political history. Visitors can take a guided tour and even go back to the 1940s to explore Canada’s wartime kitchen — a lesson in rationing, recycling and volunteer efforts during the Second World War. Beer lovers should also consider taking part in one of Brew Donkey’s craft brewery tours. By bus or on foot, these tours are a unique way to see the city, taking in breweries such as Beyond the Pale and Vimy Brewing Co.

To end the trip on a high note, try Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Show, the country’s much-loved and longest-running dinner musical. Tickets include a two-hour, family-friendly show celebrating Canadian music from folk songs to modern pop alongside a five-course, family-style meal of pea soup, roasted Manitoba chicken, fried haddock and roast beef.

Canoeing along the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photograph by Ottawa Tourism

Three ways to discover Ottawa on water 

1. Paddling in the Rideau Canal
Cool off with a dip in the Rideau Canal by renting a canoe, paddleboat, kayak or standup paddleboard. Look out for birds, ducks and fish as you navigate romantic nooks and small islands.

2. Whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River
From May to September, the Ottawa River becomes a whitewater haven for the brave, with adrenalin-pumping rafting led by experienced guides. The less adventurous can choose a gentle float on a larger raft.

3. Canoeing on Dows Lake
Take the whole family or try rowing à deux on an open canoe around the lake located on the beautiful Rideau Canal. There are plenty of restaurants for post-activity refreshments, too.


Air Canada flies direct from London Heathrow to the Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier International Airport. From there, it takes around 20 minutes to reach downtown Ottawa by bus or train.

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