Ottawa, Canada: A Family Travel Guide - Palm Beach Moms

If you are considering a Canadian Family holiday – we vote for Ottawa!  Ottawa makes the perfect family vacation.  History lingers in the capital city, with something to be explored at every turn.  Ottawa is rich with celebration, starting with February’s Winterlude, continuing through May’s Canadian Tulip Festival, heating up July 1st with the the country’s biggest Canada Day celebration, and rounding out with headliner summer music festivals.  Here are are top picks for a memorable long weekend (or more):

Dont miss these:

Parliament – Currently undergoing a 10 year renovation project so tours are shuffled around a bit.  You can still appreciate the architecture and history just walking the grounds.  This summer there is an amazing free light show displayed on the buildings this summer each evening.  I feel bad calling it a light show because we got to see a preview of it – and its really much more than that.  You can reserve your tour time online.  

Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is worth a visit.  Just a stunning piece of architecture from the 1840’s inspiring no matter your religious affiliations.  (Free self guided tour)

Rideau Hall is a stop on the Greyline Bus and the tour was really interesting.  You will learn the relationship between the British Royalty and the Canadian Prime Minister and how that has evolved.  The presiding Governor General of Canada has called Rideau Hall home since 1867.  Tour the grounds and find the trees planted in JFK and Jackie Kennedys honor during their visit.  The trees branches are intertwined now which is just so sweet.  Tours are free.

If you visit in winter –  experience the Rideau Canal Skateway’s 4.8 miles, which stretch from Ottawa’s downtown core near the National Arts Centre to spacious Dows Lake. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world.  Skating is free.

Lansdowne Park is a fabulous sports complex with a lively downtown area, a great playground, and plenty of space to make a picnic from the green market if you visit in the summer.  The sports store is a retailer for Canadian Goose jackets which are inarguably some of the finest outerwear made anywhere.  Would make a marvelous souvenir!

The History Museum is a must see.  There is a wonderful area designed just for kids, however we found the majority of the large museum interesting for kids.  The IMAX theater has shows in case of a day with inclement weather and is included with the price of admission.  Stay to enjoy a meal at their casual restaurant over looking the river with Parliament in the distance.

Getting around:

Taxis, Uber and Lyft are available and good options.  Your hotel or the destinations can likely call or hail a taxi for you.  

Trail around Ottawa River – perfect for strolling or rent bikes and enjoy the ride.  In the winter snow shoes would be perfect.  Also in winter you can skate down the frozen river!

Greyline is the two story bus tour that takes you all through the town.  I know, feels a little touristy…. BUT its really a fabulous way to see a lot of the city while hearing a bit about the history.  There is a ride through tour option as well as a hop on hop off tour.  If you are doing the hop on hop off many of our don’t miss places are on there.  The busses easily accommodate strollers.  No bathrooms on board.  

Where to stay:

The 1920’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a gorgeous piece of history in its own right, is right in the heart of the action.  Don’t miss the self guided history tour.

One should not leave Ottawa without having these three signature snacks:

Fabulous French food

Beaver tail – a fried sweet pastry that is worth the calories.  There is a shop in the Byward Market Area where President Obama was famously seen enjoying one.  (Byward Market is also great for shopping and dining.  We stumbled upon a great cheese store, a bakery, a vintage wine store, and a stall featuring local artisan made goods including maple syrup and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau socks.)

Poutine – fancy French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.