3 Days in Ottawa, A Family Guide to Canada’s Capital
Disclosure: We were generously hosted by Tourism Ottawa so that we could share this wonderful experience with you! As always, our opinions are entirely our own and the experiences we participated in align with our family lifestyle.
Is a visit to Canada’s capital city on your bucket list? If not, it should be! Our 3-day family adventure in Ottawa was certainly one for the books, and our only complaint is that we couldn’t stay longer! There are some trips that you can plan spontaneously. You can fly by the seat of your pants and still manage to see all there is to see, not so much in Ottawa. Instead, I highly recommend you have an idea of where you want to go and a decent schedule of what to see and do.
Ottawa has so much to offer that if you visit without a plan, you may miss out on a lot! With the help of Ottawa Tourism, I’ve mapped out the perfect 3-day Ottawa itinerary that will ensure you leave Canada’s capital city feeling that you’ve truly experienced it!
Where to Stay
- Les Suites Hotel is in the heart of downtown Ottawa and is known for its spacious condominium-sized suites, full kitchens, ensuite laundry (yes, you read that right!), complete recreation facility with indoor pool, sauna, and whirlpool. It’s central downtown location made it very easy to explore many of Ottawa “must-sees” on foot, even with our two and three year old in tow. The staff were incredibly welcoming upon check-in and out, they even gave each of our kids a goodie bag (how sweet is that!?). In addition, our room and guest facilities were all very clean! We would absolutely stay here again, and recommend this hotel to anyone and everyone!
Where to Eat
- The Grand Pizzeria. Read more about our experience under Day 1
- The Rowan. Read more about our experience under Day 3
Highlights of our Stay:
- Dinner at The Grand Pizzeria
- Walking along Rideau Canal
- Seeing Parliament Hill
- Staying at Les Suites Hotel
- Visiting the Canadian Museum of Nature
- Shopping at ByWard Market
- Attending Festi Biere (beer festival) in Gatieau, QC
- Taking photos at the “Ottawa” sign
- Enjoying lunch at The Rowan
Day 1 – Arriving in Ottawa, Dinner, and Parliament Hill
We started our road trip in Stratford, six hours southwest of Ottawa. On the way, we drove through Kitchener, Mississauga, and the north end of Toronto before traveling along the coast of Lake Ontario and up to Ottawa – It’s a beautiful drive and change in scenery from cityscapes to rolling hills filled with patches of lush forest, beautiful lake views, and smaller towns that remind me of ones I know in British Columbia.
Tip: One of my favorite things about road tripping throughout Ontario is the En Route pit stops!
They feature a food court, coffee shops, convenience store,interactive game & info screens, plenty of comfortable seating,
space for the kids to run around, and of course washrooms and a gas station.
Upon entering the city of Ottawa, we noticed that the road and building signage quickly turned prominently bilingual, and we could spot the Quebec flag waving on the other side of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, QC (see day two below for our quick visit here). We arrived and checked-in to our room at Les Suites Hotel, known for its spacious condominium-sized suites, complete with full kitchens, ensuite laundry, city views, and its central downtown location. After six hours on the road, we took a little extra time to settle in our two-bedroom suite, and get organized for the next couple days.
Our hotel was in the perfect location that we could easily explore many of our must-do’s by foot, even with our two and three year old in tow. Once we were settled into our room and the kids had a chance to get comfortable, we took a five minute walk to The Grand Pizzeria for dinner. The restaurant is located in, and named after the historic building in which the Grand Hotel opened in 1882. It combines old world tradition recipes with a modern vibe and features a large outdoor, street-side patio, and wood burning stove to bake their signature pizzas. We ordered a cheese pizza for each of the kids, and though they are in the dreaded -picky-eating-stage, they gobbled up their own large portion and loved it! My husband Randy and I shared the chicken wings as an appetizer, and the Tuscan Chicken pizza – both were absolutely delicious – seriously, add this eatery to your list!
After dinner, we walked approximately 10 minutes to Parliament Hill. On our way, we crossed the Rideau Canal Ship Locks where the canal meets the Ottawa River. The canal is North America’s oldest continuously operating waterway and was awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 2007. Read more about Rideau Canal on Day 3.
As we approached the tall, gothic-style buildings we couldn’t help but feel as though we were transported to a beautiful European destination. The detail and age of these building was really neat to experience and the kids really enjoyed visiting the “castles.” The tallest clock tower is called the Peace Tower, from which you’ll hear a 53-bell carillon marking each quarter hour.
Day 2 –Canadian Museum of Nature, Byward Market, and Beer Festival
On the morning of day two, we rose to a beautiful blue sky, sun shining, and comfortably warm temperatures; it was the perfect day to discover more of Ottawa! We began with a “home” cooked breakfast in our suites’ full kitchen and were ready to take on the day by 9:00 am! First, we visited the Canadian Museum of Nature located just a 7-10 minute drive from our hotel.
Tip: If you’re visiting the museum with little ones, take advantage of the push carts provided by the museum.
There is plenty of walking, so prioritize each exhibit area from the ones you know you would enjoy most,
to the ones you would be okay with skipping and work your way through.
Our self-guided tour of the museum began in the Fossil Gallery where we were able to view magnificent fossils and renderings of dinosaurs. Our son, Greysen (3) is currently all about dinosaurs so he was absolutely enamored by these displays! Currently there are ten exhibits to discover, and with children aged two and three years old, our favorites were: The Fossil Gallery, The Mammal Gallery, Water Gallery, and Nature Live. From getting up close to a skeleton of a blue whale—the largest animal ever to live on our great blue planet to observing live beetles, bees, and tarantulas, there is a full-days worth of exploring to do at the Canadian Museum of Nature!
After experiencing the museum, we returned to our hotel room for a quick lunch and then made our way to the ByWard Market, just a 5-minute walk from our hotel – one of the oldest and largest farmer’s markets in Canada. In the height of summer, up to 175 outdoor stalls sell plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables as well as art and handmade goods. Alongside the outdoor stalls, there is a permanent building that houses staple vendors such Saslove’s Meat Market and House of Cheese (both of which we founds items for our dinner that night). Surrounding the market is an entire neighborhood, called ByWard Market, considered to be the eclectic entertainment district of Ottawa filled with restaurants, clubs, bistros, coffee shops, and boutiques. While walking through the market we enjoyed street buskers, shopping local for dinner ingredients, smelling beautiful florals, and treating ourselves to a “Beavertail” from the original pastry shop that started it all!
Tip: There is quite a bit of walking in the ByWard Market area for little ones,
we suggest bringing a collapsible wagon on your trip – It also doubles as a shopping cart!
Following our stroll through the street market, and the kids nap in our collapsible wagon, we took a taxi over the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Quebec for the Festi Biere (Beer Fest), featuring over 300 craft beers by brewers from Quebec and Ontario. Located just outside the Canadian Museum of History, we were treated to a panoramic view of the stunning Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. We lucked out in the weather department and enjoyed beer tasting, live music, and kids bouncy castles under a vibrant blue sky! Even though we were in Quebec, we were surprised that just about everyone was speaking french, or should I say francais? Even the bands were performing french music! Even though we could barely understand anything, haha (I guess I should have studied harder in french class), we were surrounded by fun people and a great vibe!
Eventually, we had just about the only kiddos left at the beer festival, so it was time for us to head back to our hotel room and snuggle into our incredibly comfy beds – After a long day, they were calling our names!
Day 3 – Ottawa Sign, Walk Along Rideau Canal, and Lunch at the Rowan
Traveling with small children can be a little complicated at times, and though our kids seem to truly impress us more and more each time we travel, there’s only so many steps there little legs can walk. There were a couple items on our Ottawa bucket list that still needed checking off by the time we woke on our third and final day in the city. So, we packed up, checked out, and went on a mission. Up first was our tourist photo in-front of the infamous “Ottawa” sign, after all we needed proof that we visited, right?
Tip: The area in-front and surrounding this sign gets very busy throughout the day,
we suggest getting there early to get a shot sans photo bombers!
We arrived shortly after 9AM and even scored free parking just steps away (free on Sundays)
Next, we made out way over to the Corktown Footbridge, also known as Love Lock Bridge since it’s railings began being adorned with hundred of pad locks. The words Always and Forever appear a lot, some fresh, some faded away. Locked In is a favorite, and Our Love Is Secure.
Lastly, but certainly a highlight of our stay, was lunch at The Rowan. Located in the vibrant Glebe neighbourhood, this gastro-pub restaurant features a large bay door which made dining on a beautiful day a perfect and unique setting. As though it couldn’t get much better than that, our server Duncan made us feel absolutely treated, and the food was incredible – no exaggeration my friend!
Following lunch, we took about 30 extra minutes to drive through the city one last time and take in a few more sights we hadn’t seen yet, including several embassies, the art gallery, and the Prime Ministers home – neat, right?
Tip: If your schedule allows, take a quick drive through the city first,
this way if something that catches your eye, you can be sure to add it to you must-do list!
Things We Wish We Had More Time For
- Canoeing at Dow’s Lake Pavillion
- Touring the Canadian Museum of History, espepcially the children’s museum within (in Gatineau, QC)
- Shopping at the Ottawa Farmers Market in the Lansdowne neighbourhood
Tips for Traveling Within the City
- Walk: Start by choosing a hotel like, Les Suites Hotel located in the heart of downtown. This will make your sightseeing much easier as you can walk to many popular destinations without worrying about traffic or parking. We were able to walk from our hotel to the Byward Market, The Grand Pizzaria, Rideau Canal Ship Locks, and Parliament Hill during our stay (all within 5- 15 minutes with small children)
- Drive: When walking distances are too long or parking may be limited, drive your vehicle or grab yourself a taxi. When visiting places such as museums, you can feel confident driving your own vehicle as they will have significant parking accommodations, although be prepared to pay for parking in some cases.
- Parking: Parking is free in many areas on Sundays, including in front of the infamous “Ottawa” sign in ByWard Market, although check before hand by asking the front desk at your hotel or searching on the internet.
- Cycle: Ottawa is very bicycle friendly, so whether you want to cycle downtown, peddle in a more rural setting, or go mountain biking, there’s a place to do it! Don’t want to pack and travel with your bike? There are bicycle rentals available through RentABike, more information including route ideas and maps here.
- Unique Tours: if you’re interested in seeing Ottawa in style and making a memorable experience out of it, check out a comprehensive list of transportation options and tours by land, water, and air here.
In Ottawa, you really can’t go wrong! It’s the perfect place to take the family any time of year and feel like a tourist and a local all in one trip! We absolutely loved staying in Ottawa and can’t wait to visit again in the winter to take in the city from a new perspective. If you’ve ever wondered whether a trip to Canada’s capital city is worth it, I can assure you it is!
For more details and information for planning your trip to Ottawa,
including upcoming Canada Day celebrations, visit Ottawa Tourism: