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20 Free Things to Do in Ottawa

Free Things to do in Ottawa

Free Things to do in Ottawa: visit “Maman” (Photo: pixelocity)

As Canada’s capital, Ottawa attracts visitors of all stripes—families, business travellers, tour groups—with diverse tastes. But if there’s one thing that can unite people like nothing else, it’s the urge to get something for nothing. Our local experts put their heads together and came up with this brilliant list of 20 free things to do in Ottawa that will be sure to keep you busy on bupkis.

See the list of free things to do in Ottawa »

#20 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Take your picture under a gigantic spider
Louise Bourgeois’s “Maman” — a stunning spider sculpture that stands over 10 metres tall — sits outside the National Gallery of Canada and has become a popular spot for shutterbugs. Bonus: The National Gallery offers free admission to its permanent collection on Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• National Gallery of Canada, 380 Sussex Dr., 800-319-2787, gallery.ca
• Map and reviews

#19 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Park without paying
On Saturdays and Sundays, the World Exchange Plaza shopping centre offers free downtown parking. This is great for visitors to the mall or those looking to take in spots nearby — such as Parliament Hill, which is just two blocks away.
World Exchange Plaza, 45 O’Connor St., worldexchangeplaza.info
Map and reviews

[RELATED: 7 Most Romantic Hotels in Ottawa]

#18 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Bike, jog or blade along the city’s paths
Ottawa is blessed with a number of paths that cut through the heart of the city. They’re a perfect way to stay active and see the city at the same time. You can follow the path alongside the Rideau Canal, or pick one of the many trails within the core. Also, on Sunday mornings between Victoria Day in May and Labour Day in September, Ottawa and Gatineau close many of its parkways to cars, reserving them specifically for cycling, blading, running, and walking!

 

Free Things to do in Ottawa

Free Things to do in Ottawa: tour the Supreme Court (Photo: detsang)

#17 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Tour the highest court of the land
The Supreme Court of Canada offers free tours by law students. They guide visitors through the Canadian judicial system and describe how the Supreme Court deals with legal issues of public importance. Visitors are also welcome to sit in on appeal hearings when the Court is in session.
• Supreme Court of Canada, 301 Wellington St., 613-995-5361, scc-csc.gc.ca/vis
Map and reviews

#16 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Swim at a Gatineau Park beach
Get back to nature in Gatineau Park’s 35,000 hectares of unspoiled land. There are six public beaches in the park, including one just for campers. Cycling, hiking and boating are also popular activities in summer, while cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are big in winter. In autumn, the park turns dazzling shades of red, orange, yellow and green as the leaves change colour.
• Gatineau Park, access off blvd. Alexandre-Taché in Gatineau, ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/gatineau-park
Map and reviews

#15 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Visit a historic market
The ByWard Market in downtown Ottawa was established way back in 1826, and remains one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. Local vendors sell everything from maple syrup to handmade goods, and many free events take place on the streets throughout the year.
• ByWard Market, 55 ByWard Market Square, byward-market.com
• Map and reviews

Free Things to Do in Ottawa

Free Things to Do in Ottawa: feed a sheep at the Canada Agriculture Museum (Photo: Adam Kahtava)

#14 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Meet goats!
From Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, the Canada Agriculture Museum offers free admission to its animal barns, where families can get up close and personal with cows, pigs, sheep, horses, goats, rabbits, and chickens.
• Prince of Wales Dr. (south of the traffic circle), 613-991-3044, cafmuseum.technomuses.ca
• Map and reviews

[RELATED: What to Do With 24 Hours in Ottawa]

#13 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Pop in on Canada’s Governor General
Rideau Hall is the home and workplace of Canada’s Governor General. Free guided tours of the gardens, residence and art collection are offered year-round. Make sure to check out the grounds, where dignitaries — from John F. Kennedy to Princess Diana — have planted trees while on official visits to Ottawa.
• Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Dr., 613-991-4422 or 866-842-4422, gg.ca
• Map and reviews

#12 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Get festive at one of the city’s annual events
Top-notch festivals are held year-round in Ottawa, and many of them are free. We recommend Winterlude, the Tulip Festival and the Rideau Canal Festival.
• Winterlude, February, various locations, pch.gc.ca
• Tulip Festival, May, various locations, tulipfestival.ca
• Rideau Canal Festival, August, various locations, rideaucanalfestival.ca 

Free Things to Do in Ottawa

Free Things to Do in Ottawa: the light show on Parliament Hill (Photo: daryl_mitchell)

#11 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Watch the Parliament buildings ablaze
Ablaze with light, that is. Throughout the summer, the National Capital Commission presents the Sound and Light Show. With Parliament Hill as its backdrop, the multimedia show tells tales of Canada’s physical, historical, and cultural landscapes.
• Sound and Light Show, 1 Wellington St., pch.gc.ca
Map and reviews

#10 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Touch and feel Canada’s history
Canada’s culture is preserved at Library and Archives Canada. Exhibition rooms are open daily, and visitors can explore published works, archival records, audio-visual materials, photographs, artworks and electronic publications.
• Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., 613-996-5115 or 866-578-7777, collectionscanada.ca
• Map and reviews

#9 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Check out the downtown Experimental Farm
The Central Experimental Farm’s land stretches for several hundred acres just west of downtown, making it extremely convenient for visitors. It’s designated for agricultural research and has plenty to see. The Dominion Arboretum contains over 2,000 varieties of trees and shrubs and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden lets users peek at beavers, birds, bats and more.
• Central Experimental Farm, along Prince of Wales Dr., 613-991-3044, friendsofthefarm.ca
• Map and reviews

#8 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Decode the city on your smartphone
Beautiful public art and monuments are on display all over the city. Through the National Capital Commission’s Decoding Art program (available free to anyone with a smart phone and QR code reader), visitors can discover the history and the artists behind the art. Alternatively, visit the commission’s website to download a free guide.
• Decoding Art, various locations, website

Free Things to do in Ottawa

Free Things to do in Ottawa: go tobogganing! (Photo: rkramer62)

#7 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Hurdle down a hill at thrilling speeds
Tobogganing is a classic Canadian pastime, and there are plenty of hills in Ottawa on which to partake in the wintry tradition. Carlington Park, Bruce Pit, Conroy Pit, Mooney’s Bay Park and the Arboretum are all good bets. On a snowy day, just load up one of the maps listed below, find your closest hill, grab your sled of choice (or pick up a cheap one at Canadian Tire) and let gravity do the rest.
Clarington Park hill map
• Bruce Pit map
• Conroy Pit map
• Mooney’s Bay Park map
• Arboretum Map

#6 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Take a walking tour of the Capital’s greatest hits
Many of Ottawa’s must-see attractions are located on Confederation Bouelvard, a discovery route that encompasses several downtown streets in the National Capital Region. The best way to see it is on foot via a self-guided walking tour. Visit the Capital Information Kioskat 111 Albert St. or the National Capital Commission’s website to print out a map, and start exploring! Points of interest include Parliament Hill, the National War Memorial, Rideau Hall and more.
• Capital Information Kiosk, 111 Albert St., canadascapital.gc.ca/visit

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#5 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Peer at far away galaxies
Interested in astronomy? The Science and Technology Museum offers free stargazing through their telescope on select days throughout the year. Check out the schedule of activities here.
• Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd., 613-991-3044, sciencetech.technomuses.ca
• Map and reviews

#4 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
See top-notch visual art
Several public art galleries offer free admission daily, including the ASP Gallery, the Karsh-Masson Gallery and all other art spaces run by the City of Ottawa. Exhibitions change regularly and focus on works by local artists. Check out what’s on at various galleries here.
• Art Galleries of the City of Ottawa, various locations, see a full list here

Free Things to do in Ottawa

Free Things to do in Ottawa: skate on the Rideau Canal (Photo: Vince Alongi)

#3 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Skate the longest ice rink in the world
The beautiful Rideau Canal flows through the city and is worth visiting at any time of year, but in winter the whole thing is frozen over, and you can lace up your skates and hit the ice. In summer, it’s definitely worth a stroll, or take it in by kayak.
• Rideau Canal, various locations, website
Map and reviews

#2 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Take a tour of the parliament buildings
Ottawa is fortunate to be home to some of the most beautiful parliament buildings in the world—and they’re free to explore. Take a guided tour of Centre Block, attend live debates, explore the Peace Tower and Memorial Chamber, or stroll on your own to discover the monuments that dot the Parliament Hill grounds.
• Parliament Hill, 1 Wellington St., 613-239-5000, parl.gc.ca/vis
Map and reviews

#1 FREE THING TO DO IN OTTAWA
Get historical at one of many local museums
Ottawa is home to a number of world-class museums, and most offer free admission to their permanent collections on Thursday evenings. Explore the Bytown Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Museum of Nature and the Canadian War Museum for free on Thursdays after 5 p.m.
• Bytown Museum, 1 Canal Lane, 613-234-4570, bytownmuseum.com, map and reviews
• Canadian Museum of Civilization, 100 rue Laurier, Gatineau, 819-776-7000, civilization.ca, map and reviews
• Museum of Nature, 240 McLeod St., 613-566-4700, nature.ca, map and reviews
• Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place, 819-776-7000, warmuseum.ca, map and reviews

 

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