If you’ve got the ultimate Canada itinerary in the works, spending at least one day in Ottawa should be on your agenda.
Built on the banks of the Ottawa River and cut in half by the lovely Rideau Canal, the capital of Canada is full of great places to explore. Ottawa has a rich cultural background. Throughout Ottawa’s city centre, you’ll discover beautiful historical architecture, internationally recognized art galleries & museums as well as an endless array parks and canal & riverside views.
Ready to make the most of your 24 hours in Ottawa, Canada? Follow along with this comprehensive 1-day Ottawa itinerary including what to do & where to stay…
Where to go in Ottawa in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
Many travelers find one-day city itineraries rather challenging as cities tend to cover large areas and the most compelling attractions may be miles apart. Not so with Ottawa. Although Ottawa is a sprawling city, many of the top places to see in Ottawa are clustered in its heart.
The city is also relatively flat, so you can easily get around on foot or hire a bicycle. You’ll see much more by travelling around on two wheels.
Ottawa also features an efficient public transport system that can get you to the outskirts of the city if you’re looking to explore further.
Alternatively, you can grab a hop-on hop-off bus to get around town quickly. With careful planning you should have no problem getting a good sense of the city with just one day in Ottawa.
Tour Parliament Hill
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at one of the many Ottawa cafes or coffee shops. You have a long day ahead – there are plenty of things to do & see in Ottawa. But first, you’re off to the parliament buildings. A day of adventure awaits.
The Canadian Parliament Buildings, on the aptly named Parliament Hill, are striking examples of Victorian splendour. Built from sandstone, the three neo-Gothic buildings overlook the Ottawa River. The lovely clocktower presides majestically over the buildings and sport a gaggle of gargoyles. There’s a scattering of sculptures across the manicured gardens, all overlooking the tranquil waterfront.
In summer, the Canadian Mounted police patrol the gardens in their colourful, historic uniforms. If you’re in Ottawa in the summer, make sure that you’re in the gardens by 9:45am in the morning to watch the changing of the guard at 10am. The ceremony comes complete with pipers and a regimental band. It usually attracts quite a crowd.
To get the most out of your visit, hop on one of the free guided tours of Parliament. You can even listen in on a parliamentary session if government happens to be working on the day.
Head upstairs to the Peace Tower Observation deck and get a good view over the city. It’s a good way to plot your trip around Ottawa if you wish to deviate from this itinerary.
If you return to Parliament Hill at 9:30pm on a summer evening, you’ll be treated to a stunning light show. The display lasts thirty minutes and tells the story of Canada.
Just a short walk from Parliament Hill, you can get a quick view of the stunning Chaudière Falls from the bridge of the same name. It contains one of the oldest hydro-electric dams still in operation in Canada and has been built almost completely below ground so as not to detract from the beauty of the falls.
Enjoy the views from the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal is central to life in Ottawa in more ways than one. Regardless of the season, it offers residents and visitors alike an opportunity to view the city splendors whilst enjoying leisurely pastimes upon its waters.
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s over 200 kilometres long and was built between 1826 and 1832. It stretches all the way to Lake Ontario in Kingston and was meant as a defensive measure in the case of war with the United States.
In the summer months, the canal is peppered with boats, both private and commercial. Historic hand-operated locks and blockhouses are scattered all along the Rideau Canal.
The paths along the Rideau Canal within the city are plied with walkers, runners, and cyclists. If you’re visiting Ottawa in summer, an hour and a half on a riverboat is time well-spent. You may even see some wildlife on the banks of the canal. You can also rent a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard if you prefer your own company.
In the winter months, the canal transforms into the longest and largest outdoor skating rink in the world. It’s 7.8 kilometres long and open 24 hours a day.
Along the rink, you can feed your appetite with deep-fried beaver tails sold along the canal. (Don’t worry: It’s just a dessert pastry. No animals were harmed.) Choose from a wide range of sweet dipping sauces and experience this truly Canadian sweet treat. Hot chocolate and soup are also on offer. If you need a break from the cold, you can take a seat in a heated hut.
Take a city tour on an amphibious bus from Sparks Street
For a little something different on your 1-day Ottawa itinerary, there’s an amphibious bus tour, leaving from Sparks Street and driving straight off the streets of Ottawa and into the water. The double-decker bus will take you to more than 75 destinations over an hour and a half. The tour includes narration in eight languages.
Sparks Street is the oldest pedestrian mall in Canada, and a great place to try out the multi-cultural cuisine on offer in Ottawa. It’s a great place to stop for lunch before you cross the river to explore the museums.
Explore Ottawa’s museums
You can’t leave Ottawa without visiting at least one of the museums. The city is home to some of the finest Canadian museums, hosting seven of Canada’s nine national museums.
The museums in Ottawa are eclectic in their collections. The Canadian Museum of History, for example, has a large collection of indigenous art, including the largest indoor collection of totem poles in the world. This popular Ottawa museum tells the story of the people of Canada over 20,000 years. It’s also home to a children’s museum and an IMAX theatre.
Take a fifteen-minute walk from here and you’ll find the National Art Gallery of Canada.
The National Gallery is the largest gallery in North America measured in exhibit space. A modern building with glass ceilings and indoor gardens, it has an impressive collection of 65,000 artworks. Outside, there’s an imposing sculpture of a giant spider, Maman, who guards the front entrance and presents a good photo opportunity.
The Canadian War Museum perched on the Ottawa River contains artifacts from wars between the French and indigenous Canadians and from both world wars. The museum houses more than 3 million war mementos and an array of interesting interactive exhibitions.
Depending on how time you have left in your Ottawa trip you may choose to move straight across to the ByWard Market to end your 24 hours in Ottawa or take a ride to Gatineau Park.
The park is about 14 kilometres from downtown across the Ottawa River in the city of Gatineau, Quebec. You’ll need some form of transport if it’s your next port of call.
Chill in Gatineau Park
Just 15 minutes drive from central Ottawa is the 90,000-acre Gatineau Park. It’s the largest green space in the area and it hosts a range of activities throughout the year. These include hiking, biking, swimming, skiing, and snowshoeing. You can hire any equipment you need to make the most of your trip.
At Gatineau Park, you can explore the forested paths surrounding the Mackenzie King Estate and pop into one of the restored cottages on the estate. The park is home to more than 100 at-risk plants and animals as well as the more common species.
This is the second most-visited park in Canada. If you haven’t been able to fit it into Ottawa in one day you may want to schedule another trip to check it out in its fullest.
End your day with cocktails at ByWard Market
ByWard Market is one of the oldest and biggest farmer’s markets in Canada. It’s full of fresh produce markets, kiosks, restaurants, pubs, and boutiques that span four blocks.
On a good day, the open-air stores around the original market building buzz with happy shoppers. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the famous Ottawa sign while you’re here.
The cobblestoned courtyards in this delightful market are joined by alleys and shaded by trees. While in the ByWard Market area, you can also take the opportunity to pop into the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s the oldest church in Ottawa and the seat of the Catholic archbishop.
The outdoor market is open from 6am to 6pm, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The market is full of rooftop and street-level patios where patrons enjoy food and refreshments day & night.
It’s worth adding the ByWard Market to your night-time Ottawa itinerary. There are plenty of activities here, including Irish pubs offering live music.
York Street runs alongside the market and boasts the highest concentration of pubs and nightclubs in Ottawa. You can party the night away in a club to a pub of your choice.
Alternatively, you can head over to nearby Elgin Street for more selection of Ottawa’s best restaurants, pubs, and bars.
Where to stay in Ottawa in one day
Although it’s Canada’s capital and one of the country’s largest cities, sorting through the best places to stay in Ottawa isn’t so difficult. When you’re on a time-crunch, the best area to stay in Ottawa is the city centre including the areas around Sparks Street, ByWard Market, and the Golden Triangle.
- Alt Hotel Ottawa: Located south of Parliament Hill, this trendy Ottawa hotel features spacious modern rooms with standout style at a price that won’t break the travel budget.
- Courtyard By Marriott Ottawa Downtown: For exploring ByWard Market, there’s hardly a better accommodation choice than this mid-range hotel. The indoor pool makes this property a good pick if you’re travelling to Ottawa as a family.
- Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market: Among Ottawa’s coolest hotels, this contemporary hotel features charming designer rooms that are out-of-the-ordinary for Canada’s capital. The rooftop lounge gets huge points for its fantastic views over the city centre.
- Fairmont Chateau Laurier: Among the most legendary hotels in Canada, this historic 5-star luxury property is a favourite for dignitaries, businesspeople, and celebrities passing through Ottawa. From the elegant rooms to the luxurious amenities, this isn’t an accommodations experience you’ll want to miss!