2-Day Itinerary: Exploring Ottawa, Canada’s Capital (Part 1)

Metro cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal are the top travel destinations in Canada that attract hundreds of thousands of international travellers every year. Ottawa, on the other hand, despite being the capital city of Canada, is often overlooked as a vacation spot. The city might not be as large and modern as other Canadian cities, it is home to numerous historic sites, government office buildings and national landmarks that are not only important markers of Canadian history, but also represent an fundamental part of Canada’s system of government.

In today’s post, I will take you around various landmarks and attractions in Canada’s Capital, giving you ideas on how you can plan a 2-day trip to have a truly Canadian experience in Ottawa!

Exploring Ottawa in 2 days

Day 1 Itinerary

9:30 AM| Visit Parliament Hill

Make Parliament Hill your very first stop! Home to the federal government, Parliament Hill is the political heart of the nation. The Parliament Buildings are gothic revival style structures that sit atop of the Hill overlooking the Ottawa River. It is a great place to start your Ottawa trip, especially if you’re visiting Canada for the first time.

The complex consists of the Centre Block, which houses the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament, along with the East and West blocks on each side.

Pro tip: Free guided tours to the Centre Block are available daily (with additional guided tours to the East Block open from July to early September). During the 20-50 mins tour time, you will become a pro and learn all about the history, functions and art of Canada’s Parliament!

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

The interior of the architecture is simply fascinating, enchanting us with its stateliness, elegance and vibrancy! We toured the Senate Chamber which is decorated in red to represent royalty. The ceiling of gold leaf features heraldic symbols representing Canada, England, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales with the names of Canada’s Governors General between 1867 and 1921 appearing in a band along the East and West sides of the ceiling.

The House of Commons, on the other hand, is decorated in green to represent the commoners. When the parliament is in session, you can sit in and listen to politicians debating over important issues of the country!

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Senate Chamber

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

My favourite spot in the Centre Block is the Library, the design of which is so picturesque and grand. Remarkable woodwork with floral designs hand carved into the white pine paneling, large pointed-arched windows, and golden dome overhead, make it Canada’s best example of high Victorian gothic revival style.

Fast fact: On February 3, 1916, a fire destroyed most of the Centre Block, but the Library’s iron doors saved it from the disaster.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Library

If you get a chance, head up to the Peace Tower for an incredible view of the city! On your way up, you will pass by Memorial Chamber on the third floor, a tribute to the Canadians who have lost their lives in conflict since the Confederation.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Peace Tower

11 AM| Join a Guided Tour at Supreme Court of Canada

Located right beside the Parliament Buildings is the Supreme Court of Canada. Not sure what exactly to see there? Join one of the daily tours (offered in English and French) which will help you understand the operation of the Canadian judicial system!

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

The guide will take you to the Federal Court, which is Canada’s national trial court. It hears and decides federal legal disputes whose subject matter has been assigned to the Court by Parliament. Who says we can’t have a little fun inside the court? Look at us putting on the robe and posing as a judge!

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

Posing as a judge at the Federal Court

The tour also includes a visit to the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal from all other Canadian courts. It has jurisdiction over disputes in all areas of the law. Do you know that the Court consists of a Chief Justice and eight other justices, 3 of which typically come from Ontario, 3 from Quebec, 2 from Western Canada, and 1 from Atlantic provinces?

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

Supreme Court

For those who do not join the tour, you’re only allowed to walk around the Grand Entrance Hall and Judges’ Gallery. At the time of our visit, the Grand Entrance Hall had an exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Right Honourable Brian Dickson. He was served as Chief Justice of Canada from 1984 to 1990 and is known for the clarity and thoughtfulness of his judgments.

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

Supreme Court, Ottawa, Ontario

Noon| Brunch on the Hill (Option 1)

How about brunching on the Parliament Hill? Sure, that will certainly make a memorable experience! HOWEVER, it is only possible if you visit on a Friday AND if you are invited by a very important person in the Parliament (e.g., Member of Parliament).

Lucky us, dining at the Parliament was a dream come true, thanks to Mr. Darshan Singh Kang, the current MP representing Calgary Skyview Alberta! The brunch is served in buffet-style. At a cost of only $17.50 pp, you can enjoy a variety of fresh salads, meats, seafood selection, vegetarian dishes!

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Brunch at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Brunch at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Brunch at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

Noon| Grab a Bite at ByWard Market (Option 2)

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to brunch at the Parliament. I’ve got a better idea for you: grab a bite at the historical ByWard Market! A short walk from Parliament Hill will take you to one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets. The area not only houses numerous cafés and some of the city’s best pubs and restaurants but also has food stands offering local products. After a quick bite, you can browse around the neighborhood and check out a few boutiques. You can even consider stopping by the museums and galleries nearby!

2 PM| A Quick Stop at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Just a few blocks away from the ByWard Market is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. You will be astounded by its Neo-Gothic style and the richness of its ornamentation. The soaring arches, dazzling combination of blue and gold, terraced galleries and stained-glass windows will leave you with your jaw dropped. No wonder it was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1990!

3 PM| Bike Ride Along the Rideau Canal

Get ready for some action! The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular destination in Ottawa, consisting of a chain of beautiful lakes, rivers, and canals winding 202 km from Kingston to Ottawa.

The best way to see the canal is through biking! Rent a bike from RentABike under the Plaza Bridge and start your trip from Ottawa Locks, which consists of a flight of 8 locks framed by Canada’s Parliament buildings on one side and the impressive Chateau Laurier hotel on the other. Then, ride south along the canal towards Dows Lake Pavilion. On the way, you will get a spectacular view of the Ottawa and pass by a few landmarks, including Aberdeen Pavilion (where outdoor Farmers’ Market is held in the summer), TD Place at Lansdowne, and Dows Lake (where the main Tulip Festival events are taken place)!

I highly recommend visiting Ottawa in May to experience the beautiful Tulip Festival! Over a million tulips are on display throughout the Tulip Route and out of those, thousands are sent by the Netherlands each year as an express of enduring gratitude and friendship.

Fun fact: Tulips were given in appreciation of the role Canadian soldiers played in liberating the Netherlands near the end of WWII and of the safe haven that members of Holland’s exiled royal family received in Ottawa.

Pro tip: The best place to view the tulips is at Commissioners Park, where ~300,000 flowers bloom and are laid out with lots of colours!

6 PM| Dinner at Signatures

Conclude the evening with a truly unique culinary experience at Signatures! The fine-dining restaurant offers contemporary, innovative French cuisine prepared by world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu Master Chefs. Dining in a Tudor Revival-style mansion and enjoying beautifully plated French fare in a modern, refined atmosphere, your night at Signatures will not disappoint!


This brought our first day in Canada’s Capital to an end! Has it gotten you excited about your trip to Ottawa already? Head over to my next post for the second part of the itinerary to complete your Canadian experience!

Traveling to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada? Here's a local guide on how to tour the city in 2 days!

Want to travel to Canada’s capital, Ottawa? Besides the Parliament Hill, there are tons of fun activities, attractions and events throughout the year. Click through for top things to do and places to visit. #ottawa #ontario #Canada #travelcanada #travelguide #tripplanning #traveltips #itinerary #thingstodo #traveldestinations #summertravels #instagramspots #photospots

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51 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. As an Ottawa citizen, I can’t agree more with your suggestions! Ottawa is such a nice place to go if you just want a relaxed, slow-moving city experience. 🙂

    Hope you enjoyed your stay! (Plus you can see my old apartment from the top of the peace tower!)

    Rebecca Lindenbach | Life as a Dare

    • Thank you, Rebecca! I agreed – Ottawa is small but has its own charm, plus many beautiful places and museums to visit! I absolutely loved it there and wish to go back again next year for Canada 150!!

  2. Pingback: Exploring Ottawa in 2 Days (Part 2) | For Two, Please

  3. The library, the church, the tulips! I have a whole new appreciation for the beauty of Ottawa.

  4. I’ve never been but am adding it to my must visit list, It looks beautiful!

  5. Ottawa looks like the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. I’ve been to many Canadian cities, but never Ottawa. Love your pictures, they make me want to visit!

  6. Wow Ottawa sounds like such a great city. I really want to visit one day. Its already on my list 😉

  7. Wow! Beautiful shots! The first few shots of the parliament reminds me of London’s Big Ben. The interior looks so pretty!!! 

  8. I’ve been to Canada a number of times but haven’t visited Ottawa yet! It looks amazing, and your pictures are gorgeous. I definitely want some Obama cookies!

  9. I”m really glad you wrote this article, because I just booked a flight to Canada, and Ottawa is on my itinerary. But I had no idea what I was going to go see there. The library is absolutely stunning, and so is the Notre Dame cathedral. Your photos are beautiful, and I’ll be pinning this so I can refer to it again!

  10. I agree with you that Ottawa is underrated as a travel destination – it’s really cool and worth visiting! This is a fantastic post. I would also recommend visiting the National Gallery of Canada if you are into art – as it is quite impressive.

  11. Love that library! Wow the architecture is just stunning! I also love taking in views of a new place from up high so the Peace tower is a great suggestion.

    Also love the bike tour idea. I love bike riding and taking in a new place by bike is such a great way to go slowly enough to absorb the culture. Great post!

  12. I have never visited Ottawa but you have definitely made a case for Canada’s capital. I would definitely check out the market and the cathedral. Also, the tulip festival sounds right up my alley!

  13. Ottawa looks really amazing. But one question in some of your photos you have given pose as Judge or PM. Is it allowed on specific times or how it is?

  14. The library is stunning and I would have not guessed that Ottawa had its own tulip festival! I’ve never been to this city (or explored much of Canada, for that matter) but your photos and posts are making me want to spend more time frolicking through its streets and national parks!

  15. The architecture in Ottawa has so much more flair than the rest of Canada… I suppose that’s why it’s Canada’s capital city. I’ll have to visit one day so I can call myself a real Canadian 😉 (or I just want to pose as a judge at the fed court haha) Any idea why they’re selling Obama cookies in the capital?

  16. You’re totally right that so many people overlook Ottawa as a place to visit, which is so ironic as it’s the nation’s capital! My husband and I visited once and I really enjoyed it there, especially if you can time your visit around Canada Day.

  17. Sign us up for biking through Ottawa. Biking on trails along rivers is a great way to see scenery without having to climb hills. Throw in some tulip fields and you have something really special. It sounds like, for certain times of the year, Ottawa is a natural paradise.

  18. Sign us up for biking through Ottawa. Biking on trails along rivers is a great way to see scenery without having to climb hills. Throw in some tulip fields and you have something really special. It sounds like, for certain times of the year, Ottawa is a natural paradise.

  19. Excellent itinerary for Canada’s capital city – it is a beautiful city to explore regardless of the season. I love seeing the photo of you posing as the Prime Minister – very cool!

  20. This is a really good detailed article. I would love to see and take tons of pictures of the parliament building, and that library is just gorgeous! Wow! I also would love to go have a walk in the market and find something good to eat(I love food too)…although I’d stay away from the Obama cookies lol…And you’re right, a lot of people overlook Ottawa or just don’t think to go there. If I ever do this will help me know where to go and what to do there! 🙂

  21. This is the second or third time I’ve read about Ottawa this week and I still can’t get over how British Parliament Hill looks. It honestly wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of London! 
    Also, I’m quite embarrassed to say I always thought Toronto was the capital of Canada, so thank you for educating me on that!

  22. The timing of our article is kismet as I just wrote about it too! I love Ottawa and it is an escape from home for me and my family as it is only 5 hours away by car. I love Parliament Hill and seeing all the rooms of serious business. I also enjoy the Rideau, but in the winter as you can skate along for fun or to even go to work. I am going to have to try Signatures next time I go!

  23. Great itinerary! I have actually wanted to go to Ottawa for years – my mother had a penfriend who lives there and I grew up hearing stories of Ottawa and Canada. I love the looks of the architecture at the Library and the Notre Dame cathedral – beautiful! 

  24. This is so true! I’ve visited the three main cities: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal but never thought of Ottawa as being a city to visit! However, after reading this I feel a bit ashamed that I completely overlooked it! The Notre Dame Cathedral looks particularly impressive! Guess its a good excuse to fly back to Canada!

  25. Ottawa looks like it has plenty to offer as a destination! I’ve only ever been to the West Coast but definitely want to go back to Canada. Great tips for people who only have a short time there!

  26. Hi Cat, great post. I’ve yet to visit Ottawa but I love the architecture on display here. I lived in British Columbia for four years and lots of the towns and cities there don’t seem to have the same range of old worldly buildings. But Ottawa looks a fantastic place for some urban photography.

  27. I have to make it to Canada! There seems like so much to see and and do. Ottawa looks amazing. I will definitely put it on my list for when I finally make it to Canada.

  28. Thank you for this comprehensive intro to the city!

    And I wouldn’t even mind that I don’t stand a chance to eat the Parliament — I love food markets 🙂

    Happy continued travels!
    C

  29. As a Canadian citizen, I’m so surprised that all this time I didn’t realize how many awesome things there are to see and do in Ottawa! That tour looks super fun, I would love to be able visit Parliament Hill one day! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. 🙂

  30. There are so many cultural and historical places in Ottawa that can be covered within 2 days – I especially love the library and Notre Dame cathedral. You guys look pretty cool posing as the judges of the court 😉

  31. Lucky you getting to stand behind the Prime Minster’s podium. Too bad the hottie himself Justin Trudeau wasn’t there. The stained glass in the Notre Dame Cathedral is gorgeous.

  32. Ottawa is a beautiful city. I visited it in 1992 and I wish I had your guide of sites. The government buildings are very classic and ornate. Parliament and the library are my favourites.

  33. I worked with a number of Canadians when I lived in South KoreA, many of whom live in Ottawa and have been inviting me to visit them. Reading you post reminded me that I really should finally visit them, but especially during the tulip festival — wow! I never knew of the link to Holland and the Dutch Royal family. Loved your pics from Parliament Hill and the House of Commons.

  34. I love the interior architecture of the Library. And the fact that you get to pose as the prime minister or supreme court judge is pretty remarkable. Not sure if that would be allowed in the US.

  35. This is a great post and just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday. I was just there for New Years and Ottawa was full of snow. It’s interesting to see it in the warmer months, great post. I will need to go back during summer!

  36. The Peace Tower is so gorgeous in Ottawa. In fact, I thought just about everything about Ottawa was gorgeous on my single day trip there. I flew from the states to see Barbra Streisand in concert at the Scotiabank center. Had afternoon tea at the Fairmont. 😉 Was wonderful. Wish I had gone inside that beautiful library. Nice photos!

  37. Great post!! I love that you share a specific itinerary so that when I visit I don’t have to do all the hard work myself! Really helpful. The tulips are beautiful – I love a good tulip field.

  38. Ottawa looks like a nice place to visit! Parliament Hill looks lovely and looks like you guys had fun. The Byward market looks like my place to be! Love food markets! You did so much in your short stay in Ottawa!

  39. Wow, Ottawa looks amazing! I’ve only been to Niagara Falls and Toronto, I’ve never been anywhere else in Canada, but your posts have been giving me serious wanderlust! I am definitely saving this for my next trip to Canada!

  40. I was blown away by looking at that enormous Library. It is picturesque, but i can’t imagine the staggering number of books in there. I am amazed that you can get an entry into the Parliament and Supreme court. Wonderful itinerary.

  41. The Senate Chamber looks quite impressive. Everything is so well designed. And I’m a little bit in love with the library. 

  42. Very cool! I still haven’t managed to make it to Canada, but I wouldn’t mind a couple of days in Ottawa when I do.

  43. Oh, yay! I love Ottawa. My grandfather moved to Gatineau a few years ago (Ottawa’s neighbour, attached at the hip, but not as nice) so I’ve spent a lot of time there lately. I’m a big fan of hanging out by parliament hill, there’s always stuff going on. Good markets and good food!

  44. I love Canada. It has been for a long while on my bucket-list and of course Ottawa I’ll be covering on my visit. You really can make a good Prime Minister to give a very important speech with your fabulous pose, who knows!! I can see you had a lot of fun!

  45. I have never been to Ottawa, so still have to check that one off of my list. However, I’ve been to many capital cities, some of which we’ve toured the government and I always find it fascinating. Maybe I missed my calling.

  46. As a Canadian, I wholeheartedly approve! I didn’t think people wrote posts about Ottawa, but it turns out they do, and they do it well! I really enjoyed reading this, thanks!

  47. We’re going to Ottawa next month and I came across your post while searching for 2-day itinerary. Your photos are amazing! I am just wondering how you could take photos when there’s no tourists around. I’d imagine these places are packed with visitors. Thanks for the tips! I’m looking forward to our Ottawa trip after reading your post.

  48. I know it could be impossible but i will be in Ottawa and i would like to try to be invite for friday brunch in parliament.
    Do you know how can i ask for invitation and this place where you were for this brunch have a name? I don’t really find information.

    Thank you for more information

  49. Canada is such a beautiful country and I have been to Ottawa, it is such a nice place to visit. In shorter period of stay, I visited Parliament hill and downtown area. i enjoyed a lot!!

  50. Pingback: 5 Travel Tips and Tricks To Visit More Cities On Your Next International Trip Without Spending More | For Two, Please

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