Ottawa is Canada’s picturesque capital, widely known for its historic sites and landmarks, arts, and culture. Home to national museums, renowned art galleries, and impressive annual festivals, the city attracts visitors from all over the globe. It’s also recognized as the city of museums—both official and unofficial—and is the ideal destination for a cultural escape this fall.
To show just how much the city has to offer, Ottawa Tourism has turned 150+ local gems into Unofficial Museums, presenting the perfect opportunity for visitors and locals alike to explore and rediscover the city.
The national capital, Ottawa is rich in history, heritage, and diversity and thus has much to discover and explore. Of note is the city’s historic architecture, exciting cosmopolitan atmosphere, and scenic countryside.
This article outlines what to do and see while in Ottawa this fall and beyond, including where to eat, stay, and explore during your visit! Also make sure to check out my Ottawa Travel Guide for even more great recommendations for your next Ottawa getaway.
When planning where to stay in Ottawa, I’d highly recommend looking into either The Westin Ottawa or Fairmont Château Laurier. While Château Laurier offers historical luxury accommodations in the city core, it is *itself* a must-see landmark. And The Westin Ottawa promises some of the best and most expansive views of Château Laurier and Downtown Ottawa, including Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal in one. It’s also ideally located in the heart of the city, next to the metro and steps away from the iconic ByWard Market, local restaurants and shops, the National Arts Centre, and various major attractions—it even offers direct access from the hotel to the Rideau Centre shopping mall next door should you need to grab a quick casual bite or even do a bit of shopping. So if you’re looking for fantastic hotel views of downtown Ottawa, convenience, and walkability, The Westin Ottawa is right up your alley! Not to mention, it has a variety of other amenities, including an in-house restaurant, a professional meeting and event space, and a fitness centre.
Eating and trying new foods and restaurants are among my favourite things to do while travelling, so deciding where to eat is always a big part of trip planning. Luckily, there’s no shortage of good food in Ottawa! As a truly multicultural city, Ottawa serves up foods from around the world in its many restaurants, markets, and specialty food shops. Three great eateries and designated unofficial museums to add to your Ottawa itinerary are:
1. Drip House a.k.a. The Unofficial Museum of Avocado & Art: Cozy café–art gallery perfect for breakfast, brunch, or a coffee break.
2. Starling a.k.a. The Unofficial Museum of Giant Bird Cages: Stylish bird-themed restaurant that offers hand-crafted cocktails and a modern menu that boasts fresh ingredients. Perfect for lunch, cocktails/happy hour, or dinner.
3. 1 Elgin a.k.a. The Unofficial Museum of Fancy Boat Watching: Elegant restaurant offering an elevated dining experience and contemporary dishes that incorporate the tastes of Canada through local seasonal ingredients. Perfect place to dine before catching a show at the National Arts Centre.
Other restaurants to check out include: Oat Couture Oatmeal Café (The Unofficial Museum of Oats & Scotch; best for breakfast/brunch), Little Victories Coffee Roasters (The Unofficial Museum of Latte Art; best for breakfast/coffee/pastries), LOLLO (The Unofficial Museum of Freshness; best for lunch), Moonroom (The Unofficial Museum of Floral Flavours; best for cocktails), El Camino (The Unofficial Museum of Fancy Tacos; best for dinner), and Riviera (The Unofficial Museum of Seafood Towers; best for dinner).
Click here for a full list of must-try Ottawa restaurants (just scroll down to the “Where to Eat” section).
Here is a list of must-do activities to check out when planning what to do in Ottawa:
• Explore the ByWard Market
• Grab authentic French baked goods from Le Moulin de Provence
• Visit Parliament Hill
• Stroll along the Rideau Canal (or skate on the largest outdoor rink in winter)
• Check out a festival
• Take an amphibus tour—first through the city’s charming streets before descending into the Ottawa River
• Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral
• Watch a show at the National Arts Centre
• Visit the National Gallery of Canada
• Go shopping at the Rideau Centre
• Grab a bite at the ByWard Market Square
• Unplug and unwind at Nordik Spa-Nature
As Canada’s city of museums, no Ottawa itinerary would be complete without visiting some of its official and unofficial museums. Here are just five of the incredible Unofficial Museum activities I checked off the list during my Ottawa visit:
1. Afternoon Tea at Zoe’s (The Unofficial Museum of Pinkies Up), located inside the stunning Fairmont Château Laurier
2. Dinner at 1 Elgin (The Unofficial Museum of Fancy Boat Watching), followed by a Best of Broadway show with the NAC Orchestra
3. Breakfast/brunch at Drip House (The Unofficial Museum of Avocado and Art )
4. Rest and relaxation at Nordik Spa-Nature (The Unofficial Museum of Unplugging), located just a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa
5. Dinner & drinks at Starling (The Unofficial Museum of Giant Bird Cages)
For a full list of unofficial museums to inspire your Ottawa travels, click here.
Of course, make sure to add some official museums to your Ottawa itinerary (and check out the new and super convenient Visit Ottawa Pass to plan and save on major activities)! Ottawa is home to 7 of Canada’s 9 national museums (click here for the list). Some of the official museums I visited include:
1. Canadian Museum of Nature
2. National Gallery of Canada
3. Canadian Museum of History
4. Rideau Hall
For a full list of Ottawa’s official museums, click here.
Suggested Itinerary for a Fall Weekend in Ottawa
Friday (Day 1)
• Arrive in Ottawa by plane or train, and check in to your hotel
• Explore Downtown Ottawa on foot and familiarize yourself with the city
• Grab dinner at 1 Elgin
• Head to a show at the National Arts Centre
• Relax for the evening
Saturday (Day 2)
• Start the day with breakfast or brunch at Drip House
• Spend a few hours visiting some official museums in the city
• Enjoy afternoon tea at Zoe’s
• Discover the ByWard Market
• Grab cocktails at the Moonroom
• Enjoy dinner at Starling or El Camino
• Take an evening stroll along the Rideau Canal
Sunday (Day 3)
• Grab breakfast at Oat Couture or Little Victories
• Check out of your hotel
• Visit Nordik Spa-Nature for some R&R (make sure to dine at one of their 4 on-property eateries)
• Head to the airport/train station for evening departure
Regardless of when you visit, you’ll find that Ottawa is an active and vibrant city with much to see, do, and explore. Head to my Instagram (@la_wandereuse) to see everything I got up to on my recent trip to Ottawa through my in-feed and story posts.
Thank you so much to @ottawatourism for making my first visit to Ottawa possible! I’m eager to return and continue exploring all that it has to offer. All opinions are my own.