Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, is a city near and dear to my heart. Although not my place of birth, it is my home town. I spent the majority of my childhood growing up there, and since then, Ottawa has grown exponentially and has come to embrace its’ family-friendly label fully. With kids activities to entertain the whole family, no matter the season, Ottawa should be on everyone’s list of places to visit.
From its humble beginnings as the settlement village of Bytown, Ottawa became the nation’s official capital in 1867. It is one of Canada’s largest cities with a population of 1 million people. But despite the numbers, Ottawa still has a lot of small-town charm. And it is an excellent place for family fun. There’s much to recommend about Ottawa, but I’ve narrowed it down to a few favourites.
From sites to see and visit to indoor activities, here are some of my top picks of things to do in the Ottawa area with kids.
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Museums in Ottawa Ontario
In Ottawa, museums abound, and there’s a museum for every interest. As the nation’s capital, Ottawa is home to seven national museums.
Whether its dinosaurs, planes or art that tickles your fancy you’ll find something here to fit your interest. These are some of my top museum picks.
The National Gallery of Canada
This stunning National Gallery of Canada building in the heart of downtown Ottawa is hard to miss. Constructed from glass and granite, the museum scrapes the skyline and looks across at the Parliament buildings. It houses some of Canada’s most prized and complete art collections from around the world. The National Gallery a great place to introduce kids to art and spark their creativity. Kids will also love Artissimo Studio where they can learn, play, and create artworks of their own.
Canadian Science and Technology Museum
Located just outside of the downtown area, the Canadian Science and Technology Museum is a must-see for all the fledgeling scientists, engineers, astronomers, and the generally curious in your family. The excitement begins as visitors drive up to the museum and are treated to the sight of a full-sized train engine, and a working lighthouse.
Even more awe-inspiring, inside they will find displays artefacts from early steam locomotives to Canadian technological advances and everything in between. The Crazy Kitchen, a favourite among kids, is not to be missed, as well as Zooom – Children’s Innovation Zone.
Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization, is an architectural wonder. With over 1.2 million visitors every year, it holds the title of Canada’s most visited museum.
The museum, located across the river and over the bridge in Gatineau, is just a few minutes away from downtown Ottawa. Here you’ll find a vast collection of totem poles and the largest exhibition of Canadian History. Kids will love the Children’s Museum located on-site. This highly-interactive museum within a museum helps children explore art, culture, and history from around the globe.
Canadian Museum of Nature
The castle-like look of the Canadian Museum of Nature will immediately spark the interest and curiosity of little ones, but they’ll love what they find inside even more.
This historic building houses various galleries including dinosaur skeletons and replicas, whale skeletons, insects, artic mammals, minerals and birds. Kids will find much to discover at this museum with many interactive displays, areas to explore, and special exhibits.
Tours in Ottawa for Kids
As we know, kids often have short attention spans, so things need to be entertaining to hold their interest. Guided tours can sometimes be painful and drawn out, but your best bet is to find ones that are relatively short yet informative and move along at a good pace. What could be better than tours that shake things up a bit? Here are a few that come to mind.
With access to water so close in Ottawa, I love that the Lady Dive Tours go on both land and sea. Discover the history, architecture, and beauty of the Ottawa-Gatineau region on this bus that turns into a boat. Yes, you read that right. They call it the Amphibus, and it’s the only tour of its kind in Ottawa. On this guided tour you’ll see up to 75 sites including the Royal Canadian Mint, Parliament Hill, and the National Gallery of Canada mentioned above. Kids will enjoy the short tour duration, approximately 1 hour, and parents will enjoy this informative and educational look at the city.
Kid-friendly Hop-on-Hop-off Tours
Travelling with kids is often unpredictable. So it’s crucial to have an out when touring if one of your smaller travelling companions has had enough for the day. That’s where the hop-on and-off tours come into play. Gray Line Ottawa and Lady Dive Bus tours offer some great options for hopping on and off while seeing the sites of Ottawa.
The Gray Line Bus tour and Lady Dive Bus tour both provide 1- or 2-day guided tours with stops at famous landmarks in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. It’s easy to get off, explore a site at your own pace or even calm a crying baby, and hop back on the next bus. Both offer their tours in double-decker, London-style coaches, which the kids will enjoy, especially if they’re sitting on top.
Bicycle Tours for Families
For families with older children who know their way around a bike, bicycle tours can be fun and inclusive. Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals offers a 2-hour tour with the all the gear you need to be included (bike rental, helmet, and water). This guided tour travels along designated bike paths in Ottawa to discover popular landmarks in the area including Rideau Falls and the Museum of History.
Fun, Historic and Educational Attractions for Kids
Upper Canada Village
Take the 1-hour drive outside of Ottawa to Upper Canada Village and travel back in time to the 1860s. Everything from the buildings to the costumed interpreters, to the goods made on the premises, are genuine depictions of 19th-century life in rural English Canada.
The interpreters in each building will answer questions and provide information on the history and the culture of that period and discuss the artefacts on hand. Kids can get hands-on with various activities, including milking cows, taking a wagon ride, and playing dress up in period clothing. Make sure to stop by the Family Activity Centre where kids can learn about and play with games, toys, and activities of that era. But definitely, don’t leave without taking the miniature train ride. This 5-10 min ride along the river is a beautiful and relaxing way to end (or begin) your tour of Upper Canada Village.
Visit the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, during any season of the year. This scenic waterway, built in 1832, connects the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario in Kingston and is operated through a series of locks. Walk along the dedicated pathways and discover Ottawa by foot. Kids of all ages will get a kick out of watching the massive gates at the locks open and close as pleasure boats pass through the canal. Stop in at the Bytown Museum and learn more about Canada’s historical beginnings. In the summer and spring, take a cruise or tour along the canal. And in the winter, the canal transforms into the world’s longest skating rink. As the centre of Winterlude, Ottawa’s annual celebration of winter, the canal is the place to be for activities and events during this festival.
Festivals in Ottawa Ontario Canada
Ottawa has grown into a festival town. From music to cultural events, Ottawa has it all. There are festivals during every season of the year, to peak every interest. Coordinate your visit with one of these annual events and your whole family will be impressed with everything Ottawa has to offer. Many festivals provide free activities and entrance for children. Here are some picks for family-friendly festivals and events to visit during the year.
Other Family-Friendly Activities in Ottawa Canada
Sometimes, on vacation, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or maybe you’re looking for a little downtime while the kids get their energy out. Indoor playgrounds are a great option that can help keep your vacation fun even when you’re not touring the city.
Kids of all ages will be delighted with Funhaven Entertainment Centre. Arcades, bumper cars, rock climbing, jungle gym, and laser tag are just some of the activities found at this entertainment complex.
Another excellent option for family fun is Clip ‘n Climb (part of Altitude Gym). This amusement park – meets rock climbing gym – has individually themed climbing challenges to suit everyone in your family.
What to Eat in Ottawa Ontario
All this activity and fun is bound to work up an appetite. And pleasing all the palates in your family can be challenging at times! In Ottawa, there are many family-friendly restaurants and places where you can get a great meal and satisfy the kids as well. The Byward Market, a tourist favourite, located right downtown, has many diverse restaurants and eateries. Or try diners like Zak’s Diner or Elgin Street Diner that offer casual fare the kids will love. And even pubs like D’Arcy McGee’s and the Lowertown Brewery have a kids menu that is sure to please even the pickiest eater. The dining hall at Rideau Centre, the largest shopping mall in Ottawa, offers food for every taste. But don’t leave the city without stopping by BeaverTails, a beloved Canadian staple. This tasty pastry treat in the shape of a beaver’s tail sprinkled with mouth-watering toppings like cinnamon and sugar, hazelnut, chocolate, and more.
Where to Stay in Ottawa Ontario with Kids
Ottawa is a city that can be enjoyed by everyone in your family especially the kids! Endless activities, festivals, and outings will keep boredom at bay and your little ones happy. There are so many ways to discover the city; whether it’s museums or tours, you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the Nation’s Capital as a world-class city and Canada as a whole.
Have you travelled to Ottawa with kids before? What attraction or activity did your family love the most?
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