It’s summer in Ottawa! Time to get outside and enjoy this gorgeous city in the sunshine.
I’m local to Ottawa, which means I’m always looking for things to see and do in the city and surrounding area. This summer, I put together my own personal Ottawa summer bucket list. I’ve already started working my through it. People are always asking me about things to do right here in Ottawa. What better way to answer that, then by sharing my very own list? Cafés, patios, outdoor activities, museums, and photogenic locations are all included.
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- Active Adventures
- Places to Explore
- Ottawa Only
- Museums and Exhibits
- Summertime Treats
- Ottawa at Night
If you’ve never been to Parliament Hill Yoga, make this your year! I attend every summer, and every summer it’s a fun and vibrant way to unwind. Parliament Hill Yoga isn’t your standard dim-studio, soft-spoken instructions yoga class either. Studio yoga might not be your thing, but PHY is still worth a go. This casual, outdoor atmosphere attracts thousands of people every week, of all levels. Plus, there’s something so incredibly Canadian about doing yoga on the lawn of the Parliament Building. There aren’t any other countries that I can think of where you can do that.
Lansdowne moonlight yoga is another great way to stretch out. On the last Tuesday of every month, join this free yoga class under the stars. Ottawa loves it’s yoga, so keep an eye out for other yoga opportunities too.
Cycle + Hike in Gatineau Park
Done, and done again. As a former competitive cyclist, I love getting out on the bike ever spring! The Gatineau Park is my favourite place to ride in the National Capital region. It’s one of the most scenic and bike friendly routes in the city. This route includes rolling hills, so it’s best if you’ve already got a little bit of experience on the bike. Just getting started? Roll out to the Rideau Canal, or the Ottawa River parkway path for a more leisurely ride.
Hiking more your thing? Check out trails like Pink’s Lake for a 45 minute trek around a unique ecosystem. Make your way up to Wolfe trail if you’re looking for a challenge. There are plenty of other incredible trails in Gatineau Park, for all levels of hiking!
Salsa at City Hall
Salsa is more popular than you might expect in Ottawa, particularly on Wednesday night. In July and August, take a free salsa lesson at Ottawa’s City Hall. Once you’re feeling the rhythm, you can stay for a social dancing. The pros come out after the introduction classes are over, and the dancing gets more and more impressive as the night goes on. All levels are welcome, and volunteers act as helpful dance partners/ teachers throughout the night so that you can learn the steps.
Places to Explore
Princess Louise Falls
I took a drive out to Princess Louise Falls last summer and may do so again this year (and I’ll probably never reveal the location again because it’s getting popular!) If you told someone that this waterfall was deep in Croatia or off the beaten past in Costa Rica, they would probably believe you. It will transport you, and your photos, around the world to places that actually have waterfalls. The thick foliage makes it an amazing place for photos, because even in the middle of the day the light is soft and the area shaded.
The Bonnechere caves are a 1.5 hour drive from Ottawa. While it is a bit out of the way, if you’re looking to add an awesome adventure to your summer bucket list, this is it. Tour the caves with a guide and learn the history of how one brave (reckless?) soul discovered the caves years ago. Venture down below the earth to explore the caves for yourself. Wear sturdy shoes, and watch out for bats! Take a picnic, so that you can enjoy lunch on the Bonnechere land before making the drive back in to the city.
This beautiful conservation area is located in Ottawa’s South end. Mer Bleu is part of the greenbelt, and it’s the second-largest bog in Ontario. It’s a short, easy walk along a boardwalk. I visit a couple times every summer, just for a change of scenery. Read the panels as you go, to learn more about the unique ecosystem. Make you sure you stay on the trail. “Bog” and “solid earth” are not synonymous. Protect the ecosystem, and your shoes.
The arboretum is a favourite spot of mine, and it’s close to Fletcher Wildlife Garden and the Experimental Farm Gardens. Any of the three are beautiful places to go for walks, be immersed in nature, and take some enchanting photos.
If you’ve never been on a tour of Parliament, go now. Centre Block will be closing for renovations any time now – and once it closes, it will not be open again for 10 years. I went on the tour of Parliament’s Centre Block three times last year, and learned something new every time. Tours are completely free, and last about 40-60 minutes. Get in line for tickets early if you’re going on a weekend. Parliament consists of three blocks, West, Centre, and East, so this year I’m planning to tour a new block. Centre block is the most popular though, because it gives you access to the straight-out-of-a-fairytale library and includes a trip to the top of the iconic Peace Tower.
The Ottawa Farmer’s Market
The Ottawa Farmer’s Market sets up at Lansdowne every Sunday morning. Here, you can support local businesses and have the best fresh-squeezed lemonade in town. The market is dog-friendly, so if you’re local bring your furry friend. Visiting from out of town? The market is a great place to pick up souvenirs including Canada cookies, and maple syrup in forms.
Museums and Exhibits
The Ottawa Art Gallery
The recently renovated Ottawa Art Gallery is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Explore 3 floors of Canadian art work, and soak up the sun on their beautiful patio looking out towards the University of Ottawa. When you’re all done, unwind with a coffee at the stylish, open concept Jackson café. The best part – it’s always free!
The Museum of Nature – Brain: The Inside Story
Nerd alert, I’m totally checking out this temporary exhibit at the Museum of Nature this summer. I’m currently working on a degree in neuroscience, so more so than to learn about brains I’m excited to go and take photos of enormous model brains. The previews so far point to this being an incredible, interactive exhibit. There is an extra fee for this special exhibit, but you can enter the Museum of Nature (and many of Ottawa’s other museums!) for free on Thursday evenings.
Canada Science and Tech Museum – The Art of the Brick
People, recreations of famous art, and even dinosaurs made completely out of lego can be found at the Canada Science and Tech Museum this summer. The Art of the Brick has been ranked among the top 10 museum exhibits in the world, and it’s in Ottawa until September of this year. I’m not really sure what to expect with this exhibit, but the reviews so far have been exceptional and I think it’s worth checking out!
The Feline Café
Who can resist cute cats and lattes, all under the same roof. The Feline Café opened in the Westboro area one year ago, and I can attest that it is absolutely adorable. The cats are all up for adoption, and they have a beautiful room where they can roam freely. Enjoy a coffee, and maybe pat a cat. Maybe not. They’re cats, they do what they want. Either way, they’re great company and you’re supporting a good cause by going. Entry to the cat area is $5 without a purchase, or $3 with the purchase of a drink. This buys you 40 minutes of feline fun.
Ottawa locals probably don’t have to be told twice – Stella Luna is where it’s at for a summertime treat. This award winning gelato business now has two locations, one in the Glebe and one in Westboro. I’ve loved every flavour that I’ve tried so far. Psssst… on Sunday night from 9PM – 10PM, all gelato is 40%! People line up down the street for Stella Luna gelato, so be prepared ti wait. Totally worth it.
All the way in the Alta Vista area, Three Sisters Bakeshop has hands down the best baked goods around. Vegan, or gluten-free? They’ve got it all, and you would never know the difference. This cute, family business is beloved by locals who live in the area. Bring your furry friend and sit out on the patio, eating the best shortbread cookie, carrot cake, or gluten-free cupcake you’ve ever tasted.
Terrace on the Canal
This canal-side patio is under new ownership this year, and I can’t wait to check it out! Terrace on the Canal is a walk-in only patio near the University of Ottawa and Rideau Centre. The patio itself has been in place for a few years, and is one of my favourite spots in the city. The location is slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the downtown, making for a relaxed environment. Get here by walking along the Canal from Rideau Centre, in the direction of Dow’s Lake. You can’t miss it! If you find yourself on the wrong side of the water, there is a pedestrian bridge you can use to cross over.
Ottawa at Night
Visit the Lockes at Sunset
The sunsets in Ottawa have gotten more and more epic as the years go by. Places that are interesting during the day are magical at night. Particularly the Lockes alongside the Chateau Laurier, and the view of Parliament from Major’s Hill park. Take an evening to explore the downtown just after sunset, and bring your camera to capture the colours.
Fireworks – The Sound of Light
Casino du Lac-Leamy’s Sound of Light show returns, with pyrotechnics from around the world travelling to Ottawa and showing off their firework creations. Dates range from August 4-18, and the show takes place at the Canadian Museum of History. At the museum, you’ll be able to hear the soundtracks and appreciate the synchronization of the fireworks with music.
Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill
More than 300,000 thousand people took in the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill last summer. Every evening in July (10PM), August (9:30PM), and September (9:00PM) this free experience takes place. An impressive light show projected on the Parliament buildings takes you back in time through elements on Canadian history. Bring a deck chair or blanket, and get there early for a good spot!