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Sightseeing in Ottawa

3 Days in Ottawa

Following our road trip around the Rocky Mountains, we flew across Canada to spend 3 days in Ottawa. The Canadian capital is a particularly beautiful city with plenty of green spaces and scenic views. Moreover, it is packed with fascinating museums and buildings to discover. It’s a fabulous city for walking since it’s compact and reasonably flat. So, I’m going to share the details of our 3 days in Ottawa and give you some ideas of how much this city has to offer.

Getting to Ottawa

3 Days in Ottawa VIA Rail Train at Ottawa Station
VIA Rail Train at Ottawa Station

Firstly, you need to get to Ottawa. We flew in from Calgary as part of our tour of Canada but you can also get direct flights from the UK, USA and other cities in Europe. If you are visiting from other cities in Canada or as part of a tour then you can also reach Ottawa by train. In fact, we departed by train when we headed on to Montreal to continue our tour. The train station is easily reached using the O-Train and travelling by VIA train in Canada is easy and comfortable and also very good value.

Ottawa Railway Station
Ottawa Railway Station

Getting Around

3 Days in Ottawa Getting Around
Sightseeing in Ottawa

During our 3 days in Ottawa, we walked a lot as it’s not that big and it’s actually a really nice city to explore on foot. However, there are times when you will want to get some transport. For example, on our first day, it was pouring with rain so we happily hopped on the O-Train to get to the war museum. There are just two lines but it covers many of the main tourist attractions.

Elsewhere, OC Transpo runs a network of buses which will get you anywhere you need to go during your 3 days in Ottawa. In fact, we made the journey from the airport to downtown by bus since the 97 bus picks up at pillar 14 on level one at the airport. Then it takes approximately 40 minutes to make the trip into the city and costs $3.60. You need exact change but you can pay on the bus. We waited for about 20 minutes at the bus stop for the next bus and there was quite a crowd by the time it arrived. It’s obviously a popular means of getting downtown.

3 Days in Ottawa Itinerary

Day 1
Arrive in Ottawa and settle into the hotel
Take a walk through the neighbourhood and along the Rideau Canal
Dinner at Pure Kitchen

Day 2

Canadian War Museum
Walk along the Ottawa River
History Museum

Day 3

Parliament Hill
War Memorial
Famous Five Monument
Major’s Hill Park
National Gallery of Canada

Day 1

3 Days in Ottawa Rideau Canal
Rideau Canal

As I said, we flew into Ottawa so our the first part of our day was spent waiting for luggage and travelling into the city. We stayed at the Business Inn during our stay and you can read my review of the hotel here. After checking in and having a look around the hotel we then decided to spend some time exploring the neighbourhood and getting our bearings.

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal
Rideau Canal

Luckily, our hotel was very close to one of Ottawa’s great walking areas, the Rideau Canal or, in fact, the Rideau Waterway. The Rideau waterway connects the city of Ottawa with both Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site and in winter it also becomes a skateway. Not all of it is manmade because it incorporates parts of the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers as well as some lakes. In total it is 202km long so you only see a small section of it within Ottawa.

Dinner at Pure Kitchen

I don’t often write restaurant reviews because I know we all have different tastes. However, we found this small restaurant just around the corner from our hotel and we ate there many times during our 3 days in Ottawa because it was so good. Pure Kitchen Ottawa is actually part of a small chain of restaurant which offers vegetarian, in fact mainly vegan food.

3 Days in Ottawa Korean BBQ Cauliflower
Korean BBQ Cauliflower

All the items are made fresh and they also offer a takeaway service. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you should really try one of their organic cold-pressed juices which are especially tasty. However, they do have a good range of beers, wines and cocktails on offer, if that’s more your thing.

Salad Bowl
Salad Bowl

Day 2

Despite my saying we walked a lot, we started the second of our 3 days in Ottawa with a quick trip on the O-Train. Mainly because when we got up we were greeted with heavy rain otherwise we could really have walked. Still, it was a good opportunity to take a ride on Ottawa’s newest form of public transport. It was only a few stops but it got us there nice and dry.

Canadian War Museum

3 Days in Ottawa Ottawa War Museum
Ottawa War Museum

My parents visited Ottawa a few years ago and they strongly recommended that we visit the Canadian War Museum during our time here. Outside, the concrete building is rather understated. Inside, however, is far more fascinating.

Families at War

Exhibit on Families at War
Exhibit on Families at War

The museum exhibits begin with representations of war and conflict in the early years of Canadian history. They showcase the effect of war on families during the early settlement of Canada and the part that conflict played in building the country we see today. What surprised me was how many conflicts the Canadians have been involved in during their history. Many of them occurred outside the country, such as the Boer War in South Africa which also involved the British.

3 Days in Ottawa Representation of the Boer War
Representation of the Boer War

Second World War

Of course, Canada was not untouched by the Second World War and this museum chronicles it from a Canadian perspective. Having toured Europe quite extensively I’ve seen many different representations of the Second World War and thus I found this really fascinating.

Moreover, some of the exhibits in this section are quite unique. In the photo below you can see the black armoured Mercedes car which Hitler used during parades.

Adolph Hitler's Car
Adolph Hitler’s Car

Modern Wars

The museum’s chronicle of war then continues in the exhibition from the Cold War to the present. It particularly reinforces Canada’s part in keeping peace alongside other Western countries with exhibits on the Gulf War, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

A cafe in Afghanistan
A cafe in Afghanistan

Lebreton Gallery

Unquestionably, one of the most spectacular parts of the museum is the extensive collection of vehicles and equipment in the Lebreton Gallery. Firstly, view the gallery from above on the viewing platform and then descend to the lower floor for a close up look at a stunning array of exhibits

3 Days in Ottawa Lebreton Gallery
Lebreton Gallery

Afterwards, we realised we’d spent so much time exploring the museum that it was now way past lunchtime. Fortunately, there is also a decent little cafe just off the main entrance hall.

On the roof of the Canadian War Museum

On the roof of the Canadian War Museum
On the roof of the Canadian War Museum

Fortunately for us, afterwards the rain had stopped and the sun had come out and we were able to walk up onto the roof of the museum. This easily accessible viewing platform is a shingle and grass garden of sorts which is pleasant to walk around and also has some great views across downtown Ottawa.

On the roof of the Canadian War Museum
On the roof of the Canadian War Museum

Canadian War Museum: Practical Information

Opening Hours:

The opening times vary so check the official website before setting out. These are for guidance based on when we were there.

Monday to Wednesday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday to Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission:

Adults: $17
Under 17/Students: $13
Children 3- 12: $11

Museum Passport

You can also buy a Museum Passport for $35 which gives admission to 3 museums. You can choose which 3 museums from a list and thus the passport price represents a small saving on full priced admission.
We used it to visit the Canadian War Museum, History Museum and National Gallery but there are other museums on the list. It’s not well advertised but you can buy it at any of the museums on the list. We only found out about it because the people in front of us in the queue asked about it.

Official Website:
https://www.warmuseum.ca/

Ottawa River

Afterwards, as the weather was so much nicer, we decided to walk along the Ottawa River on the Trans Canada Trail. Well, a small section of it anyway. If you want to take this walk then just cross the main road after you exit the Candian War Museum, turn left and look for the signs on your right.

3 Days in Ottawa Trans Canada Trail along the Ottawa River
Trans Canada Trail along the Ottawa River

As can be seen, it’s a pretty walk in good weather. If like us, you want to walk all the way to the Canadian Museum of History then it is quite a long way. We’re not overly fit though so it is definitely doable and over flat ground.

Walking along the River
Walking along the River

Once you walk along the pathway you will come to a bridge which you need to go up the steps to get onto it. Make sure you cross the bridge to the other side before crossing it. Otherwise, like us, you will have to walk all the way to the other side before you can cross. Then you have to walk back slightly to enter the park which runs further along the river.

3 Days in Ottawa Riverside Walk in Ottawa
Riverside Walk in Ottawa

Just keep following the path along the river but make sure to stop and admire the views of Parliament Hill on the other side.

History Museum

3 Days in Ottawa Canadian Museum of History
Canadian Museum of History

Finally, as you turn up towards the museum from the riverside path, you can’t miss it. The imposing glass and concrete building with its domes stands right in front of you. Take a moment to look at the various exhibits in the gardens outside before you head into the museum.

I particularly liked this dog in a canoe sailing on the waterway outside the museum. Being on a river, the water is an important part of Ottawa history and so it seemed a very appropriate image.

The Grand Hall

Inside, you will firstly come into the large ticket hall. After buying your tickets you then proceed towards the large, six-storey Grand Hall. To fully explore this hall you take the escalator down but do pause a moment and take it all in before you go down. It’s a truly amazing space. Even more so because of the floor to ceiling windows on one side.

The exhibits in the Grand Hall showcase the history of the first peoples of Canada. They offer a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs and culture of the early Canadian inhabitants. As well as some amazing totem poles, you can wander through six Native houses and view various artefacts from this period of history.

Traditional Boat at the Canadian Museum of History
Traditional Boat at the Canadian Museum of History

Canadian History Hall

Afterwards, head upstairs to discover more about Canada’s history in the Canadian History Hall. This is divided into three galleries which showcase the history of Canada and its people. The exhibits take you through from early Canada to the arrival of Europeans, Colonial Canada and the making of a modern nation.

3 Days in Ottawa St Onuphrius Church
St Onuphrius Church

As you wander through the exhibits you’ll learn a lot about Canada and the influence of other countries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire church inside a museum before so it was quite a surprise to find St Onuphrius Church. This early 20th-century Ukrainian Catholic church is preserved in the museum. Not the contrast between the rather plain exterior and the ornate decorations inside.

Inside St Onuphrius Church
Inside St Onuphrius Church

Of course, this is just a small taste of what this wonderful museum has to offer. Also included in your ticket is the Cine+ where you can choose from a variety of films shown on the large screen. We saw a fabulous film called Great Bear Rainforest about the white spirit bears. Check the daily timetable for films in English and French at various times throughout the day.

Canadian Museum of History: Practical Information

Opening Hours:

July & August
Monday to Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday to Sunday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

September to June
Monday to Wednesday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday to Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission:
Adults: $20
Under 18/Students: $16
Children 3-12: $12
Children under 3: Free

You can also use the Museum Passport to visit the National Gallery. See my note about it above in the section on the Canadian War Museum.

Official Website:
https://www.historymuseum.ca/

Day 3

3 Days in Ottawa Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill

We set off on foot for the final day of our 3 days in Ottawa. We could have walked straight up the hill from our hotel to the Parliament Hill area. However, since it was a nice day we detoured a little and walked along the Rideau Canal again. It’s a lovely way to start the day.

Parliament Hill

3 Days in Ottawa Canadian Parliament
Canadian Parliament

The Canadian parliament consists of the Senate and the House of Commons. Like in the UK, the members of the House of Commons are elected by the Canadian people. Similarly, the Senate is like the UK House of Lords, where the members are appointed.

The iconic Neo-Gothic building that you see in the photo above is called the Centre Block. It was constructed between 1916 and 1927 and replaced an older building that was destroyed by fire.  At the moment Centre Block is closed for renovations but you can still view it from the outside.

During the renovations, the work of the House of Commons and the Senate continues in nearby buildings. You can still visit and take a tour to see them in action.

War Memorial

3 Days in Ottawa National War Memorial
National War Memorial

Still, on parliament hill, walk down towards the river and you will see the National War Memorial. The Canadian war memorial is called ‘The Response’ and is dedicated to all the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have served in times of war.

An Englishman, Vernon March, won a competition in 1926 to design the memorial and it was unveiled in 1939 by King George VI. Sadly, March did not live to see his creation finalised as he died in 1930. The tomb of the unknown soldier, which you see at front of the memorial, was added in 2000 and contains the remains of a soldier from Vimy Ridge in France.

Famous Five Monument

3 Days in Ottawa Famous Five Monument
Famous Five Monument

While you are in this area don’t miss the Famous Five Monument. This beautiful monument is dedicated to five courageous Canadian suffragettes who advocated for the rights of women. The five women are Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, and Henrietta Muir Edwards. As you can see, in the photo above, the figures are larger than life which just reinforces the huge impact these women had. Apparently, a similar monument to the famous 5 exists in Calgary also.

Major’s Hill Park

3 Days in Ottawa Major's Hill Park Ottawa
Major’s Hill Park Ottawa

A short walk from parliament hill brings you to Major’s Hill Park. Take a moment to admire the views across the Rideau Canal. You can also see the History Museum where we were yesterday on the other side of the river.

View from Major's Hill Park
View from Major’s Hill Park

The park is a pleasant green area and is a popular place for events such as Canada Day celebrations. However, it was very quiet on the day we were there.

Major's Hill Park Ottawa
Major’s Hill Park Ottawa

From the park, you can see the glass building of the National Gallery of Canada, which is where we are headed next.

National Gallery of Canada

3 Days in Ottawa National Gallery of Canada
National Gallery of Canada

Our next destination on this walking tour of Ottawa was the National Gallery of Canada. After crossing through the park, we walked a short way downhill to arrive outside this impressive building. I always think it’s important for the outside of an art gallery to draw you inside and this fascinating glass construction certainly does that.

Maman by Louise Bourgeois

Maman at the National Gallery of Canada
Maman at the National Gallery of Canada

This amazing statue stands right outside the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada. Initially, it made me stop and question what it was as I saw one very similar to it at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao not long ago. Firstly, I wondered if it had somehow moved to Canada but when I looked more closely I realised they are not quite the same.

In fact, Canada’s Maman and the Bilbao Maman are part of a series by Louise Bourgeois which focuses on the spider. Created from bronze, marble and stainless steel, Maman represents maternity, hence the name. If you look closely, you can see the egg sack which hangs beneath the spider’s body. Certainly, it’s a striking piece to welcome you into the museum.

Inside the Museum

The entrance walkway inside the museum
The entrance walkway inside the museum

We entered the museum at the bottom of this long walkway which offers an impressive view of the structure of the building. The reception and ticket desk are located at the top of the ramped walkway.

The various galleries are then accessed from this central hub via the stairs and elevator opposite the ticket desk. It is a compact set of galleries but inside you’ll find some fascinating works of art. I’m no art history expert so I like to wander around and gaze and see what catches my eye. For that reason, I’m not going to talk you through the museum gallery by gallery. Instead, I’ll just share a few of the exhibits which I found particularly interesting.

Lost Bridal Veil by Michael Belmore

Lost Bridal Veil by Michael Belmore
Lost Bridal Veil by Michael Belmore

This striking piece of indigenous art is situated in a small atrium off the main gallery. Constructed of copper and steel the piece represents the flow of blood and its natural power. It was acquired by the National Gallery in 2017 so is a relatively new addition to the museum.

First World War Artists

Returning to the Trenches by C.R.W. Nevinson
Returning to the Trenches by C.R.W. Nevinson

The National Gallery of Canada has a number of paintings by the First World War artists. These were of particular interest to me as my research degree thesis is about literary representations of the First World War and this is a piece of history I know well. Moreover, the two war artists whose work I’ve shared here are both used as the basis for characters in Pat Barker’s marvellous novels, Life Class and Toby’s Room. Both of which are featured in my thesis.

I’ve seen many photographs of Nevinson and Nash’s work but it is always a joy to see them up close in this way. The access to the paintings at the National Gallery is excellent and so you can get really close and really appreciate the brushstrokes as well as taking them in from slightly further away to get more perspective.

Void by Paul Nash
Void by Paul Nash

Modernist Movement

Both Nash and Nevinson were part of the modernist movement and they wanted to show war, not as something triumphant and glorious but as dehumanising and terrifying. The increase of mechanisation which occurred throughout the war is starkly evident in their paintings, as is the destruction left in its wake.

During your 3 days in Ottawa allow at least a couple of hours to take in all this wonderful museum has to offer. Even if you’re not an art aficionado, you’ll find out plenty to occupy your time as you learn about indigenous art and get a glimpse at Canada’s art history.

National Gallery of Canada: Practical Information

Opening Hours:

October to April: 10 am to 5 pm (Closed Mondays)
May to September: 10 am to 6 pm every day.

Admission:

Adults: $16
Under 24/Students: $8
Children under 12: Free

You can also use the Museum Passport to visit the National Gallery. See my note about it above in the section on the Canadian War Museum.

Official Website:
https://www.gallery.ca/

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Spend 3 days in Ottawa and explore the sights and museums of Canada's Capital City. From Parliament Hill to the River Ottawa, get out and explore. #Canada #Ottawa