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Ottawa Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Ottawa

Ottawa the capital of Canada is located in the Province of Ontario. Being the fourth largest city in the country it boasts a large number of memorials, historical buildings and quite a few museums. Its mild weather will definitely cheer you up and keep you busy. Here is a list of the best tourist attractions you should check while in Ottawa.
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Ottawa Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Ottawa Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Canada » Ottawa (See other walking tours in Ottawa)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Parliament Hill and Buildings
  • Supreme Court of Canada
  • Sparks Street
  • National Arts Centre
  • Rideau Canal
  • Fairmont Château Laurier
  • Major's Hill Park
  • ByWard Market
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • Royal Canadian Mint
Parliament Hill and Buildings

1) Parliament Hill and Buildings (must see)

Parliament Hill is an area of Crown land on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa. Its Gothic revival suite of buildings — the parliament buildings — serves as the home of the Parliament of Canada, and contains a number of architectural elements of national symbolic importance. Parliament Hill attracts approximately 3 million visitors each year. The Centre Block contains the Senate and Commons chambers and is fronted by the Peace Tower on the south facade, with the Library of Parliament at the building's rear. The East and West Blocks each contain ministers' and senators' offices, as well as meeting rooms and other administrative spaces. Gothic Revival has been used as the unifying style of all three structures, though the Centre Block is a more modern Gothic Revival, while the older East and West Blocks are of a Victorian High Gothic manner. This collection is one of the most important examples of the Gothic Revival style anywhere in the world.

Why You Should Visit:
The view over the river are spectacular; the buildings themselves are some of the most gorgeous Parliament Buildings, ever.
Outstanding craftsmanship in both wood and stone – the foyers and the library are works of art!

You need to get your tickets in advance; try going early because they are limited.
Security is very strict so leave your bags and any questionable items at the free bag check where you get your tickets.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 8:30am-6pm; Fri: 8:30am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Supreme Court of Canada

2) Supreme Court of Canada (must see)

The Supreme Court of Canada is the top of the Canadian judicial pyramid and was established on 8 April 1875. Its decisions are binding upon all lower courts in the country. In 1933, the Supreme Court was formally made the court of last instance for criminal appeals and in 1949 for all other appeals. The increased importance of the Court has been mirrored by the number of its members, rising from six judges upon the establishment in 1875 to nine judges recently. In 2000, Beverly McLachin was appointed Chief Justice, followed by Justices Charron and Abella appointed in 2005, which made The Supreme Court of Canada the world's most gender-balanced national high court, with four female members out of nine.

The Supreme Court status prohibits judges from holding any governmental position, federal or provincial, or being involved in any business activity. The judges are obliged to live in or within 40 kilometres the National Capital Region and retire at the age of 75; they can be removed from office prematurely, though, if found incapable or guilty of misconduct. The Supreme Court of Canada offers pamphlet containing information about the history and role of the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as other general info, presented in twelve languages apart from English and French.

The Court performs a unique function in terms of dealing, at the request of Governor-in-Council, with legal issues concerning matters of national importance, although this does not happen very often.

The Supreme court sits in the Main Courtroom in the centre of the building on the first floor. A bronze model of the original Supreme Court Building, a present from the Canadian Bar Association in 1975, is located at the foot of the staircase. The courtroom is equipped with a video-conference system allowing litigants to present their cases from distant locations.

The building itself is quite impressive, both exterior and interior. If you are keen on architecture, this site is a must see. Situated just west of the Parliament Buildings on a cliff overlooking the Ottawa River, and secluded from a busy Wellington Street by a vastness of lawn, this building offers a noble setting befitting the country's highest tribunal.

Why You Should Visit:
Though the free tour (in English/French) is only for 30min, it is packed with information about how both the Supreme and Federal courts function.
Besides, if you follow all the rules, including being quiet, you can see a case being heard.
You're also allowed to try on robes and sit in the judge's chair in the Federal Court of Appeal for a photo op.

Make sure to check the schedule beforehand online or call.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Sparks Street

3) Sparks Street (must see)

Sparks Street is one of the most prestigious historic streets in Ottawa, holding a number of heritage buildings. Founded in the early 1800s by Nicholas Sparks – hence the name – it was made a fully pedestrian street in 1966, which makes it one of the first outdoor malls in North America. Nicholas Sparks, one of the Fathers of Ottawa, was a farmer who in the mid-19th century cut a path through the forest toward his house that has ultimately become the well known Sparks Street.

Today, the street runs from Elgin Street to Bronson Avenue and contains a number of outdoor restaurants, beautiful works of art and many lovely fountains. One portion of the street is reserved for pedestrians, while the two final blocks west of Lyon Street form a regular road. Sparks became a bustling commercial center of the Ottawa Valley after the selection of Ottawa as the capital of Canada by Queen Victoria. A number of government offices and homes for parliamentarians were built here. The most notable of the street tenants was Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a prominent journalist, who in 1868 was killed outside his house at the corner of Sparks and Metcalfe.

In the early 20th century, the street saw booming activities. A number of Beaux-Arts buildings of that period are still visible. However, with the expansion of the city, the street became less centralized and commerce spread into the neighbouring areas. Government ministries in need of larger offices also moved elsewhere. Sparks' business was further damaged in 1959 when the streetcar line was closed.

In 1961, the street was temporarily – just for the summer – turned into a pedestrian mall in order to give the local commerce a boost. This undertaking proved successful and eventually, the street was permanently closed to vehicles. Today, the pedestrian mall extends from Elgin to Kent streets and is open all year round.

Sparks is a home to some of Ottawa's major attractions too, such as the National War Memorial and the National Arts Centre. Many of the city's oldest buildings like the Post Office, the Ottawa Electric Building and branches of several Canadian banks are located on the eastern side of the street. Some newer buildings can also be seen in this part of the mall, including Ottawa Broadcast Centre and Thomas D'Arcy McGee Building, shaped somewhat like a squat "7" and visually very captivating.

The mall and most of the buildings on the south side are owned and administered by The National Capital Commission, while those on the north side are run by Public Works and Government Services Canada. It is through the combined effort of these two bodies that Sparks street has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Ottawa.

Keep an eye on the calendar of festivals and special events held here.
National Arts Centre

4) National Arts Centre (must see)

Situated between Elgin Street and the Rideau Canal, The National Arts Centre (NAC) is a centre for performing arts in Ottawa. It is housed in a hexagonal building that is joined by roof with the Mackenzie King Bridge and was designed by Fred Lebensold.

The National Arts Centre (NAC) showed its first performance in 1969. Masterminded by Canadian Parliament as a centennial project back in the 1960s, the centre has evolved as the country's leading stage for the performing arts. It is also the largest performing arts centre in the world and the only one that performs in two languages. In 2006, the National Arts Centre was declared a National Historic Site.

The NAC orchestra is also quite famous, both at home and abroad. It is directed by Pinchas Zukerman and, apart from performing, continuously seeks new talents with an aim to further develop their abilities in the performing sphere. Talented musicians are offered guidance and plenty of opportunities to perform in numerous programs run by the NAC Orchestra.

During the year many Canadian and international artists come to the NAC to show off their skills: in dance, music, theatre and many other areas. Nutcracker is one of the NAC internationally acclaimed performances, featuring both national and international ballet dancers. The diversity of the NAC annual programs suffices to satisfy any art lover.

Vast spaces of land outside the centre are covered by gardens which are open to the public. Many works of arts are displayed at the NAC entrance and staircases.

When in Ottawa, make sure to spare some time and visit the NAC, and you will certainly find there something to suit your taste.

Why You Should Visit:
Exceptional stage & wardrobe crew, amazing orchestra, huge underground parking, central location along with reasonable rates make this a hot spot in Ottawa.
Rideau Canal

5) Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal, also known unofficially as the Rideau Waterway, connects the capital city of Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. It is 202 kilometres in length. The canal system uses sections of two rivers, the Rideau and the Cataraqui, as well as several lakes. The canal was opened in 1832 as a precaution in case of war with the United States. It remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating, with most of its original structures intact, operated by Parks Canada. The locks on the system open for navigation in mid-May and close in mid-October. It is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, and in 2007 it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fairmont Château Laurier

6) Fairmont Château Laurier (must see)

The Chateau Laurier Ottawa is one of the key attractions in the city. Designed in the Châteauesque style, this historic and stylish hotel stands at the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. The Château was built between 1909 and 1912. Originally, it was planned to occupy part of the land belonging to Major’s Hill Park. However, that decision caused controversy and the then Prime Minister of Canada, Wilfrid Laurier, had to step in and assist in finding an alternate place for the project. In appreciation of his efforts, the newly built hotel was named Laurier.

Initially, the hotel's opening was scheduled for 26 April 1912 and was to be attended by Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway whose construction company ran the project. Hays was returning from Europe to Canada for the opening ceremony on RMS Titanic and tragically died when the boat sank on her maiden voyage on April 15. The ceremony was, thus, delayed and took place two months later in the presence of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

After the inclusion of Grand Trunk in the Canadian National Railway, the Château Laurier was designated as the most significant hotel in Ottawa and hosted heads of states, celebrities, royalties, and political personalities. Canadian Prime Minister R.B. Bennett also lived here from 1930 to 1935. In 1999, the hotel's name was changed to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.

The place is said to be haunted as many guests have admitted to seeing here the ghosts of Charles Melville Hays and a small child. They also claimed to have heard supernatural voices, experienced unexplained shivering and even had the sensation of being watched whilst on the premises.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has put the hotel among the top 500 buildings constructed in the country over the past millennium. It is also known as "the third chamber of Parliament" for having housed many important meetings of prominent politicians and other famous personalities, and also due to its proximity to some of Ottawa's major sites, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Rideau Canal, the Parliament Hill and others.
Major's Hill Park

7) Major's Hill Park (must see)

Major's Hill Park is one of the most distinguished parks in downtown Ottawa. It is situated above the Rideau Canal at the spot where it empties into the Ottawa River. Because of its prime location, Major’s Hill Park is the site for many of Ottawa's exciting events such as Canada Day celebrations on July 1, annual Tulip Festival in May and February’s Winterlude Festival.

Laid out in 1874, the park was originally named after Colonel By, the engineer who built the Rideau Canal, and had his residence located on the site of the park. After his succession by Major Daniel Bolton, the name was changed to Major's Hill Park in 1832. In 1849, By's residence was destroyed by fire; the ruins of it are still visible today.

The National Capital Commission manages the park and has placed many interpretative panels displaying historical information in the northwest corner of the park. Dozens of artists come to Major’s Hill regularly to sell their works – paintings, clothing, woodworking, pottery, glass and jewelry – in the designated area called Artisans in the Park. During the Tulip Festival, the International Friendship Village presents countries that have made a mark in the cultivation of tulips, among them Turkey, the Netherlands, and Japan. Many varieties of food are also available in the park, complete with many crafts activities to engage in.

Concert Stage operates day and night. During the day, it is open to all visitors free of charge. In the evening, the Concert Stage features big-name artists and requires a ticket. The Family Zone, located at the north end of the park, abounds in various activities and teems with kids.

Major’s Hill Park is a peaceful retreat in the middle of the city. With its grand trees and pathways, it offers picturesque views of Ottawa’s major sites such as the Rideau Canal, the Parliament Buildings, the National Art Gallery, the Ottawa River, Sussex Drive and ByWard Market. It is a great place to walk during the summer months, enjoy ice cream from the street vendors, or sit on one of the many benches and soak up the moments of tranquillity. It is also a great urban picnic spot to be found in a close proximity to some of Ottawa's best restaurants and shops.

Why You Should Visit:
Great location during the summer while festivals are going on and a sought-after place to watch fireworks. Lots of access point and parking nearby.

Use this park to explore the shores of the river.
Having a picnic with family with children is a good idea.
Vantage points for seeing Parliament buildings and the National Gallery are stupendous.
ByWard Market

8) ByWard Market (must see)

Founded by Lt-Col. John By in 1826, ByWard Market is one of the largest and oldest public markets in the Canadian capital, commonly regarded as the birthplace of Ottawa. John By, responsible for engineering the Rideau Canal, laid out the market plan. While working on the town grid, he arranged for George and York Streets to be extra wide. The aim behind this was to make way for the horse-drawn carriages that daily transported grocery to the market.

ByWard has largely preserved its historical Victorian heritage. Since the 1840s, it has been a major commercial hub. Today, ByWard Market is still popular for vegetable and grocery shopping, which attracts tourists and locals alike.

Famous for its chic boutiques, high-end restaurants and glamourous nightclubs, the ByWard Market area only two-three decades ago was mostly a blue-collar Lower Town district inhabited by workers of Irish and French descent, predominantly lumbermen, supplying construction materials for the canal works in Hull.

Greatly adapted to the trends of today's Canadian society, ByWard Market is a prominent tourist destination in Ottawa. It is the foremost place for eating out, shopping, and entertainment, dotted with numerous restaurants and bars that have mushroomed in recent years. Swarming with street performers also, it is one of the liveliest places in the city, seeing on average 50,000 visitors each weekend during the summer. There are more than 260 stalls held by local farmers and artisans along with the stands of over 500 businesses. Other amenities found in the area include a community centre, child care facilities, schools, parks and places of worship.

Why You Should Visit:
Touristy area which on a good day is very crowded but still fun to enjoy the different stores and eateries.
Amazing bakery, cheese shops, maple syrup and candies, as well as the oldest bar in Ontario...

Make sure you taste the famous beaver-tails – unless you're a weight-watcher, of course! :)

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:00-20:00; Sat-Sun: 8:00-18:00;
Hours can depend on the weather and vary from stand to stand.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

9) Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (must see)

Set in the place where the first Catholic chapel once stood, Notre-Dame Basilica is the oldest church in Ottawa that has survived for many centuries. In 1978, the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa was officially marked as a historic building by the City Council.

In 1832, a small wooden church, known as St. Jacques Church, was erected on the site. In 1841 it was demolished with the plan of being replaced by a larger church. The latter was designed in a Neo-classical style by Antoine Robillard and Father Cannon. After the completion of the church's lower section, the construction was handed over to Father Telmon who redesigned it in a more famous Neo-Gothic style. As a result, the building features a combination of styles: Neo-classical in the lower section and Neo-Gothic in the rest of it.

The interior of the church is more brightly painted and more elaborately decorated than the exterior. There are superb stained glass windows and a large number of statues of different religious persons, the most notable of which is the gold-plated statue of Madonna with twin spires. The church and its characteristic architectural features are clearly visible from the nearby Parliament Hill. The latest renovation of the church took place in the late 1990s.

Among other notable events that have taken place at Notre-Dame Basilica are the funeral ceremonies of Governor General Georges Vanier and Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Visitors are free to enter the church and offer their prayers during the week. Many of the visitors, however, are attracted by the majestic grandeur of the building itself.

Why You Should Visit:
There is no charge to enter and you can have a free English/French tour of the church both upper and down in the hall with another chapel (check out the schedule online).

Pay attention to the details of things such as the marble pillars, which are actually made of wood made to look like marble.

Opening Hours:
Mon: 11:30am-6pm; Tue-Sat: 9am-6pm; Sun: 8am-8:30pm
National Gallery of Canada

10) National Gallery of Canada (must see)

The National Gallery of Canada is one of the most acclaimed art institutions in the world and contains the most exceptional collection of artworks. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the Gallery building is one of the most beautiful in Ottawa. Completed in 1988, it houses a huge and diverse collection of paintings, drawings and other works of art, created by both Canadian and prominent European masters.

For years, Canadians had wanted a national gallery of their own where they could display Canadian art, as well as preserve, learn and educate people about their country’s cultural heritage. In the course of the centuries, the country has accumulated wonderful works of art from around the globe – sculptures, paintings, photographs etc. – belonging to various historical periods.

A tour of the Gallery reveals how it came into being as such a magnificent cultural institution. Among other interesting things, The National Gallery presents a captivating story of Canadian Civilization in the form of visual arts. From here, one can also enjoy a stunning view of the Ottawa River and the skyline of the Canadian capital.

In 2000, the National Gallery was chosen by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada as one of the top 500 buildings created in the country over the past millennium. Many exhibitions are hosted by the Gallery in collaboration with other national art galleries and museums. Many of the items held in the Canadian National Gallery have been purposely donated or purchased. The sculpture of a giant spider was mounted in front of the Gallery in 2005.

A remarkable piece of architecture, The National Gallery of Canada is a site worth seeing, not only for the huge collection of artistic masterpieces. It is a definite must-see for everyone visiting the country. Time seems to fly by when you are here!

Why You Should Visit:
The place to understand and learn about Canadian artists, both native and contemporary.
Many excellent paintings of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists artists as well: Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Matisse...
As a bonus the show of the Danish Golden Age is superb; there are many fine paintings of Eckersberg and Hammershøi.

The gallery is free on Thursdays after 5pm.
Includes a cafeteria with a "view" and a coffee shop.
For more upscale food options and wine, check out the excellent 7 Tapas bar in the Great Hall.

Opening Hours:
Oct 1 – Apr 30: Tue-Sun: 10am-5pm; Thu: 10am-8pm;
May 1 – Sep 30: Daily: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-8pm
Royal Canadian Mint

11) Royal Canadian Mint (must see)

The Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa houses one of the oldest (est. 1911) and one of the largest gold refineries in the Western Hemisphere. The new refinery was built in 1936 to refine gold for mines and central banks around the world. The Canadian Mint was officially opened by Lord Grey and his wife, Lady Grey, on January 2, 1908. Originally established to produce Canadian circulation coins, today the Royal Mint manufactures coins for other countries as well, including the Czech Republic and Zambia.

It also designs and produces collector coins made of gold, silver, palladium, and platinum. On top of that, the Mint creates medals, medallions and tokens, and offers gold and silver refinery and assay services.

The Canadian Mint was the first to produce 99.99% pure gold Maple Leaf coin for commercial distribution, thus establishing a new international gold standard. Its name is entered in The Guinness Book of World Records for producing 100 kg, 99.999% pure gold bullion coin worth $1 million. In order to ensure the best quality, each collector coin manufactured in Ottawa is thoroughly examined at the press. Visitors are allowed to see the minting process on a guided tour.

Why You Should Visit:
The tour is reasonably priced ($8), approx. 45 mins to 1 hour long and is fun and informative.
The vantage point above the factory floor allows excellent views of the furnaces, presses, and other fabricating and inspection/weighing areas.
The gift shop is actually also very interesting with lots of coins on display that you can either purchase, dream of purchasing ;) or simply view.

You can lift an actual gold bar at the end of the tour!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Ottawa, Canada

Create Your Own Walk in Ottawa

Create Your Own Walk in Ottawa

Creating your own self-guided walk in Ottawa is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Ottawa Theatres Walking Tour

Ottawa Theatres Walking Tour

Ottawa has plenty of theaters and art organizations. Ready to satisfy any taste and mood, you can find venues which stage plays ranging from traditional Canadian to International to more exotic and extravagant. Take a tour through some of the most popular theaters in Ottawa.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Ottawa Famous Galleries Walking Tour

Ottawa Famous Galleries Walking Tour

Ottawa is home to a large number of great galleries and offers something to everyone. You'll discover a plethora of masterpieces of sculptures and paintings from ancient times to the present. Whether they be small family-owned galleries or large national galleries, they teach you more about Native Canadian art and its evolution. Be sure to take a walking tour through Ottawa's famous...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Ottawa Haunted Walking Tour

Ottawa Haunted Walking Tour

Ottawa, the northern capital of Canada, is famous not only for its art galleries and museums, but also for its dark past. There are several buildings in this city that the locals prefer to walk around. These buildings, it is said, are inhabited by real, horrifying ghosts. Dare you take this walking tour through Ottawa’s haunted places when the darkness falls.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Ottawa Famous Museums Walking Tour

Ottawa Famous Museums Walking Tour

Being the cultural heart of Canada, Ottawa is home to a wealth of museums and heritage structures. Ottawa's museums are part of the Confederation Boulevard ceremonial route and cover a broad range of art-focused, family-friendly and historical exhibits. We invite you to take a walking tour through Ottawa's most famous museums

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.2 Km or 4.5 Miles
Ottawa's Famous Churches

Ottawa's Famous Churches

The city of Ottawa has some amazing religious sites and it is a perfect religious destination for people interested in that. With most of the attractions located in downtown or in the near vicinity, you will have no trouble in visiting some of these attractions on your trip. We invite you to take a walking tour and see the formidable churches of Ottawa.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.1 Km or 3.2 Miles
Bars and Pubs Walking Tour

Bars and Pubs Walking Tour

The capital of Canada, Ottawa is a major international hub with a diverse set of cultural influences. For the entertainment of both its locals and guests to the city, Ottawa offers a range of great drinking establishments, as well as plenty of hardy food to go along with it. Take this Ottawa Bars and Pubs Tour and discover the friendly faces and great entertainment Canada’s capital city has to...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles