The summer months in Canada’s capital are a photographer’s dream. Around every corner, you’ll find historical buildings, architectural gems, sparkling blue waterways and natural wonders – including spectacular sunsets! Make some space on your memory card and explore some of Ottawa’s top places to photograph in the warmer months. Best of all, these sites are all within walking distance of your downtown hotel and they’re free to explore!
Note: Due to COVID-19, some of the mentions below may not reflect current offerings. Please confirm details with direct sources and stay informed on the current COVID-19 situation in Ottawa.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is full of masterpieces inside and out. The giant 9.25-metre (30 feet) tall sculpture of Maman – a spider and her eggs – welcomes you in the front plaza. The colourful Running Horses are frozen mid-gallop beside the Group Entrance.
Behind the gallery, you’ll spot the tall and shiny One Hundred Foot Line which represents a bare tree trunk; Majestic – a sculpture made of revitalized New Orleans streetlamps uprooted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – lights up as night falls; and the patterns sandblasted onto large granite stones (Black Nest and Water Planet) are mesmerizing. Just across the intersection of St. Patrick Street and Sussex Drive, a bronze indigenous sculpture titled The Three Watchmen stands sentinel.
Canadian Museum of History
Many people feel that the best views of Ottawa, Ontario are actually from Gatineau, Quebec! The Canadian Museum of History’s impressive architecture and beautifully landscaped grounds are photogenic in their own right. But they’re also the perfect setting for sweeping views across the Ottawa River to Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal Locks, Nepean Point and the cliffs along the shore.
From the top of the steps, angle your shot to capture the museum’s beautiful fountains in the foreground, and from down near the river, look for Canada Geese or ducks milling about, people picnicking under trees, and cyclists biking by. The Canadian Museum of History is just one of several photogenic stops on Gatineau’s Culture Trail which takes you on a 3-kilometre journey to art, culture and other places of interest. C’est magnifique!
There’s so much more to photograph on Parliament Hill than the emblematic Peace Tower and symbolic Centennial Flame. Zoom into the neo-gothic buildings to capture architectural details like moody gargoyles. Walk behind Centre Block for beautiful views across the Ottawa River and to see the exterior of the intricate Library of Parliament – the only part of the original building that was saved in the devastating fire of 1916.
More than a dozen monuments commemorating important Canadian figures and historical events adorn the grounds, waiting for you to find their best angles. And don’t miss the photogenic and free events held on the front lawn of Parliament Hill in the summer: the colourful Changing of the Guard ceremony (daily); and free Yoga on Parliament Hill which attracts hundreds of participants on Wednesdays during the noon hour. Note: Access to certain events or areas may vary as renovations are taking place.
Note: Ongoing rehabilitation work on Parliament Hill may affect programming as well as access to certain areas.
The iconic Rideau Canal winds its way through downtown Ottawa, creating some of the city’s most photogenic opportunities. Stand on the Plaza Bridge – between the Fairmont Château Laurier and Parliament Hill – for a panoramic view of the Ottawa Locks (a great spot for sunset viewing!). Then go to the canal level to see Parks Canada staff manually operate the locks to let boats travel between the canal and the Ottawa River.
From there, walk or bike south on the canal pathway. You’ll encounter pretty arches and ruins of the original Plaza Bridge, followed by the photogenic green arches of the Laurier Bridge. Continue to the Corktown Bridge at Somerset Street for a broader view over the waterway and see the love locks collected on the railings. Continue to idyllic Dows Lake where people paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards. Or, sit back and relax on a picturesque Rideau Canal Cruise! For more great ways to capture this UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit our webpage Different ways to experience the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
Fairmont Château Laurier
You will likely end up with the castle-like Fairmont Château Laurier featured in many of your pictures of the Rideau Canal – notably from the bridges mentioned above. The Fairmont is especially beautiful when looking up from the Ottawa Locks (try to get the lock gates in the foreground). Take a boat ride on the Ottawa River with the Aqua-Taxi or World Famous Paul’s Boat Line and you’ll get lovely views of the north side of the hotel.
For a frontal view, walk towards the National Arts Centre and turn around. And if you’re staying at the Westin Ottawa in a room on a high floor facing west, or if you’re attending an event in the glass-enclosed TwentyTwo space on the 22nd floor, you’ll enjoy bird’s eye views of the historic Fairmont.
ByWard Market neighbourhood
Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhood is steeped in history and full of fun nooks and crannies to explore. You might end up in a restaurant, café, bar or boutique that’s housed in a historic building. Check out the stone exterior and interior of the Courtyard Restaurant, named for the romantic cobblestone Clarendon Courtyard in which it’s located. Restaurant e18hteen nearby has an Instagram-worthy grand front door (and décor to match).
While on York Street, you can’t miss the giant red Ottawa sign; angle it just right to capture Parliament’s Peace Tower in the background. Check out the art installation painted on the steps that lead from York Street up towards Mackenzie Avenue, or some of the urban art scattered throughout the neighbourhood. And you won’t be able to resist capturing the beautiful produce, flowers and art on display around the ByWard Market Square, and the large paper mâché sculpture hanging from the ceiling inside the building. This is just one of several local farmers’ markets throughout the city.
Visiting Ottawa in autumn? Check out our Top places to photograph in Ottawa this fall webpage for more insta-worthy inspiration.