If you’re looking for frugal ideas during colder weather, consult our page Free or nearly free Ottawa in winter.
Visiting Canada’s Capital on a limited budget doesn’t have to limit your experiences. There are many free or nearly free ways to enjoy national museums, historic sites, outdoor activities and special events! Here are some suggestions on how to experience Ottawa in the warm months without breaking the bank.
ATTRACTIONS AND TOURS
- Visit the iconic Parliament Hill! While the iconic Centre Block undergoes a decade-long rehabilitation, you can enjoy two free guided tours of other interior spaces: The House of Commons in Parliament Hill’s West Block and the Senate in the Senate of Canada Building (Ottawa’s original train station). Reserve your tickets online!
- Visit Rideau Hall, the Governor General of Canada’s residence. Explore the beautiful grounds where dignitaries and political figures have planted trees (open daily from 8 a.m. to one hour before sunset). Or take a guided tour of the famous stone residence (verify schedule).
- Join Ottawa Free Tours for one of their free walking tours! Their Capital City tour runs on select dates from April through September.
- Explore the historic ByWard Market neighbourhood by joining a free guided bilingual walking tour, available Thursdays through Sundays (and select holidays) from early June to early September.
- Enjoy free programming at the National Arts Centre (NAC)! The NAC regularly offers events for all ages including Toddler Tuesdays, Seniors Pop-up Painting, music shows, yoga and meditation.
- Visit the free Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) to admire historic and contemporary works associated with the Ottawa region, including from the Group of Seven. The OAG also hosts creative gatherings for kids, Happy Hour for adults (for a fee), and even free childcare for OAG visitors. Please note: Childcare is suspended in July and August during OAG's summer camps.
- The Bank of Canada Museum (formerly the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada) is always free! People of all ages can create their own avatar and learn about the important role they play in the economy through hands-on interactive exhibits.
- On Thursday evenings, admission to the permanent exhibits of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature is free from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum offer free admission daily between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
- Visit the Royal Canadian Mint to find out how coins are made, see more than one million dollars’ worth of pure gold and hold a solid gold bar in your hands! It’s free to visit the fun boutique and guided tours of the facility are very affordable.
- If you’re an Ottawa resident, take advantage of the Museum privilege program at the Ottawa Public Library. The Library loans out family passes to several museums at no charge—all you need is a library card.
OUTDOOR SITES AND ACTIVITIES
- Go cycling, in-line skating, running or walking anytime on over 800 kilometres (497 miles) of beautiful recreational pathways that link natural areas, parks, gardens and national historic sites. Plus take advantage of Weekend Bikedays from late May to early September, when more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) of parkways are closed to motorists.
- See John Ceprano’s rock sculptures at Remic Rapids along the Ottawa River! Every spring (continues through fall, until the sculptures are dismantled by the winter elements), John creates unique sculptures by only using rocks that are available on site. These amazing creations are the perfect backdrop for pictures in the early morning or evening light!
- Explore the National Capital Greenbelt, a protected natural area encircling the city of Ottawa, including the Mer Bleue Bog! Mer Bleue is one of the largest bogs in southern Ontario, is ecologically more typical of the Arctic than the Ottawa Valley, and has been designated an internationally significant wetland under the United Nations’ Ramsar Convention.
- Enjoy Salsa @City Hall! Each Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. from early July to the end of August, a Latin dance social takes place at Ottawa City Hall. Enjoy a free introductory Latin dance class indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather!
- Take a hike in Gatineau Park! Located just a 15-minute drive north of downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park offers more than 165 kilometres (102 miles) of trails, with most being available year-round. Admission to the park is free. For more hiking ideas, visit our Hiking in Ottawa page.
- Visit beautiful sandy beaches! City of Ottawa beaches, located on the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, are typically open from mid-June to the end of August. Lifeguards are on duty every day from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and some boat and activity rentals are available at some locations.
- Britannia Beach: 2805 Carling Avenue, 613-820-1211
- Mooney’s Bay Beach: 3000 Riverside Drive, 613-248-0863
- Westboro Beach: 234 Atlantis Road at Kitchissippi Lookout, 613-792-3832
- Petrie Island Beach: 727 Trim Road, 613-824-5704
- Go hunting for urban art throughout Ottawa’s diverse neighbourhoods. City spaces are beautified by murals, sculptures and graffiti created by talented artists.
- Discover Ottawa’s Garden Promenade! The website organizes beautiful gardens and green spaces by type and by geographical location with interactive routes and maps for easy exploring.
- Have a picnic! Buy fresh bread, fresh coldcut meats, cheese and vegetables from the farmers and stores in the ByWard Market, then have an impromptu picnic in Major’s Hill Park or at Nepean Point (located behind the National Gallery) for a spectacular view. The point is a beautiful spot to take pictures of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, Victoria Island, Jacques Cartier Park, and the Canadian Museum of History.
- Visit the Ottawa Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne! This market is a fun place to browse locally-grown and locally-made food, arts crafts, and more! It takes place each Sunday outside the historic Aberdeen Pavillion (and inside in the colder months).
- Rent a kayak, canoe or a paddle board (or bring your own) and explore the Rideau Canal! Located at 1001 Queen Elizabeth Drive, the Dows Lake Pavilion offers equipment rentals from Victoria Day weekend throughout the summer. See more ideas for flatwater fun in Ottawa.
- Go on a photography crawl! Plan your own Instagram-worthy tour with our lists of the best places to photograph tulips in spring, sights in the summer and fall colours in autumn.
- Join the country’s biggest Canada Day party each year on July 1! Enjoy many free concerts on Parliament Hill and elsewhere throughout downtown, VIP appearances, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Musical Ride, family activities and fabulous fireworks at 10 p.m.!
- Take in the nightly Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill! This free, bilingual show takes place every night after dark between early July and early September. Huge images are projected onto the Parliament Buildings, using them as a giant screen.
- Take the family to the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival! In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, this multi-day event in June features music, dancing, art and much more by First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists.
- In mid-summer, enjoy free entertainment by various street performers from around the world during the Ottawa International Busker Festival (also known as “Buskerfest”) on Sparks Street!
- Go to the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival! Each year over a weekend in late June, boaters and spectators enjoy exciting non-stop races and at night, amazing free concerts.
- Take part in Doors Open Ottawa! In early June each year, hundreds of architecturally or historically interesting buildings offer free admission over two days.
- Go to the HOPE Volleyball SummerFest at Mooney’s Bay Park! This annual day-long beach volleyball tournament takes place on a huge sandy beach in mid-July and includes great free outdoor concerts for players and spectators alike.
- Celebrate diversity and the LGBTQ2 community at the end of August during Capital Pride! Enjoy parties and events, including the festive parade.
- Take in glorious fall colours during Fall Rhapsody (end of September through mid-October)! Spectacular fall foliage is scattered in parks, along waterways and at historic sites in the city and in the countryside, including Gatineau Park.
- Check out local treasures at 613flea! This monthly, and sometimes twice monthly, market features artisans, makers and other independent creators selling their wares (admission is free).
For more fun and free happenings like poutine, BBQ and cultural celebrations, consult our online Event Calendar!
Ottawa is a very pedestrian-friendly city, but if you’re looking to venture outside of the downtown core, opt to take the city bus operated by OC Transpo. The OC Transpo DayPass can be purchased for $11.25 CDN and entitles you to unlimited same-day travel on the bus as well as on the O-Train, Ottawa’s light rail project in the west end.
With all the money you’ll save, you could splurge on a special Ottawa experience. Consider these different ways to see the city, including scenic biplane flights, boat cruises and hop-on, hop-off bus tours.