Canada’s capital is like a huge playground for children, with indoor and outdoor fun around every corner. From epic outdoor adventures to interactive national museums, plus fun food and tours, Ottawa is the perfect way for families to experience all of Canada in one place. Here are just some of the kid-friendly activities and sites you and your family can look forward to in Canada’s capital.
Fascinating history and fun tours
Changing of the Guard ceremony
One of the most popular summer events in Ottawa is the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill. From late June to late August, this free, colourful military ceremony features drills as well as a regimental band and pipers. Show up before the show starts at 10:00 a.m. for the best views!
Head down to the Ottawa Locks to see boats of all sizes travel through the eight giant locks that connect the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River. Watch Parks Canada staff as they crank the gates open and closed by hand – just like when the locks were constructed in 1832! The Rideau Canal is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located next to the Ottawa Locks is Ottawa’s oldest stone building, which is now home to the Bytown Museum. The museum recounts the history of Ottawa, including its beginnings as a rowdy lumber town, the construction of the Rideau Canal and many more important events in Ottawa’s past. Kids can go on a scavenger hunt through the museum and get interactive in the youth activity area.
A Pirate's Life Theatre
One of the most unique summer experiences in Canada’s capital is the interactive pirate theatre cruise, A Pirate's Life Theatre (formerly Pirate Adventures). Head to Mooney’s Bay on the Rideau River, put on a costume, and have your face painted before boarding the pirate ship. Join the boat’s crew as they seek sunken treasure, solve mysteries, defend the ship with water canons and more.
Ghosts and the Gallows tour
Did you know that Ottawa is home to one of the most haunted buildings in North America (and you can even sleep there, if you dare)? The old Carleton County Jail is now an HI – Ottawa Jail Hostel that you can visit on the Haunted Walk’s Ghosts and the Gallows tour. Follow your cloaked guide as they take you through the cellblocks, Death Row, and the last working gallows in Canada.
Ottawa Biplane Adventures
One of the best ways to see a city is from the air, and even better, from an open-cockpit, authentic WWII-era WACO UPF-7 biplane! Put on goggles and squeeze into the two-passenger backseat. Enjoy views of the majestic Ottawa River, the city’s urban but green spaces and historic Parliament Hill.
Camp Fortune’s Explorer Park
Beautiful Canadian wilderness awaits just a 15-minute drive north of Ottawa! At Camp Fortune’s Explorer Park, you can zip line through the trees and enjoy other fun and challenging outdoor experiences in the expansive Gatineau Park.
Ottawa City Rafting
Where else can you do whitewater rafting within the city? Join Ottawa City Rafting for a half-day gentle rafting excursion that starts just 10 minutes west of downtown Ottawa. You’ll float along the Ottawa River – including class I and II rapids – as well as enjoy cliff jumping, body surfing and storytelling. For more intense rafting options in the Ottawa area – including level V rapids – visit our webpage, Epic whitewater adventures on the Ottawa River.
Fun and tasty food
Did you know the renown Canadian treat known as BeaverTails originated in Ottawa? (The pastry is not an actual beaver’s tail – it’s just shaped like one and can even be made vegan.) Stop by the original stand in the historic ByWard Market neighbourhood and choose the toppings of your choice, like the standard cinnamon and sugar, the bananarama or even candy options.
Ottawa loves ice cream, especially when it’s creative and delicious like Sundae School’s ice cream parlour. The shop uses local Carp Custom Creamery ice cream and offers kid-friendly toppings like candy, chocolate and peanut butter sauce. Order one of the cleverly named menu options like the Pop Quiz or choose your own epic combination of ingredients. To plan your own ice cream crawl, visit our webpage on Best ice cream (and other frozen treats) in Ottawa.
Zak’s Diner and Cantina
Retro diner with tasty burgers and milkshakes? Check. Mexican-inspired Cantina with a colourful bus inside? Check. Zak’s Diner and the next-door Cantina located in the ByWard Market area are an Ottawa staple, with family-friendly décor and menus. Zak’s is just one of many family-friendly restaurants and places to eat in Ottawa.
Canadian Museum of Nature
To experience Canada’s nature in one building, the Canadian Museum of Nature is the place to go. The historic castle-style structure has exhibits on everything including dinosaurs, mammals, minerals, water life (including a giant whale skeleton) and the Arctic. Plan your visit in advance to coincide with one of the museum’s sleepover events!
Canadian Museum of History
Canada’s most visited museum, the Canadian Museum of History, is full of mind-blowing exhibits, like the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, as well as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition about Canadian history ever created. It’s also home to the Canadian Children’s Museum where kids can travel the world and experience different cultures through interactive activities.
Canada Science and Technology Museum
The state-of-the-art Canada Science and Technology Museum is truly a kid’s paradise with interactive, hands-on activities and even augmented reality. Some of the classic exhibits like the giant locomotives and disorienting crazy kitchen are better than ever, and new experiences await, like the ZoooMobile area where kids can design and build their own miniature vehicles and put them to the test.
These are just three of the seven national museums you can visit in Canada’s capital!
Cycling along the Rideau Canal
With hundreds of kilometres of bike paths that wind their way throughout the city and countryside, cycling is a favourite activity in Ottawa. The family-friendly Rideau Canal bike trail in the city centre is an easy, flat route that passes by green parks, various neighbourhoods and big attractions.
During Ottawa’s hot sunny days, there’s no better place to be than Canada’s largest waterpark. Located just a 30-minute drive east of downtown Ottawa, Calypso has numerous slides for all ages, a wave pool, rivers, a whitewater experience, and much more. Parents can have fun too, and they don’t have to worry about getting their valuables wet – they can use their fingertip to pay for anything while onsite!
Kayaking at Dows Lake
The waterways in Ottawa are full of activity in the summer. Rent a canoe, kayak or other self-propelled craft from Dows Lake Pavilion on the Rideau Canal and enjoy the natural setting within the city. This is just one of the fun flatwater activities that make Ottawa a paddling paradise!
For even more ways to enjoy Canada’s capital as a family, take a look at other ways you can have a blast in Ottawa in the summer.