Canadian Museum of Nature

Indoor spots to photograph in Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, is packed with beautiful interiors to photograph at any time of year. From historic hotels and a stunning cathedral, to hidden gems inside museums and galleries, these location ideas will keep your Instagram feed full throughout your trip, no matter the weather.

Note: Due to COVID-19 and other factors, some of the mentions below may not reflect current offerings. Please confirm details with direct sources and stay informed on the current situation in Ottawa.

Canadian Museum of Nature

Officially known as the Victoria Memorial Building, the castle-style Canadian Museum of Nature is at the southern edge of Centretown. One of the building’s most photogenic features is the Queen’s Lantern, added in 2010. From inside, the monumental glass cube offers an Instagram-worthy view up Metcalfe Street toward Parliament Hill. Stroll the walkways on each floor and capture the view through the building’s original arched front window, with its neo-Gothic mullions. Stay until it’s dark out and head outside to photograph the Lantern all lit up.

TIP: Periodically, the museum hangs enormous inflated sculptures from the ceiling of the Queen’s Lantern. Try photographing them from below for a fascinating shot.

National Gallery of Canada

Just beyond the main entrance of the glass-and-granite National Gallery of Canada, the Colonnade and the Scotiabank Great Hall give you some of the city’s best views of the ByWard Market, Major’s Hill Park, Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River—especially at sunset. Don’t forget to point your camera upwards in the Great Hall for a picture of the pyramidal glass roof and its triangular sun shades.

Two other gallery highlights are the Rideau Street Chapel, a reconstructed 1880s chamber with a lovely fan-vaulted ceiling, and the sky-lit Fred and Elizabeth Fountain Garden Court, where a gravel path is edged with ferns and orchids.

TIP: You can take personal photos in the gallery’s public spaces, including the Great Hall and the Garden Court, as well as many of the artworks, except those marked with a “no photo” symbol. Note that flash photography and tripods are not permitted anywhere in the gallery. See the National Gallery’s FAQs page for more details on photography rules.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Just across Sussex Drive from the National Gallery of Canada, twin spires surfaced with shiny tin make the 19th-century Notre-Dame Cathedral one of Ottawa’s best-known landmarks. Inside, an enormous nave framed by Gothic arches is ornamented by vast swathes of carved, painted and gilded wood, as well as plasterwork and huge stained-glass windows, all capped by a massive blue dome. The cathedral website has details on the best times of day to visit (subject to change).

TIP: Look closely at the many marble-like columns throughout the grand space. Can you tell they’re actually made of painted wood?  

Canadian Museum of History

With its undulating curves, the Canadian Museum of History offers endless photographic opportunities. The building’s showpiece is the Grand Hall, home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. It also features six Indigenous houses; the bronze-and-gold Raven Bringing Light to the World by sculptor Robert Davidson; and the original plaster pattern for Spirit of Haida Gwai, a beloved sculpture of mythical beings in a canoe by Haida artist Bill Reid.

TIP: Stand next to the Grand Hall’s six-storey wall of windows and use a wide-angle lens to photograph both the Indigenous treasures and a stunning view of Parliament Hill, across the Ottawa River.

Fairmont Château Laurier

Reminiscent of a French castle, the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel opened just east of Parliament Hill in 1912—and has been a magnet for the capital’s movers and shakers ever since. The interior is as photogenic as the exterior, with decorated ceilings, statues and decorations. The glass-fronted Zoe’s Lounge also offers a stylish perspective on Confederation Square. And during the holidays, hallways throughout the hotel’s main floor are lined with lavishly decorated Christmas trees during Trees of Hope, a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

TIP: For many years, photographer Yousuf Karsh lived in the hotel and had his studio there; look for his framed black-and-white portraits of celebrities such as Winston Churchill throughout the hotel.

Copper Spirits and Sights

This rooftop bar at the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market hotel boasts stunning views of the ByWard Market, Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River. If the weather makes it impractical to enjoy the expansive terrace, don’t worry—you can get great photos of the view from inside, as well. At night, the buzzy space with its long bar and glittering skyline backdrop is a primo selfie spot.

TIP: The swanky outdoor area has sofas and gas firepits—a stylish and comfy spot from which to take unobstructed photos of the urban vista and spectacular sunsets.

Ottawa Art Gallery

Appropriately, the Ottawa Art Gallery is itself something of a work of art. A huge expansion opened in 2018, tripling the building’s size. With its white walls, open staircases and light wood accents, the 55,000-square-foot space is airy and inviting. And admission is always free!

TIP: For a dramatic shot of the gallery’s Jackson Café—with its marble bar, quirky copper light fixtures and wall of windows—head to the mezzanine above the restaurant.

National Arts Centre

A short walk from Parliament Hill, the National Arts Centre is the city’s iconic performing arts complex. In 2017, it marked Canada’s 150th birthday by unveiling an impressive new entrance on Elgin Street. A 20-metre-high glass tower, the Kipnes Lantern, is just one of the photogenic additions. There’s also a wide hardwood staircase, and an atrium framing views of the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill.

TIP: The sunny Equator Coffee shop, in the northwest corner of the atrium, is the perfect setting for an appetizing shot of your morning latte and scone.

Tropical Greenhouse, Central Experimental Farm

On a clear winter day, the Tropical Greenhouse at the Central Experimental Farm—just southwest of downtown—gives you the chance to photograph lush tropical plants against a backdrop of gracefully arched glass panes and a brilliant blue sky. The picturesque greenhouse was built in 1928.

TIP: Admission is free, but note that the building is closed on Saturdays.

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