Guided tours of Parliament, Senate of Canada Building

Indoor spots to photograph in Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, is packed with beautiful interiors to photograph at any time of year. From museums and galleries to Parliament chambers and a greenhouse, these ideas will keep your Instagram feed full throughout your trip—even if you visit in the snowy winter.

Canadian Museum of Nature

Officially known as the Victoria Memorial Building, the structure housing the 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. 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.

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. To sip cocktails and dance inside the beautifully illuminated lantern, check out the museum’s monthly evening event for adults, Nature Nocturne.

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. You can also photograph 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.

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.

Rideau Hall

Just east of downtown on the edge of the New Edinburgh neighbourhood, Rideau Hall is one of the official residences of the Governor General, the Queen’s representative in Canada. It’s full of elegant spaces, but it’s also home to one of Ottawa’s most whimsical rooms. Decades ago, some enterprising person swathed an indoor tennis court in brightly striped fabric to transform it into a dining room for a big occasion. The look proved such a hit that the tennis court was permanently made over as the Tent Room, with red-and-gold striped fabric walls and a swagged fabric ceiling. Free guided tours of Rideau Hall are available year round.

TIP: With its pale-blue walls and ornate ceiling, the Ballroom is another high point of the residence.

The House of Commons

The Centre Block of Parliament Hill is currently closed for a decade-long renovation, but that offers a unique opportunity for photographers: a chance to photograph the temporary House of Commons chamber. (The Senate has also moved into beautiful new digs; see the next section.)

During the renovation, the House of Commons has moved into what was previously an open courtyard in the middle of the nearby West Block. Now covered with a massive glass ceiling, it’s an eye-catching space in its own right. Offices that once overlooked the courtyard now have a front-row view of parliamentarians’ debates during Question Period. The MPs’ desks and chairs made the move from the Centre Block, and the new space also features green carpeting and gold curtains similar to fittings left behind in the old chamber.

TIPS: The easiest way to see the House of Commons is to sign up for a free tour. The second-floor public gallery is a good place to get a wide-angle shot of the chamber. Throughout the tour, be sure to snap quickly, as the guides need to keep groups moving.

The Senate

Like the House of Commons, the Senate needed a new temporary home during the Centre Block renovations. The government found one just east of Parliament Hill, in a grand building built in 1912 that was once Ottawa’s central train station. (Even Elvis arrived at the station by train, for a 1957 concert, to be greeted by screaming throngs as he got into his limousine!)

In the main lobby, you can photograph the magnificent domed ceiling, decorated with plaster flowers. Just outside the Senate chamber, large windows provide a great view of the National Arts Centre and the Rideau Canal. The chamber, with its deep red carpet and marble accents, is suitably grand, but make sure to take some close-ups of the many maple leaves incorporated into the décor as well. They’re even embossed into the glass doors at the chamber’s entrance.

TIP: As with the House of Commons, the best way to see the Senate is to join a free tour. While in the main lobby—which used to be the train station waiting room—admire the wooden bench. It’s an original piece of train station furniture that the Canada Science and Technology Museum saved.

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. For photographers, the glass-fronted Zoe’s Lounge 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: Check out Rooftop Beats + Brunch on the last Sunday of the month—especially if you enjoy taking fabulous food photos.

Metcalfe Hotel

Originally built as a YMCA in the early 1900s, the Metcalfe Hotel is now a boutique property with a sun-drenched atrium lobby. Exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, leather furniture, open shelves with library-style ladders, pendant lights and a sleek bar give the space a modern-but-cozy vibe.

TIP: Fuel up for your photography adventures at the Metcalfe’s restaurant, The Rox, which serves up local products such as St. Albert cheese, Kettleman’s bagels and Kitchesippi craft beer.

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! 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.

TIP: Hungry or thirsty? Make sure to photograph Jackson’s jewel-like small plates and artistic craft cocktails before devouring them.

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 a sweeping 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 grand 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.

Add some variety to your Instagram account by checking out some of the top outdoor places to photograph in Ottawa this winter!

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