When you visit Canada’s capital, you can experience the entire country, all in one welcoming city! Home to seven of Canada’s nine national museums, Ottawa is the mecca for culture vultures, historical enthusiasts and Canadiana buffs. Add these national museums to your Ottawa itinerary.
Note: This article was published in 2018 and therefore does not reflect any changes due to COVID-19. For current information, including access and operating hours, visit our overview of Museum and attraction programming this summer and fall in Ottawa.
National Gallery of Canada
To truly appreciate Canada’s artistic treasures, explore the National Gallery of Canada. The beautiful modern building houses the most comprehensive collection of Canadian art, including a large number by the Group of Seven and strong collections of Indigenous, Asian, and International works. It’s also home to the Canadian Photography Institute where photography is presented and studied in all its forms. Even kids can get artsy by playing games, making their own artwork and sharing it with people from around the world during the Artissimo activity!
Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History is Canada’s most visited museum for good reason – it’s home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, the largest exhibition about Canadian history, and it highlights the achievements of Indigenous Peoples in the First Peoples Hall. The gorgeous undulated building also houses the Canadian Children’s Museum, where kids can travel the world and explore other cultures through interactive elements, including a variety of toys and games. Complete your visit with a 3D movie in the CINÉ+ theatre!
Canada Science and Technology Museum
It’s never been more fun to celebrate Canada’s long history of scientific and technological achievements! The Canada Science and Technology Museum, which reopened in 2017 after extensive renovations, combines interactive and hands-on elements with cutting-edge technologies like augmented reality. Explore old favourites like the giant locomotives and Crazy Kitchen as well as new state-of-the-art exhibits. It’s paradise for kids and the young at heart!
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Journey into Canada’s world of air and space at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The expansive, hangar-like building is home to the most extensive aviation collection in the country and covers everything from the humble beginnings of flight to the sophisticated aerospace industry we know today, plus Canada’s role in outer space. Try flight simulators, sit in cockpits, or take a real flight in a helicopter or vintage biplane!
Canada Agriculture and Food Museum
Did you know Ottawa has a working farm in the city that you can visit to learn about Canada’s unique agricultural heritage? The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is the perfect place for young and old to meet farm animals like horses, alpacas, goats and rabbits. Visit the cows in the dairy barn and learn how milk is collected. Learn how different breeds of sheep are sources of wool, milk and meat. You’ll also encounter daily demonstrations of butter churning, ice cream making and other fun activities.
Canadian Museum of Nature
The castle-esque Canadian Museum of Nature is not only a cool-looking historic building, but inside you’ll find dinosaur replicas, whale skeletons, an Arctic gallery, mammals, minerals, birds, insects, and flora. Some events and activities even feature live animals! You can also experience the museum at night. The fun family sleepovers include nighttime guided tours, a 3D movie and sleeping in the nature galleries. And the 18 and over crowd love the monthly dance party called Nature Nocturne.
Canadian War Museum
Tanks, jet fighters, artillery and art are just some of the impressive items that represent Canada’s war history at the Canadian War Museum. The building’s architecture is based on the theme of regeneration, with energy-efficient features like a green roof, and symbolism like the morse code windows that spell out “Lest We Forget”. In November, the museum hosts special Remembrance events and activities. At exactly 11:00 a.m. on November 11 each year, a beam of sunlight shines through a single window into Memorial Hall to perfectly frame the headstone from the grave of Canada’s Unknown Soldier. A moving experience!
These world-class cultural institutions are always hosting impressive temporary programming in conjunction with local, Canadian or worldwide partners. Take a look at the current and upcoming special exhibits featured at Ottawa-area museums!
And to maximize your museum musings, get the Museums Passport and save. Happy exploring!