There’s no shortage of stunning photo ops in Ottawa with its striking skyline, architectural appeal, charming neighbourhoods, and abundance of natural landscapes. While you can always find inspiration photographing the city’s iconic sites like Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal and our national museums and galleries, there’s something to be said for venturing off the beaten path to find some of Ottawa’s hidden gems. Here’s our guide to some of the most unique places to photograph in Canada’s capital!
Note: Due to COVID-19, some of the mentions below may not reflect current offerings. Please confirm details with direct sources and stay informed on the current COVID-19 situation in Ottawa.
If you’ve never been to this hidden gem, you’re in for a treat. Next time you’re strolling the grounds of Parliament Hill for that perfect picture, walk back behind Centre Block and you’ll come across a charming open-air gazebo overlooking the Ottawa River. This is the Summer Pavilion, a replica of the original built in 1877. From its perch above the river, you’ll get amazing views of the water and the Gatineau skyline below, including the Canadian Museum of History and Alexandra Bridge.
TIP: The warm hues of golden hour with the sun low in the sky is a hard one to beat, especially when it’s setting over the Ottawa River and skyline. Aim to arrive a little before sunset to set up the perfect shot to capture this fleeting moment.
This is one waterfall you’ll want to chase for the photos alone! Where the clear waters of the Rideau River meet the Ottawa River, you’ll find the mighty twin Rideau Falls. A short walk or drive from downtown Ottawa along Sussex Drive will lead you to the peaceful Rideau Falls Park, worth a walkthrough to spot several picturesque monuments. The most popular fixture of the park is the magnificent view of the waterfall. For a more intimate vantage point, take in the natural beauty of the Rideau Falls from the water on a World Famous Paul’s Boat Line cruise.
TIP: If you’re more of a nighthawk photographer then you’ll want to see the Rideau Falls at night! Every evening the falls are illuminated with glowing hues of blue and green against the night sky that can be seen all along the river.
Parliament Hill Stairs
There’s something so aesthetically pleasing about the symmetry of a staircase, especially one surrounded by lush greenery and open water. This stairway can be found behind Parliament Hill leading down to the National Capital Pathway along the Ottawa River and has not only proven itself popular among runners and walkers but photographers as well! The steps are nearly embedded in the beautiful landscaping as they zig-zag down the four-story escarpment to the riverbank.
TIP: The best place to capture the dynamic feel of the Parliament Hill Stairs is to head straight to the top and look down for the optimal composition of the meandering stairs, dense greenery, and open water.
Andrew Haydon Park
For nature photographers, Ottawa has some of the most picturesque green spaces and Andrew Haydon Park is at the top of the list. Located on Carling Avenue in Ottawa’s west end, you’ll come across a charming park set along the Ottawa River. Across the waterway you’ll be able to make out the Gatineau Hills off in the distance and in the summer months, you’re likely to catch sailboats floating by or waterfowls and shorebirds passing through. A series of small islands – one with its own bandshell for live, outdoor concerts – are all connected by beautiful rustic bridges leading across calm waters and marsh land.
TIP: If your pup-fluencer is ready for their next photoshoot, this is the park for you! It’s dog-friendly with plenty of space to take your pup for a walk and just enough beautiful backdrops you’ll want to stop to snap a pic or two.
To capture an incredible historic flour mill you only have to go as far as Manotick Village, south of Ottawa. Built in 1860, Watson’s Mill continues to be an iconic landmark attracting photographers of all kinds with its rustic charm! The five-story limestone building sits between lush greenery on one side and the Rideau River on the other. One of the best photo ops of the mill is from slightly downstream to catch the beautiful stone building rooted in nature and next to the rushing water.
TIP: If you’re visiting on a Sunday, there’s a good chance you’ll see Watson’s Mill truly come alive as it grinds flour the old-fashioned way. The fresh stone-ground whole wheat flour is then available for sale so you can take it home and taste the difference for yourself.
National Holocaust Monument
Canada’s first national monument dedicated to the Holocaust can be found in Ottawa at the corner of Booth and Wellington Streets. The monument is an incredible concrete structure made of sharp angles and lines that from above resemble a six-pointed star. The illuminated Stair of Hope can be found in the centre of the monument leading to a unique view of Parliament Hill. The National Holocaust Monument’s contemplative architecture was designed as a lasting symbol of remembrance, reflection, and education.
TIP: The pensive angles of the architecture are more prominent when captured in the early morning light. Always remember when photographing a monument to be respectful of the site and what it commemorates.
Prepare yourself for a view you might not expect near the city centre: an urban paddling park! The Pumphouse is an Olympic whitewater training facility run by the Ottawa River Runners on Fleet Street, only a short 12-minute walk from Parliament Hill. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you catch sight of a canoe or kayak slaloming down the class 2 whitewater training course next to a newly built, environmentally sustainable clubhouse. Have your camera ready and trained on the rapids for a kayak riding the waves or on the verge of a barrel roll.
TIP: For a unique challenge, strap into your own canoe or kayak and try to slalom down the training course, or take it easy the first time around with the moving water beginners’ area. Note to self: consider waterproof gear for this trip.
Amidst the waterways and monuments, you’ll find colourful murals livening up the sides of urban buildings, masterpieces popping up on farm silos in rural Ottawa and fresh graffiti art in parks and tucked away for safe keeping under bridges. For spectacular graffiti, you’ll want to go to the north side of the Dunbar Bridge on Bronson Street. As a designated graffiti wall and home to the House of PainT graffiti competition, you’ll be sure to see completely new additions every visit. If you’re looking for a piece with a wow factor, MOZAIK in the Vanier neighbourhood is your next stop. This four-story creation is the tallest mural in the whole city (stretching 11 metres tall)! This grand work of art is a beautiful act of acknowledgement to Ottawa being the home of the largest Inuit population outside of Nunavut.
TIP: You’ll find inspiring street art all over the city that will make you want to be sure you have your camera with you. Each piece tells a story about the city from the perspective of the artist, the neighbourhood and the community. How many can you capture?
In search of a beautiful backdrop? Look no further than the primped and pampered views of the Ornamental Gardens at the Central Experimental Farm. This 8-acre garden blooms seasonally with hardy Canadian-bred perennials, shrubs, lilacs, and roses. A spectacular place in spring to find cherry blossom trees, the gardens have created a breathtaking space with wooden archways, manicured lawns, and stone walkways that are ready for your next shoot.
TIP: While you’re at the Central Experimental Farm, wander over to the nearby greenhouses for a pleasant surprise. The stunning glass buildings surrounded by greenery are filled with exotic, colourful plants and flowers, making it a toss up to what’s more photogenic – the inside or the outside!
Vimy Memorial Bridge
There’s something irresistible about the leading lines and landscape of a bridge that just makes you want to find just the right angle and wait for just the right light. Luckily Ottawa has its fair share of beautiful bridges, but the Vimy Memorial Bridge takes the cake. Not only is it the first of its kind in North America, but it has garnered international attention and won awards for its aesthetically pleasing architecture! Located just 25-minutes south of Ottawa, the Vimy Memorial Bridge features three independent arches with an intricate cable system, is suspended over the Rideau River, and connects Riverside South and Barrhaven.
TIP: As the sun sets, the individual arches light up and reflect along the water below, making it the perfect muse to brush up on your nighttime photography skills. For an added effect, catch the blurred taillights of cars passing through.