Summer in Ottawa is something everyone should experience once in their life. From picnics on manicured green spaces to watching kayaks and boats sail along the Rideau Canal, there are many free things to do in Ottawa with kids. Whether you’re visiting for business, taking a stop on a road trip, or just going on a weekend getaway to the nation’s capital, here are some of the best ways you can spend one day in Ottawa.

Parliament Buildings One Day in Ottawa

Ottawa One Day Itinerary: Morning

The very first thing you should do if you only have one day in Ottawa is to head out to Parliament Hill, the heart of Canada’s democracy. Not only will you get to see the stately parliament grounds in the fresh morning light, but you’ll have a chance to view the changing of the guard. A time-honoured tradition, the changing of the guard is a military pageant in which uniformed members parade with pipes and drums as the New Guard” replace the Old Guard” on duty.

True to its name, Parliament Hill is a great place to get a bird’s eye view of the area and get some great photos of the Ottawa River and Gatineau. Speaking of the river, you can descend the hill and explore several nature trails stretching along its length.

One of the best free things to do in Ottawa with kids is to take them on a stroll along Sparks Street, where they can see colourful art pieces, buskers and maybe even take in one of its frequent festivals.

Canadian Museum of History One Day in Ottawa

Ottawa One Day Itinerary: Afternoon

Ottawa boasts a number of world class museums and art galleries, many of which offer free entry on certain days of the week. One of the most famous is the Canadian Museum of History, located across the bridge in Gatineau. A sprawling natural history museum, it features artifacts from across 20,000 years of Canadian history with many exhibits dedicated to indigenous cultures across the country. 

One of its most famous exhibits is the Grand Hall, which features the largest indoor collection of memorial poles in the world. The hall also features recreations of several indigenous houses from the Pacific Coast as well as the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a stunning sculpture depicting several Haida deities riding together in a canoe. 

RELATED: Haida Gwaii: Explore the Edge of the World in Northern BC

Other notable museums in Ottawa include the National Art Gallery, famous for the nightmarish spider sculpture Maman standing guard outside its doors as well as housing The Death of General Wolfe, a celebrated piece which depicts the death of British general James Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham. The Canadian War Museum is another popular destination, featuring a large hall filled with tanks and planes from across both World Wars.

Ottawa Byward Market Sign One Day in Ottawa

Ottawa One Day Itinerary: Evening

Even if you only have one day in Ottawa, no trip is complete without cruising by the Byward Market, centre of the city’s nightlife. After a snapping a pic with the famous Ottawa sign, you can grab a sweat treat at Le Moulin de Provence, a local bakery famous for serving former U.S. President Barack Obama a cookie. There are plenty of lively bars and restaurant with patios where you can enjoy a cool drink on a warm night.

For bars, be sure to drop by the Aulde Dubliner, an old-fashioned Irish bar with gorgeous outdoor seating. The Clocktower Brew Pub has two locations in the market, featuring the largest selection of drinks you could ask for as well as their local artisanal brews. The area also features a number of upscale international restaurants, such as Chez Lucien, Sidedoor, and Play Food & Wine.

After dinner, treat yourself to Ottawa’s most notorious desert: a flat spate of sumptuous fried dough topped with heavenly goodies called a BeaverTail. After grabbing one at the stand in the Market, we recommend going for a peaceful, nighttime stroll along the Rideau Canal where you can take in the city lights. 

Special thanks to the staff at the Comfort Inn in Ottawa, ON for their suggestions.

Choice Hotels in Ottawa