Summer in Canada’s capital city is all about making the most of a good thing. Locals shed their parkas for park days and seek any opportunity to celebrate the season.
No matter which summer month you visit, Ottawa offers a mix of indoor, outdoor and off-the-wall activities that the whole family can enjoy. Need proof? Time your visit for the annual Canada Day festivities each July, and you’ll be caught up in a sea of red and white flag-waving fun.
Here are five Ottawa attractions that will have your kids proclaiming this their best summer ever.
Explore the Trails
By foot or on wheels? Choose your favorite mode of transportation and head out to explore more than 100 miles of paved pathways through the city’s riverfront parks. Rent a tricycle, pop on a pair of inline skates, or pull out the stroller and walk or jog as far as your heart desires.
For a change of pace, come out on Sunday Bikedays, when 32 miles of roadway are closed to cars (May to September, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Make sure you keep a camera with you. Canada’s politicians and are no strangers to the trails, and you never know with whom you might have a chance encounter.
Hit the Beach
When the summer sun heats up, Ottawa-area beaches and waterways shine. From a canoe trip along La Peche Lake to windsurfer watching at Britannia Beach, you’re never more than a short hike away from an afternoon to remember.
Need to work up to your summer dip? The hikeable 4.3 miles of trails around Petrie Island Beach offer up the chance to burn off energy. Or take it easy and rent a pedal boat at the Dows Lake Pavilion and explore the Rideau Canal.
City of Ottawa beaches (open from mid-June to the end of August, with lifeguards on duty Monday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m., and weekends/holidays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) ensure that there is more than enough sand and surf for everyone.
The ByWard Market is only steps from Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal, making it the perfect spot for families to pick up a quick snack or settle in for a longer meal. One of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets, at ByWard you’re as likely to bump into buskers as bakeries.
In the summer months you can take advantage of outdoor fruit stands and craft sellers as well as shops that offer up the perfect local picnic fixings. Nearby Major’s Hill Park or Nepean Point will give you great spots from which to people watch while you enjoy your finds.
Museums without the Bore Factor
Ottawa earns its capital city cred with impressive museums that go beyond untouchable artifacts. At the Diefenbunker Museum, kids can take a turn playing spy games, while at the new Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization), they’ll learn about Canada’s First Peoples. And at the Canadian Museum of Nature, they can meet reptiles from around the world.
Or show them how Canadian Olympic medals are made and how heavy a bar of gold is at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa. Purchase a National Museums Passport, and you’ll be able to pop into a choice of three of the six participating national museums over three days. Each accompanying child (17 and under) receives a 30 percent discount on general admission.
Head for the Hill
Parliament Hill, the seat of the federal government, isn’t all suits and serious issues. The grounds also offer plenty of fun, free options for families.
In the summer months you can take in the pomp and pageantry of the Changing of the Guard ceremony (10 a.m. daily from late June through August), join a guided tour and head to the Peace Tower for a stunning view of the city.
Don’t forget to peek at the Centennial Flame (lit in 1967, it burns year round on Parliament Hill) and share a message at the “whispering wall.” Located behind the Famous Five monument, the wall has a unique feature that kids will get a kick out of: Whisper a secret at one end, and it will be heard loud and clear at the other.
In the evening return for a Sound and Light show, also free, that is sure to leave kids in awe.