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Explore Ottawa on a Budget: 5 Fun & Free Activities in the Capital

Published: March 29, 2023
Last updated: November 30, 2023
Exploring Ottawa on a budget? Whether you are vacationing, here for business, or simply looking for a cost effective way to explore the city, there are plenty of free activities to enjoy! From national museums to striking landmarks and festivals, Ottawa has something for everyone. Come and join us as we visit our top 5 fun & free activities in Ottawa that won’t leave your wallet/purse empty.

Right in front of the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral is one of Ottawa’s most iconic pieces of art, the Maman sculpture.

1. Spend the Day Exploring Ottawa’s Historic Landmarks

Ottawa is packed with historic landmarks, each more impressive than the last! Start your trip off right by taking a free tour of Parliament Hill or Senate of Canada and their historic interiors. Rent a bike, scooter, or tandem bike and check out the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral with its baffling sky high ceilings. Check out the historic National War Memorial and its changing of the guard at precisely 10am on summer days where a parade of bagpipes lead the ceremony. And don’t miss the vibrant Majors Hill Park which centres the city and gives some amazing views of Ottawa’s Skyline. With so much to see and do, Ottawa will keep you entertained on a budget.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is a favourite by many and is guaranteed to keep any outdoor enthusiast busy- Source

2. Museums are FREE if You Time it Right!

Every Thursday from 5pm to 8pm, the National Gallery of Canada, The Canadian Museum of Nature, The Canadian War Museum, The Canadian Museum of History, and are all free! Check out our blog on the local museums and consider one of our guided tours as we pass by several of these amazing buildings along the way. Ottawa is known for its bodacious amounts of museums. After several years, we are still kept busy between them all. Some of them are big enough that require multiple visits to grasp the wealth of information in them. Not to mention their constantly new exhibitions!  

It gets better, though, as for the rest of the week, you can check out The Canadian Science and Technology Museum, The Agriculture and Food Museum, and one of my favourites, The Canada Aviation and Space Museum, for free. Check out their hours of operation, and if you arrive in the last hour of the day, you can visit completely free. 

If that hasn’t got your vacation completely booked, The Bank of Canada Museum has complimentary access all year round!   

Not only is the ByWard Market known for its nightlife, but come morning, a charming farmers market fills its streets- Source

3. Window Shopping Never Hurts

Who said you have to spend money when shopping? Explore the vibrant ByWard Market and check out its many street vendors in the summertime. A couple blocks away, you will find Spark Street. North America’s first outdoor pedestrian mall. This street is a must-visit with unique modern art pieces and fantastic stores like us! Escape Bicycle Rentals & Tours and much more lace its bricked pathway, making for a perfect afternoon stroll. 

Little Italy and The Glebe host great small businesses. They are a hotspot for some of Ottawa’s best budget-friendly restaurants. Make the most of your vacation and come “shop” the thousands of stores in the Ottawa core.   

Hike the Pink Lake Trail in the evening as the sunset hits the clear water; you can get some fantastic photos- Source

4. Explore the Outdoors, it’s Free!

The Ottawa Gatineau area is home to some of the best hiking in Canada! One of our favourite and more popular trails on this list is the Pink Lake Trail in Gatineau Park. This easy-access trail takes most people less than an hour and loops an absolutely stunning Pink Lake. For those looking for a little more adventure, look into the Luskville Falls and the Lusk Caves, where you can visit the many waterfalls and depths of the Ottawa area. Plus, the best part? All of these trails are completely free to hike!

Canada Day is one of the best times to visit Ottawa, everyone is polite, and the firework shows/festivities downtown are endless- Source

5. Make the Most of the Festivals and Shows!

Ottawa may be known for its politics, but it’s home to some of the best festivals in the country. Whether you’re a foodie, music lover, or just looking for a fun time, Ottawa has a festival for you. Start your year off right at the National Poutine Festival in April or on the historic Sparks St! Games, freebies, and poutine flood the streets, easily navigated by a bike tour. For a complete list of festivals, check out this blog and tag us in your photos! 

 Another must-visit free festival in the city is the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, showcasing amazing food, music, and dragon boat racing. And no festival is as beautiful as the National Tulip Festival, nor patriotic as the Canada Day celebrations along Parliament Hill. 

On summer nights, bring your picnic chairs and blankets and enjoy the free Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill with all family members. 

Save a dollar on your next trip to Ottawa and have more fun than ever before! Before moving here, I considered Ottawa an ordinary city, but I needed to be corrected. The nation’s capital boasts so many free activities. With some research on our media page, you can plan an entire family (or personal) trip to Ottawa almost entirely free!

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