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14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ottawa

Ottawa grew up between 1820 and 1840 from a construction base where the Rideau Canal diverged from the Ottawa River. British Colonel John By (1779-1836) was in charge of the canal project, and consequently, the town was known as "Bytown." In 1854, the town changed its name to Ottawa, and later developed as the Canadian capital. The Parliament buildings were built in 1865, high above the Ottawa River, and it was here that the first Canadian Parliament met following the founding of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

Together with Gatineau across the Ottawa River in Québec, Ottawa has succeeded more than any other Canadian city in developing a life of lively intellect and culture. Universities and several research institutes have all contributed to this, as have such internationally famous venues as the National Arts Center, a venue for opera and concerts; the National Library and Archives; the National Gallery, in a fine building by Moshe Safdie; and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, in an imposing building by Douglas Cardinal.

1 Parliament Hill

Parliament HillParliament Hill

The Parliament Buildings, in all their splendor of Victorian Gothic sandstone, are quite an imposing sight on a 50-meter-high hill looking out over the Ottawa River. The Parliamentary Library, at the back of the building opposite the entrance, is a wonderfully furnished octagon that was untouched in the 1916 fire. Free, guided tours explore the sprawling historic Centre Block, and the public can also attend question period when the government is in session or climb the Peace Tower. The grounds encompass many sculptures, and in front of the Parliament buildings extends an attractive grassed area patrolled in summer by members of the Canadian Mounted Police, looking very dashing in their Mountie uniforms of scarlet jackets, Stetsons, riding breeches, and knee boots.

2 Rideau Canal

Rideau CanalRideau Canal

The 200-kilometer-long (but only 1.6-meter-deep) Rideau Canal, connects Ottawa with Kingston on Lake Ontario. It was originally intended as a strategic route between Montréal and Lake Ontario; the military need for which was demonstrated during the war with the United States in 1812. In summer, the canal and locks are an active waterway, and in winter, the frozen canal becomes a recreational area for skating and festivals. Château Laurier is one of the grand buildings on the canal banks. Though it has the air of a medieval castle, it was actually built in 1912 and is a prime example of how big Canadian railroad companies added grand hotels (and striking landmarks) across Canada.

3 Canadian Tulip Festival

Canadian Tulip FestivalCanadian Tulip Festival

Ottawa's spring festival marks the end of winter as the tulips - given by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands in gratitude for the city's hospitality during the Second World War - come into bloom all over the city. Canal banks and Commissioner's Park in particular, are the scene of general festivities. Millions of tulips bloom in the national region with tulip attraction sites spread out on a scenic "Tulip Route." Fireworks and performances are also regular attractions.

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4 National Gallery of Canada

National Gallery of CanadaNational Gallery of Canada

Ultra-modern and designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada is an architectural masterpiece with prism-like glass towers that echo the lines of the nearby Parliament Buildings. The glass contrasts with the mock medieval Château Laurier, yet the attraction still fits well into Ottawa's cityscape. Inside, galleries display aboriginal art, trace the development of Canadian art from religious works to the Group of Seven, explore European Impressionism, and show temporary exhibitions. The rooms of Inuit art are on the lower level under the glass-encased Great Hall. For more sightseeing, the National Gallery is well placed near many other Lower Town tourist attractions, including Notre-Dame, the Canadian War Museum, and Major's Hill Park.

Address: 380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

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5 Canadian War Museum

Miniature war exhibit at the Canadian War MuseumMiniature war exhibit at the Canadian War Museum

Located beside the Ottawa River, this modern museum explores Canada's military past through exhibitions and artifacts on display. It covers wars fought on Canadian soil and others that Canadian forces took part in, including fighting between French and Iroquois people in the 16th century and the Canadian contribution to the First and Second World Wars.

Address: 1 Vimy Place, Ottawa

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6 Fête du Canada (Canada Day)

Canada Day fireworksCanada Day fireworks

Canada Day, or Fête du Canada in French, is a lively event that takes place on July 1. Crowds gather in their patriotic red-and-white clothing, waving maple-leaf flags. Fireworks, a parade, water-borne procession, and entertainment to suit every taste are among the many events for the Canadian national holiday.

7 Lower Town

Fresh produce at the Byward MarketFresh produce at the Byward Market Jamie McCaffrey

Ottawa's busy Lower Town, the city's marketplace, lies to the north of the Rideau Canal. The area's Byward Market has enjoyed a colorful existence since 1846. In summer, fruit, flower, and vegetable stalls in the streets supplement the food stores in the main market hall. In fact, the entire market area has been lovingly restored with many restaurants and smart boutiques.

Within the neighborhood, the National Gallery of Canada is an outstanding piece of architecture and contains a fine collection of works by Canadian and international artists. On Sussex Drive in Ottawa, opposite the national gallery, Notre Dame is a beautiful Catholic church. Consecrated in 1846, it contains mahogany carvings by Ph. Parizeau, figures of the four evangelists, prophets and apostles by Louis-Philippe Hébert, and some particularly fine stained glass. Major's Hill Park, southwest of the basilica, is aflame with thousands of tulips in May and June.

8 Upper Town

Sparks Street in Upper TownSparks Street in Upper Town

The fashionable Upper Town of Ottawa extends below Parliament Hill and southwest of the Rideau Canal. The streets are laid out in a checkerboard pattern. Busy thoroughfares are Wellington Street, Kent Street, O'Connor Street, Metcalfe Street, and Sparks Street pedestrian precinct - a string of top department stores and smart boutiques interspersed with gourmet eateries. But probably the most striking architecture of Upper Town is the Bank of Canada building, by the famous architect Arthur Erickson. The atrium behind the twelve-story tinted glass façade has the feeling not so much of a bank as of a great greenhouse, with works of art, plants the height of trees, and splashing fountains. The Currency Museum is inside the original Bank of Canada building, and has a cross-section of coinage ranging from ancient China, Greece, Rome, and Byzantium, through medieval Europe and the Renaissance, to the detailed evolution of currency in North America as it is today.

9 Dows Lake Pavilion

Rental canoes at Dows Lake PavilionRental canoes at Dows Lake Pavilion

Dows Lake Pavilion has a beautiful location, jutting out into and overlooking the lake. This facility has a number of different restaurants, including an outdoor patio that is very popular in summer. The pavilion also looks out over the docks where it's possible to rent paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, or bikes. In winter, visitors can also rent skates and sleds.

Address: 1001 Queen Elizabeth Dr, Ottawa

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10 Canada Aviation and Space Museum

Canada Aviation and Space MuseumCanada Aviation and Space Museum Dan McKay

Telling in detail the story of Canadian civil and military aviation, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum is at Rockcliffe Airport, on the northern edge of town. Among the aircraft on display are a replica of the Silver Dart, which in 1909 made the first flight in Canada, fighter planes from the First and Second World Wars, and some of the seaplanes and other aircraft that helped open up Canada's uncharted northern wilderness.

Address: 11 Aviation Parkway, Ottawa

11 Diefenbunker, Canada's Cold War Museum

Blast tunnelBlast tunnel Iouri Goussev

Canada's Cold War Museum is a unique attraction located outside of Ottawa. This is a large underground facility designed to protect important functions of the Canadian government in the event of a nuclear war. It was built during the cold war, and today is a museum open to the public.

Address: 3911 Carp Rd, Carp

12 Canadian Museum of Nature

Canadian Museum of NatureCanadian Museum of Nature Robert Linsdell

Canadian Museum of Nature takes visitors through the world of the dinosaurs all the way up to today's animal population, and also features poignant temporary exhibits. It is the national natural sciences and history museum, and the historic building (once the Victoria Memorial Museum) is the birthplace of Canada's national museums. Construction on this castle-like building was completed in 1910.

Address: 240 McLeod St., Ottawa

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13 RCMP Musical Ride Centre

RCMP Musical Ride CentreRCMP Musical Ride Centre Jamie McCaffrey

The RCMP Stables in Ottawa are the home base for both horses and officers. The Stables train horses for the RCMP Musical Ride, which is an equestrian show that travels across the country annually. There are guided tours of the facility.

Address: RCMP Rockcliffe Stables, 1 Sandridge Rd., Ottawa

14 National Archives of Canada

National Archives of CanadaNational Archives of Canada

The National Archives of Canada feature exhibits pertaining to the history of Canada. Among the items housed here is the largest collection of Canadian sheet music in the world as well as works of art including oil paintings, water colors, and sketches.

Address: 395 Wellington St., Ottawa

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