Every year, I try to pack as much awesome into summer as I can by being a Tourist In My Own Town with the kids. It takes planning – at the start of each summer I go through the list of potential activities and pick out ones that look interesting, or old favourites, or places we haven’t been in a few years. Then I actually schedule these things – I pick out days for each and put them on the calendar. We can always make last minute changes due to weather or illness or general summer laziness, but actually having them on the calendar means we are about 1000 times more likely to actually do it.
It seems a little intense, given that summer is supposed to be about sleeping in and shuffling around poolsides in bare feet, but as a result of a few hours of planning each year we’ve managed to see most of the stuff this town has to offer, and trust me – Ottawa has some really, really good stuff to offer. We usually try for about two day trips per week, with maybe one smaller half-day event in the week as well, and the rest of the time is for goofing off or hanging at the park or (MOMMY SUCKS) doing Summer Homework.
Here’s my list of places to go, and places we’ve been, and places we hope to visit in the future.
Recommended Scheduled Events
First or second weekend in June – Doors Open Ottawa
Mid-June – Dragon Boat Festival, CHEO Teddy Bear Picnic
Late June – RCMP Musical Ride
July 1 – Canada Day on Parliament Hill – there’s also annual celebrations in Kanata, Barrhaven, and Orleans
Early July – Music and Beyond Festival – lots of great family performances, for not too much money
August long weekend – Sparks Street Busker Festival; Rock Balancing Festival at Remic Rapids
Second weekend in August – Puppets Up! festival in Almonte; Fortissimo military band performances on Parliament Hill
Mid August – The Capital Fair
Mid-Late August – Lumiere Festival
Labour Day weekend – Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival
Classic About Town Attractions
Museum of History
Museum of Nature
Museum of Science and Tech ** CLOSED UNTIL 2017 ** (be sure to go on a day when the steam train is running, which I think are Sundays and Wednesdays, or better yet, go during Railway Weekend, which comes mid-to-late July; there’s also evening stargazing, once in early July and once in early August)
Museum of Agriculture and Food
Aviation and Space Museum
National Art Gallery (Artissimo crafts run on Sat and Sun at 11 a.m. over the summer)
Currency Museum (closed for renovations until 2016)
The City Museums – Pinhey’s Point, Billings Bridge Estate, Cumberland Heritage Museum, Nepean Museum/Fairfields (Pinhey’s Point in particular has kids’ activities and workshops all summer long)
Mackenzie King Estate – I hear the Waterfall Trail is a nice hike.
Parliament Hill Tours (also check out Fortissimo, a massed military band, August 9-11, or Mosaika, an amazing sound and light show running nightly from July 6 through September 3)
Rideau Hall (be sure to catch the simple Changing of the Guard ceremony that happens hourly, or pop by on Friday afternoons for storytime)
The Mint – maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but my kids were surprisingly interested – and loved getting a collector coin (not a cheap souvenir, so be prepared!). The Vancouver Olympic medals were made here and you can see them there.
NAC – did you know you can tour the NAC every Monday, Wednesday, or Friday at 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., for free?
Free (or Nearly Free) Activities About Town
The Public Library (Just a quick word here: the city’s libraries offer more than just books. There’s a reading club all summer long, where you can earn prizes for reading, but even more than that, almost all branches offer a ton of fun classes, workshops, and activities. I was going to list some here but there are literally SO many, it would take me all day – just for any one given branch! So click here and go find some activities at your local branch – most require preregistration.)
Splash pad parks – these usually open the third weekend in June
Hiking in the Greenbelt – I particularly recommend the Stony Swamp Trails, one of which leads to the Wild Bird Care Centre, which you can visit for free any afternoon; or Mud Lake (link leads to Dani’s excellent description of her family’s visit)
Alcatel-Lucent bike days on the parkway
The Mer Blue bog
Picnic and rock balancing at Bate Island – one of our favourites!
Byward Market walk and browse (well, free-ish, if you can stop yourself from buying up ALL THE FOOD); also many other Farmer’s Markets including the Carp Market, Parkdale Market, and Ottawa Farmer’s Market – see a comprehensive list of Ottawa markets over at OttawaStart)
Gatineau park (hiking, biking, camping, beaches, and caves; try the Champlain Lookout, hike around Pink Lake, visit the Lusk Caves or the Mackenzie King Estate; secret path behind the lookout as per Andrea’s blog; there’s also free guided tours leaving from the Visitor Centre)
Lusk Caves at Lac Philippe in Gatineau Park – a day trip, or you can camp nearby in a clean, family-friendly campsite
Dow’s Lake Rentals – paddle boats, canoes, kayaks
Fletcher Wildlife Garden
Hog’s Back Falls – still have never been there!
Carbide Willson ruins in Gatineau Park – I had never heard of these before Andrea wrote about them on her blog last year – they look amazing!
Eco-Odyssee – take a paddle boat through a maze and look for clues to solve a puzzle – babies as young as six months welcome. Bonus: this place is up in Wakefield and you’ll drive right past the legendary covered bridge if you take highway 5.
A Company of Fools – Shakespeare in the park for a modern audience (pay-what-you-can; suggested $15 per person)
Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame
Backyard events: water balloons, tea parties, backyard camping, gardening
Ottawa Beaches – usually open the second weekend in June, along with Ottawa outdoor pools; Dani has a great report on the lesser-known Baxter Conservation Area beach here
A Garden Walk and Picnic – Capital Parent has this fabulous list of local gardens that are fun to explore and spread out a snack on a blanket
Ottawa indoor and outdoor pools (okay, not free, but pretty close) – usually open second weekend in June, and close surprisingly early – by mid-August
Strawberry Picking (mid to late June) – Cannamore Orchard (also lots of other activities here – make it a day trip!), Dekok Family Berry Farm, Shouldice – Three Locations, Proulx Berry Farm
Apple Picking (starts early September and runs to mid-October) – see Ottawa Start’s Guide to Apple Picking
Fancy Pants Activity Centres and Shops
Altitude Gym Clip and Climb
Lafleche Adventure Park – including caving and aerial climbing courses
Valleyview Little Animal Farm
La Fleche Caves
Midway Family Fun Park
Capital City Speedway – the best value is the Capital City Summer Slam, held the first or second weekend in September – a whole day’s worth of races plus monster trucks, WOOT
Mini Golf Gardens
Skyzone Ottawa in the east end, Xtreme Trampoline Park in the west end
Ottawa Fury Soccer Game (read about our super fun trip to see the Fury here)
Ottawa REDBLACKS game
Chinatown Day Trip featuring The Daily Grind Cafe (sells gluten-free, vegan treats which my allergic kid an actually eat – very exciting!), Global Homeware, Kowloon Market, Bubblicity – see Andrea from the fishbowl‘s great post on how to do Chinatown right; also take this chance to check out the Graffiti Wall at Slater and Bronson, just a short walk north)
Movies – some theatres have half-price tickets if you go before noon
Urban Quest (great for slightly older kids or teenagers)
Haunted Walk of Ottawa
Boat Tours: Pirate Adventures, Paul’s Boat Lines
Creative Places: Gotta Paint, 4Cats, The Mud Oven, Sassy Bead Company
Dairy Queen – we usually go once to mark the beginning of summer; our super allergic kid gets a slushy; there’s also great treats to be had at Menchies, Kiwi Kraze, or for the super allergic, coconut ice cream at Thimblecakes Cafes (now in Barrhaven)
Destination Shopping Spots: Chapters Kanata or Indigo Barrhaven, The Comic Book Shoppe, Kaleidescope Kids, Playvalue, Toys on Fire
Day Trips/Out of Town
(obviously there’s endless possibilities here, but these are some we have tried and loved, or would like to try)
Mont Cascades or Calypso water parks
Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario (Smiths Falls) – a must for your Thomas the Train lover!
Camping weekend at a provincial park
1000 islands boat cruise to Boldt Castle – read Allison’s review of it here
Upper Canada Village
Wakefield Steam Train (closed this year; hoping to reopen a limited part of the track in 2014)
Montreal activities: Biodome, Science Centre, Aquazilla in Parc Jean-Drapeau
Toronto activities: Canada’s Wonderland, Museum of Science, Zoo, Centre Island, CN Tower, Casa Loma, LEGO World in Vaughn, Ripley’s Aquarium (opening September 2013)
Niagara Falls: including Maid of the Mist and Marineland; plus it’s only an hour or so away from the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.
Montreal activities: Biodome, Montreal Science Centre, Mont Royal, Olympic Park, La Ronde