How To Spend One Day In Ottawa: An Itinerary For First-Time Visitors

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Got One Day in Ottawa? Here’s What To Do, See, Eat, and Drink!

Interested in exploring Ottawa but a little short on time? Maybe you’re coming on a day trip from Kingston or Montreal? Maybe you only have time for one day on a stopover?

Whatever the case, if you’re wondering what to do in a day trip to Ottawa and looking for a one-day Ottawa itinerary, you are in luck!

We really like Ottawa. Having explored the city a few times now, we have a pretty good idea of what a first-time visitor might want to see and do.

There are definitely some must-see attractions if you are only in Ottawa for one day – and we cover most of them below. 

Think of this post as a mini trip planner that follows one of the days we spent in Ottawa quite well – providing you with ideas for sights, drinks, food, and more!

Just so we’re clear – we don’t advise you to do a one day tour to Ottawa from Toronto. The amount of time spent driving there and back would be around 10 hours and the amount of time you’d get to see Ottawa is about 4. It’s just not worth it.

Having said that, here’s our version of an Ottawa day itinerary (for both the summer and winter seasons) from ByWard Market to Parliament Hill!

Getting Around Ottawa In A Day

water in canal with hotel in distance and trees beside ottawa in a day
You can walk, bike, bus, or boat around Ottawa!

Generally, the city of Ottawa is pretty spread out but the best attractions are basically all within walking distance close to downtown – with the exception of a few (which we will mention).

Also, the city is relatively flat – with hillier areas if you walk down towards the Ottawa river from Wellington Street OR down to ByWard Market from Parliament Hill.

If taking the bus is your thing, you can check out the Ottawa Transport (OC Transpo) website for city buses and look into different rates. They have a day ticket available if you want to rely on the bus.

Having a rental car honestly doesn’t necessarily help you because many of the top attractions are easy to get to via walking – and you’d just have the hassle of re-parking again and again each time you moved it downtown Ottawa.

That said, if you wish to take the guesswork out of navigating the city, you might consider a guided tour.

This way, you can see lots of sights and also not have to worry about getting around on your own. Check out this Ultimate Ottawa Sightseeing Tour with a private guide.

You could also check out the hop-on hop-off Ottawa bus tour and use it as a way to get between top attractions in Ottawa!

If exercise is more your thing, you could also do a guided Ottawa bike tour to get local knowledge around Ottawa! Case and point: there are plenty of tour options to make the most of your day in Ottawa.

Read Next – Check Out Our Canada Packing List for All Seasons

One Day In Ottawa Itinerary

clock tower with buildings and trees in front ottawa parliament building
There’s plenty to see and do in Ottawa!

Alright, so now that you have a better idea of how to get around Ottawa, let’s dive into this Ottawa day itinerary.

It includes lots of things we did in Ottawa over the course of one day – with a few additions from our other visits so you can choose what works best for you.

We even mention addresses and websites so you can quickly check things out.

Just so you know, this itinerary works in all seasons. The ONLY difference would be that if it’s winter, you will replace the Ottawa river stuff/boat tour with skating on the Rideau Canal and a little more museum-hopping since it will likely be cold!

Before we go any further: Just in case you are looking for a place to stay in Ottawa (because you decide to stay after all!), you’ll have lots of great places to choose from.

You can check here for hotels and other accommodations in Ottawa.

Specifically, check out the Novotel Ottawa City Centre for a great location close to ByWard Market or the Alt Hotel Ottawa for a cool hotel in downtown Ottawa.

You might also want to check out the famous Fairmont Chateau Laurier right by the historic canal locks!

Breakfast: Wilf and Ada’s

man walking towards brunch diner one day in ottawa
We actually walked PAST Wilf and Ada’s at first…

Alright – so it’s breakfast time in Ottawa. You’re going to need a big breakfast to fuel up for this day. 

We got up from our accommodation in Centretown, did a quick Google search, and walked right for Wilf and Ada’s. We are very, very glad that we did!

two plates of brunch food on wooden table wilf and ada's ottawa
Breakfast = VERY GOOD.

This tiny diner near Highway 417 is on Bank Street so it’s really easy to get to from downtown.

Inside, we found a small diner that was already basically packed (it was like 9 am on a weekday!). Luckily, we were only two people so we got seated at what was the last table.

The menu is really good – with brunch classics that are sweet and savoury to meet all tastes. Eric had a Classic breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, beans (and more) while Lisa had an Eggs Benedict Florentine.

She HIGHLY recommends hers if you go because she really liked it. The server was also super nice so that’s always a plus!

In any case, head there for breakfast – coffee was free refill and the food was delicious! You can learn more about Wilf and Ada’s here.

Address: 510 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1Z4, Canada

Read Next – The Best Time to Visit Canada (Seasons and Attractions)

Morning Activities: Explore Canadian History, Culture, and Art

Okay, so once you are done with breakfast, it’s time to head back downtown along Bank Street. Basically, walk as far as you can and you’ll hit Parliament Hill.

This is where we started the morning – and we basically checked out the following attractions/hot spots downtown or close to downtown.

Read below for the things that we got up to – all before lunchtime!

Parliament Hill

tall clock tower with green roof and stage in front one day in ottawa parliament hill
The Centre Block with the Peace Tower – and a stage in front from Canada Day!

Of course, we visited Parliament Hill as the first thing so that we had enough time. As the centre of Canadian politics, this whole area is loaded with history and things to check out.

We actually visited right after Canada Day so they were JUST disassembling the stage from the concerts and celebrations.

In any case, there’s lots to see on Parliament Hill such as the Centennial Flame and many statues.

We also walked behind the Centre Block along a pathway that gives you great views of the Ottawa River and other attractions below.

Even though there were renovations happening all around, that path was still open to freely enjoy so be sure to do so.

You get great shots of the Library of Parliament – the historic circular structure at the rear of the Centre Block. It’s really stunning to look at!

iron fence with river and greenery behind ottawa river
Be sure to walk behind Parliament Hill for great views!

The buildings on Parliament Hill are the Centre Block with the clock tower called the “Peace Tower” and then the East and West Blocks flanking the middle building.

You can tour the buildings – but they are currently under extensive renovations for many years so the tours are all moved around.

If you want to learn more about Canadian politics and history, you can check out the updated tour schedule here. Tours of the Senate and House of Commons are free but must be reserved in advance.

Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A9, Canada

National War Memorial

large stone arch monument with statues under in ottawa
Please remain silent and respectful when visiting!

We walked down from Parliament Hill – down Wellington Street towards the top of Elgin Street. Here, you’ll find the famous Locks of the Rideau Canal.

We only photographed them here because we explored them later but you could check them out now.

Instead, we headed into the square across from the Locks to the large monument that you cannot miss. This is the National War Memorial – a tribute to those Canadians who have served in armed conflicts. It also includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In any case, it’s pretty to look at and a quiet, respectful place – we even caught it at a time when the guards were changing their posts.

To the south of the Memorial nearby you can find Confederation Park – a large green space by the Rideau Canal.

It was a nice place to relax because we were waiting for our tour which started in the area!

Address: Wellington St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5A4, Canada

Lady Dive Amphibus Tour

The next thing we did was a guided tour – but not just any tour: the Lady Dive “Duck Boat” Tour! Yes, we went on the tour that drives you around on land and then drives into the water and becomes a boat tour!

red tour bus and boat vehicle parked on street ottawa tour
That’s our tour bus/boat just after we got back!

We actually bought our tickets online beforehand but they have a booth close to the pick-up/drop-off so it would be easy to just show up.

The tour itself was actually really fun – the live guide spoke in both English and French and pointed out where many attractions are. If you’ve never been to Ottawa before, it’s a great tour for orientating yourself.

boat in river with bridges and buildings behind one day in ottawa
Views of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill…

We then crossed into Quebec on the tour and drove into the Ottawa River – which was such a strange feeling but completely safe!

Exploring Ottawa from the water was a different perspective which you can’t get many other ways so we liked that, too. Kids on the tour got to take a photo with the captain which made for a fun atmosphere.

After a big loop, the boat left the water and became a bus again and we got to see places further out like Rideau Hall. Overall we’d recommend the Lady Dive Boat Tour for the experience.

blue and white boat in water with green trees behind ottawa boat tour
You can also hop on the Capital Cruises tour!

We also decided on a morning tour since it was not as hot yet. This ended up being a good decision.

If you want to explore the Ottawa River on a tour but the Lady Dive doesn’t sound like something for you, you can also take a normal boat cruise with Capital Cruises.

This tour boat leaves from the bottom of the Locks down at the river level so it’s easy to get to/find from downtown. We actually passed that boat while we were on our tour and it looked like a nice boat (seen above).

Location: Lady Dive leaves from the end of Sparks Street near Elgin Street

Sparks Street

long pedestrian street with patios and people sparks street in ottawa
A shot of Sparks Street – it’s a long street!

Once we got off the Lady Dive Tour, we were already getting hungry so we walked towards lunch through Sparks Street downtown. Sparks Street – fun fact – is considered the oldest pedestrian mall in Canada.

It crosses the whole downtown core from west to east (sort of) and is loaded with shops, stalls, restaurants, souvenirs, etc to check out.

Lisa bought postcards here to send to family – so wander through and see what you can find!

Lunch: The SconeWitch on Elgin

scone sandwich on plate with two drinks sconewitch ottawa
Our scones with an iced tea and iced coffee!

We walked for only about 10 minutes max from where we got off the tour before we got to lunch. Remember, everything in the downtown core is pretty close together.

Lunch was at another place we looked up online that had great reviews: The SconeWitch on Elgin.

Known for making their own scones and other fresh items, we went on an Ottawa workday just after 12:00 pm. It was BUSY – but the line moved surprisingly fast!

As for food, SconeWitch was awesome. We got one “SconeWitch” for us to share – it was with goat cheese and it was really, really good. We also got an iced coffee and a hibiscus iced tea – both of which were also great.

We’d recommend checking it out for a lighter lunch that still does a good job filling you up. You can learn more about the SconeWitch here. They even have a few locations!

Address: 150 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1L4, Canada

Afternoon Activities: Explore Gatineau/The ByWard Market Area

Alright, so now it’s the afternoon – what do you get up to now? When we visited it was a hot summer day so we decided to stay in the shade as much as we could and/or explore the water.

Since we had already done the Parliament Hill area, we decided that the afternoon should be dedicated to the ByWard Market area and perhaps across/near the Ottawa River in museums.

Here’s a handful of things we checked out and stuff that you might also be interested in adding on to your one-day itinerary!

Rideau Canal/Bytown Museum

white boats in canal locks with trees behind rideau canal ottawa
The famous Locks 1-8 of the Rideau Canal

One of the most famous sites in all of Ottawa (and Canada for that matter) is the Rideau Canal.

The Rideau Canal – and the Ottawa Lockstation (shown above) is Ontario’s only UNESCO Heritage Site for the category of “Culture”.

The whole waterway is over 200 km long and stretches all the way to Lake Ontario in Kingston!

stone house with people beside pathway to river rideau canal
The ByTown Museum near the riverside…

In Ottawa, stretches of the waterway are great for boating in the summer and it turns into the famous ice skating rink in the wintertime.

Close to the Ottawa River entrance to the Locks, you’ll find the Bytown Museum which walks visitors through the history of Ottawa as it developed over the decades!

Address: 1 Canal Ln, Ottawa, ON K1P 5P6, Canada

**If you want to follow this post word for word – here is the part where we would say to cross the river to head for the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

To get there, you can walk across the bridges – but if you are already at the Locks, perhaps take the water taxi to Gatineau. Tickets are cheap and it’s an eco-friendly way to get across (it has an electric motor)! You can check here for schedules and prices.

If you don’t head for the Museum, then you can just walk to the National Gallery of Canada (see below) on the same side of the river you are currently on and you’ll still have more than enough to keep you busy.**

Canadian Museum of History

Across the river from the Locks and Parliament Hill, you’ll find one of the most famous museums in all of Canada – the Canadian Museum of History.

This museum is huge, features a massive Grand Hall with incredible works by Indigenous Peoples, and walks visitors through over 20,000 years of Canadian human history!

We didn’t get a chance to visit on this trip but Eric went years ago and we want to go back next time. If you want to visit, you can get your Museum of History ticket here.

Address: 100 Laurier St, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M8, Canada

National Gallery of Canada

large metal spider in front of glass building one day in ottawa
The National Gallery is hard to miss!

Once you are done across the river – or if you never went – you should also check out the National Gallery of Canada.

Known for the beautiful glass structures and the very large spider out front, you can see loads of Canadian art inside!

The Gallery has an inner courtyard and a cafe onsite. If you want to visit, make sure you make room for a few hours!

This also works well if it’s too hot out or too cold in the winter! Here is the official website to learn more.

Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada

ByWard Market

market hall from above with flowers and people in front byward market ottawa in a day
Beautiful ByWard from above!

After you finish up at the Gallery, a final area that you have to explore in Ottawa (if you are only around for a day) is ByWard Market.

If you are staying late you can do dinner here and even go out for drinks here so don’t worry if you don’t visit during the day. That said, ByWard Market is full of things to do, see, eat, and drink at all hours of the day!

canadian caesar drink with pint of beer on wooden table one day in ottawa
Nothing like a Canadian Caesar drink to cool down at Furniture Warehouse!

The market area is packed with bars, restaurants, and shops that surround the original Market Building – which has a few food places and shops itself.

In the summer, stalls fill some streets and sell everything from fresh produce to flowers.

We wandered around and ended up stopping for a drink at one of the many bars in the area (El Furniture Warehouse).

You could have a sweet treat and opt for a “BeaverTail” which is deep-fried dough covered in sugar and more!

In any case, you can just hang out in ByWard for a little bit and take in the sights and sounds, do some window shopping, eat something, and even have a beverage. Up to you!

Address: ByWard Market (aim for George Street and York Street connected by William Street)

Afternoon Break: High Tea at The Chateau Laurier

white old hotel with blue sky behind chateau laurier one day in ottawa high tea
The fancy Chateau Laurier in Ottawa!

Now that you’re done the main part of your afternoon wander, you’ll need a break. You can stay in ByWard Market for longer and have a beer or a sweet treat – or you can have a truly Ottawa experience: Afternoon Tea at the Chateau Laurier!

This historic hotel is a landmark in Ottawa and a very popular place to stay, too.

That said, it’s also known for its food/dining experiences – and Zoe’s Lounge is where you head for a lovely high tea experience. Tea, sweets, mini sandwiches – what’s not to like?!

It’s important to book a table online in advance – especially for afternoon tea since it can fill up. You can learn more about tea and reservations at Zoe’s Lounge here.

Address: 1 Rideau St, Ottawa, ON K1N 8S7, Canada

Early Evening Activity: Explore Major Hill’s Park and Tavern on the Hill

parliament buildings with trees in front one day in ottawa
The views from the Hill are lovely!

Once you’re done at Afternoon tea (or in ByWard Market) – there’s a way you should spend the early evening that you cannot argue with: head to Major’s Hill Park and have a drink at Tavern on the Hill. 

Our local buddy said that we had to stop by and we are very glad we did. The park was a great way to rest for a bit before we walked towards where we were having dinner.

red umbrellas over patio with green grass in front one day in ottawa
Tavern on the Hill is a great little spot.

We went to the park at the end of our day but didn’t have a drink since we had just had a beer in ByWard.

In any case, you come here for the views over the river and the setting sun (depending on the time of year).

You COULD also just do dinner here should you choose. Check out the website for hours and menus for Tavern on the Hill here.

Address: 1223 Alexandra Bridge, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4, Canada

Dinner: Aulde Dubliner & Pour House

outside corner of pub with flowers in ottawa byward market
The outside of the Aulde is beautiful!

Now it’s dinner time – and you must be pretty hungry given that you’ve covered quite a bit of ground today!

For dinner, we headed back into ByWard (wasn’t far from the last stop) and went for the Aulde Dubliner & Pour House.

This classic Irish pub is massive and beautiful from the outside. We got a patio table overlooking the main part of ByWard Market which was so nice.

fries and burger on white plate at ottawa pub
We were really pleased with the food at Aulde Dubliner!

The server was super friendly, the beer/drinks were local so that was nice to try, and our food (burgers and salmon grilled sandwich) were all really good.

If you aren’t feeling like having pub-style food, there are lots of other restaurants in the area.

That said, the menu had other non-pub food items! You can check the menu and hours for the Aulde here.

Address: 62 William St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7A3, Canada

Evening: Drinks, Live Music or Evening Tour

Alright, so it’s the evening now and if you are still in Ottawa looking to round out the day, you’ll have options!

For this post, we wanted to provide you with a handful of options to match all interest levels. So, at the end of the day in Ottawa, you just have to stay in the ByWard Market area for the famed Ottawa nightlife.

However, you’ve got options for what you want to do: a night tour, live music, or rooftop terrace drinks.

Ottawa Night Tour

If you have a bit of explorer energy left, you might consider hopping on an Ottawa tour by night.

This tour starts at 6:30 pm so be sure to have dinner before but then you have the rest of your evening planned with a cruise, a light show, and more!

Live Music at Heart & Crown

old front of irish pubs with sidewalk in front byward market ottawa in a day
There’s the famous Heart and Crown – at night it gets wild!

If live music is your thing, head into the heart of ByWard where there’s music every single night!

The Heart and Crown is a very lively Irish pub with loads of seating and a great atmosphere – whatever the night of the week.

Eric has been there for drinks and music and it was super fun. You can check out who is playing here – they have live music every single night from 10 until close basically.

Address: 67 Clarence St, Ottawa

Rooftop Terrace Drinks at the Andaz

tall blue hotel with terrace over top smaller hotel byward market ottawa
The towering Andaz offers amazing cocktails with views!

Finally, if you just want to sit, relax, and have a nice drink with a stunning view, then you should head for the top of the Andaz Hotel.

Here, you’ll find the famous terrace bar called Copper Spirits and Sights. Known for the views overlooking Ottawa towards Parliament Hill, great cocktail menu, and occasional live DJ, the Andaz is definitely a place to be in the evening.

You can book a table and learn more here.

Address: 325 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7G1, Canada

And there you have it, our sample itinerary for one day in Ottawa. In the end, it’s impossible to see everything in Ottawa in one day – but you can definitely plan your visit to see lots of great attractions.

This itinerary covers lots of the things that we did during our time in Ottawa and we had a blast. Let us know what you got up to – we’d love to add great activities to this Ottawa itinerary!

As always, Happy Ottawa Day Waddlin’,
– L&E

Related Articles

We love exploring Ontario (and travelling around Canada), so check out our other Ottawa posts to help you plan:

Booking Your Trip Soon? This Is How We Do It:
  • Compare flights on Skyscanner
  • Check for Hotel Deals or Book A Hostel
  • Get A Rental Car (depending on the destination)
  • Research plug types and possibly get a travel adapter
  • Go over our packing list
  • Pin it for later!

    Tips for one day in Ottawa