Top things to do near Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport
The heart of the country
Ottawa is proud to be home to the Parliament of Canada, which is held in the iconic gothic suite of buildings that overlook the Ottawa River and the city beyond from atop Parliament Hill. Welcoming upwards of three million visitors every year, Parliament Hill is one of the most popular attractions in the country and offers a wide selection of guided and independent tours, free of charge, that take in the stunning architecture and lead you through the offices of some of Canada’s most celebrated statesmen.
Just eight miles (13 kilometers) away from YOW and at the heart of the city, Parliament Hill played a vital role in shaping the Canada we know today and is a must-see for all visitors.
A watery wonder
Only six miles (10 kilometers) north of Ottawa Airport is the spectacular Hog’s Back Falls, where the Rideau River and the iconic Rideau Canal - now a UNESCO World Heritage site - split to run separately through downtown Ottawa.
The Falls are a breathtaking example of how the region has harnessed the power of the river, flowing into the canal locks to lift and lower boats and barges with ease. Hog’s Back Falls is surrounded by a beautiful park that offers fantastic views of the cityscape to the north along its riverside cycling and walking paths.
The park is also home to special events all-year-round, with the popular Ottawa FolkFest taking place there in the summer and the park becoming a hotspot for cross-country skiing throughout the winter.
Get back to nature
The Canadian Museum of Nature houses the country’s vast collection of natural history and natural science artefacts, which began in 1856 and now includes over 14.6 million specimens, many of which are on display throughout the museum’s eight permanent galleries.
With an internationally significant exhibition of genuine 85 million-year-old fossils, as well as interactive galleries of Canada’s huge variety of native mammals, marine life, birds and bugs all only a 15-minute drive from the airport, the Canadian Museum of Nature is an entertaining, exciting and refreshingly affordable way to spend a few hours before you fly.
Life on the farm
Originally starting out as a center for agricultural research and development, the rather unusually named Central Experimental Farm has since been protected as a National Historic Site of Canada and it has become a popular recreational area with locals and visitors alike.
Bordering the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa, the 1.5-square mile (four-square kilometer) park contains the striking red brick observatory built in 1902 to house the largest telescope ever installed in Canada. It also features the prestigious Canada Agriculture Museum, an arboretum that generates a microclimate often warmer than the surrounding Ottawa city center and a pioneering ornamental garden that houses collections of hardy roses, peonies and lilacs capable of blooming all-year-round.
The majority of the gardens on the farm are free to enter and they are only an eight-mile (13-kilometer) drive from the airport, making it a great place to stretch your legs and get some fresh air before boarding your plane.
One of the country’s premier art galleries, the National Gallery of Canada houses a staggering collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and unique artefacts from Canada’s rich artistic heritage, as well as works by many noted artists from across America and Europe. The gallery has an impressive collection of classical works, but it is globally renowned for its collection of contemporary art. Displaying some of Andy Warhol’s most famous and/or infamous works alongside those of Francis Bacon, Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock, the National Gallery showcases some of the most iconic art the modern world has to offer.
If you are intrigued by the thought of exploring a four-story, 100,000-square foot (9,290-square meter) bunker hidden 75 feet (23 meters) underneath a city, Ottawa has just the place.
The utterly unique Diefenbunker, a former top-secret base designed to protect over 500 people from nuclear attack, has been converted into Canada’s only Cold War museum. Just an hour’s drive from YOW and run as a not-for-profit museum by a dedicated team of local volunteers for over 20 years, the Diefenbunker is a weird and wonderful experience of life underground, from toilets capable of surviving a nuclear blast to the best game of hide and seek you’ll ever play.
An axe to grind
Admittedly one of Canada’s more obscure national pastimes, axe throwing is nonetheless a beloved backyard activity that has recently seen a striking resurgence in popularity. Similar in setup to the pub classic of darts, axe throwing replaces the lightweight darts with a hefty hand-axe and the cork dartboard with a target of solid wood.
Ottawa is home to some of the first commercial axe throwing establishments, offering lessons in a safe, well lit, indoor environment, so why not try your hand at a quintessentially Canadian activity? You never know, you might be a natural.
Of course, if you just fancy some fresh air, a stroll and some nibbles, the Ottawa Farmer’s Market is all you really need. Operating throughout the year, every vendor at the market grows, makes or bakes all of their produce within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the city.
Whether you’re in the mood for the best local bread, cheese, cured meats, fruit and vegetables or a selection of baked goods and sweets, the Ottawa Farmer’s Market is only a 15-minute drive into town from the airport, so you can take off filled with the finest food the region has to offer.