Ottawa in Canada is the perfect family destination for summer 2022. Check out our kid friendly three-day itinerary full of adventure, beaches and culture, plus some mouth-watering food. And listen to the new Family Traveller Podcast episode to hear our first hand Ottawa experience. We slept with wolves!
Canada’s capital city offers families endless fun things to see and do, whether you’re looking for a holiday packed with exhilarating thrills, traditional treats or fascinating history.
Ottawa is like a microcosm of Canada, offering up wildlife, lakes, rivers and forests, all within reach of the city centre; there really is something for everyone here. What’s more, summer is the ideal time to visit, thanks to average temperatures of 25° and plenty of sunshine in July and August.
Thinking about a getaway to Ottawa this year? With the help of Ottawa Tourism, we’ve put together the essential three-day guide to get the most out of your visit this summer. However, feel free to mix it up to fit your own family plans.
Day One: get your culture on at seven national museums in Ottawa
Ottawa boasts a whopping seven national museums, including the National Gallery of Canada. So whether you’re a science, history or art buff, this city has got your cultural fix covered.
Of course, you won’t have time to visit them all in one day, so here are some of the highlights we think your kids will like best.
The Canadian Museum of Nature was the first national museum opened in Canada. Children will love the dinosaur diorama and the skeleton of the massive Daspletosaurus: older cousin of the infamous T-Rex. Don’t miss the interactive ice exhibit in the Canada Goose Arctic Gallery. Then go see the 19m long Blue Whale in the Water Gallery, it’s the largest animal ever to live!
The Canada Science & Technology Museum, redesigned five years ago, has plenty to entertain kids of all ages. Check out the huge and impressive locomotives on display at Steam: A World in Motion – this exhibit also allows you to operate trains in a virtual reality engine room and try wind tunnels. Then two to eight years olds can have fun designing and testing their own miniature vehicles at Children’s Innovation Zone ZOOOM.
Next up is the Canada Aviation & Space Museum. It’s the country’s biggest aerospace museum, where you can discover Canada’s role in both space exploration and aviation history. Activity programmes here include cockpit training sessions and weekend children’s events. To go all out (or should we say, up?) why not book a vintage biplane or helicopter flight to see Ottawa from the air?
Get tucked into BeaverTails at colourful ByWard Market
When kids start to get hungry, head to the ByWard Market for world-renowned BeaverTails pastries. You’ll be pleased to know the unusual name comes from their shape and is nothing to do with the ingredients.
In fact the pastries are made from whole-wheat, float-cooked and finished with the topping of your choice. So take your pick from the likes of apple pie filling with whole apple slices, caramel sauce and crumble; chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter, and Reese’s Pieces; or vanilla icing, crushed Oreo cookies, and chocolate sauce, to name just a few!
For a more sophisticated dining experience – this is, after all, a day of culture – try Zoe’s, at the historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel where glorious afternoon tea is paired with excellent views. Indulge in tasty treats like buttermilk scones, goat’s cheese tarts and smoked salmon croissants, along with tea or coffee. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can even have a glass of champagne or a mimosa.
Day Two: try some of the best city beaches in Canada
Cities aren’t always associated with great beaches, but Ottawa is actually home to four sandy public beaches on the shores of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.
They’re easily reached by car, patrolled by lifeguards in summer and they all have washroom facilities. Practical considerations aside, these beaches are also wonderful for relaxing, swimming and even summertime barbecues.
Families have long loved Britannia Beach, the city’s most westerly. Here you’ll find a snack bar, picnic tables and barbecue pits in the surrounding park. The parking’s free and, as well as play structures, there’s beach volleyball and older kids can rent stand-up paddleboards.
Britannia Beach is also the perfect spot for cool treats. Beachconers Microcreamery sits close to the beach and makes its ice cream from scratch in small batches. They only use high-quality ingredients and are known for experimental flavours. Among recent innovations are rich chocolate, mango saffron, maple, cold brew coffee, honey, vegan maple walnut and vegan chocolate orange.
Other top ice cream parlours in Ottawa include Mantovani 1946 which uses traditional ingredients imported from Italy. You should also leave room for Moo Shu Ice Cream. Kitchen is another must try for their small-batch ice cream and ice cream truffles using local ingredients. Then there’s The Merry Dairy which serves unique, nut-free, Midwest-style frozen custard.
Beaches for building sandcastles and making like a pirate
Petrie Island Beach is another great one for kids. Here families can swim and hike or rent kayaks, canoes or jet skis. The turtle pond is a big hit and older kids can play volleyball and even fish in some places. During summer, The Friends of Petrie Island group arranges activities such as nature walks and children’s events, so be sure to check out what’s on before you go.
Mooney’s Bay Beach is the only public beach on the Rideau River. Here you’ll find a large Canada-themed playground and an interactive attraction dubbed, ‘Pirate Life’, which sees you boarding a pirate-style ship that sails around the bay. The beach is lovely and sandy and has a snack bar, barbecue pits, picnic tables, beach volleyball and stand-up paddleboard rentals.
As for food, reminisce about your adventures and who built the best sandcastle, at Zak’s Diner. They’ve been serving Canadian comfort food in Ottawa since 1986 so expect milkshakes, burgers, all-day breakfasts, and other classics.
Alternatively, head to its sibling, Zak’s Cantina, which plates up Mexican street food. Think tacos, burritos and traditional Tex-Mex fare at affordable prices, plus margaritas and sangria for grown ups.
Day Three: explore the adventurous side of Ottawa with kids
After a day of relaxing, you and your family might be ready to get the adrenaline pumping. If so, head to Camp Fortune. You’ll find it in vast Gatineau Park, just 15 minutes north of Downtown.
Camp Fortune’s mountain rollercoaster is the real highlight for thrill seekers aged eight and over. First, ride the chairlift up the valley, taking in the picturesque Gatineau Hills. Then give yourself over to the pull of gravity. The coaster rockets down a kilometre-long monorail track through forest, tunnels and ski runs at speeds up to 40kmph. If that all sounds a bit too heart-in-mouth, fear not; there’s a handbrake to control the speed. Simply push it forward for a full-throttle adventure or pull back for a scenic cruise.
The thrills don’t stop there at Camp Fortune. Soar across the valley and soak up the panorama of Gatineau Park on the new Peak-to-Peak Ziplines. Thrilling all the way, the course lets you brave suspended walkways, bridges, and more, before ending with a 50ft freefall jump. Younger kids can look forward to scaled down aerial excitement at the Children’s Park. But if you’re looking to play at ground level, you can also enjoy mountain biking or disc golf.
Canada is world capital of donut shops, check out Ottawa’s best
Peckish? Canada has more donut shops per capita than any other country in the world. So be sure to fuel your day of adventure with this sweet snack.
Maverick’s Donut Company has signature flavours like Lemon Ricotta, Crème Brûlée and Apple Fritter. Try Art Is In Bakery for their classic cinnamon sugar cronut with different daily filling. Little Jo Berry’s serves vegan donuts. However, some of the region’s most inventive donuts are on sale at Mimi’s Donuts in Manotick where you can expect flavours like cannoli, chocolate mousse and lemon meringue.
For the perfect end to such an exciting day, channel your inner lumberjack at Flapjack’s Canadian Diner in Little Italy. The Kids Tree House menu serves waffles, French toast and grilled cheese. Alternatively you can tuck into sandwiches made with pancakes or try their rich macaroni and cheese. Pancake-batter dipped bacon or sausages served with real maple syrup is another house classic. And there are milkshakes, of course, only here they come with toppings such as Oreo Cookie and Fruit Loops.