Traditionally, the focal point of Ottawa’s cultural scene has been the Byward Market, Parliament and the Golden Triangle, as these areas are home to most of the NCR’s major museums, galleries and tourist attractions.
Ottawa also boasts several major thoroughfares, such as Wellington Street, Rideau Street, Sussex Drive, Elgin Street, Bank Street, Somerset Street, Preston Street and Sparks Street, which are home to many boutiques, theatres, galleries, landmarks and memorials. They also offer a wide variety of eating establishments, cafés, bars and nightclubs.
The city hosts various festivals and activities year round. In the winter (January and February), Ottawa hosts a large outdoor festival, known as Winterlude. This festival features the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, created by the freezing of the Rideau Canal, as well as an ice sculpture competition that brings in artists from all over the world. In the summer, Ottawa is home to many festivals, including the country’s largest Canada Day celebrations, with activities on Parliament Hill and the surrounding downtown area. Other major activities include the Tulip Festival, the Folk Music Festival, Bluesfest, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival and the Fringe Festival.
There are several national museums and galleries in the city, including the National Gallery of Canada, which is home to the famous Maman spider statue. The Canadian War Museum houses an expansive collection of military vehicles, including planes and tanks. The Canadian Museum of Nature is amongst Ottawa’s most popular museums, as it houses a large collection of dinosaur bones. The Museum of Canadian History (formerly the Museum of Civilization), located across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, is the most visited museum in Canada. The museum is home to a vast collection of Aboriginal artefacts, including the Grand Hall with its massive totem poles, as well as the Canadian Children’s Museum and a 3D IMAX theatre.
The city is also home to several other interesting museums, including the Diefenbunker (Canada’s Cold War Museum), the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum (closed for renovations until 2017), the Billings Estate Museum, the Bytown Museum, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Canadian Ski Museum and the Currency Museum. Many of Ottawa’s museums offer free admission on Thursday evenings from 17:00-20:00.
In the heart of downtown Ottawa is the National Arts Centre (NAC), a major performing arts venue that houses four different stages. The NAC is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and Opera Lyra Ottawa. It also holds performances by major Canadian and international artists and acts. Smaller and local theatrical productions can be seen at both the Ottawa Little Theatre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company.
Ottawa is also home to 25 National Historic Sites, including the Central Chambers, the Central Experimental Farm, the Fairmount Château Laurier, Confederation Square, the former Ottawa Teachers’ College, the Langevin Block, Laurier House and the Parliament Buildings.
Points of interest outside Ottawa include the cities of Montréal, Toronto, Kingston, Québec City, Niagara Falls and Prince Edward County, an area noted for its wineries. Tourists also frequent Upper Canada Village, Québec City’s Carnaval de Québec, the Thousand Islands, Wakefield, the skiing resorts in Gatineau Park and Mont Tremblant, the lakes in Gatineau Park and whale watching in Rivière-du-Loup.