It’s summertime, and you’ve been looking forward to taking a road trip all year. You want to go somewhere beautiful with lots of things to do and a rich history to explore…you’ve taken one too many trips to Florida and Gatlinburg. Well, look no further than Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)! The capital city of Canada is a vibrant and friendly community with an eclectic mix of activities, restaurants, shops, and attractions. While it’s easy to break the bank eating at renowned restaurants and hitting pricey tourist attractions, one of the fantastic things about visiting Ottawa is that you can spend as much (or as little!) as you choose. Here are 10 things you can do during your trip to Ottawa for $20 or less:
1. Take a bike ride along the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best way to go sightseeing in Ottawa. A paved, road-like pathway accompanies the 125-mile canal through the entire city. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill walking path! As you cross over scenic bridges and rush past luscious foliage, the city and all it has to offer will open up for you to explore. The path can be walked, jogged, skated, or bicycled (if that’s a word), which also makes it a cheap form of transportation.
2. Eat some Canadian junk food!
Ah, a fattening Canadian delicacy! Poutine (pronounced poo-teen in English) is a hearty dish of french fries slathered in gravy and topped with cheese curds. Yes, it’s unhealthy, but you just burned all of those calories riding alongside the Rideau Canal! You can find poutine at nearly any diner in Ottawa.
Cost: $10 (I payed this price at a pub, but it can definitely be found for cheaper!)
Beaver what? You heard it right–BeaverTails. This pastry-stand chain is named for what it sells: fried dough in the shape of a beaver’s tail with the toppings of your choice. It tastes a lot like some of the fried food you would eat at a state fair. Some of the BeaverTail varieties include apple cinnamon, banana chocolate, maple butter, garlic butter and cheese, and chocolate hazelnut.
Cost: $4.50 – $7.25 per BeaverTail
3. Jigsaw Escape Rooms
This is a must-do activity for people who love playing games and solving puzzles. After being read a chilling backstory and locked into either “The Cabin” or “The Study,” you and your group have only 45 minutes to escape by solving a series of real-life puzzles. Giving too much away would dissolve some of the allure, so I won’t go into detail about the rooms or the puzzles, but they are challenging! Participants of the Escape Rooms are anyone from couples to bachelor parties to families. As the website says, “failure means imprisonment, impending danger, or an altogether very bad ending.”
Cost: $20 per person. Reservations must be made ahead of time.
4. Yoga on Parliament Hill
A yoga-lover’s dream: every Wednesday at 12:00 p.m., hundreds of people gather on Parliament Hill to practice their downward dog and warrior poses. The session is led by a certified instructor who sends assistants around to make sure you’re doing your poses correctly. The yoga session is flexible so that both beginners and more advanced yoga-ers can join in! If you don’t have a yoga mat, do like many of the Ottawans do and simply bring a bath towel or sit in the grass.
Cost: Free! And afterward, you can tour Parliament for free.
5. Stroll through Byward Market
If you can’t go a day without shopping, Byward Market is a dream come true! The public market is about 4-blocks in size and has everything you could imagine–the best restaurants, unique shops, renowned nightlife, and more. You could easily spend an entire day (or longer) meandering through the market. Of course, shopping comes with a price, and the restaurants in this area are not for cheapskates…but you can stop anytime you want, right?!
Cost: Free! Unless you indulge in a shopping spree or a nice dinner.
6. Learn about Canadian history
So you want to know about Canada, eh? There’s a lot more to the country than maple syrup and moose. You can walk through the development of Canada in what feels like storybook fashion at the Canadian Museum of History. There is a bit of overlap in information at the Canadian War Museum, but the war museum is for those interested specifically in the war and military history of Canada. Growing up in the U.S., I didn’t know much about Canada, so their perspective and history was interesting to learn while there.
7. Visit the Ottawa Locks
Like a flight of stairs, there is a group of 8 locks that connect the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River. If you could care less about Canadian history, the spectacular view above is still worth taking in before going on to your next activity. However, if it weren’t for these locks, boats could not have made the 30 foot drop from the canal to the river, and the city of Ottawa would not have been founded (or at least, would not have been nearly as successful). You can visit the Bytown Museum (the small building on the left in this picture) to learn the mechanics and history behind this revolutionary engineering development.
8. Indulge in a chocolate-y dessert at Cacao 70
Satisfy your chocolate addiction–I mean, sweet tooth–at Cacao 70, located in Byward Market. Here, you can find nearly any chocolate dessert (or meal!) your heart desires. Chocolate cake, milkshare, smoothie, pizza, breakfast…the most difficult task will be choosing just one!! To the right is a picture of the New York Style Chocolate Shake I bought while there — DELICIOUS! I highly recommend it.
Cost: Depends. See menu for Cacao 70.
9. Tour the old Ottawa Jail
The Ottawa Jail housed murderers and thieves, immigrants and the mentally ill. After a 150-year run, the jail was shut down in 1972 for the inhumane conditions in which its residents lived. Shortly after, though, it was reopened as the Ottawa Jail Hostel, allowing visitors to Canada to sleep in the shadows of its criminal past. Visitors stay in the jail-like renovated part of the building, while the rest of the building has been left as ghastly as it was created. Tours of the old jail are given everyday at 11:00 a.m. and last about 30 minutes.
10. See a show at the Ottawa Arts Court Theatre
Located right beside the Ottawa Jail Hostel, the Arts Center is the epicenter of creativity and entertainment in Ottawa. Depending on the calendar and list of festivities, you can see everything from comedians to magicians to one-woman plays that travel all over the country to perform shows. The Fringe Festival happened to be taking place during my stay!
Cost: Less then $20, but typically ranging from $10 – $15 per ticket
…Of course, there are sooo many other things to do in Ottawa, but this list just includes some of the best and cheapest activities in which I participated while in the city. If you have any questions or reviews, feel free to comment!