As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is home to a large number of the country’s best museums to visit including seven of Canada’s nine national museums. Our family has visited Ottawa many times over the years and we have spent many hours in the city’s amazing museums because museum going is honestly one of my favourite things about travel. Museums are fascinating places to learn about history and culture and there are such a variety available that you’re sure to find one that appeals to you!
These are my 7 favourite that I think should be considered musts on a visit to Ottawa!
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1. Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History, formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is not only my favourite museum in the Ottawa area (it’s actually across the river in Gatineau, Québec) but one of my favourite museums anywhere! I love that it’s a natural history museum focused on Canadian history and culture where we can learn about our country’s past in a fun way.
The museum’s permanent exhibitions – The Canadian History Hall, First Peoples Hall, and Grand Hall – are second to none. The recently updated Canadian History Hall divided into Early Canada, Colonial Canada and Modern Canada galleries is an incredible journey through our country’s past that emphasizes the stories that make up the fascinating history of Canada. The First Peoples Hall celebrates the history of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people depicting the traditional culture and showing the impact of European contact. The Grand Hall is simply spectacular with six Native houses, magnificent totem poles and sculptures and a six story wall of windows that provide the best view of Parliament Hill. There are always interesting temporary exhibits to see at the museum as well.
The museum is also home to the Canadian Children’s Museum discussed in more detail below.
Location: 100 Laurier Street, Gatineau.
Hours: Hours vary – check website for details. Closed Mondays. Closed December 25th.
Website: Canadian Museum of History
2023 Admission: $21 for Adults; $19 for Seniors age 65+; $16 for Students (13-17 years old, 18+ with valid student ID); $14 for Children ages 2-12; Under 2years of age – free. Special rates for families. Timed entry tickets can be purchased online in advance. Admission is free on Thursdays from 5 – 7 pm with tickets available as of Sunday of the week you would like to attend.
Additional Information: Masks are no longer required inside the museum but highly recommended. Paid parking garage for museum visitors.
2. Canadian Children’s Museum
The Canadian Children’s Museum will only be of interest to visitors with young children but it is one of the best in the world and was a favourite of both of my daughters when they were young. This museum is located inside the Canadian Museum of History but I like to consider it separately because it’s such a full experience. A family with young kids could spend the entirety of their visit enjoying this exhibition that introduces children to the idea that experiencing the world is a great adventure by providing them with a passport to get stamped as they travel the world and do some hands-on learning.
Location: 100 Laurier Street, Gatineau
Hours: Hours vary – check website for details. Closed Mondays. Closed December 25th.
Website: Canadian Children’s Museum
2023 Admission: Included in general admission for Canadian Museum of History.
Additional Information: There are washrooms with diaper changing stations located inside the Children’s Museum. Breastfeeding is permitted in all public and exhibition spaces and there is also a private nursing room available on the lower level of the Museum of History. The museum continues to have reduced capacity limits and enhanced cleaning procedures.
3. National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is another favourite of mine for the architecture as well as the art. Established late in the 19th century as a place to showcase Canadian art and to preserve our nation’s cultural heritage, the National Gallery moved to this location in 1988 and is now one of the world’s most respected art institutions with a collection that includes more than 75,000 works of art.
The distinctive glass and granite building was designed by acclaimed Canadian architect Moshie Safdie and features a number of unique design elements such as panoramic views of the Ottawa River from the Great Hall, two-level galleries lit by skylights, and interior courtyards with gardens. And you can’t help but be impressed by the 30 foot high bronze spider sculpture, Maman, by artist Louise Bourgeois which was installed on the grounds of the National Gallery in 2005 – it’s a popular photo stop for all visitors to the gallery.
The National Gallery has an incredible display of Indigenous and Canadian art with close to 800 pieces on display in the newly transformed Indigenous and Canadian galleries. Here you can see works by members of the Group of Seven, Emily Carr and Indigenous artists such as Norval Morrisseau.
Location: 380 Sussex Drive
Hours: Open 7 days a week May – September. Closed Mondays September – May. Generally open 10 am – 5 pm and 10 am – 8 pm on Thursdays with some exceptions. Check website to confirm hours.
Website: National Gallery of Canada
2023 Admission: Adults $20; Seniors 65+ $ 18; 24 and under/Students $10; Children age 11 and under – Free; First Nations, Inuit and Métis people are free. Families – 2 adults and up to 3 Youths 17 and under $20. Proof of age required for discounted admission. Free admission to the attendant accompanying a person with a disability. Free admission to all visitors Thursdays 5 pm – 8 pm but book tickets in advance.
Additional Information: Free WiFi is available throughout the gallery. Wearing of masks is strongly encouraged but not mandatory. Free, self-guided audio tours available. Paid underground parking available. Large bags, backpacks etc. must be checked.
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4. Canadian Museum of Nature
The Canadian Museum of Nature is a fun natural history museum housed in a historic building that looks a bit like a Scottish castle. Located just a 15 minute walk from Parliament Hill, this was the first building created to house a national museum in Canada (early in the 20th century) and has been designated a national historic site.
There are always special exhibitions at the museum in addition to the permanent galleries where you can explore and learn about fossils, bugs, mammals, birds, the earth and much more through exhibits and interactive activities. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this museum is just for kids – it’s fun for all ages!
Location: 240 McLeod Street (corner of Metcalfe Street)
Hours: Open 9:30 am – 4 pm, 9:30 am – 8 pm on Thursdays. Closed Tuesdays. Confirm opening hours on website prior to visiting.
Website: Canadian Museum of Nature
2023 Admission: Adult $17; Senior 65+ $15; Student 13+ $15; Child 3-12 $13; 2 and under free. Free on Thursdays from 5-8 pm but tickets should be booked in advance.
Additional Information: The museum strongly encourages the use of a mask especially where physical distancing is not feasible. The live butterflies exhibition and 3D theatre are currently closed. Paid parking is available.
5. Canadian War Museum
We visited the Canadian War Museum for the first time on our most recent trip to Ottawa and I was blown away by how interesting and educational it was. The museum presents Canada’s military history from early wars to present day and is one of the world’s most respected museums for the study and understanding of armed conflict. While the museum traces its origins to 1880, it moved to the current location in downtown Ottawa in 2005 and now welcomes 500,000 visitors a year.
In addition to special exhibitions, the museum’s permanent galleries educate visitors on Canada’s history of armed conflict beginning with the early wars that shaped Canada involving First Peoples, the British and the French through to the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, and Canada’s involvement in more recent military operations in Afghanistan and other places. There is also an extensive collection of military equipment and vehicles on display in a large hangar-like gallery. The museum also provides opportunities for reflection and remembrance of the sacrifice and lives lost to armed conflict.
Location: 1 Vimy Place (at the corner of Booth Street and the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, west of Parliament Hill).
Hours: Opening hours may vary by season – check website to confirm. Closed Mondays. Closed December 25th.
Website: Canadian War Museum
2023 Admission: Adult $18; Senior $16; Student $14; Child (2-12) $12; Family (max 2 adults, 6 people) $46. Admission is free on Thursday evenings 5-7 pm but a timed ticket is required. Admission is also free on Canada (July 1), National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30) and Remembrance Day (November 11). Admission is also free for past and present Canadian military personnel and to Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
Additional Information: Masks are no longer required but are highly recommended. On-site paid parking available.
6. Canada Science and Technology Museum
If you’re looking for a fun and educational experience then don’t miss the Canada Science and Technology Museum! The museum has 80,000 square feet of space and 11 interactive exhibits that allow you to learn about innovation in Canada in a fun, immersive and educational way.
Enjoying hands-on fun and science experiments in Artifact Alley, viewing hidden worlds with microscopes and telescopes, exploring wearable technology or the world of medicine, and laughing at the optical illusions of the Crazy Kitchen are just a few of the fun experiences at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. This is definitely a family-friendly museum but it’s also great fun for visitors of all ages!
Location: 1867 St. Laurent Blvd. (approximately 20 minute drive from Parliament Hill)
Hours: Open 9 am – 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Mondays. Advanced ticketing is strongly recommended. Closed December 25th.
Website: Canada Science and Technology Museum
2023 Admission: Adult $18.50; Senior (age 60+) $14; Student (valid ID required) $14; Youth (3-17) $12; age 2 and under free; Family (2 adults and up to 4 youth) $47. Free admission daily from 4 pm – 5 pm. Free admission to Canadian military personnel, Canadian military veterans and Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
Additional Information: Paid, on-site parking. Masks are no longer mandatory but are recommended. Advance tickets recommended. Some interactive touch experiences in the exhibitions are not currently available. The museum offers Mellow Mornings which are designed to provide a low-sensory environment – check website for details.
7. Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
If you’re interested in a unique museum experience then it’s worth the drive from downtown Ottawa to visit Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum. Formerly a top-secret Cold War bunker located 75 feet underground, Diefenbunker is now a museum and national historic site. The massive underground bunker was built between 1959 and 1961 as a place where top officials could shelter in the event of a nuclear war. Today visitors can “descend into history” to explore the four-story underground bunker and learn more about Canada’s Cold War history.
The museum is also home to the world’s largest escape room – Escape the Diefenbunker! This award-winning experience, presented in partnership with Escape Manor, runs Thursday through Sunday evenings and takes place over an entire floor (25,000 square feet) of the bunker. There are two experiences to choose from that require teamwork to find clues and solve puzzles in order to escape before the clock runs out. Are you up to the challenge?
Location: 3929 Carp Road (in rural west Ottawa approximately 40 minute drive from Parliament Hill)
Hours: Open Wednesday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm. Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 3 pm. Closed on statutory holidays. Currently closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Confirm opening hours on website.
Website: Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
2023 Admission: Adult $18; Senior (60+) $16.50; Student (18+) $13.50; Youth (6-17) $11.50; Family $49; 5 and under free. Buying tickets online in advance is highly recommended.
Additional Information: Masks are strongly recommended. Parking is always free.
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