Family Travel: Things to do in Ottawa with Kids
We recently made the 2-hour drive to Ottawa as a family to celebrate Alex’s birthday. He visited the country’s capital a few times in recent years and loved all of the museums. So we thought 2 nights and 3 days in this extremely family friendly city would be a great birthday present. We were lucky enough to stay downtown and discover nearby neighbourhoods, primarily by foot. I’ve rounded up my list of things to do in Ottawa with kids so you can plan your next visit.
Where to Stay
We booked our hotel on points and had two main criteria: walking distance to Byward Market and at least one bedroom with a closed door. Our search landed us at the Residence Inn Marriot Downtown. The hotel is a good choice for families with a full kitchen and den with pull out couch and plenty of space. All stays include a breakfast buffet and my kids couldn’t get enough of the indoor pool and exercise room. This hotel is situated in a great location, just a 10 minute walk from Parliament Hill and 15 minutes from Byward Market. My one complaint is that the hotel is quite outdated in terms of décor. However, I learned that it will undergo a makeover in the upcoming year.
Other hotels to consider in Ottawa with kids include: Les Suites (great location & spacious rooms), the Andaz (modern boutique hotel) and, of course, The Fairmont Chateau Laurier, if in your budget.
Where to Eat
I will admit that finding cuisine in Ottawa with kids proved to be a bit of a challenge. Perhaps it was the neighbourhood we were staying in or our kids’ sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. We opted for easy meals during our stay. Our first night there we ate at Zak’s Diner in Byward Market. Its a classic diner with a twist, as Mexican fare can be ordered from Zak’s Cantina next door. We seemed slightly out of place next to the college kids and were even asked what brought us to “this part of town” by our waiter. The kids did enjoy their meals and Chris and I shared a burrito that was pretty good.
Lunch on day one was from the Museum of Nature’s cafeteria with many healthy options and plenty of kid-friendly meals. Dinner ended up being salad bar takeout from Whole Foods. A friend suggested El Camino or Datsun but we opted for a cozy night in instead.
For lunch on day two we headed to Colonnade Pizza on Metcalfe, claimed to be one of the city’s best slices. The décor was outdated but the pizza chef invited Leo back to the wood burning oven which was a great source of entertainment. The pizza was super cheesy, reminiscent of a bowl of French onion soup. Not the kids’ style of pizza but Chris and I enjoyed it.
Otherwise, we had an awesome latté from Bluebird Coffee and delicious ice cream from Sweet Jesus. We didn’t make it to the Art Is In Bakery but heard rave reviews.
What to Do
Museum of Nature
The nation’s capital is home to some of the country’s best museums. At the very top of our list of places to visit in Ottawa with kids is the Museum of Nature. It houses five incredible floors of learning, fun and interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. Plan your time accordingly as it’s very easy to spend an entire day at this museum, especially if you watch one of the 3D films and visit the Butterflies in Flight exhibit currently on display. My kids range in age from two to nine and there really was something unique for each of them at the Museum of Nature.
Tip: book your tickets online ahead of time for added savings and to ensure a spot at a movie or special experience.
Canada Agriculture & Food Museum
I received a great recommendation from a reader that the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is free to guests after 4pm. While we only had an hour to explore the barn, animals and food production exhibits, we saved over $30, and still had plenty of time to look around. The tractors were a big hit as well as the baby cows and their moms being milked. The boys played in the playground while Hannah and I explored the interactive Canola oil exhibit.
Ottawa Children’s Museum
Our final museum stop on day two was at the Children’s Museum in Gatineau. Located in the beautiful Museum of History, it will be getting a facelift in the coming years. Leo had a ball in its current state. This museum definitely caters to the under five set but Hannah and Alex had fun getting their passport stamps and participating in a special scavenger hunt throughout the museum.
Travelling with three kids doesn’t afford too much time for shopping. I was able to sneak off one night to Nordstrom with Hannah and we made a family trip to the newly opened Nordstrom Rack in the Ottawa Train Yards. I’d recommend both as must-stop shopping, as well as a trip to Rideau Centre if you have the time.