Be a tourist in your own town – for free!
2017 is the perfect year to take your vacation at home. With so much going on to mark our country’s 150th birthday, you’ve got your pick of events, activities and ideas to choose from. And what’s even better, many of them are free.
So why not discover your own backyard and check out these fun options. Some can be done in a couple of hours; others will fill up your day.
Celebrating Canada’s diversity, Ottawa 2017 has invited embassies and high commissions to share their country’s national celebration through cultural events at Lansdowne Park. Called Ottawa Welcomes the World, there is food tasting, music and artistic performances at both the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticultural Building. Events will take place right up until December. In August, for example, events will be presented by Macedonia, Jamaica, Pakistan, Colombia and Ukraine, just to name a few.
Northern Lights is the latest version of the Sound and Light Show presented nightly on Parliament Hill. In a bilingual display, the front façade of the Centre Block becomes the canvas as the story of Canada is told in light and sound. Show times are 10 p.m. in July, 9:30 p.m. in August, and 9 p.m. into September.
Taking advantage of a unique opportunity, the multimedia experience Kontinuum has been set up in what will be the future Lyon/Sparks light-rail transit station. Head underground for “a journey through time” in what is described as a mind-blowing trip into the future through light, sound and special effects. While this event is free, you’re encouraged to book a timeslot in advance as 300,000 visitors are predicted to check it out. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and tours take about 30-45 minutes.
Hit the beach
Ottawa’s beaches are a great way to escape the heat on the cheap. Lifeguards are on duty weekdays from noon to 7 p.m. and weekends & holidays from 11 a.m. 7 p.m. If you’re not sure where they are, the city’s beaches are:
- Britannia Beach: 2805 Carling Ave.
- Mooney’s Bay Beach: 2926 Riverside Dr.
- Westboro Beach: 745 Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway
- Petrie Island Beach: 727 Trim Rd.
Just be sure to check city updates if we’ve had heavy rain, which sometimes results in no swim advisories due to poor water quality.
Ever catch the quintessential tourist stop: the daily Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill? It happens at 10 a.m., with lots of pomp and ceremony. While you’re on the Hill, why not take a tour of the Parliament Buildings? And, if it’s a Wednesday, how about yoga on the lawn at noon?
A museum maybe?
If you’re willing to go at specific times (generally Thursday evenings), many of Ottawa’s wealth of museums offer windows of free admission. You can find out more here.
Take a hike
Gatineau Park is one of the capital region’s treasures. On the doorstop of downtown, you can be immersed in nature within minutes. The park offers a variety of options for nature enthusiasts, from easy walking paths to challenging hikes, swimming at Meech Lake, off-road biking or a bit of country refinement if you visit Mackenzie King Estate. There is parking to pay, but activities are free.
If you prefer a more urban experience, spend a day cycling through the city. We are blessed with so many scenic routes, whether along the Rideau Canal or one of the rivers, that it’s easy to make a day of a cycling excursion. Pack a lunch and snacks to take along for an inexpensive outing, or choose a tasty destination as your reward for a good workout. You can check out Ottawa’s cycling routes here.
Catch a flick
Centretown Movies is an annual outdoor film festival created by the community, for the community, to revitalize underused urban space in Ottawa’s downtown. Fridays and Saturdays from mid-July through August, you can see popular, family-friendly movies in the open-air, walk-in theatre in Dundonald Park. It’s not quite free, but since it’s pay-as-you-can, it’s pretty close.
If you have not had a chance yet to check out MosaiCanada, don’t miss it. This Canada 150 exhibit at Jacques Cartier Park offers more than 100 giant sculptures made with living plants that celebrate various aspects of our country. Strolling the tour at a gentle pace will take about 1.5 to two hours. (Guided tours are available for $10 each.) Note that picnics or lunches are not permitted on site, although refreshments will be sold.
If MosaiCanada is not enough to quench your hunger for horticulture, swing by Rideau Hall in Rockcliffe Park. Home of the Governor General, the historic grounds include more than 10,000 trees (many planted by visiting heads of state, members of the Royal Family or other dignitaries over the years). There are also the roses in the Canadian Heritage Gardens, and you’re welcome to have a picnic or take in a cricket match. Self-guided tour brochures and interpretive panels will help you discover the grounds.
As a bonus, you can also tour inside, visiting the state rooms where the Governor General fulfills official duties welcoming dignitaries and honouring Canadians. Guided tours are free from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and last 45 minutes.
Down on the Farm
Still looking for some nature? The Central Experimental Farm has plenty to see for free. From the Arboretum, which covers more than 60 acres of rolling land with well-established trees and shrubs, to eight acres of ornamental gardens, the tropical greenhouse, and, of course, the farm animals, it’s easy to escape the city without ever leaving it. Note that the greenhouse is closed on Saturdays.
Most of us are now familiar with the giant Ottawa sign that marks the welcome to Inspiration Village. But selfie-inducing signs aside, the venue is abuzz with activity all summer. Along with a series of exhibits in converted shipping containers on York Street in the ByWard Market that showcase the provinces and territories, there is much more. How about drone flying competitions and workshops, or a beat-the-pros series of activities and friendly competitions where you can meet inspiring individuals, including top Canadian athletes, and test your skills against amateur competitors and pros in a fun environment? Plus, family fun days on weekends from noon to 5 p.m. combine science, music and more into things like a monumental block building competition. Other events include street performances, exercise classes, and drumming.