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5 Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Ottawa

AAA/Patricia Miller
By AAA Travel Editor Patricia Miller
December 30, 2019
When they say some of the best things in life are free, they might have been thinking of Ottawa’s most popular attractions. Many are not only free, but they’re some of the best things to do in Canada’s capital city. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the following places while you’re on vacation in this fascinating tourist destination and you’ll have wonderful memories, bragging rights and amazing photos for your Instagram.
AAA/Patricia Miller

National Gallery of Canada

380 Sussex Dr.
(613) 990-1985
You’ll have no trouble spotting this masterpiece of a museum fronted by “Maman,” a 30-foot-tall bronze-and-steel spider crafted by Louise Bourgeois. Break out your smartphone the moment you set eyes on her and the eye-catching glass-and-granite postmodern building she guards. Inside this AAA GEM, you’ll discover equally riveting art, including works by such old masters as Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, as well as indigenous art and modern works by Canadian photographers. Don’t miss the neo-Gothic Rideau Street Chapel, complete with stained-glass windows, an intricate wood-carved altar and a magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling. Pop in from 5-8 p.m. on Thursdays when admission is free.
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AAA/Patricia Miller

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

385 Sussex Dr.
(613) 241-7496
Built 1839-85, this glorious Gothic-Revival cathedral and Ottawa landmark, a AAA GEM, is exquisite inside and out. Its silver spires shimmer in the sunlight, while its interior contains captivating religious art, including vivid stained-glass windows, elaborate hand-carved wood paneling, a collection of golden chalices and gleaming gold-leafed altars at its entrance. The star-speckled sapphire ceiling is simply dazzling. Admission is by donation and you can take a free self-guiding tour.
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AAA/Patricia Miller

Ottawa Tulip Festival

Various locations
(800) 668-8547
Tiptoe past oodles of tulips during the Ottawa Tulip Festival, a free 10-day event held each May. The annual AAA GEM event commemorates the tulip bulbs gifted to Canada by the Netherlands for sheltering their future queen during World War II. Your camera’s zoom lens will come in handy as you stroll through the festival’s various locations that hold about one million of these colorful flowers. Dance to live bands, grab some grub from gourmet food trucks, attend film screenings and enjoy electrifying fireworks; there are also activities for kids.
AAA/Patricia Miller

Parliament Buildings

111 Wellington St.
(613) 992-4793
Visits to Ottawa’s copper-topped government buildings on and near Parliament Hill are a must and should be at the top of your list of things to do. Take free guided tours of the enormous Instagram-worthy stone structures and learn about the inner workings of Canada’s Senate and House of Commons. In summer, fun things to do include exciting sound-and-light shows and the Changing of the Guard. Year-round, listen to carillon concerts every morning. These happenings at this AAA GEM are all free.
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AAA/Patricia Miller

Rideau Canal

Promenade runs for 8 km (5 mi.) from downtown along Colonel By Drive to the Hartwell Locks at Carleton University
(613) 239-5000
Originally used for shipping, today the Rideau Canal, a AAA GEM, is a favorite place to go for locals and visitors alike. Winter transforms it into an enormous natural skating rink; stop at food vendors on the ice and warm up with hot chocolate, pastries and maple taffy. After the frozen stuff melts, water sports fans cruise the channel via canoes, paddleboards and motorboats, while exercise lovers walk, run or pedal on parallel paths. Use of the canal is free, while equipment can be rented.
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