Ottawa is the capital of Canada and used to be described as a boring government city but I think if you’re still describing it that way, you aren’t finding the right fun things to do. There are so many activities in the National Capital region that if you’re bored it’s because you need some inspiration. And you’ve come to the right place! One of the best things about Ottawa is that no matter your interest, you can definitely find an adventure. This post is packed with fun activities to spend time with your best friend: ranging from cute photoshoot locations to fun cocktail bars to adrenaline pumping activities. If you’re looking for date ideas with your partner, I have a similar post here for an entire year’s worth of date ideas. I’ve also tried including a range of free to luxury activities: I remember the days of having to pinch pennies and have fun so I’m giving you options here, so read on!
I’m sure you’ve seen them, but if you haven’t you can now get luxury popup picnics! Gather up your best friends, get dolled up and enjoy this grandeur outing. Choose your theme design, a location, package and add-ons, and let the luxury picnic company do the rest: you just need to show up. Cost: Prices range from $299+ for couples to $399+ for a group of four. Location: set-up where you want
Rent a kayak or canoe at Dow’s Lake
Rentals at the Dow’s Lake Pavilion are open from May to October. You can rent a kayak, tandem kayak, canoe, stand-up paddle board or a peddle boat! Cost: Rates vary, depending on what water activity you want to do but is a reasonably affordable activity for an hour. Lifejackets are included in the rental price and you can rent a dry bag or locker for an additional fee. Location: Dow’s Lake pavilion, 1001 Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Ottawa, ON K1S 5K7
TIP: You can purchase a blow up kayak and it’s easy to throw in the trunk of your car without having the worry about somewhere to store it or hitching it to your vehicle. It’s not as good as a regular kayak and I don’t recommend it in open water or if you’re looking to go fast but if you use it around Ottawa on the Rideau Canal about 6-7 times, it’s paid for itself.
Bar from Afar Cocktail Kit
One of my favourite COVID-19 pivots, this cocktail kit delivery service (Bar from Afar) provides the complete set of ingredients, barware and recipes to enjoy cocktails at home with your best friends. You can choose from a variety of alcohols and they release seasonal kits so you’ll never get bored of trying new ones! You can order a kit each and have a virtual girls night, or order one of their BFA kits (8 cocktails) or Social Kit (16 cocktails) for a fun night in. They also sell glassware (those fancy glasses) if you’re looking to spruce up your cupboards. Cost: kits range from $60 to $130, depending on the number of cocktails and alcohol of choice Location: pickup in Bells Corners or delivery available
Walk with Llamas
Take a walk with llamas at Serendipity Farm and Sanctuary. You must book in advance and walks can take up to 1 to 1.5 hours. Wear comfy shoes and enjoy this unique experience with your bestie! Cost: $30/person Location: 929 S Lavant Rd, Lanark, ON K0G 1K0
Little Italy Cocktail Bar Crawl
If a boozy night out is more your style, plan your own cocktail bar crawl in Little Italy! I wrote a Cocktail Bar Crawl post here, with five bars in about a 20 minute walk on Preston Street. Cost: cocktails range from $10-$20 per drink and food starts at $3 for snacks Location: Little Italy, Preston Street in Ottawa
Westboro/Hintonburg Beer Pub Crawl
If you enjoy beer more than cocktails, head to Westboro/Hintonburg for your own Pub Crawl! This one has a total walking distance of about 45 minutes, see my post here for full details. Pub stops include Clocktower Brew Pub, Bar Lupulus, Tooth and Nail and Hintonburg Public House, as well as a few food recommendations! Cost: beer and food prices range Location: Westboro/Hintonburg in Ottawa
Pole Dancing Class at 3sixty Fitness
Experience a full body workout with a pole dancing class at 3sixty Fitness. They have a first visit promo of $15 for a class, which makes it a relatively inexpensive event and a lot of fun to try out pole dancing! Cost: Starter class $15 Location: 910 Clyde Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario
There are a few flower seasons you don’t want to miss with your bestie. The apple and cherry blossom trees in late April/early May are absolutely stunning. The best place to see them in all their glory is the Arboretum off Prince of Wales. You can park at the visitor’s centre or at the Ornamental Gardens. It does get busy on evenings and weekends so I recommend going during the week (if possible) or early mornings! Cost: free to see the blossoms at the Arboretum Location: Arboretum on Prince of Wales
The tulip festival in early May offers the perfect opportunity for photoshoots so pack a picnic and head to Major’s Hill Park. Check out Ottawa Tourism’s website for a complete list of activities and where to see the tulips. Commissioner’s Park by Dow’s Lake is beautiful and the National Capital Commission does an excellent job of planting beds of tulips that have different flowering periods so you can be sure to see some tulips in bloom at any time in May. Cost: free to see the tulips Location: across the city
Finally, late July/early August brings fields of sunflowers. I have a full post here on sunflowers in Ottawa but check out the Wilmead sunflower fields in early August or the Sultan Sanctuary in mid to late August. Cost: depends on the farm, some are by donation Location: see post here including Ottawa River Valley locations
Wine Tour or Beer Tour
Book a wine tour with Ottawa Tasting Tours or a brewery tour with Brew Donkey. Another fun drinking event is the Thursty Pedaler: an outdoor party bike experience. Cost: Brew Donkey starts at $80/person, Ottawa Tasting Tours are not currently available (COVID) and the Thursty Pedaler is $47/person Location: Ottawa
Vanitea Drag Dinner
Every Saturday, Vanitea Room on Somerset hosts a Drag Dinner and you might get lucky to book a Drag Brunch on Sunday. You’re set with bottomless mimosas and the most fun show in town! It is an absolute blast of a time. Cost: $15 cover with a la carte dinner packages, $20 bottomless rose/$25 bottomless Prosecco Location: 551 Somerset St W, Ottawa, ON K1R 5J9
Discover Gatineau Hikes and visit Old Chelsea
The hiking trails in Gatineau Park that are closer to Ottawa are much busier than trails farther from the City. If you are hesitant on which trail to pick, the Gatineau Visitor Centre employees are very knowledgeable. You can ask them for a specific time/length and difficulty and they’ll have a suggestion for you to try and will direct you to parking. Some of my favourites are Pink Lake (has two great lookouts and is fairly easy), Wolf Trail (about 2.5-3 hours in the summer and is medium difficulty) and the Luskville Falls Trail (about 2.5 hours with a fairly steep hill and can be difficult for new hikers). Cost: free to hike in the spring/summer/fall, daily pass or season pass required to snowshoe or cross country ski Location: Gatineau Park Extra Reading: See my full post here on more hikes and visiting Old Chelsea.
After you’re hiking in Gatineau Park, you have to stop in Old Chelsea. La Cigale has delicious ice cream, Pub Chelsea has amazing food and a great beer selection, and Biscotti has my favourite loft and the best tea lattes.
I have a post hereof the top 5 restaurants in Ottawa for Afternoon Tea, and every single one I personally recommend. Chateau Laurier is fancy, Vanitea is boozy (bottomless mimosas), Cafe Cristal is chic, Quelque Chose has macarons, and Life of Pie has the best scones in the city. Cost: Starts at around $65/person Location: Ottawa
Go Bungee Jumping or Skydiving
The Great Canadian Bungee in Quebec or GO Skydive tandem skydiving in Ottawa are adrenaline pumping activities and SO much fun! This one is definitely on the pricier side but it is such a rush! Cost (Bungee Jumping): $130/person Location (Bungee Jumping): 1780 Quebec Rte 105, Chelsea, Quebec J9B 2K4 Cost (Skydive): Start at $239/person Location (Skydive): 1717 Rue Arthur-Fecteau, Gatineau, QC J8R 2Z9
Wander the streets to see Ottawa’s Murals
You can pretty much pick any neighbourhood in Ottawa and wander the streets for a variety of murals. Chinatown and Bank Street are fantastic areas of the city with a variety of murals. Ottawa Tourism has pulled together a pretty great list, check it out here. This one is free but there are so many amazing coffee/tea shops and bakeries, I’ll suggest stopping at one of them and wandering with a coffee and baked good! Cost: Free Location: Chinatown or Bank Street
Snowshoe Under the Stars or Rent Snowshoes/Cross-county Skis in Ottawa/Gatineau
Snowshoe Under the Stars: This is a bilingual event hosted by NCC in Gatineau Park. You have the option when booking to bring your own snowshoes or rent some at the visitor’s centre. It’s a lot of fun and the guide will point out animal prints and discuss the various animals and how they cope with winter.
You can rent snowshoes or cross-country skis at the Gatineau Visitor Centre or at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa. It’s such a great activity to get outside and there are a wide variety of trails in Ottawa and Gatineau to explore. I’ve explored almost all the Gatineau Park and NCC snowshoe trails with my bestie over the years. Note: There is a daily pass fee for trails in Gatineau but the NCC Greenbelt trails are free. Be sure to stay off the cross-country ski grooves when the trail is for both uses.
TIP: You can purchase snowshoes for about $150. At about $30/day rental at the Gatineau Visitor Centre, that means you only have to wear the snowshoes 5 times ever in their life span and they’ve paid for themselves. TIP 2: I love my crampons (I got mine for $20) because I find snowshoes are best after a fresh snow and not great on packed down snow.
Go Skating and get Hot Chocolate and a Beavertail
You can skate at numerous places in Ottawa/Gatineau during the winter including: Rideau Canal UNESCO World Heritage Site (free or the cost of renting skates), Rink of Dreams (in front of City Hall, free or the cost of renting skates) and Lac-des-Loups (skating in the forest, purchase tickets online or with cash in person). Stop for hot chocolate and a beavertail (a Canadian classic). Cost: Free to skate but may require skate rentals Location: from Dow’s Lake to Rideau Canal locks
As you can see in the photo below, the chickadees will land on your hand to eat the sunflower seeds! I would recommend bringing your crampons during the winter and remember to stay to the side and not walk on the cross-county ski paths. #ShareThePath There are often sunflower seeds and bird feed in the bird feeders around the trails, but on windy days it gets blown to the ground so bring some sunflowers (unsalted) to feed the chickadees or peanuts to feed the blue jays! Cost: Free Location: Jack Pine Trail in Nepean or Mer Bleue Bog in east Ottawa
Nature Nocturne at the Canadian Museum of Nature
The Museum of Nature puts on a monthly event where they open the museum as a night club with fun themed activities in the exhibits. There’s multiple dance floors, a bar, interactive activities (we made bath bombs last time), and you get to see the full exhibits! Grab your best friends, hit up the bar in a museum and dance the night away! Cost: $25/person Location: Canadian Museum of Nature, 240 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON K2P 2R1
Visit a Museum for Free
On Thursday evenings, admission to the permanent exhibits of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature is free from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m (paid parking). Make a plan to see them all with your bestie! Cost: Free Location: various museums across Ottawa and Gatineau
Visit Abraska Laflèche for Outdoor Adventures
Just 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa is Abraska Laflèche: incredible outdoor experiences including thrilling treetop adventures, ziplines, night walks and more! Cost: Various, a treetop adventure is $42 in peak season Location: 255 Rte Principale, Val-des-Monts, QC J8N 4B7
Adventure Challenge (Friends Edition)
Pickup an Adventure Challenge: Friends Edition book, filled with activity ideas to do with your bestie! With 50 adventures to choose from by scratching off the secret adventure, take the decision out of planning something unique and fun and let the Adventure Challenge book do it for your! Cost: $60 for the book, each activity ranges from $5+ Location: around your city
Join a Virtual Literary Salon and Explore Local Bookstores
Marisa at Le Salon Reads hosts a virtual literary salon monthly, reading classics by Hemingway and Austen. Schedule a virtual session with your bestie and search for the book at local bookstores like Black Squirrel Books or Octopus Books. Cost: Approx $35, with a 40% discount for first timers Location: virtually
Best done in the spring when the snow has just melted and the water is gushing, there are plenty of waterfalls in and near the city to explore. Hog’s Back Falls and Princess Louise Falls are both in the city and accessible by car, bike and bus. Blakeney Rapids is near Mississippi Mills and it a short trail to see fantastic rapids (it’s so impressive in the spring). in the spring. Gatineau Park has a few waterfalls including Dunlop Falls, the Carbide Wilson Ruins and the Waterfall Trail. The Chutes de Plaisance is in Montebello, Quebec and from top to bottom is larger than Niagara Falls (but spread out over many falls, not just one). Cost: Free Location: Around Ottawa
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Take a private Hot Air Balloon Ride over Ottawa and try to find all your favourite places from above! Cost: $250 per person Location: Sundance (Carleton University)