I’ve been on photo walks in the past few years and for newbies like me, I love discovering new photography locations to practice! One of the best things about Ottawa are that there are so many amazing landscapes, buildings, wildlife and streetscapes to capture here in the capital of Canada, you’ll be able to practice any type of photography. The National Capital Region has a fantastic community of Ottawa photographers. Here’s a round-up of the best places to photograph in the Ottawa/Gatineau area and best of all, they are all free!
Downtown is where you’ll see the most iconic buildings in the capital city of Canada. There’s Parliament Hill with Centre Block (the Peace Tower, the Library and the Centennial Flame), West Block (with a beautiful lookout) and East Block (currently being renovated). Beside Parliament Hill to the east is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (Ottawa’s castle in the sky) and Major’s Hill. To the west are the Senate and National Archives and to the north is the Ottawa River, Alexandra Bridge and Museum of History. You will find no shortage of vantage points and locations for photos so look up, use your zoom lens for amazing compression or your wide angle for buildings. Head downtown on a bright blue sunny day, or a moody morning and you’ll have an endless supply of images to share.
Parliament Hill: By far the most popular location on my feed for photos is the Ottawa Parliament Hill. (Unfortunately renovations on Centre Block are being completed in the next 10-15 years so this one will require some creativity). You definitely want to check out the newly renovated West Block and lookout, the gazebo on the northwest side of parliament and the Centennial Flame.
Major’s Hill Park: Major’s Hill Park is located downtown and bordered by the National Gallery to the north, the US Embassy to the east, Chateau Fairmont Laurier to the south and the Rideau Canal locks to the west. The tulip beds during the Tulip Festival in May is always spectacular but the National Capital Commission also does a wonderful job of maintaining the flower beds and greenery during the summer and fall.
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica: The Notre-Dame Cathedral is a a National Historic Site of Canada and is beautiful both inside and out. It’s a great location to take photos of with flowers in Major’s Hill in the foreground, or head inside for the most stunning interior and vaulted ceiling.
National War Memorial: The National War Memorial is a cenotaph located on Wellington Street. The Remembrance Day ceremony is held here every year, and you can get a great photo with the statues, or with the National Arts Centre with falling poppies in the background in November.
NAC Wooden Terrace: Somewhat hidden from the public eye is the National Arts Centre Wooden Terrace. The stairs to the terrace are from the Mackenzie King Bridge and you get this fantastic view of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. It’s a great spot to catch a sunset or for portraits.
Light Trails: If you’re looking for somewhere to take long exposure shots at night, the Central Chambers building, the SHAW Centre/Mackenzie King Bridge and the roof of the Byward Parking Garage are three of the best places.
Eagles Nest: The Eagles Nest lookout is in Calabogie, which is part of the Ottawa River Valley. It’s a fairly easy walk to the lookout which makes it all that more popular of a destination! Read here for a full post on visiting the lookout.
Rock Dunder: This hike is about an hour loop, moderate difficulty in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere. There is a cost to do the hike (seems to change yearly) but it’s such a fantastic lookout, you’ll want to do it at least once for the views.
Rockcliffe Lookout: This lookout is an easy bike ride or drive to see (but note there is limited parking) and is an absolutely beautiful place to take photos during sunset in the summer.
Arboretum/Ornamental Gardens/Experimental Farm: One of the most popular Ottawa engagement photo locations, this is a great place for couple photos, portraits, cherry blossoms in late April/early May, and seasonal flowers (like lilies, peonies and sunflowers). There is a beautiful arch (seen in the background below) and a lookout overseeing Dow’s Lake that is a perfect location for sunrise. In addition, the Experimental Farm Greenhouse is beautiful during blue hour.
Rideau Canal: The Rideau Canal runs straight through the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the world’s largest outdoor skating rink in the winter and often carries boats, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards in the summer. Visit the Bank Street Bridge to see the Rideau Canal bending, the Corktown Footbridge for a view of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier or the Wellington Street Bridge, and more! Just taking your camera with you for a walk along the canal is sure to produce some stunning landscape shots (and you might get lucky and see a great blue heron!)
Lansdowne: This is a particularly wonderful location during the winter during the festival of lights.
Sunrises and Sunsets
I have a whole post here for sunrise locations and here for sunset locations, but below is some more inspiration for the best locations for photography in the city.
Carbide Wilson Ruins: A moderate hike in Gatineau Park will bring you to the Carbide Wilson Ruins. The most picturesque set of ruins is set next to a waterfall – capture some beautiful long exposure shots here.
Dunlop Falls: Located at the Dunlop Falls Picnic Area in Gatineau Park is this small but majestic waterfalls. The waterfall is littered with leaves during the fall for some absolutely fantastic fall foliage shots.
Princess Louise Falls: Set just off a main road in Orleans, this unassuming waterfall is a great location for long exposure waterfalls. Get no people in your shot most of the year, and bring your bugs spray!
Hog’s Back Falls: One of my favourite parks in the city is Hog’s Back Falls, just south of Mooney’s Bay. The long exposure shots are endless here, and I love the levels of the falls.
Rideau Falls: Grab a drink or some grub at Tavern at the Falls and bring your tripod for some long exposure shots of the Rideau Falls. They are lit up at night for even more interesting photos!
If you’re looking for Ottawa indoor photo locations, look no further than some of the most Instagrammable cafes in Ottawa.
Vanitea: in Centretown, this beautifully decorated café is an influencer/content creators dream with bottomless mimosas, fancy décor and delicious dishes (including a wonderful Afternoon Tea spread).
Café Cristal: In Barrhaven, you’ll find this dreamy café with floral décor, innate mirrors and chandeliers, and velvet chairs for all your Instagram dreams to come true!