It’s been a while, I know 🙂
Today I want to spotlight the cultural treasures in Canada’s beloved capital city, Ottawa. When I reflect on my visit to Ottawa, two certain feelings arise: Mezmiration and inspiration. What distinguishes Ottawa from the other Canadian destinations I’ve visited is the seemingly endless amount of museums located not too far from each other. I was visiting two to three museums a day!
Seven of Canada’s nine national museums are located in Ottawa. The museums cater to every possible interest that members of your travel party have: Whether someone is interested in the arts, environmental science, history, space, or flight, Ottawa has something up her sleeve for every visitor.
Here’s a dive into eight note-worthy museums- These institutions should be added to your Ottawa itinerary ASAP!
Do NOT sleep on this museum! This cozy-but memorable- place is steps away from the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River and is within walking distance of Parliament Hill. The Bytown Museum provides a comprehensive overview on the beginnings of Bytown (Ottawa’s original name) and how Lieutenant Colonel John By constructed the Ottawa that we love today and how the Rideau Canal was built under his leadership. The exhibits and historical objects are all in Ottawa’s oldest stone house.
Making this museum your first stop in the capital city- and then seeing the Rideau Canal and taking a sightseeing cruise on the Ottawa River-is a wonderful introduction to Canada’s Capital Region. This museum is the definition of small but mighty: The six employees run an impressive center that chronicles Ottawa’s humble beginnings and how it transformed into the powerful city that we know today. My belief is that to understand current circumstances and to fully appreciate a city, you must learn about the past and see how the situation has evolved since then. The Bytown Museum does a pretty exceptional job of honoring Ottawa’s history.
Stop laughing. I know what you’re thinking- a coin museum? How can such a place be so interesting? I am 100% serious when I say this is one of the coolest museums I’ve visited and one of the most unique places I’ve ever been in my travels!
Hear me out- It’s cool to see the coins, and the tour guides are knowledgeable and personable, they really make you interested in the Mint’s history. The Mint was established in 1908, and now they create collector coins and celebratory coins. On the tour, you’ll see the Vancouver 2010 athlete medals and the Million Dollar Coin (It’s the largest coin ever made!) It’s a 220-pound coin that’s worth $1 million and consists of 99.999% pure gold.
The gift shop is amazing, there are a wide variety of stunning coins that you can purchase as a souvenir. It’ll probably be the most unusual souvenir you’ll ever buy in your travels! The great thing about the shop is that they ship internationally. For my birthday last year, I received the Royal Celebration Set that commemorated Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s II 95th birthday. I’m so interested in coins now that I was even lucky to receive a 2022 United Kingdom £5 Lunar Year of the Tiger (I’m a tiger!) uncirculated coin from the Royal Mint in England.
You’ll become interested in numismatics- the study and collection of coins- after visiting this museum. There’s an SAT-looking word that you can add to your everyday vocabulary- You’ll certainly impress people!
3. The National Gallery of Canada
Ah, the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Canada. The National Gallery of Canada makes it onto the list of North America’s most ginormous museums and consists of 501,820 feet. As the name suggests, it’s the country’s federal art museum. You’ll get to see Canadian paintings, along with work from other parts of the world. Visitors will further see a wide variety of mediums: There are paintings, photographs, sculptures, and more.
I loved seeing the works of Canadian artists and getting introduced to the Canadian art world. We all know Spanish artists like El Greco and Goya, French artists like Monet and Degas, English artists like Reynolds and Gainsborough, but I never knew about Canadian artists. That’s one of the most brilliant things about travel- to gain insight into a culture that’s different from your own. I remember how the Canadian artists painted breathtaking works that highlighted the country’s landscape. I would paint nature all the time too if I lived in a country like Canada.
With over 40,000 artworks, this museum features over 6,000 artists. There’s also a 30-foot spider sculpture outside of the entrance called Maman (It means mother in French) that was created by Louise Bourgeois and the spider has 26 white marble eggs, so that’s fun.
Located in Gatineau, Quebec’s fourth-largest city, the Canadian Museum of History is the country’s most visited museum, and you’ll understand why after stepping foot into this museum. To begin, it has the world’s largest display of totem poles! The grounds are also home to the Canadian Children’s Museum and the CINE+ theatre.
When you’re in the Grand Hall, make sure to take in the awesome view of Parliament Hill. Overall, the museum depicts over 20,000 years of history. You’ll learn tons of memorable facts, like how Quebec is one of the largest producers of apples.
This museum is impeccable. SIMPLY IMPECCABLE. As a World War II buff, I loved this museum. You’ll see a multitude of war equipment: soldier uniforms, guns, and protective gear. There is a whole floor of tanks from countries that were part of the Allied forces. When I visited the permanent gallery called “Forged in Fire: The Second World War, 1931-1935,” I saw Hitler’s black car: It was a very jarring experience.
Here are the other permanent installations: “Battleground: Wars on Our Soil, from earliest times to 1885,” “For Crown and Country: The South African and First World War, 1885-1931,” “A Violent Peace: The Cold War, Peacekeeping and Recent Conflicts, 1945 to the present,” “The Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour,” “LeBroton Gallery,” “Regeneration Hall,” and “Memorial Hall.”
Altogether, there are 2,500 artifacts in this vital cultural institution. They even have a Military History Research Centre onsite that houses 500,000 objects. See if you can find the Morse Code windows that say, “Lest We Forget.”
6. Canada Aviation and Space Museum
This is Canada’s best aviation museum and houses the most comprehensive amount of aviation artifacts in the entire country. There are more than 130 artifacts, and you can even sit in the cockpits of several planes.
For a really thrilling experience, you can fly over Ottawa in a helicopter or a biplane (Those planes with two pairs of wings, one higher than the other-the earliest type of aircraft). These airplane tours depart from this museum.
This place reminded me of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC! The Canadian Museum of Nature is a wholesome attraction with such cute exhibits that appeal to every age range. You can even have a sleepover here- (Night at the Museum, anyone?!) During the sleepover event, you can watch a 3-D movie, take a tour, and then sleep in one of the many galleries.
The Canada Goose Artic Gallery presents detailed information on polar bears, penguins, and the Artic fox. The Earth Gallery highlights rocks (LOL) and volcanoes, the Water Gallery has live creatures like jellyfish, and the Owls Rendez-Vous has, you guessed it-owls. You can even go on a walkway that will have you surrounded by butterflies.
This place seems to have everything under the sun-whale vertebrae, fossils, minerals, insects, and flora.
This is a wonderful estate that was home to two prominent Canadian Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie. They welcomed important guests that were part of the Canadian political community here too.
This mansion is in Sandy Hill, an upscale and refined location in downtown Ottawa. (Three other prime ministers called Sandy Hill home too). This is a crucial stop on any Ottawa trip because it introduces us to another country’s political history. Traveling presents the chance to learn something new about a country that’s not on your own, and visiting Laurier House means you’re taking a deep dive into Canadian history.
I remembered that the amazing Canadians who worked at Laurier House were really approachable and told us a lot of interesting facts. They asked us where we’re from, gave us recommendations on what to do in Ottawa, and were impressed that we went to everywhere that they listed.
I always said that the spectacular museums of Ottawa are one of the things that make visiting the city so enjoyable. Canada’s capital city did an incredible job of presenting the nation’s history and ensuring that we can continue to educate the next generation. Be sure to visit a museum or two in Ottawa (And let me know after which one is your personal favorite!)