Visiting museums is considered as the most popular activities when visiting a city. This is why we have highlighted seven national museums to discover in Ottawa that are among the finest in the country and the world: Canadian Museum of History, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, and, as a bonus, the Royal Canadian Mint.
Initially, most of these museums will fascinate you with their architecture, whether it is Gothic, inspired by the castles of Scotland or modern and unusual in shape. And inside the buildings are exhibits that reflect the expertise, ingenuity and creativity of our nation's museum curators and their teams. It's crazy how extraordinary these museums are, each in its own style and according to the theme presented!
No other city has as many museums of this quality as Ottawa. So, if you're coming to Ottawa, be sure to add these museums to your itinerary.
The Canadian Museum of History is the most visited museum in the country. Located across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill in Gatineau, the famous curved building welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors annually. Thanks to the genius of Douglas Cardinal, the architecture of the building itself is a feast for the eyes, and the surrounding gardens and view of Ottawa are simply stunning.
Inside the walls, the impressive Grand Gallery and the First Peoples' Hall house some of the permanent exhibitions as well as high-caliber one-time exhibitions. The Canadian History Room, located on two levels, takes you in a dynamic and interactive way to the very beginning of the country's colonization. This exhibition alone is worth the trip.
The Children's Museum is also worthy of a visit, regardless of age. The highly interactive exhibition takes visitors on a tour of the world and civilizations through time. Guaranteed fun!
Finally, a cinema with giant 3D screen and dome will make you live incredible sensations thanks to the high quality movies that are projected there.
The Museum's research activities focus primarily on history, archaeology, ethnology, and cultural studies.
A visit to the Museum will take you to the Gatineau side of the river, near Jacques-Cartier Park and Vieux-Hull, a neighborhood known for its bars and restaurants. The Alexandria Bridge, which spans the Ottawa River and connects Gatineau to Ottawa, has a pedestrian deck.
“The famous curved building welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors annually.”
The National Gallery of Canada is undoubtedly one of the seven national museums to discover in Ottawa. Home to one of the world's finest collections of Aboriginal and Canadian art, masterpieces of various styles and periods, and historic photographs displayed in the Canadian Institute of Photography galleries, the Gallery is characterized by a unique glass and granite structure designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.
The Great Hall, which can be viewed from the outside or inside, is a regular venue for special events of all kinds and offers spectacular views of the Gatineau Hills, the Parliament Buildings and the Ottawa River.
The Museum also includes interior gardens with glass roofs, a reconstructed chapel and an atrium featuring huge skylights and a glass-bottomed water basin.
A visit to the Museum will take you to the heart of Ottawa's heritage district, across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, the Byward Market, the Rideau Canal and Locks, Major's Hill Park, the Chateau Laurier and Parliament.
“The Gallery is characterized by a unique glass and granite structure designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.”
The Canadian War Museum opens its doors each year to approximately 500,000 visitors who come to discover its collections of 3 million artifacts, works of art, archival documents and audio and visual recordings, which are among the richest in the world on military heritage.
The Museum's new building was constructed in 2005 on Le Breton Flats, 1.5 kilometers from Parliament Hill. The building, designed by architect Raymond Moriyama, has a striking asymmetrical shape, concrete, glass and copper materials, and a green roof that blends in with the ground.
Its dynamic, interactive exhibits take the visitor on a journey through the world wars and other armed conflicts while focusing on the human experience of war. But while the subject is not light, the museum's team has made the exhibits incredibly interesting through their staging, making it a real immersive experience. This museum is well worth a visit and it's no wonder TripAdvisor has made it the #1 Ottawa must-do.
A visit to the Museum will take you to the west end of downtown Ottawa, within walking distance of Chinatown to the south and Zibi and Vieux Hull to the north.
“The Museum’s collection is among the richest in the world on military heritage.”
Another beautiful museum among the seven national museums to discover in Ottawa is the Canadian Museum of Nature located in the Victoria Memorial Building, named after the Queen. It was the first building built in Canada to house a national museum. Its structure, designed by architect David Ewart and built between 1905 and 1910, is reminiscent of medieval Scottish castles and combines Tudor and Gothic features. Sculptures of animals and plants are an integral part of the building's decorative elements.
Since its opening in 1912, the Museum has welcomed visitors in its various galleries spread over four floors. The Museum has collections of zoology (vertebrates and invertebrates), paleobiology (fossils of vertebrate specimens), minerals, plants and algae, all divided into millions of specimens. Six permanent galleries on different themes will keep you interested until the end of your visit. Temporary exhibitions are added to an already rich and varied program. The Canadian Museum of Nature is one of those museums that excel at fascinating visitors of all ages.
Gardens representing Canada's different landscapes and ecosystems surround the building and contain trails, interpretive panels, photos, identification tags, benches, and picnic areas.
A visit to the Museum will bring you to the south end of downtown Ottawa, 1.6 kilometers from Parliament, and within walking distance of the Rideau Canal and Elgin Street where you will find cafes, restaurants and boutiques.
“The Victoria Memorial Building, named after the Queen, is the first building built in Canada to house a national museum.”
The Canada Science and Technology Museum tells the story of innovation in Canada in a dynamic, educational and entertaining way. Inaugurated in 1967, the building that houses it underwent major renovations in 2017 after being closed for three years.
The Museum's new space has been completely redesigned and totals more than 7,400 m2 (80,000 sq. ft.) with eleven permanent exhibits that focus on a variety of technologies: household technologies, technologies for the body - from smart watches to pet devices to pacemakers - technologies related to steam, microscopes and telescopes, technological advances in medicine, transformation of natural resources, and technologies related to transportation and outdoor activities.
The Locomotive Hall and the Crazy Kitchen have always been among the Museum's major attractions, to which numerous new artifacts and interactive installations have been added. The Artifact Alley displays over seven hundred artifacts and allows visitors to handle real tools and fly a spacecraft, among other things. The Sound by Design exhibition offers a variety of activities where you can explore an immersive sound installation or the quiet of the silence box. The Museum is simply fascinating and will delight visitors of all ages, regardless of their level of knowledge in science and technology.
A visit to the Museum will take you to St. Laurent Boulevard, 8.7 kilometers southeast of Parliament, not far from the St. Laurent Shopping Centre and the Aviation Parkway on which the Canada Aviation and Space Museum is located. From Aviation Parkway, it is possible to return to downtown Ottawa via Sir George-Étienne Cartier Drive, which passes by Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood and the residences of the Governor General (Rideau Hall) and the Prime Minister of Canada, while heading back towards the Canadian Mint and the National Gallery (Sir George-Étienne Cartier Drive becomes Sussex Drive).
“The Museum's new space has been completely redesigned and totals more than 7,400 m2 (80,000 sq. ft.) with eleven permanent exhibits that focus on a variety of technologies.”
Whether you are an aircraft enthusiast or not, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum will dazzle you with its collection of over 130 civilian and military aircraft and artifacts. Considered one of the finest aviation museums in the world, the Museum tells the story of aviation in Canada from its beginnings in 1909 to the present day, along with the evolution of aerospace technology.
Inaugurated in 1988, the Museum's main building is located on a former military airbase, five kilometers from the residence of the Prime Minister of Canada. In 2005, an 8,200 m2 storage building called the Reserve was built to house the Museum's growing collection. With its reflective metal shell and glass façade, this new pavilion evokes the atmosphere of a real airport.
A visit to the Museum will take you to Ottawa's historic and elegant Rockcliffe Park neighborhood, home to many embassies and mansions as well as the residences of the Governor General (Rideau Hall) and the Prime Minister of Canada. The Rockliffe Park is a beautiful place to picnic and the lookout on the cliff will give you a breathtaking view of the Ottawa River and Gatineau. (This location actually provides an excellent view of the hot air balloons taking flight in September at the Hot Air Balloon Festival in La Baie Park). To fill up on food, head to Beechwood Street where you'll find restaurants, cafes and boutiques.
“The Museum is considered one of the finest aviation museums in the world.”
The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located on the heritage site of the Experimental Farm, which operates in the heart of the Capital, 5.5 kilometers southwest of Parliament, near Dows Lake.
This living museum offers the opportunity to see various breeds of Canadian farm animals, such as Holsteins, Canadian and Shorthorns cows, milking and Angus meat cows, Tamworth pigs, sheep, horses, goats, rabbits, alpacas, poultry and bees, and to learn about the feeding of all these animals. Programs and exhibits focus on our nation's agricultural heritage, our food culture and agricultural science and technology, and how they have shaped our daily lives.
Of course, one might think that the Museum is mainly for children and families, but adults of all ages will enjoy discovering the fascinating world of the farm at any time of the year, but especially during seasonal events such as Easter on the Farm, the Sheep Shearing Festival, the Ice Cream Festival and Thanksgiving Harvest Weekend.
A visit to the Museum will take you southwest of downtown Ottawa, not far from Dow's Lake and the Rideau Canal, and close to the Canadensis Botanical Gardens, the Ottawa Ornamental Gardens, the Dominion Arboretum and the Tropical Greenhouse, all of which are part of the Experimental Farm. Feeling hungry? Visit Dow's Lake Pavilion or one of the many restaurants in Little Italy on Preston Street.
“The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located on the heritage site of the Experimental Farm in the heart of the Capital.”
BONUS. The Royal Canadian Mint is not a national museum, but it is as worth a visit as any other. Since its founding in 1908, it has been housed in another Gothic Tudor building designed by the famous architect David Ewart, the same architect who designed the building that hosts the Museum of Nature. The building houses offices, the visitors' reception area and the boutique where it is possible to buy and exchange collector's items and find interesting gift ideas. In the back is the gold refinery and advanced engineering activities where commemorative and collector coins, gold bullion coins, medals and medallions are produced.
The Royal Canadian Mint offers interactive tours that showcase how our coins are made, including a look at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic medals and the largest coin ever produced, worth $1 million.
A visit to the Mint will take you to the heart of Ottawa, right next to the National Gallery on Sussex Drive, and not far from the beautiful National Research Council building which can be visited during business hours, Rideau Falls Park and Lookout where the Rideau River ends its journey into the Ottawa River, and the three Minto bridges leading to Maple Island.
"The Royal Canadian Mint offers interactive tours that showcase how our coins are made.”
Need help exploring these museums further? Send me an email and I will be happy to guide you in planning your visit.
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