Experience all that Ottawa has to offer without breaking the bank. Summer means tourism season, and there are so many events and attractions around the city to enjoy. Walking tours, lively festivals, dazzling shows and shopping experiences, there is something budget-friendly for everyone.
Add these eleven free things to do around Ottawa to your summer bucket list.
NCC’s Active Use Program
You can cycle, stroll or blade along various parkways across the national capital region, which will be closed to vehicle traffic on select days. NCC Weekend Bikedays occur along Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway, whereas the Queen Elizabeth Driveway is reserved for active use seven days a week from July 1 to September 4 (with additional weekend closures).
Take advantage of the free shuttle to Gatineau Park on weekends, May through August.
Northern Lights Sound And Light Show
The face of Parliament becomes a spectacle of light and sound for five nights a week each summer, beginning in July. So, sit on the lawn and enjoy a free 30-minute multimedia event with colourful visuals about Canada’s history. Start times vary monthly due to sunset, and the show runs throughout the evening on a loop.
Free night jamming at Ottawa Jazz Festival
The Ottawa Jazz Festival will be rocking the capital with headliners and Canadian talent from June 23 to 30, 2023. CAA Members get a 15% discount off day passes, but there are also late-night jamming sessions that are free to attend. From 10:30 p.m. into the wee hours of the night, a house band will fuel the festival energy at Grill 41, located in the Lord Elgin Hotel.
Spend the day at the beach
Soak up all the summer sun that Ottawa has to offer with a day at the beach. There are a few beaches around the city, including Britannia Beach, on the shore of the Ottawa River. Pack your sunscreen, towel, snacks and even a paddle board if you have one, to enjoy the sand and water fully. You’ll notice families and groups of friends having BBQ’s, playing volleyball, and relaxing throughout the day. There is also a nearby ice cream shop if you’re tasting something sweet.
Loulou Lavender Farm
You can take a summer stroll through fragrant fields of lavender about an hour away from the city. The lavender season typically begins at the end of June and runs through the first few weeks of July. The field makes for a beautiful backdrop for a walk or taking family photos. There is no admission fee to enjoy the farm, but you can also pick your own purple blooms starting at just $6 per bouquet. There is also a gift shop to browse and lavender-flavoured treats you can buy.
On select Saturdays, twice a month this summer, you can browse a massive market inside the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park. Vendors change and there are over 140 to shop from offering everything from vintage clothing and antique furniture to handmade goods and tasty bites.
There are other free local shopping events in Ottawa for all you market lovers. For example, the Freewheeling Craft is hosting their Pop-Up Haus markets this summer on June 24, July 8, August 12 and August 26, 2023.
Gatineau Culture Trail
Walk through a free outdoor museum along a colourful route full of public art in Gatineau. Whether you’re an art lover, a history buff, a poetry fan or want to get that Insta-worthy shot, there is something for you. Some of the murals and pieces are permanent staples, and you’ll find new things to discover each summer. The trail is likely best known for the installation hanging over Rue Aubry, which has featured pinwheels, butterflies and umbrellas in the past.
The city of Ottawa has a vibrant urban art scene, and you’re sure to stumble upon bright murals and other gems as you wander neighbourhoods such as Westboro, the Glebe, Little Italy and more. The local organization, House of Paint, has an online mural and graffiti map so you can plan your art crawl through the city.
Ottawa Free Tours
Play tourist and learn more about the country’s capital with a free walking tour downtown. Ottawa Free Tours begin at the National War Memorial multiple days a week, featuring a mix of iconic landmarks, seedy history and local hot spots. Tours start at 11 a.m. and run for about two hours. It’s free to join; tips for your guide are encouraged.
When the weather isn’t cooperating, and you’d prefer an indoor tour, there are also free tours of Parliament. Explore and learn with a visit to the House of Commons in the West Block and the Senate in the Senate of Canada Building (while the Centre Block is under construction).
Ottawa Busker Festival
There are tons of free summer festivals around the capital, including the Ottawa International Busker Fest. From August 4 to 7, 2023, Sparks Street comes alive with amazing acts, strolling performers and tasty food vendors. Four stages will showcase world-class shows like a fire circus and Wild West comedy. Unscheduled performers also walk around the street balancing on stilts, juggling and face painting, among other surprises.
Capital Pop Up Cinema
If you long for a throwback summer night and the feeling of a time when drive-in theatres were all the rage, it’s time to plan an Ottawa movie night. Capital Pop-Up Cinema is the city’s only travelling theatre, and you can enjoy classic flicks under the stars. They are kicking off the 2023 season with the iconic love story, The Princess Bride, on July 7 at the Beechwood Cemetery.
Events are outside, so you’ll want to dress for the weather and bring your blanket or chairs. Cinema events have concessions for sale, but you can bring snacks.
Ottawa Art Gallery
A connection between artwork and the city of Ottawa, you can spend a day admiring exhibitions without a museum admission fee. Admission is always free, so you can pop by Tuesday through Sunday if you want to revisit a permanent collection or check out what’s new. The gallery also hosts a variety of workshops and events, from sketching and pottery classes to auction evenings.
Looking for other great ways to save?
There are countless perks to being a CAA Member, and Memberships start from $30 per year. You can save on everything from tickets to sporting events, to entertainment and dining with a Membership. View the list of 126,000 partner locations worldwide online.