As one of the coldest capital cities in the world, it’s no wonder Ottawa’s summers feel so short. Yet, there’s more to do than you can possibly get around to doing in our short season of great weather – especially this year, with the Canada 150 festivities.
Pack up the kids and a picnic lunch, get outside and make the most of a good thing by checking out some of the city’s best – and sometimes overlooked – festivals, activities, and day-trip destinations recommended by our readers.
Kingdom of Osgoode Medieval Festival
When: July 7-9
Step back in time with a celebration of all things Medieval through song, dance, swordplay, games, role-playing in a giant castle, a birds of prey show and a market with armoured and leather goods, baked treats, spices and more. Bringing a lunch is encouraged, so make a day of it. Once you’re inside the festival grounds, all the entertainment is free, making it a cost-efficient family fun outing, says festival committee chair Connie Bazil.
Ottawa Busker Festival
When: August 3-7
Where: Sparks Street between Bank and Elgin
Stroll through the streets and enjoy performances from fire-breathers, contortionists, acrobats, circus performers and vendors from all over the world. There is no admission fee, but if you enjoy the show, pay the artist.
When: August 10-13
Where: 1279 Colonial Road, Navan
There’s something about country fairs that scream summer and family fun. There’s entertainment, midway rides, demolition derbies, a dog show, puppet show, horse shows, agricultural displays and exhibits, livestock competitions, antique machinery, a parade, petting zoo, kids’ zone and farm animals. It’s also closer than you think: the fair is a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa or a short OC Transpo ride from Place d’Orleans.
Sunday Bikedays and Tour La Nuit
When: August 26
Where: City Hall
Four wheels bad, two wheels good: this city is in love with cycling. Unless you are a four-season cyclist, your bike likely hangs in your garage for eight months a year. On Aug. 26, take part of the City of Ottawa’s Tour La Nuit, Ontario’s only closed road night ride. The 12 to 20K ride, which is a part of Capital Vélo Fest, is free but requires registration online. There will be music and animation along the route.
On Sundays through Sept. 3, hit up Ottawa’s parkways for Sunday Bikedays, when over 50 kilometres of roads in Ottawa and Gatineau Park are closed to motor vehicles and open for cyclists, in-line skaters, runners and pedestrians. Sunday Bikedays averages some 900,000 visits every season, says Jean Wolff, the National Capital Commission’s senior manager of communications.
When: September (Date TBD)
Where: New Edinburgh Park
Make your own lanterns at home or at workshops at the New Edinburgh Community & Arts Centre and bring them to the free night time festival. Children flit around in fanciful costumes and fairy wings while people of all ages admire the magic of creative artisan-made lanterns lighting up this gorgeous park in the evening. Fire weavers and musicians complete this magical evening. “From the lanterns on display, to the labyrinth, to the performers and music – all illuminated by only lantern and lamplight – Lumière will hold you in its spell,” says Charlie Johnson, general manager of the Nectar Centre.
There’s something about caves that make you feel that you are in a different world, even if you didn’t have to travel very far to get there. Located 75 minutes west of Ottawa, Bonnechere Caves is one of those places that offer the best of both worlds – it’s interesting for the adults and bigger kids, but still younger-kid friendly. As a plus, the caves are always a nice cool 10 C – especially pleasant on hot summer days. Bring a camera and a picnic lunch and wear hiking shoes.
1000 Islands Cruises
Where: Departures from Brockville, Lansdowne, Gananoque, Kingston and Rockport
If you haven’t seen the 1000 Islands, you don’t know what you’re missing. Just a 90-minute drive away, these cruises, which are run by independent companies and generally range from one to three hours long. You’ll see lush scenery and cruise past islands, the Boldt Castle, cute cottages, the Statue of St. Lawrence (which is only visible from the water) and the 1000 Islands International Bridge.