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As Canada‘s capital, Ottawa is unsurprisingly home to the nation’s largest collection of museums. Not only does Ottawa lay claim to having eight of the country’s most important national museums, but it’s also where you’ll find some 50 other first-rate museums to explore, all of them within the city limits.
Depending on your interests, here you’ll find museums dealing with the rich tapestry of history, culture, and innovation that Canada has experienced in the nearly 160 years since its founding. Explore the best museums in Ottawa and you’ll find fascinating stories of indigenous peoples, colonial settlers, and modern-day Canadians that all add up to Canada’s rich cultural mosaic.
Whether you’re intrigued by the nation’s military past, its role in major technologies, or our place in nature and the world around us, Ottawa’s museums promise enlightening insights… and unforgettable experiences. Read through our list of the best Ottawa museums to help plan your capital city getaway.
The Best Ottawa Museums to Visit
The National Gallery of Canada
It’s not hard to find the National Gallery of Canada. Located a short stroll away from Parliament Hill on the east side of Rideau Canal, you’ll know you’re there when you spot the gallery’s huge spider, Maman, a stunning structure made from stainless steel, brass, and marble that seems to guard the building.
One of the premier art galleries in the country, the NGC was established in 1880 and does a superb job of promoting and preserving Canadian art and its diverse history. Its stunning architectural design, conceived by Moshe Safdie, is itself something of a contemporary artwork, juxtaposing the beauty of its contents with its magnificent glass and granite façade.
Inside, the gallery houses a vast collection of works by renowned Canadian artists, providing an encompassing view of the nation’s artistic evolution. Notably, the Indigenous art collection provides a fascinating look into the cultural narratives and traditions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis artists. Its international collections are equally impressive and consist of European, Asian, and American artworks, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, and prints.
The NGC also offers educational programs, workshops, and lectures. To find out more, visit their website at www.gallery.ca.
Address: 380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON
Canada Science and Technology Museum
Established in 1967 during Canada’s Centennial Year, the Canada Science and Technology Museum does a great job of showcasing human innovation down the centuries. With over 700,000 artifacts, the museum places an emphasis on Canada’s contributions to science and technology, from the early days of steam to pioneering aviation inventions right up to cutting-edge robotics and digital technology,
Hands-on exhibits, interactive stations, and engaging demonstrations bring the world of science to life through immersive exhibits, allowing you plenty of opportunities to experience these marvels of innovation firsthand. A standout display is the Crazy Kitchen, a room that plays with your perceptions by challenging your sense of balance and orientation.
I’m a bit of a train buff, and like so many (big) kids was excited to see the museum’s impressive collection of old locomotives. Set in the Locomotive Hall, you’ll be able to get up close to a number of steam and diesel locomotives, as well as even shaving access to their cabs.
Be sure to explore the museum’s website for news and updates, including educational programs, workshops, and special events.
Address: Scientique, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, ON
Canadian Museum of Nature
From machines to Mother Nature… the Museum of Nature, is undoubtedly one of the crown jewels in Ottawa’s cultural landscape. Housed in a grand, castle-like structure dating back to the early 20th century, this institution does an excellent job of explaining the wonders of the natural environment and the complex tapestry of life on Earth.
Exhibits cover everything from geology, and paleontology, to botany and zoology, and pretty much every stop in between. Highlights include towering dinosaur skeletons as well as one of a Blue Whale, recreations of ancient ecosystems, along with numerous fun interactive displays.
Be sure to check out the museum’s dioramas of ecosystems including the Arctic tundra and lush rainforests. Educational programs, workshops, and special events for children as well as adults are also held frequently. Visit https://nature.ca/en/to learn more.
Address: 240 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Located just 15 minutes by car (a little longer by public transit) at Rockcliffe Airport, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum is one of the world’s largest such attractions and houses a collection of more than 130 aircraft. These fascinating, well-preserved machines trace the evolution of flight from its early days right up to contemporary aerospace advancements.
Along the way, you’ll see displays of artifacts and useful information about the fragile wooden and fabric structures of early flight pioneers to the sleek, sophisticated jet aircraft and spacecraft of the modern era, all with a special emphasis on Canada’s aviation heritage. Highlights include displays dealing with iconic aircraft including the Avro Arrow, a symbol of Canadian aerospace ingenuity, and vintage wartime aircraft that highlight Canada’s role in global conflicts.
You’ll also hear deep into the stories of individuals who pushed the boundaries of flight, including tales of bush pilots who navigated Canada’s rugged landscapes and the bravery of wartime aviators. And for space enthusiasts, the museum pays homage to Canada’s role in the development of the Canadarm, a robotic system used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
Interactive displays, flight simulations, and hands-on educational programs further enrich the visitor experience. Learn more at https://ingeniumcanada.org/aviation.
Address: 11 Aviation Pkwy, Ottawa, ON