- Download our Moving to Ottawa Guide (PDF)
Expats living in Ottawa will have their pick of leisure pursuits. Thanks to the abundance of galleries, music festivals and dynamic exhibitions in Ottawa, expats can immerse themselves in the city's arts and culture. The locals also enjoy an active lifestyle throughout the year.
Whether expats prefer shopping, eating out or partying the night away, Ottawa has it all.
Shopping in Ottawa
From Ottawa’s large malls and outlet centres to the expensive designer stores and quirky boutiques, the city has myriad shopping options.
Most of these lie in the downtown area. Shoppers who want everything under one roof can head to the CF Rideau Centre. Those looking to find unique pieces or special gifts can visit the boutiques, craft stores and stalls at ByWard Market or the historic Sparks Street.
Expats looking for a bargain can travel slightly out of town to peruse one of the city's outlet malls, including the Ottawa Train Yards or the Carlingwood Shopping Centre. Other popular shopping malls include the Bayshore Shopping Centre and Place d’Orleans and St Laurent Shopping Centre in east Ottawa.
Nightlife and entertainment in Ottawa
Locals often say that Ottawa wakes up when the sun goes down. Most of the city’s nightlife centres around the ByWard Market district – by day, this area is home to the local farmers, artisans and boutique shops – by night, it transforms as revellers descend upon the district’s many bars and clubs for fun and merriment.
Music lovers will have the opportunity to catch live performances from up-and-coming artists at one of Ottawa's famous music lounges. There are also many opportunities to catch the latest shows and performances at one of the city's theatres, such as the National Arts Centre or Theatre du Casino.
Risk-takers looking to win big should look no further than Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau. With over 1,800 slot machines, poker tables and roulette wheels, expats will have plenty to keep them entertained.
Eating out in Ottawa
Ottawa has a thriving culinary scene, with many top international chefs opening restaurants in the city. Ottawa’s restaurant owners have partnered with local food producers to bring farm-to-table dining to the city through initiatives such as Savour Ottawa.
Whether gourmands enjoy French, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Ethiopian or Fusion cuisine, Ottawa has a plethora of restaurants and cafes to entice every palate and budget under the sun.
Outdoor activities in Ottawa
The ‘emerald necklace’, a green belt of preserved federally-owned parks, forests and wetlands, is the jewel in Ottawa’s crown. Fitness enthusiasts will enjoy using one of Ottawa’s many green spaces to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The region has hundreds of kilometres of cross-country ski trails as well as a system of parkways along Ottawa's scenic rivers and canals, which are great for cycling, rollerblading and jogging.
Just a short journey from the city centre are some of Ontario’s best beaches, which are a firm favourite among residents during the summer months. For the avid golfer, Ottawa has the most accessible golf courses in Canada. In the winter, Ottawa’s residents fully immerse themselves in the winter-sports scene by ice skating, taking to the slopes or simply being a spectator at the iconic ice hockey games.
Finally, adventurists in Ottawa will have the perfect arena for skydiving, bungee jumping, windsurfing, white-water rafting, scuba diving and kayaking.
See and do in Ottawa
As Canada's capital, Ottawa is a city rich in culture and history. There is also plenty to see and do in Ottawa, no matter the weather. Here is a list of the main attractions in Ottawa.
Gatineau Park, in the centre of Ottawa, is one of the city’s most cherished natural wonders and is perfect for a family day out. The park has many well-maintained scenic trails and more than 50 species of trees, birds and mammals.
Little Ray’s Nature Centre
Little Ray’s Nature Centre is the largest animal rescue centre in Canada. Children can learn from the live shows and exhibits or interact with the diverse collection of reptiles.
National Gallery of Canada
Dating back to 1880, the National Gallery of Canada holds an excellent collection of European and Canadian paintings, prints, sculptures and photography for art lovers to observe and study.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
The architectural marvel, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, is recognisable by its ornate twin spires. Architecture buffs will enjoy their time in this gothic-style cathedral near Parliament Hill and ByWard Market.
Rideau Hall and Canal Skateway
Rideau Hall has been the home of every Governor General since 1867. This elegant 19th-century mansion is open to the public for tours. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rideau Canal, is also home to Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest ice rink.
What's on in Ottawa
Whether expats prefer music concerts, festivals or parades, there are plenty of exciting annual events in Ottawa to keep them busy. Below is a list of the main events on Ottawa's annual calendar.
Winterlude/Bal de Neige (February)
Winterlude is a fun-filled festival that takes place over three weekends in February and celebrates all the joys of winter in Ottawa. Expats can skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway, take in the art pieces at the ice sculpture competitions, or let their inner child out on North America’s biggest snow playground.
Ottawa International Children’s Festival (May/June)
For more than 20 years, the Ottawa International Children’s Festival has staged award-winning performances from young international artists, proving to be a fantastic day out for expat families.
Ottawa Bluesfest (July)
An award-winning music extravaganza, Ottawa Bluesfest is the biggest blues event in Canada. The festival takes place in the heart of Ottawa at LeBreton Flats Parkland and involves hundreds of world-class performances.
Ottawa Pride Festival (August)
Ottawa’s colourful Pride Festival celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community with events over 10 days. The events include a Rainbow Party, Health and Fitness Day and the famous Capital Pride Parade.
Ottawa International Animation Festival (September)
The Ottawa International Animation Festival is the largest of its kind in North America and attracts thousands of film buffs, art lovers and cartoon fans from around the world.
►To learn more about the best ways to travel in the city, check out the Getting Around in Ottawa page
"Overall, Ottawa is an easy city to live in. It’s safe, clean, family-friendly, and it’s arguably one of the most picturesque cities in Canada."
Read more on the lifestyle in Ottawa in our interview with Juliette Giannesini.
Are you an expat living in Ottawa?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Ottawa. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global Health Insurance - 10% off any plans bought in November and December 2023
With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider. Cigna is currently offering a 10% discount for seniors (over 60) on their Silver package.
International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.