What to do in Ottawa for backpackers

Group of friends in front of the Saintlo Ottawa Jail

Planning to backpack Canada’s capital soon? Ottawa is overflowing with activities and nomad-friendly sites to enjoy.

Buildings in the city

Visiting the capital city may seem like a budget buster, but there are actually plenty of free and affordable ways to experience the city without compromise.

Here’s a curated selection of activities and out-of-the-box experiences to prepare your itinerary.


Stroll along the Rideau Canal  

The first thing to do when you arrive in Ottawa is take in the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Make a beeline to Major’s Hill Park to get your bearings with an awesome view of the Ottawa River, the locks of the Rideau Canal and Parliament Hill.

A person from behind, holding a bicycle, pink flowers
© Ottawa Tourism
canal rideau

In the summer, consider renting a bike and packing a picnic for a pedal along the water.

In the winter when the canal is frozen over, consider renting skates and joining the locals in winter fun on the ice.

It’s the kind of place with a spectacular view all year round, no matter the season!  

Une personne en paddle board

Take a water adventure at Dow’s Lake   

Beautiful Dow’s Lake is just 35 minutes away on affordable public transit from the Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel,

Once there, you just have to choose your watercraft: paddleboat, kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard.

Rentals range from $25 to $30 an hour and include lifejackets.

If you’re traveling solo, why not find a paddle partner at the hostel, split the rental and share in the fun?

You can also enjoy a scenic one-hour walk around the lake. Note that swimming is not permitted though.

Visit Parliament (for free!)  

For history buffs, architecture aficionados and everyone in between, the inner workings of Canada’s iconic Parliament are not only a must-see, the guided tours are also free.

Le parlement à Ottawa
Parliament © Ottawa Tourism

You do have to plan in advance though. The tours don’t run every day and they can fill up fast.

Visit the Parliament website at least a week in advance to reserve.

There are two tours offered:

1) Senate Tour:

Visit the majestic Senate chamber and learn about the work of Senators, the history of Canada’s Upper Chamber, and the building: Ottawa’s former train station.

The tour takes half an hour.

2) House of Commons Tour:

Discover the spectacular House of Commons and learn about the work of Members of Parliament.

You’ll want to seal it with a real Canadian selfie in front of the iconic Peace Tower!

The tour takes 40 minutes.

Le plafond du parlement
Ottawa Parliament
Tour de paix à Ottawa la nuit
Peace Tower © Ottawa Tourism

Enjoy a breezy bite or beverage on a patio  

Ottawa offers up some of Canada’s most beautiful patios. Sure, some of them are super-pricey and ultra-chic, but backpacker-budget tables await you too.

El Furniture Warehouse Ottawa

This “Premium Dive Bar” not only serves up food and cocktails that taste great and are easy on the wallet, it also offers a rooftop terrace and live DJs, so you can party the night away.

Deux personnes sur une terrasse qui trinquent

The Third

The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus at this local pub on Wellington Street in the hood of Hintonburg are so affordable that you may want to drop in three times a day! The quality craft beers are also reasonably priced, and the outdoor patio is priceless.

Stop by at least once during your stay.

Une pinte de bière

Pour Boy

This eye-catchingly colourful bar located near Ottawa’s Chinatown offers not only cheap beer and food but events that encourage mingling. You can get social on trivia and bingo nights, and enjoy live music and comedy.

Check out the event calendar on their Facebook page to find out what’s up.

Stroll through the Glebe  

Head south of downtown to discover an alternative Ottawa neighbourhood.

The Glebe is a bohemian hang out with plenty of independently owned shops, art galleries and local eateries.

Just roaming the streets is enough to take in the local colour and discover local treasures, as you’ll find murals everywhere that are as distinct as the local muralists.

Une personne qui marche devant une murale
© Ottawa Tourism
Des personnes qui trinquent

Party on York Street at night  

If you’re looking to meet locals or fellow fun-loving travellers, York Street is your nightlife destination!

Choose from plenty of casual pubs and clubs, each with their own ambience to socialize to, or even to get down and dance.

Explore the ByWard Market  

A 5-minute walk from the Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel, the ByWard Market is a charming area filled with stores, restaurants, bars and cafes. It’s the perfect place to find a unique souvenir or to spend an enjoyable evening with friends.  

Bâtiment en brique
Trois personnes qui marchent dans la rue
Une rue avec des restaurants
Une crème glacée

Established in 1826, this thriving destination is one of the oldest farmer’s markets in Canada.

The whimsical papier mâché sculpture overlooking the ByWard Market building sets the tone for a diverse and colourful day.

The choice of eats is too abundant to summarize, but you may want to taste a gelato from Mantovani 1946.

Tulipes roses et jaunes

Bonus: Tiptoe through the tulips (in May)


If you visit Ottawa in May, you’ll catch the Canadian Tulip Festival.

Every year, the Dutch royal family sends thousands of tulip bulbs to Canada to symbolize the historic friendship between the two countries that was struck during the Second World War.

A spring stroll among the countless tulips is a truly colourful experience!

Where to stay in Ottawa?  

For backpackers, the best place to stay in Ottawa is without a doubt the Saintlo Ottawa Jail hostel.

Une personne devant la devanture de l'auberge
Une chambre vue du corridor
Une personne qui lit dans une salle à manger

Not only is it a short walk from Parliament, the ByWard Market and the Rideau Canal, but you’ll have something to tell your friends after you stay over! The Saintlo Ottawa Jail is a former prison that’s been converted into a youth hostel.

Un vélo accoté sur un arbre sur le bord de l'eau

You can spend the night in a dorm or in a private room and, yes, you will be sleeping in former prison cells (with a lot of added comfort).

Un petit déjeuner à l'auberge à Ottawa

At the entrance of the cells (rooms), you can read the names of the former residents and the reasons for their incarceration. Some of the original prison elements are over 150 years old!

The hostel not only offers the perfect opportunity to meet other travellers, but also a free breakfast every morning of your stay!