After a long winter, families will be making weekend and evening plans across Ottawa to enjoy the nicer weather and longer days of spring. However, we don’t want to break the bank just to keep everyone busy, so we’ve rounded up free activities happening across the city you and your kids can enjoy. From festivals to special events to nature trails, you’ll find a favourite way to celebrate the season.
There’s no better way to enjoy the great outdoors together and let the kids get their hands dirty picking up rocks and sticks than on a nature walk. Take a gorgeous hike around Pink Lake, or head to Mer Bleue Bog boardwalk for a picturesque adventure together. In each part of the city, you’ll find a trail to walk and explore. While some locations have paid parking, most offer free parking with no admission to the trail.
Once again, Ottawa will be in bloom come May for the Ottawa Tulip Festival. Mark your calendars for May 10-20, this event is a classic must-do for Ottawa residents and tourists and admission to the gardens are free. Flowers are on display at various official Tulip Festival locations. Teach the kids the value of literally stopping to smell the flowers, but also participate in some of their special programming like free activities at the Bank of Canada Museum or maybe you’ll be able to see artists at work while they create visual art displays.
Ottawa is blessed with a Farmers’ Market in almost every corner of the city, so you just have to pick the one nearest you, or the one that offers your favourite goodies. We love taking the kids to the markets to show them where their food comes from, chat with the growers and learn about artisan production. Encourage the kids to try new foods while there. Find local bites at markets like the Carp Farmers’ Market or keep an eye out for special activities for the kids at the market like Lansdowne often offers. Keep an eye out for opening dates as each market will be opening for the spring season at different times.
Even as the snow disappears, many sugar shacks remain open for part of April and some offer free admission. Temple’s Sugar Bush has a sugar bush trail to walk with the kids. If you want to indulge in a sugar bush meal and gorge yourself on pancakes and maple syrup, there will be a fee of course but enjoying the outdoor walks is an inexpensive way to head outside.
Learn Something New at a Museum
Museums across the city will be welcoming guests during the spring season, and you can get in for free on certain days and nights of the week. Many Thursday nights are available for free entry, or some museums offer free admission between 4 pm and 5 pm. You can read our entire list of free entry days and times, but plan ahead before you go. Maybe you want to encourage the kids to let their imaginations run wild at the Children’s Museum (free admission is on Thursdays after 5 pm) or take them to see the baby animals this spring at the Canada Agriculture and Food Musuem (admission is free between 4 pm and 5 pm, daily.)
Play at a Park
Kids gathering at local parks is always one of the first signs of spring in Ottawa. There are many amazing play parks in the city with free parking for most and access to sandy areas, play structures, soccer fields, basketball courts and more for kids of all ages. Brewer Park in Old Ottawa South is always fun because of the space to play and the slide, while Millenium Park in Ottawa’s East End has a giant castle to climb up or a pirate ship to take over. We think the kids will be happy to go to any park with swings or slides now that the snow is gone. Also, the splash parks usually open up in the spring (often around the May long weekend) so if the weather starts to warm up (fingers crossed!) you may be able to indulge in some summer fun before school is even out.
It’s not just for tourists. Locals can make their way to Parliament Hill and enjoy their own self-guided walking tour of the area to capture the perfect Instagram photo or simply to walk around the grounds and enjoy the beautiful buildings that host Canada’s politicians and decision makers. While the Centre Block is undergoing renovations, free guided tours of the Senate of Canada building and the West Block are available.
The first weekend of June is the best time to get into almost anywhere in the city for free. Doors Open Ottawa is on June 1 and 2 and invites Ottawa residents to take a peek behind doors they don’t always have the chance to see, or try something new at no cost. Many museums and buildings are welcoming families to spend the day trying something new, learning about our past or celebrating our culture.
The Ottawa Children’s Festival runs from May 8-12 and welcomes families to explore, interact and be immersed in all things imaginative, exciting and kid-friendly. This festival is designed for kids (and the young at heart) and admission is free to the activities on the grounds, however, special performances and shows may require a ticket.