I know what you’re thinking: kids + museums = recipe for disaster. That may have been the case when I grew up, but many have upped their game with interactive exhibits appealing more to children than culture vultures. To find both interactive fun and national treasures in our nation’s capital, here are eight of the best children’s museums in Ottawa, plus the top things to do in Ottawa with kids.
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Children’s Museum in Ottawa
Probably the best children’s museum in Ottawa is the Canadian Museum of History. It’s pretty rad – especially as it houses the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles! The big draw, however, is the Canadian Children’s Museum, that lies within this Ottawa museum. There’s a mini theatre, where creative kids can get up on stage or experience the wonders of backstage. The theme here is travelling the world, which is easily done without hopping on a plane. Children explore other cultures by sitting in a rickshaw, selling wheels of gouda at a European market or chilling out with crafts from another country.
Note: Technically this museum lies in Gatineau, Quebec, but it’s just on the other side of the Ottawa River and super close to get to from downtown.
Things to do in Ottawa with kids
Another of the best things to do in Ottawa with kids is hit up the Canadian Museum of Nature. Especially, ff you’ve got a dino fan on your hands. Inside this natural history museum are fossils to touch including that of a duckbilled dinosaur! Not to miss is the Water Gallery, where children can play Captain on a research ship or use microscopes to spot the tiniest of organisms. There’s not many places in the world where you can build a volcano or create an earthquake, so the Earth Gallery is another one to check out. So many exhibits are hands-on it’s not hard to engage children in the natural world here.
Bonus: The museum offers a dedicated nursing room and weekend events geared towards families. It gets crowded though, so head here early.
Kids museums Ottawa
More than a museum, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum sports a working farm and petting zoo, where kids can meet cute critters and get their hands dirty while learning all aspects from farm to fork. You’d think you were in the middle of the country, but nope. You’re still in Ottawa. Daily demonstrations range from ice cream making (and tasting), bunny care and cow washing(!). You can even take a horse-drawn wagon ride through the Central Experimental Farm on weekends from May to October.
Family activities Ottawa
Guess what? Artsy institution, like the National Gallery of Canada are actually great spots for family activities in Ottawa. Children may not care that it houses the largest collection of Canadian art in the world, but you can bet they’ll be wowed by the site of Maman, the 30-foot spider who welcomes one and all to this art enclave. Families will especially want to visit on weekends and during school holidays to participate in Artissimo. Set up in the Great Hall, this children’s program helps to connect families to art through crafts, scavenger hunts and complimentary art buddy tours. Incidentally, this is Canada’s top art museum.
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
You may not be able to cough up enough cash to take your family on an airplane ride across the country, but flight seeing tours at this museum are great value. Soar over downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill in a Cessna aircraft for only $35 per person. Besides interesting exhibits that range from life in space to unmanned aerial vehicles, they host child-friendly exhibits all year round.
If you’ve got a military buff in your brood, it’s worth the trip outside Ottawa to this underground bunker built during the Cold War. The 100,000 sq ft secret facility was designed to house Canadian military and government officials in the event of a nuclear war. Tours are pretty cool, especially the detail they give to the special toilets. (No toilet tales told here!) Teens will want to take part in the espionage themed escape room experiences and spy camps run for the younger set during school holidays.
Visiting the Royal Canadian Mint
Its headquarters look like a castle and inside this historic building you can take a guided tour to learn how coins are made. The best part is holding a gold bar that’s worth over $750,000! Needless to say, budding coin collectors can geek out at the new collections of gold and silver coins.
Canadian War Museum
Not everyone feels comfortable taking their children to a war museum, but the Canadian War Museum isn’t gory and the military vehicles, artillery, uniforms and personal memoirs on display catch kid’s attention. More importantly, this is one of the world’s most respected museums for the study of armed conflict. Consider the galleries that highlight the defining moments in Canada’s military history as a conversation starter to help children understand how past events have shaped our nation.
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Thank you Ottawa Tourism for hosting my visit. As always, my opinions are my own.