If you ask me or any other Ottawan local, the Ottawa River is one of the best sights to see in the city. It offers a very unique experience as you cruise along the river seeing plenty of Ottawa’s iconic landmarks along the way.
While I’ve lived in Ottawa for a very long time, I never get tired of touring its iconic river. Whether it be for relaxation, celebrations, or other purposes, the river tour is simply mesmerizing and a place my friends, family, and I will always love to visit.
If you’re a first-timer to Ottawa’s river tours, let me give you a rundown of what it’s like.
Introduction to Ottawa River Tours
Ottawa features plenty of companies that offer boat tours of the Ottawa River in Canada’s capital city.
These tours have been providing scenic and informative tours for over 25 years and are famous for their experienced and knowledgeable guides. They also have comfortable and well-maintained boats.
The tours will take you along the Ottawa River, providing stunning views of the city’s skyline, historic landmarks, and natural beauty.
You will also have the opportunity to learn about the history of the area and the significance of the landmarks you see along the way.
The tours offer a variety of options, including sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, and private charters. Each tour is tailored to provide a unique experience for guests, whether they are locals or visitors to the city.
With their friendly staff, breathtaking views, and excellent reputation, the river tours here in Ottawa are a must-try experience for anyone looking to explore the beauty of the city from a different perspective.
Before we get to the different river tours, let me tell you about the Ottawa River’s history first.
History of the Ottawa River
In eastern Ontario, Canada, the Ottawa River empties into the St. Lawrence River. For thousands of years, the river has played an important role in the history of the region, providing a source of transportation, trade, and industry.
Indigenous peoples have lived around the Ottawa River for thousands of years, dating back to at least 6,000 BCE. These ethnic groups, which included the Algonquin, Ojibwe, and Huron-Wendat, used the river for both fishing and transportation.
In the 17th century, French explorers and fur traders began exploring the Ottawa River and establishing trading posts along its banks. The river contributed to the founding of the New France colony by serving as a vital transportation route for the fur trade.
In the nineteenth century, the Ottawa River was critical to the forestry industry, used to transport timber to sawmills, pulp and paper mills, and other industries that developed along its banks.
The river was also important in the early nineteenth-century construction of the Rideau Canal, which connected the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario and was intended for military purposes.
In the twentieth century, the Ottawa River became a major source of hydroelectric power. Several dams were built along the river, including the Chats Falls Dam, the Des Joachims Dam, and the Carillon Dam.
Today, boating, fishing, and camping are just a few of the many popular activities on the river.
It has also been the site of environmental issues, particularly those related to industrial and municipal sewage contamination. In recent years, efforts have been made to clean up the river and restore its ecosystem.
Ottawa’s Iconic Landmarks along the River
One of the best things about the Ottawa River is that you can find so many landmarks as you take a boat tour. Even as a citizen of Ottawa, I never get tired of taking a boat cruise just to admire the sights along the banks of the river.
Here are some notable landmarks you’ll see as you tour the river. Make sure to get your camera ready!
Parliament Hill is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River and is the seat of the Canadian government. It is home to the stunning Gothic-style buildings of the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Library of Parliament.
Rideau Falls is a scenic waterfall located on the Ottawa River, just below Rideau Hall.
The Rideau River and Ottawa River meet at the confluence to create the falls, which descend about 12 meters (40 feet) before entering the Ottawa River.
It is a popular spot for photography and picnics and is located near several other notable landmarks, including the Canadian Museum of History, the National Gallery of Canada, and Parliament Hill.
Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History is located on the north bank of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. The museum showcases the country’s rich history through exhibits, interactive displays, and artifacts.
National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is located in downtown Ottawa and is home to an impressive collection of Canadian and international art. The gallery features works by famous artists such as Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, and the Group of Seven.
Jacques Cartier Park
Jacques Cartier Park is a beautiful park located on the north bank of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. It is home to the Canadian Museum of History and offers stunning views of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill.
The Alexandra Bridge spans the Ottawa River and connects Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec. It is a popular spot for walking and cycling and offers great views of the river and the city.
Gatineau Park is a large park located on the north bank of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. It is home to several hiking and cycling trails, as well as beaches, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
Types of River Tours Offered in Ottawa
The local tour companies offer different ways of exploring the Ottawa River.
You can choose simple boat rides that allow you to admire the landmarks, or you can choose a tour that lets you go along the river in a tiki bar!
Here are some of the river tours that you can try if you want to explore the Ottawa River.
|Ottawa: Sightseeing River Cruise||$46.71 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)|
$27.55 (Child: Age 3-11)
$44.92 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)
$29.35 (Child: Age 3-11)
|Rideau Canal Cruise||$44.92 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)|
$29.35 (Child: Age 3-11)
|https://www.getyourguide.com/ottawa-l285/ottawa-rideau-canal-cruise-t327076/||1.5 hours to 2.5 hours|
|Bilingual Guided City Tour by Amphibious Bus||$ 44.97 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)|
$ 30.28 (Child: Age 3-11)
|https://www.getyourguide.com/ottawa-river-l145437/amphibus-bilingual-guided-city-tour-on-land-water-t126311/||1 hour to 1.5 hours|
Ottawa: Sightseeing River Cruise
$46.71 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)
$27.55 (Child: Age 3-11)
Duration: 1.5 hours
I consider this one to be a must-do sightseeing river tour since it offers plenty of scenic views of Ottawa’s prominent landmarks. While exploring the capital city’s iconic monuments, you can listen to educational commentary in English and French.
On this tour, you can discover interesting things from your bilingual and knowledgeable guide, and decide whether to start your voyage in Ottawa or Gatineau.
Along the way, you can take in panoramic views of the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Falls, the Canadian Museum of History, and the Supreme Court of Canada, among other notable landmarks.
Rideau Canal Cruise
$44.92 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)
$29.35 (Child: Age 3-11)
Duration: 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours
For people who want to experience the beauty of the Rideau Canal, this is definitely the best river tour to take.
The cruise is a great way to explore this UNESCO Heritage site’s beautiful scenery, learn about its history, and experience the locks in action.
The main highlight of the Rideau Canal Cruise is passing through the canal’s famous locks. They were built in the early 19th century as a way to connect the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario, and they still operate using the same mechanisms today.
One of the more fascinating sights that I and many other tourists have seen is watching the boat as the locks raise or lower it.
Some tours may include additional stops, such as a visit to the ByWard Market or a walking tour of the historic Rideau Canal.
Bilingual Guided City Tour by Amphibious Bus
$ 44.97 (Adult: Age 12-64, Senior: Age 65-99)
$ 30.28 (Child: Age 3-11)
Duration: 1 hour to 1.5 hours
When you ask me and any Ottawan local for a unique and exciting way to explore the city, you’re likely going to hear the word “Amphibus.”
This tour is conducted on a specialized amphibious bus that can travel both on land and water, allowing visitors to see the city from two different perspectives.
You will start the tour at a designated location in the city, where passengers board the amphibious bus.
The bus then travels through the streets of Ottawa, passing by many of the city’s famous landmarks and attractions, such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, and Parliament Hill.
Along the way, a bilingual guide provides commentary and interesting facts about the city’s history and culture.
After the land portion of the tour, the amphibious bus enters the water and transforms into a boat. This allows you to continue your sightseeing adventures along the Ottawa River.
From the water, you can see stunning views of the city’s skyline and get up close to some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as Rideau Falls, Parliament Hill, and more.
Tips for First-Time Visitors of Ottawa’s River Tours
If you are a first-time visitor and want to make the most of your trip, follow the tips I’ve listed below.
Book in advance.
Ottawa’s river tours can get quite busy during peak season (May to October), so it’s best to book your tickets 1 month or 2 weeks in advance to avoid running out of slots.
It can get quite chilly on the water, especially in the early morning and late evening. So make sure you wear warm, comfortable clothes and bring a jacket.
Bring sunscreen and a hat.
Even on cloudy days, you can still get sunburned, so it’s a good idea to bring sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Bring a camera with you.
The Ottawa River is a beautiful place, and it offers some stunning views of the city. When you take a river tour, you are going to see some of Ottawa’s best sights.
So, don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the beautiful scenery!
Make sure to arrive early.
The river tour services here in Ottawa are quite strict with their departure times.
To avoid getting left behind, make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time to ensure that you have enough time to check in, board the boat, and get settled.
Listen to the guide.
The guide on your tour will provide you with valuable information about the city, so make sure you pay attention and ask any questions you may have.
Be respectful to staff and other guests.
Remember that you are sharing the boat with other tourists and the staff, so be respectful and follow the rules that have been imposed. Make it a great experience for everyone!
Above all, enjoy your experience and have fun! The river tours here in Ottawa offer you a unique way to see the city, so kick back and relax as you experience the beauty of the city’s river.
What should I wear for a river tour in Ottawa?
During the summer, it’s best that you wear light and comfortable clothing like T-shirts and shorts. Spring and fall might require you to dress up in layers due to the variable weather.
For the winter months, dress in heavy clothing to ward off the cold. Wear a heavy coat, gloves, and a scarf.
Summer Months (June-August)
The weather in Ottawa during these months is generally warm and pleasant, so you can wear light and comfortable clothing like shorts, t-shirts, and sandals.
However, I think it’s still a good idea to bring a light jacket or sweater for the cooler evening hours.
Spring and Fall Months (April-May and September-October)
During these months, the weather in Ottawa can be quite variable. It’s best to dress in layers so that you can adjust your clothing according to the temperature.
I recommend that you bring a light jacket, a sweater or sweatshirt, and comfortable pants or jeans.
Winter Months (November-March)
The weather in Ottawa during the winter can be very cold and snowy. Dress warmly in a heavy coat, gloves, hat, and scarf.
Wear warm and waterproof boots to keep your feet dry and insulated.
Regardless of the season, it’s always a good idea to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Additionally, wear comfortable shoes with good traction, as you will be walking on and off the boat.
Can I bring food or drinks on a river tour in Ottawa?
Generally, some river tours do not allow outside food and drinks on the boats for safety and sanitation reasons. However, there are some that do.
Usually, tours that do not allow outside food and drinks offer snacks and beverages for purchase on board if you get hungry.
It’s best to check with the tour operator beforehand to see what their policy is regarding food and drinks.
If you have specific dietary requirements or preferences, you may want to bring a small snack or bottle of water with you, but be sure to dispose of any trash properly and respect the policies of the tour operator.
Are there any safety precautions I should be aware of before taking a river tour in Ottawa?
If you are planning to take a river tour in Ottawa, check the weather forecast first to see if it’s safe. Next, consider any health issues that you or anyone coming along might have so you can prepare for the trip properly.
Also, keep a life jacket at hand and follow the rules for your safety.
Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
A day on the river enjoying the gorgeous surroundings sounds wonderful—unless terrible weather strikes. Check the weather forecast before embarking on a boat cruise. If the weather is cool, dress in layers.
Even if it’s summer and appears to be a pleasant sunny day, things can change suddenly. Remember that the temperature drops quickly when you’re out on the lake.
Bring a jacket and a change of clothes in case of inclement weather, as well as sunscreen or a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
If the weather is truly severe, the tour organization will cancel the tour, but you must protect yourself from the natural elements.
Be mindful of your own health.
As fun as boat tours can be, health issues might complicate things a bit.
If you have any health issues or concerns, make sure to let your guide know before the tour begins. Also, have your medication at hand so you can take them ASAP if you start feeling unwell.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe at any point during the tour, speak up and let your guide know.
Keep a life jacket on hand.
While life jackets aren’t particularly fashionable, they are extremely useful. One of the top safety guidelines to follow on a boat tour is to keep a personal flotation device handy.
Don’t believe you don’t need one because you’re a terrific swimmer. You never know what might happen if you manage to fall into the water, so it’s better to be fully prepared!
Another thing to remember is if you have a child under the age of 12, they are required by law to wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
A boat tour company, regardless of age, should have PFDs and a safety ring buoy on board in case somebody goes overboard.
Follow all the rules and instructions from the staff.
Before boarding the boat, boat adventure companies should advise their tour guests on where they are going, how long they will be gone, and what to expect throughout the journey.
Pay great attention to these specifics, as well as what to wear and bring. Before the tour begins, take note of the safety protocols and the locations of the safety devices on the vessel.
During the entire boat voyage, follow all the rules so that you not only stay safe but also enjoy the best that the trip has to offer!
If you take these measures, you can rest assured that your Ottawa River tour will be a fun and safe experience!