7 Things You Should Expect When Visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa

7 Things You Should Expect When Visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa

The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica stands as a majestic testament to history, art, and spirituality and is conveniently located right here in Ottawa. As you step through its grand doors, prepare to embark on a journey through time and faith. 

This awe-inspiring cathedral isn’t just a building; it’s a living masterpiece, a place where centuries of stories echo in the hallowed halls. So, what can you expect when visiting this architectural wonder? 

Let’s unravel the mysteries, discover the art, explore the spiritual beauty, and find out everything else you should expect when visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica!

1. It’s the city’s oldest church.

It’s the city’s oldest church

With roots that stretch back to the 1840s, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is a living time capsule, capturing a piece of Canada’s history right in the heart of its capital. It’s been gracing Ottawa’s skyline for over 150 years.

The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica’s design combines elements of classicism and French-Canadian church architecture. Originally, it was intended as a parish church in 1839 but gained cathedral status in 1847 and basilica status in 1879.

Since then, it has been serving as the spiritual center of Ottawa’s Catholic community. The basilica’s architectural evolution is also quite notable, with initial plans in 1839 following a Neoclassical design, but later transformed into the Gothic Revival style. 

This transition is reflected in its architectural features, where classical round-headed arches coexist with Gothic pointed upper windows. The impressive steeples were added in 1858, and in 1862-63, an apse was constructed in the Gothic Revival style. 

The basilica’s interior is richly adorned with vaulted ceilings, gilded apse, intricately carved altar, and numerous statues. 

It’s the city’s oldest church

Canadian sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert and woodworkers Flavien Rochon and Philippe Pariseau played pivotal roles in creating this ornate interior.

Between 1956 and 1961, some of the basilica’s original stained glass windows were replaced by 17 windows by Guido Nincheri, depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is situated on Sussex Drive in one of Ottawa’s oldest neighborhoods, surrounded by various other Catholic institutional buildings.

It’s the city’s oldest church.

When you step inside, you’re not just entering a sacred space; you’re practically crossing into a different era. The worn stone, the carefully crafted arches, the centuries-old wooden pews – they all whisper stories of times long past. 

As you walk its hallowed halls, take a moment to soak in the historical ambiance as this church has borne witness to countless moments of joy, sorrow, and reflection. So, be grateful to have the privilege of stepping into its rich, sacred history when you visit. 

2. It’s an active Roman Catholic church.

It’s an active Roman Catholic church

Due to being an active Roman Catholic church, remember to stay quiet for the worshippers who come here for prayer and contemplation.

Whether you’re a part of the Roman Catholic church or not, the basilica welcomes all kinds of visitors every day, offering a serene space for private prayer and reflection. 

However, please be aware that opening hours can fluctuate if there are special events like funerals, weddings, or liturgical ceremonies. Masses in English and French are held throughout the week, so you can also attend one if you wish on any day that suits you.

Free parking is available during mass, so feel free to bring your vehicle if it’s easier for you to get there with your own ride. You can take a look at the table below for a better look at the daily mass schedule:

Monday12:15 PM - Daily Mass (ENGLISH)
Tuesday12:15 PM - Daily Mass (FRENCH)
Wednesday12:15 PM - Daily Mass (ENGLISH)
Thursday12:15 PM - Daily Mass (FRENCH)
Friday12:15 PM - Daily Mass (ENGLISH)
Saturday8:30 PM - Daily Mass (FRENCH)
Sunday10:00 AM - Sunday Mass (FRENCH)

12:00 PM - Sunday Mass (ENGLISH)

5:00 PM - Sunday Mass (BILINGUAL)

And just like any other Roman Catholic church, the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica holds special masses on certain days, such as All Saints Day on November 1. We definitely encourage you to drop by and check it out if you’re here on that day!

Pro Tip: 

While you enjoy your visit, keep in mind the need for quiet and respect, allowing everyone to find their spiritual solace within these sacred walls.

3. It offers guided tours.

It offers guided tours

While you explore the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, you can dive deeper into its rich history and architectural splendor with a guided tour instead of exploring on your own. It’s like having a backstage pass to the secrets of this magnificent place!

These tours are available on select days, giving you a unique opportunity to uncover the basilica’s hidden gems. Take a look below for the available guided tour schedules:

Wednesday2:00 PM

3:00 PM

4:00 PM

5:00 PM

Thursday2:00 PM

3:00 PM

4:00 PM

5:00 PM

Saturday3:00 PM

4:00 PM

Tickets aren’t sold in advance, so to get your ticket, make your way to the Café des Tours in the church’s lower level, accessible from St. Patrick’s Street. Keep an eye out for the flags that mark the entrance. 

Each tour costs just around $10 per person, which is a steal considering all the knowledge you’ll gain and the amazing sights you’ll get to see!

The length of your visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica can be flexible, depending on your personal interests. Typically, exploring the basilica takes about 30 minutes to an hour. 

But if you’re taking a guided tour, it’ll take around 45-60mins, where you’ll wander through the interior, marvel at the artwork, and soak in the architectural wonders. 

Nevertheless, some guests might opt for a longer stay, immersing themselves in the rich details and historical importance of this site.

Pro Tip: 

Tours might be canceled without warning when special events, such as weddings, funerals, or liturgical celebrations, take place. 

So, before you go, it’s a good idea to double-check to make sure you won’t miss this unique chance to delve into the basilica’s captivating story!

4. It has panoramic views.

It has panoramic views

For a truly awe-inspiring experience, you can ascend the tower of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. 

As you spiral your way up the staircase, each step reveals a fresh perspective because, at the top, you’re treated to breathtaking panoramic views of Ottawa. 

You’ll get to take in the city’s skyline and the grandeur of the Ottawa River in all its glory without any obstruction. 

Pro Tip: 

This is a moment you’ll want to capture, a memory to treasure forever, so don’t forget to snap a few pictures as a keepsake!

5. You can attend a concert.

You can attend a concert

Inside the hallowed halls of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, you have the chance to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of music. The basilica regularly plays host to talented musicians and vocalists from across the globe. 

Their harmonious melodies, like a musical caress, will practically sweep you off your feet and carry you to another realm. 

So, be sure to keep an eye out for its concert schedules and let your senses soar and become one with the music in this majestic setting!

6. You can explore an underground crypt.

You can explore an underground crypt

Under the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, there’s a secret waiting to be revealed – the crypt. You can descend into this underground sanctuary and step into a captivating exhibition that unravels the history of the cathedral. 

Here, a fascinating collection of archaeological artifacts and historical documents awaits, giving you a deeper understanding of the cathedral’s significance. 

Get to know the remarkable people who contributed to its legacy in what could only be a time machine that connects you with the cathedral’s storied past!

7. Take in the stunning stained glass windows.

Take in the stunning stained glass windows

The stained glass windows at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica are nothing short of breathtaking. With intricate designs, they bring to life biblical scenes and saints in a mesmerizing array of colors and radiant light. 

So when you explore through the cathedral’s halls, it’s as if you’re walking through a living, breathing storybook. Be sure to take your time to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship and let these magnificent pieces of art whisper their tales to you.