Many of the city's key attractions pertain to Ottawa's role as the center of Canadian government. Dominating the city skyline along a high bluff overlooking the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill comprises a series of 1860s buildings that rank among the most elegant works of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada. Housing the Senate, House of Commons, Library of Parliament, and many other government offices, the complex has three key components: the West Block; Centre Block (above which rises the 300-foot-tall Peace Tower, from whose observation deck you can enjoy fine views of the city; and East Block. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
Other attractions that relate to the city's governmental role include Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General of Canada; and the Royal Canadian Mint - tours are available of both buildings.
Downtown contains most of Ottawa's other top sightseeing draws, although one highlight - the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which traces the country's human heritage back more than 1,000 years - is just across the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec. It's an enjoyable walk or bike ride across the Alexandra Bridge to reach the museum, which has a cafe overlooking the riverfront.
Notable downtown museum include the Canadian Museum of Nature, with its galleries of fossils, mammals, birds, and earth and sea exhibits; and the National Gallery of Canada, which is close to ByWard Market and contains more than 36,000 works of art.
One of the best ways to enjoy Ottawa is to stroll alongside the Rideau Canal National Historic Site, the north end of which is made up of a series of locks that lead down to the Ottawa River. This is the terminus of a canal that stretches for 202 km down through eastern Ontario to the city of Kingston, where it meets Lake Ontario. It's the oldest continuously operated canal in North America, opened in 1832. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rideau Canal passes through some of the most scenic parts of Ottawa as well a number of charming towns on its way south (one of the best, for day trips, is Merrickville). Along the downtown span of the canal, you can walk along the canal to the ByTown Museum, a repository of city history housed in the city's oldest stone building. In winter, the canal is popular for ice-skating. And the rest of year, this is an ideal route for biking. Hourly and weekly bike rentals are available from Rent A Bike, which is right on the canal near Wellington Street - the store also organizes tours.
Close to the canal and just southeast of Parliament Hill, Canada's National Arts Centre is the city's premier performing arts venue, home to festivals, French- and English-speaking theater companies, classical music, and dance.