National Gallery of Canada
One of Ontario’s best cultural attractions, the National Gallery of Canada is as much an iconic feature of the Ottawa skyline as it is a veritable treasure trove of Indigenous, Canadian and International art dating back over 5,000 years.
Located in a specially-built granite and glass building on Sussex Drive close to downtown Ottawa, the National Gallery of Canada overlooks the Ottawa River and Nepean Point—one of the city’s best sunset spots. It’s also walking distance from Parliament Hill, ByWard Market and the Royal Canadian Mint.
Canada’s National Gallery is open year-round, although it closes on Mondays during the slower winter months. Check their website for up to date info about opening hours and exhibitions before you head down.
Unable to make it to Ottawa? The National Gallery of Canada also offers virtual exhibitions, online lectures and touring exhibitions across the country—and the world. Click the links to find out more!
For information about other places of interest to explore nearby, keep scrolling to see what Destination Ontario recommends.
More about National Gallery of Canada
First established in 1880—when the collection consisted of a sole 19th century landscape painting—the National Gallery of Canada has risen from its humble beginnings to become one of the world’s finest galleries, home to nearly 100,000 works of art.
After calling various places around the city home, in 1988, the gallery finally found itself a permanent home on the edge of the Ottawa River, a few minutes’ walk from the ByWard Market and the capital’s famous Château Laurier. Housed in a building perhaps just as impressive as the art it contains, the National Gallery was designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, taking some inspiration from the Gothic Revival style of the nearby Parliament Buildings, but adding a timeless, modern twist.
Approaching the entrance, you’ll be greeted by another iconic Ottawa fixture, Maman, a 9-metre-high bronze sculpture of a spider by Louise Bourgeois. On the other side, facing the Ottawa River, more sculptures rise from the cliffs of Nepean Point, like Roxy Paine’s One Hundred Foot Line, complementing the beautiful panoramas of Gatineau and the capital.
Inside the towering glass doors, the National Gallery of Canada has an array of galleries and exhibition halls, showcasing and celebrating artists and artwork from across the world. It also has an interior courtyard, which houses the Taiga Garden, a Zen-like garden designed to mimic the landscapes in the painting, Terre Sauvage, by A.Y Jackson, which can be found inside the Gallery.
Along with the world’s biggest (and best) collection of Canadian and Indigenous art, including early 20th century First Nations and Métis art, contemporary Inuit sculptures and early pre-Confederation pieces dating back to the 18th century, the National Gallery also has artwork from Asian, American, European and African artists and some incredible pieces of Indigenous art from other cultures as well.
While the National Gallery of Canada is (perhaps unsurprisingly) best known for its Canadian art, it also has many amazing historical and contemporary pieces from international artists—both as permanent fixtures and loans from other galleries around the world. If name-brand stuff is what you’re after, then they’ve got it too. Visitors can marvel at pieces by Gustav Klimt, Henri Matisse, Sandro Botticelli, Peter Paul Rubens, Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Rembrandt, to name just a few.
One of the Gallery’s most striking pieces is the Rideau Street Chapel. Part of a convent built in 1887, the chapel’s interior was dismantled into 1123 pieces in 1972 when the convent was demolished. It was reconstructed in its entirety within the Gallery in 1988 and is now one of its most famous—and biggest—attractions.
There’s also a prints and drawings collection, along with silverwork, decorative pieces, sculptures and photographs representing a big array of different artistic movements and styles and eras in art history. There is a smaller section on Asian artists, with pieces dating back to 200 CE, and including work from Tibet, India and Nepal.
Canadian & Indigenous Galleries
One of the National Gallery of Canada’s most popular exhibitions is the Canadian & Indigenous Galleries. An exhibition decades in the making, this exclusive collection tells the story of Canada and the First Nations Peoples through art, marrying Indigenous masterpieces with Canadian artworks, and showcasing a history that has been 5000 years in the making.
Along with art, the National Gallery also has its own Library and Archives. The collection includes over 500,000 books, catalogues, files and forms, including some on western art which date back to the late middle ages. The Library’s Exceptional Materials and Notable Subject Collections also features several rare Canadian books, imprints and bookplates.
Dining & Shopping
If you need a little pick-me-up, head to the National Gallery of Canada’s Cafeteria, where you can stop for a coffee and cake or a quick bite to eat while enjoying the views over the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill from the glass rotunda and the private terrace. For a more decadent dining experience, head to the bright and modern 7 Tapas Bar in the Scotiabank Great Hall, where you can enjoy the incredible sunset views over Parliament Hill from the big glass windows.
Named after Canada’s famous Group of Seven—whose paintings are a big draw to the Gallery—7 Tapas’ small plate food is almost as creative and inspired as the art that surrounds it, changing with the seasons and giving a nod to the major exhibitions. Swing by for a light bite and try an array of dishes with perfectly matched wine pairings.
After you’re done admiring all the art on the walls, you can visit the National Gallery’s Boutique to pick up some books, gifts and mementos of your visit, along with handcrafted items made by local Canadian jewellers and artists drawing inspiration from the art in the Gallery.
Know Before You Go
- The National Gallery of Canada can be accessed by road, with on-site parking available for a fee.
- It’s walking distance from many attractions from Downtown and can be reached by public transit.
- Make sure you wear comfy shoes and give yourself plenty of time to admire the galleries.
- There are cafes and amenities on-site if you need to take a break.
- Weekdays are quieter than weekends. The summer months are the most popular and the winter months are quietest.
- On Thursday nights, the National Gallery is open late and access to the national collection is free.