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Ottawa Staycation: Canadian Museum of Nature

We rarely do a “staycation,” but last week our whole family stayed home in Ottawa on holiday. It did involve chores around the house (like mountains of laundry) and items on the to-do list that never seem to get tackled (like organizing the kitchen cupboards), but we also did some really nice outings to break things up. Plus, lots of hanging out in jammies all day too, of course.

One of these outings was to the Canadian Museum of Nature. We’ve always been fans of this museum and I think it’s safe to say with its recent renovations that it is THE “must do” museum in our nation’s capital. I hadn’t been for a visit since the summer, despite four free entry tickets from a PR agency stuck on the kitchen bulletin board. So we grabbed those tickets, packed up lunches and water bottles, and off we went!

Kids’ Favourite Section: Dinosaurs and Fossils

For kids and adults alike, the dinosaur section on the first floor is amazing! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already seen this section of the museum (Stella, who is now 10, used to be a total dino-nut) but I still enjoy it every visit.

In addition to massive skeletons and interactive activities, there are full-size replicas. Max, my four-year-old son, does not trust that one of these dinos won’t suddenly come to life at any moment and gobble him up, so he stays very close to one of us in this area of the dinosaur section!

dinos at museum of nature

Also in this section is a short film that explains how dinos went extinct. It includes some fun extras — like a slight misting on the audience when it comes to acid rain. (There’s no extra charge to see this, so definitely see it if you visit.)

Dad’s Favourite Section: Nature Unleashed, Inside Natural Disasters

This exhibition, which runs until May 2013, focuses on four types of disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes. It explains how these phenomena happen as well as the aftermath.

nature unleashed

 Source / Courtesy of The Field Museum

It is an extra $6 in addition to the general admission fee to visit this exhibit. If you’re wondering if you should fork out the cash, I’d recommend not bothering if you have young children (ages 3-8) with you. Max spent the entire time in here saying “I want to see things! I want to see things!” (translation = “Mom, take me somewhere with cool things for me to see! This place has nothing for me!”) So I left Hubby to enjoy this exhibit in peace and took the kids over the Mammals and Birds sections.

Mom’s Favourite Section: The Stairwell

I know this sounds crazy, but I have always loved going to the top floor and just looking down the centre stairwell. I loved it when I was a kid and I think I love it even more now as an adult.

stairwell at the museum of nature

The museum and this massive stairwell were constructed in 1905 in what was once a farmer’s field on the outskirts of Ottawa (now right in central downtown). Just think: it took 300 stone masons and other craftsman five years to complete this four-storey building! Amazing.

Insider Tips for Saving Money

If you’re not an Ottawa local, let me share some insider tips with you for your visit.

Where to eat:

  • Once you enter the building and pay your fees, you will see to your right that people are hanging up their coats on racks. Ignore them and go left. You will walk by the museum cafeteria and store and go through large double doors. Here, you’ll find tons of coat racks as well as a spacious area with seating, vending machines, and washrooms — a perfect locale created for eating packed lunches and snacks. Not only is it far less crowded than eating in the museum cafe, but you’ll save yourself a bundle. (Although the cafe food is good, and it does serve a nice strong coffee!)

Entry fees for families:

  • It’s not cheap to take a whole family to the museum. This is something that irks me greatly — I believe that a museum is a place where parents and guardians of ALL income levels should be able to take children to frequently. I mentioned above that I had 4 free passes (2 adults, 2 children) — the cost for our family without those passes would have been $72.32 (includes the special exhibit).
  • On Thursday evenings from 5pm to 8pm, admission to the Canadian Museum of Nature is free.
  • If you are planning on visiting more than one museum while you’re in Ottawa, definitely pick up the Capital Museums Passport. It’s $85 for a family and you can enter 8 museums over a 7-day period. In fact, it’s perfect for staycationers too!


  • In addition to the admission fees, there are parking fees to consider. Parking is $2.50 for half an hour, with a daily maximum of $12. As a downtown locale, there isn’t a ton of street parking available, but if you don’t mind a bit of a walk you can find some. Try going east on McLeod Street.

polar bear

Have you been to this museum before? Tell me if your favourite sections are the same as ours!

P.S. If this post has inspired you to head right out to the Canadian Museum of Nature, please note that it is closed from January 7-11th for annual maintenance. More info on hours is available here.


  1. Brenda A. says:

    Love Nature, too!  With the lovely “day off” for the kiddos tomorrow we are hitting up Science and Tech.  We are so lucky in Ottawa to have so many great choices!

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