10 Things to Do in Ottawa Besides Schoolwork

by Chelsea Ghrohs

As a graduate student, most of your time is spent between attending classes and reading. Add in marking assignments for your TA position and working on research papers, it seems that graduate students don’t really have much free time. However, on the rare occasion that you have free time, there are a lot of fun activities to do in Ottawa. The key, I’ve found, is to do things that are at least mildly intellectually stimulating to trick yourself into thinking that you are somehow contributing to your graduate schoolwork; this prevents any guilt you may feel from taking a break. Admittedly, not all items on this list meet this “pretending to do work” requirement. The following are a few fun things to do in Ottawa when you just need a break from graduate school:

  1. The National Art Gallery of Canada


The National Gallery has a wide variety of artwork, including Indigenous art and art from The Group of Seven. My favourite thing to do here is walk through the Contemporary Art section and pretend to understand the art when I really have no idea what is going on. Plus, it’s free admission on Thursday evenings, 5-8pm. There’s also a really great bookstore here, which is great if you love shopping as much as I do.

  1. Canadian War Museum

Warning: The Canadian War Museum took me all day, so don’t go here if you have a lot of homework that actually needs to get done. The War Museum takes you chronologically through various wars Canada has been part of with the main focus being on World War I and World War II. The museum has a lot of really impressive pieces of history including a piece of the Berlin Wall. Plus, you will be learning about Canadian history, so you can pretend that this is somehow related to schoolwork. There is also free admission on Thursdays, from 4 to 8pm.

  1. Used Book Stores

This is my favourite “pretending I’m being productive” activity. I convince myself that I definitely need more books to aid in my studies (I don’t), and I’m saving money by buying used books (I’m not). My favourite stores so far have been both Black Squirrel Books locations, which are both located on Bank Street. Book Bazaar on Bank Street is also good, particularly for rare books, although it is a bit pricier.

  1. ByWard MarketFood

There’s a lot of food in the ByWard Market, and who doesn’t enjoy eating their feelings? I know I sure do. Apparently there are over 100 restaurants here, although according to my dad during his visit to Ottawa, “there is nowhere to eat.” There’s also an actual market where you can buy vegetables and fruit – just kidding, grad students don’t eat fruit & veggies. ByWard is also home to BeaverTails, which is the greatest food item ever invented, aside from poutine. I also found this great selling point from the ByWard website: “The Market is a great place to people-watch. During warm days, pull up a chair at an outdoor café and watch the world walk by.” What a place!

  1. Gatineau Park


Okay, this technically isn’t in Ottawa. But sometimes it’s nice to get outside of the city and enjoy some nature! And by “enjoy some nature” I mean take selfies with maybe some trees in the background to send as Snapchats to your friends. This will show how outdoorsy and superior you are to them. There are also trails to hike and exercise and whatever, but who cares about that? Downside: There is no WiFi here.

  1. Mayfair Theatre

Watching movies is kind of related to English, right? Films, books, same difference. Not only does the Mayfair play a lot of independent films, it also has participation nights every Saturday. Regular participation movies include The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, the best worst movie ever, The Room. I haven’t actually gone yet because I have yet to convince anyone to go see The Room with me. This is my very obvious hint that I want someone to go with me.

  1. Mike’s Place

Mike’s Place is the graduate student pub on campus. When drinking, just be sure to talk about things mildly related to whatever research you’re doing at the time, that way you can say you are “collaborating” when you are actually just getting drunk with friends. Just don’t get on the employees’ bad side or else they will forget your food orders and refuse to give you the WiFi password…

  1. Shop your stress away

Retail therapy is a real thing, trust me. TAs get paid twice a month, so that’s an excuse to shop, right? Rideau Centre is a great location for shopping; it’s close to the ByWard Market and Parliament and there’s a lot of stores. There’s also Bayshore Shopping Centre, which has some stores not found in Rideau (why is there only one H&M in this city?). Plus, it’s right near an Ikea, and who doesn’t love a trip to Ikea? $1 breakfast, anyone?

  1. Stroll around your neighborhood looking for new cat friendsCat

This one may actually only apply to me. Whenever I’m tired of doing homework (which is often), I go for a walk around my neighbourhood and see if any of the neighbourhood cats want to hang out with me. I have, on many occasions, had the unfortunate experience of meeting a standoffish black and white cat that would rather go stand in the middle of the street than be pet by me. Don’t play with this cat; it’s rude and doesn’t deserve your affection. Other than that, cats are a good substitute for when all your friends are busy actually doing their work.

  1. Stay in your apartment and send Snapchats

This activity works best if you send pictures of stacks of books you need to read. Crop out your face so your friends don’t see the tears streaming down your face as you think of all the homework you have to do. Kidding! You don’t need to crop out your face to hide your sadness; just draw over it!


Posted on December 5, 2014, in Grad Student Blogs. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This post was very informative. I especially like the suggestion to walk around and look for cat friends. I also like your use of photos.

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