Your precocious five-year-old is obsessed with dinosaurs. Your brainy preteen loves reading Horrible Histories books. Your moody teenager stops texting friends just long enough to watch the latest vampire movie. Where in heaven’s name can you find a summer vacation that will appeal to your brood? Look no further than Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.
Once you’ve toured the Parliament Buildings—and you will do this, because it is every parent’s sworn duty to ensure their children know where the prime minister works—there are a slew of attractions and activities to match your children’s interests. Consider the possibilities.
For: Kids who love to climb
What: Clip ‘n Climb
Why: The wild colours and wilder climbing elements—a see-through wall, a pitch-black tower, a Velcro wall—indicate this is no ordinary indoor rock-climbing centre. Kids can scamper up 36 themed climbing challenges independently, thanks to a unique auto-belaying system. Don’t miss the aptly named “Stairway to Heaven,” a series of 13 progressively taller green pillars that reach the soaring ceiling of this former church.
Where: 35 Boulevard Saint Raymond; 819-205-0959; altitudegym.ca
Cost: $10 for children 12 and under, $15 for adults
For: Dinosaur-crazy kids
What: Canadian Museum of Nature
Why: Feed the obsession with more than 30 dinosaur skeletons and 15 life-sized, fleshed-out models in this 100-year-old stone castle. Newly renovated galleries feature interactive displays of sparkly minerals, creepy crawlies, (stuffed) animals and a 19.8-metre-long blue whale skeleton. Wee ones will love playing with animal puppets, climbing aboard an Arctic research vessel and caring for (pretend) feathered friends in the bird clinic.
Where: 240 McLeod St.; 800-263-4433; nature.ca
Cost: Family rate (max. 5 people), $25; adults, $10; students ages 13+, $8; children 4-12, $6; children under 4, free
For: Sci-fi fans
What: Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
Why: Reality trumps fiction in this once-top-secret, four-storey underground bunker. It was completed in 1961 (and, thankfully, never used for its intended purpose). Visitors can peer into rooms where the prime minister of the day (John Diefenbaker, hence, the bunker’s quaint name) would have stayed in the event of a nuclear attack and gaze at Cold War propaganda, including directions for a DIY backyard shelter.
Where: 3911 Carp Rd., Carp (39 km east of downtown Ottawa); 800-409-1965; diefenbunker.ca
Cost: Family rate (max 2 adults, 3 youth), $40; adults, $14; youth 6-18, $8; children 5 and under, free.
For: Fans of things that go bump in the night
What: The Haunted Walk of Ottawa
Why: This activity answers the question, “What can we do with the children at night?” Follow your black-cloaked guide through downtown streets and hear stories of the darker history and hauntings of Ottawa. The experience might frighten young children, but there are no costumed actors leaping out of bushes. “We can scare you with facts,” one guide says.
Where: Ticket booth and meeting place at the corner of Elgin and Sparks streets; 613-232-0344; hauntedwalk.com
Cost: Adults, $13; students, $11; children, $7.
For: Outdoor adventure hounds
What: Lafléche Adventure Cave and Aerial Park
Why: Shriek with excitement in both official languages at this adrenaline-fuelled Quebec park. Go on an hour-long tour of the largest cave in the Canadian Shield, then scramble, climb and zoom across 35 suspension bridges and 10 ziplines in the Adventure Park. Different courses accommodate a range of ages and abilities.
Where: 255 route Principale, Val-des-Monts, QC (30 km from downtown Ottawa); 877-457-4033; aventurelafleche.ca
Cost: Adventure Park Family Package (2 adults and 2 children) is $155. Cave tour is an additional $33 for the whole family.