Venue Review Part 4: National Gallery of Canada - Ottawa’s most prestigious wedding venue

The awe-inspiring National Gallery holds Canada’s most precious works of art, history and culture in this iconic Ottawa landmark. There is only one venue like this in all of Canada and it embodies elegance, grandeur and national significance offering a fitting backdrop for a true luxury wedding. As a Wedding Planner deeply committed to creating dream weddings, I’ve had the privilege of working with couples seeking venues that are exceptional and the National Gallery is a top choice for the discerning couple.

National Gallery of Canada Outdoor Summer - Palm Tree Studio - Erica Irwin Weddings and Events

I’ll take you through a detailed review of another wonderful option for a downtown wedding celebration, the National Gallery of Canada. Make sure you don’t miss my other reviews on The National Arts Centre (NAC), the Ottawa Westin’s Venue TwentyTwo, and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Let me equip you with all the information you need to make the perfect choice for your wedding venue. I’ll dissect the pros and cons of this remarkable space, helping you navigate through the decision-making process for your special day. We’ll start with what I love about this venue.

The pros

There is only one National Gallery of Canada so the prestige that comes with booking this venue will wow your guests upon arrival. It’s not just a venue; it’s an experience steeped in opulence. With soaring ceilings, neutral flooring, and ample natural light, the Gallery offers a stately backdrop for your wedding celebration. The building is so impressive and when your guests come through the front doors they will instantly see this is not a typical wedding venue. For the two of you, there are many amazing photo locations not only on the grounds of the Gallery and surrounding area but also inside, among the priceless art collections.

Hosting your wedding at the National Gallery provides an unparalleled experience for your guests. Situated in the heart of the city, it offers a cultural immersion unlike any other venue. Additionally, you have the option to elevate your cocktail hour by offering guests a curated gallery visit, adding an extra layer of sophistication to your event.

National Gallery of Canada - Union Eleven - Erica Irwin Weddings and Events

The most sought-after room is the Great Hall with the glorious long ramp up the corridor as guests enter and then the sight of the stunning Great Hall awaits. It is unlike any entrance to any reception room in Ottawa. It’s also a wonderful space to capture photos together and for guests.

The high ceilings provide an abundance of natural light as well as recognizable sites in the heart of Ottawa such as the Parliament buildings and Chateau Laurier. It’s a wonderful choice if you have out of town guests who are new to Ottawa, and you want them to experience a landmark of our Nation’s Capital. If you are fortunate enough to get a date where there are fireworks you can often see them from the Great Hall.

National Gallery of Canada Great Hall - Mocha Tree Studio - Erica Irwin Weddings and Events

This is a large space that could hold up to 300 guests for a sit-down dinner reception though I would recommend 260 guests as a maximum occupancy for a wedding with dancing. With its unique shape and endless windows as well as the grey stone-coloured floors, the Great Hall is a blank canvas allowing you the freedom to craft your wedding vision without constraints. It truly is awe inspiring to be in this room.

The ceiling also has a state-of-the-art lighting, and you can either choose to use the Gallery’s seasonal colour scheme or you can pay an additional fee to have them customize this for your wedding colours. The lighting accentuates the sails that are integrated in the ceiling and are mostly visible at night. No other venue offers this feature.

For smaller weddings of under 125 guests, it is possible to do a ceremony and a reception all in the Great Hall. This requires design experience with the space to section out the ceremony, cocktail and reception all in one room and to ensure it flows easily for your guests. This option can help keep your rental fees lower since you would only be booking one space for the entirety of your event.

Generally though, couples are either holding their ceremonies off-site at for example Notre Dame Cathedral across the street or they are using the Gallery Foyer for their ceremonies and then the Great Hall for their reception.

For those opting to host their whole wedding at the National Gallery but who require more space than just the Great Hall for their ceremony and reception, the Foyer is the perfect choice. The water feature on the ceiling sparkles against the glass blocks on the floor, creating a magical yet modern backdrop for your vows. One of my favourite set-ups for this space is when we put our couple in the middle, so they are positioned under the water feature and their guests surround them. Here is an example floorplan for a Jewish ceremony where we are placing their chuppah in the middle of their 200 guests!

Now good news for foodie couples! Though you must use one of their approved caterers, some of the city’s best are listed as options. This is extremely important for couples who want to offer exceptional food and bar choices for their guests. You have the flexibility to craft a unique menu and not be constrained by wedding packages. This ensures that your wedding feast is nothing short of extraordinary.

The cons

With the splendor of a National Gallery wedding lies a few considerations for couples contemplating it as their wedding venue. While hosting a wedding amidst priceless artworks is undeniably amazing, you will need to navigate the financial and logistical intricacies associated with such a prestigious location. Couples must be prepared to accept the Gallery’s identity as a space dedicated to art first and events second.

Let’s start with the biggest obstacle – cost. As one would expect from a venue as prestigious as the National Gallery, rental fees tend to be on the higher end. The listed pricing quickly goes up as they factor in security, cleaning, administration fees etc.

Since the space is essentially a blank slate, you’ll need to allocate a substantial portion of your budget towards decor and rentals as well as set up and take down fees.

Also, since you are using a caterer instead of an in-house food service like some other downtown venues, you are also responsible for the cost of plates, cutlery, glassware, catering equipment etc. This venue is not for the budget “faint at heart”.

Another consideration is the logistical intricacies of hosting a wedding in a public space. Access for the loading in or out of your rentals / decor / florals, as well as setting up is done during hours that the Gallery is closed to visitors. When the Gallery is open to the public, any wedding preparations must be done behind an approved stanchion roped off area. This requires very stringent timelines, a dependable vendor team and multiple floorplans, all which need to be approved by the Gallery team.

Once the Gallery closes to visitors at 5 pm, that’s when the ultimate hustle begins. Tables can be moved outside the stanchion ropes as per your floorplan, guests can be let into the ceremony space and the event can begin. Similarly at the end of the evening, the take down must be executed by an experienced and quick to move team as the timeline to remove all items is tight.

So, as you can see, planning a wedding at the National Gallery isn’t for the faint of heart. With tight timelines, complex logistics, and rigorous security protocols opting for DIY isn’t feasible at this venue.

The Gallery team prefers to work with a small list of curated Wedding Planners who have prior experience navigating the intricacies of their space. As one of their preferred Wedding Planners, I offer Full Planning for this venue to ensure your wedding day at the National Gallery is perfectly executed. I also build a team of trusted and experienced vendors to fulfill your wedding day vision while adhering to the Gallery rules.

It’s important to remember that the National Gallery is first and foremost an art institution. While its aesthetic appeal is undeniable, you’ll need to make peace with the fact that the artwork on display in their event spaces may not align with your personal taste. It is not uncommon for the Great Hall to have a prominent work of art on display that may not mesh with your design dreams, and the timing when certain pieces come and go is out of your control. Additionally, there are restrictions such as the prohibition of flame candles, fog, haze, CO2 guns etc. that are non-negotiable. The protection of the works of art within the Gallery is the priority.


R  Luxurious iconic venue
R  Unique Guest Experience
R  Diverse Catering Options
Q  High rental fee
Q  Not a DIY space
Q  Expert and approved Planner required
Q  Art prioritized over events

In conclusion, the National Gallery of Canada presents an unparalleled setting for couples seeking a wedding that exudes sophistication and cultural richness. However, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully, considering factors such as budget, logistical challenges, and the venue’s artistic responsibility as a Gallery. With the right team and a clear vision, your wedding at the National Gallery can truly be a masterpiece.

As your trusted Wedding Planner and an approved Planner of the Gallery, I am ready to guide you through every step of the journey, ensuring that your wedding at the National Gallery unfolds seamlessly, leaving you both with incredible memories of an unforgettable day.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Your exceptional wedding and planning experience starts here

Bonus Video!

Here is a video of Kathleen and Freddy’s gorgeous fall wedding at the National Gallery by Mocha Tree studios for under 200 guests in the Great Hall with an off-site ceremony.

This colourful and intimate wedding of under 75 guests is a beautiful example of using the Great Hall at the National Gallery to host your entire wedding.

Up Next!

Next on my blog is some of our favourite 2023 weddings! Time to feature our amazing couples and their gorgeous, once in a lifetime celebrations.



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