Visit Ottawa to experience a quietessential Canadian winter wonderland chock full of fun and free outdoor activities. Ottawa is the perfect destination for a winter getaway for families and couples. This guide features to best things to do in Ottawa this winter.

Best Things to Do in Ottawa in Winter 2022/2023

If you want to experience a quintessential Canadian winter wonderland then you have to go to Ottawa. Canada’s capital city transforms itself into a winter playground. With outdoor activities like skating, skiing, tobogganing and snowshoeing.

Here are the top things to do in Ottawa this winter season 2022/2023. Because I just know you’re going to want to make Ottawa a destination for a winter getaway for families and couples.

Ottawa Christmas Market

The Ottawa Christmas market, known to locals as Lansdowne Christmas Market, is a traditional festive market wonderland filled with pop-up shops, hot cocoa stands and beautiful Christmas lights. This free event is not to be missed. Date: November 25–December 23, 2022.

chatea with war memorial statue in ottawa in winter
View of National War Memorial and Chateau Laurier

Best Places to See Lights in Ottawa

christmas lights in trees in ottawa winter

Is there anything prettier than seeing the twinkle of lights against a dark winter sky? From early December until early January, Ottawa is draped in colourful lights. The must-see light display is the multimedia Christmas Lights Across Canada show projected on the Parliament Buildings. This free 15-minute show is on a continuous loop from 5:30 pm to 11 pm every night from December 8, 2022, to January 8, 2023.

Some other places to see the lights in Ottawa are:

  • Confederation Park
  • Landsdowne Park 
  • Elgin Street
  • Supreme Court of Canada
  • Garden of Provinces and Territories

Lastly, a popular display of Christmas lights is Magic of Lights – a 2 km drive-thru in Wesley Clovers Park. You can see the nearly one million twinkling lights from the warmth of your car. Dates are November 18, 2022, to January 7, 2023.

Top Things to Do in Ottawa in Winter

#1 Go Skating at One of Ottawa’s Outdoor Rinks

Glide along the world’s longest outdoor skating surface. The 7.8-km Rideau Canal Skateway takes you from downtown Ottawa to beyond Dow Lake. Stop at one of the kiosks along the frozen Ottawa river for a hot chocolate and a Beavertail. This Canadian treat is a yummy fried dough pastry shaped like a beaver’s tail topped with sweet condiments and confections. 

skating in ottawa with 2 kids in red snowsuits

The Rink of Dreams, located in front of Ottawa City Hall, is a fun and lively place to skate with its music and colourful lights after sundown. Or join the tradition since 1870 and glide along Rideau Hall at the Governor General of Canada’s residence. Lastly, ice skating at Lansdowne Skating Court is a popular spot adjacent to the historic Aberdeen Pavilion where you are steps from the trendy Glebe neighbourhood. 

All of these skating rinks are free and are roughly open from December to March.

#2 Have Some Fun at the Winterlude Festival

One of the best winter activities in Ottawa is Winterlude. Every year, for the first three weeks of February you can see beautiful sculptures, play in a giant snow playground called the Snowflake Kingdom, skate on the canal, attend a music concert and so much more.

One of the coolest things to see during Winterlude is Ice Dragon Boat Festival where boats equipped with skate-like blades, race against each other. This amazing annual winter celebration is free and very family-friendly. Dates for Winterlude’s 45th edition are February 3 to 20, 2023.

ice sculpture during ottawa winterlude festival
Winner of 2021 Winterlude Ice Sculpture | Photo Credit: CityNews Ottawa

Another fun and lively event is The Ottawa Winter Brewfest. Get your tickets in advance for this popular event held on the first weekend in March. Taste more than 100 craft beers from across Ontario and Quebec at Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park. Several local restaurants offer tasty appetizers or treat yourself to the Canadian winter classic of taffy on snow, which is warm maple syrup poured on snow.  

#3 Fun Winter Activities in Ottawa

Beyond ice skating, other popular outdoor winter activities in Ottawa are cross country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, tobogganing and fat biking. When you do ski cross country, you can find a ski jacket via this guide.

Within the downtown core, you can ski on the groomed trails at Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (formerly known as the Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail) and Rideau Winter Trail.

Great tobogganing locations can be found all over the city, refer to the city of Ottawa’s map for the full list. Some notable ones include Bruce Pit and Lansdowne Park.

Cross Country Skiing, Hiking, Snow Shoeing, Tobogganing, Fat Biking

Or, jump in the car and explore the 150-km trails in the Ottawa region. All of these trails are free and family-friendly.  Here are the best-rated trails just outside of the city of Ottawa:

  • Ski Heritage East – 17 km of groomed trails
  • Greenbelt Ski Trails – 150 km of recreation trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, tobogganing and fat biking
  • Gatineau Park is one of the largest networks of winter trails in North America at over 200 km used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and fat biking. 

#4 Ride on Vintage Bus

Enjoy a relaxing ride around Ottawa and Gatineau aboard a vintage bus. Learn about the history of Ottawa from the onboard bilingual guide.

red vintage trolley in ottawa for winter

Rest your feet and step inside this cozy hop-on-hop-off sightseeing tour bringing you to some of the city’s top sites. Check prices and book your dates to reserve your spot.

#5 Warm up with Winter Desserts Tea and Hot Chocolate

I love winter just as an excuse to drink hot chocolate. Is there anything more decadent than drinking a cup of liquid chocolate?

hot chocolate in ottawa winter

Here are some of the best places to get cozy with some hot chocolate, tea and a sweet treat:

  • La Catrina – 105 B Clarence St
  • Les Moulins La Fayette – 1000 Wellington St W
  • Macaroons Canada – 70 George St
  • Lindt Chocolate Shop – 73 Rideau St
  • Cacao 70 – 225 Marche Way

#6 Tour the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa this Winter

You can’t visit Ottawa without touring the nation’s capital Parliament Buildings. It’s one of the top things to do in Ottawa in winter because the views are simply beautiful. Better yet, it’s not as busy as during the summer months. Consider the Parliament Buildings and the Peace Tower as one of the most interesting places to visit in Ottawa in winter.

#7 Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral

Visit the national historic site of the Notre Dame Cathedral another must-see site. The Basilica dates back to the 19th century and is considered the oldest still-standing church in Ottawa. The base of the church is in the Neo-Classical design while the upper echelons of the church are in the French Gothic revival style. Due to the pandemic, this church remains closed for interior visits. 

#8 Catch a Sunset at Rideau Canal

When in Ottawa, another must-visit site is the historic Rideau Canal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site weaves its way gracefully through Ottawa’s downtown core.

This major attraction is where you will find the Ottawa locks, a flight of eight locks that connect the Ottawa river to the Rideau canal. Boaters in the summer can be found here, however, once it freezes it will be replaced with skaters. 

#9 Hang out in the Byward Market

Ottawa’s number one tourist attraction is the ByWard Market. Dating back to 1865, the Market is a great place to start exploring the city. This lively hub is filled with restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops. In the winter, it’s much quieter.

Stroll the streets and private courtyards, it’s the perfect place to tuck into a cozy cafe or restaurant and warm up with a delicious meal. Visit Le Moulin de Provence, now famous for its ‘Obama cookie’ – personally endorsed by former President Obama as being the best cookie.

#10 Warm up at an Ottawa Museum to Visit in Ottawa in Winter

Looking to escape the cold for a couple of hours? Visit some of Ottawa’s best museums. With a wide variety, there is bound to be something to suit your interests.

giant bronze statue of spider in front of ottawa museum in winter

Ottawa tourism the city has created the Ottawa Museum Passport where you visit 3 museums, in 3 days for $35.

Art lovers can visit the National Gallery of Canada to see photography and art exhibits from across Canada. Enjoy free admission on Thursdays from 5-8 pm. The Ottawa Art Gallery features both classic and contemporary works from Canadian artists and is always free to enter. 

#11 Relax at a Spa this Ottawa in Winter

One of the best romantic things to do in Ottawa in winter visits a spa. Just 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa, the Nordik Spa is the recommended place to go. 

As the largest North American spa, indulge in outdoor saunas and indoor/outdoor relaxation spaces and book a massage or body treatment for a complete relaxation experience. Restaurants, even a beer garden, as well as, accommodations are on site. 

Winter Activities Near Ottawa

Venture to Parc Omega, a wildlife park just under an hour from Ottawa. Drive the 12 km wildlife safari where you are bound to see bears, bison, deer, elk and wolves in a natural habitat.

caribou in winter in ottawa
Photo credit: Parc Omega

Although it is open all year round, Canada’s wildlife is most active and visible in the winter. That’s what makes this the best winter day trip near Ottawa. You can also stay overnight in a cozy Wolf Cabin, Chalet or Lodge to enjoy views overlooking the wolf den. Dogs are prohibited in the park, even in your car. 

Best Time to Visit Ottawa in Winter

As soon as winter comes, and is here to stay is the best time to visit Ottawa. Most times that is after the holiday season and early January. The most popular time to visit Ottawa is in February during its famous Winterlude festival.

Where to Stay in Ottawa this Winter

The Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market is located in the heart of downtown Ottawa’s ByWard Market. Beyond the location, the best part of this contemporary hotel is the view.

With the tallest rooftop lounge in Ottawa, it’s the perfect spot for sunset watching, summer or winter. No other hotel in Ottawa offers uninterrupted views of the entire Byward Market all the way to the Parliament Buildings.

sunset in ottawa in winter time of skyline

Click here for the best room rate. Tip: request a room on the upper floor overlooking the Byward Market, ours was a corner suite 1117. Or, do your own search here.

FAQ about Ottawa Winter Activities

Is Ottawa worth visiting in winter?

YES! Ottawa is worth visiting in winter because you can skate on the world’s longest outdoor skating surface, and stop to eat a sugary Beavertail.

Is it worth going to Ottawa in December?

Absolutely! December is a magical time to visit Ottawa as it kicks off the winter season with the holiday lights and Christmas markets.

What is there to do in Ottawa in January?

There is a lot to do in Ottawa in January! Skate the Rideau Canal, go tobogganing, and head to Gatineau Park for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or fat biking.

As a holidaymaker

Visiting Ottawa in the winter is magical. It somehow brings out the inner child in you. Dawning your toques and mittens you were excited to be outside – skating, tobogganing or skiing.

Ottawa embraces winter and creates this wonderfully quintessential Canadian experience. Plan your weekend getaway with these top things to do in Ottawa this winter. 

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