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.
Canada

Best Things to Do in Ottawa this Winter

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. Ottawa is the perfect destination for a winter getaway for families and couples. Here are the top things to do in Ottawa this winter. 

View of National War Memorial and Chateau Laurier

FUN WINTER ACTIVITIES IN OTTAWA

BEST PLACES TO SEE LIGHTS

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.

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 5:30pm to 11pm every night. 

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.  

BEST PLACES TO SKATE IN OTTAWA

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.

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 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. 

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. Note, that for the 2021/2022 season Rideau Hall requires reservations to ensure safe distancing.

BEST WINTER FESTIVAL

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.
Winner of 2021 Winterlude Ice Sculpture | Photo Credit: CityNews Ottawa

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 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, racing against each other. This amazing annual winter celebration is free and very family-friendly.

Another fun and lively event is The Ottawa Winter Brewfest. Get your tickets in advance for this popular event held in 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.  

FUN WINTER ACTIVITIES IN OTTAWA

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

Beyond ice skating, other popular outdoor winter activities in Ottawa are cross country skiing, hiking, snow shoeing, tobogganing and fat biking. 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.

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, snow shoeing, 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. 

BEST HOT CHOCOLATE IN OTTAWA

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.

I love winter just as an excuse to drink hot chocolate. Is there anything more decadent than drinking a cup of liquid chocolate? Here are some of the best places to get cozy with some hot chocolate:

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

4 MUST-SEE SIGHTS IN OTTAWA

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.
Parliament Buildings - West Block
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.
Notre Dame Cathedral

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.

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. 

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. 

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 is quieter. Stroll the streets and private courtyards, it’s the perfect place to tuck into a cosy cafe or restaurant and warm up with a delicious meal. 

RELATED READING | Visiting Ottawa for the first time and looking for travel tips for the best things to do? Check our Guide to Ottawa

BEST MUSEUMS IN OTTAWA

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.

Looking to escape the cold for a couple of hours? Why not visit some of Ottawa’s best museums. With a wide variety, there is bound to be something to suit your interests.

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 5-8pm. The Ottawa Art Gallery features both classic and contemporary works from Canadian artists and is always free to enter. 

BEST SPA EXPERIENCE IN OTTAWA

One of the best romantic things to do in Ottawa in winter is visit 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 biergarden, as well as, accommodations are on site. 

BEST PLACE TO VISIT NEAR OTTAWA

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.
Photo credit: Parc Omega

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. Although it is open all-year round, Canada’s wildlife are most active and visible in the winter. 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 PLACE TO STAY IN OTTAWA

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.

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. Click here for the best room rate with Booking.com.

Tip: request a room on the upper floor overlooking the Byward Market, ours was a corner suite 1117. 

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. 

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.

Disclosure:  As an Affiliate Associate of Booking.com if you click on the link contained in this post, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to book. 

43 Comments

  • Nancy

    Those ice festivals look amazing! I really want to get there in the winter one of these days. Thanks for sharing all these great tips for the area.

  • Susan Pazera

    Lovely post about a city we’ve been wanting to visit for a long time! Ottawa is a true wonderland in winter. Thanks for giving us lots of great ideas for our visit!

  • Wendy

    I’ve never been to Canada in the winter, but I’ve heard there are many amazing winter festivals like the one in Ottawa. I’m kind of a cold weather wimp, but to see the ice sculptures and go ice skating would be amazing. Plus, it would all be an excuse for hot chocolate!

  • Catherine

    Ottawa is so pretty in the winter! I’d most love to see the ice sculpture festival – I can’t believe people can create such epic ice sculptures.

  • Laura

    Ottawa in Winter looks gorgeous. Especially like the idea of Winterlude, sounds like a brilliant day out. I’ll definitely add to my list if I’m lucky enough to visit

  • Josy A

    Oooh Ottawa looks beautiful in the snow! I love the sound of Winterlude, and I reeeeeeally want to try cross country skiing. Finish that with one of those incredible sounding hot choccies sounds like heaven.

  • Carolin

    Oh Ottawa looks stunning in winter! I have to confess, winter and the freezing cold aren’t my favourite part of the year, but I do like a good ice skating session. Very nice pictures Renee, keep it up! The spider sculpture outside the museum reminds me of a similar one that is in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Could be the same artist perhaps?

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

  • Marianne

    We loved Winterlude and skating on the Rideau. Looking forward to heading to Ottawa this summer!

  • Barry

    I’ve only seen Ottawa in the Summer so these pics of a winter wonderland are so interesting and different to how I saw the city. I reckon we must have stood in the same places for many of our pics, lol.
    There is clearly a lot to do in Winter here too and Winterlude with that Ice sculpture festival looks superb, just what I would love to see as I’ve never seen one or boats on skates racing on a river – so captivating.
    I’d agree with you that a visit to the Parliament Buildings and the Peace Tower is one of the most interesting visits you can make. The Tower views over the city are incredible.
    I’d love to visit the Parc Omega to see the wildlife – it must be incredible to stay in a cabin there in the Winter.

  • Emma

    I’ve only been to Ottawa in the middle of summer so this looks like a whole new experience. So many fun winter activities, but you had me at the hot chocolate. Here in Vancouver they have a hot chocolate festival in February usually and it’s one of my favorite things. Can’t wait to visit Ottawa again, especially in the winter

  • Natascha

    I have to admit that I do not like snow and cold. But snowy Ottawa in winter looks amazing. From sunny Southern Spain I can see myself skating along the Rideau Canal and stopping for hot chocolate and this beavertail dough stick. I guess one just has to bring (or buy there) the rights clothes.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Oh yes! Ottawa is the 7th coldest capital city in the world, so you need to bundle up to experience all of the great outdoor activities this city has to offer in the winter time.

  • JoJo Hall

    If I was ever going to visit a place during the winter, Ottawa sounds like the place I’d visit. Although I don’t like the cold, or traveling to places during the winter, Ottawa seems like a charming area that’d be worth the visit!

  • Pamela

    I’ve wanted to visit Canada in the winter for a while now! Of course, everyone thinks I’m crazy haha But this post is exactly why – it feels so cozy. I would love to go on the wildlife safari!

  • Sherianne

    I have not visited Ottawa yet, it sounds like Winterlude is the best time to go. I would LOVE to see the Ice Dragon Boat Festival and check out the sculptures, with a cup of hot chocolate in hand of course!

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    I lived in Ottawa for a few years and loved the winter activities the city offered. And it was fun to take my son back for Winterlude. We may have to return for the Winter Brewfest one year. And to try a few of those tasty hot chocolates!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I too lived in Ottawa, and the winter, although I hate the cold was somehow magical in Ottawa. Yes, I need to return for Winter Brewfest too, it’s a new festival for Ottawa.

  • Agnes

    There are so many activities in winter in Ottawa that there is no chance for boring. I would love to do some skate. I had no idea that there is the world’s longest outdoor skating surface. For sure, I would love to visit Ottawa during Winterlude Ice Sculpture Festival. It’s genuinely fabulous art in ice.

  • Lisa

    You had me at hot chocolate and the spa! The winter festival sounds amazing in Ottawa and is somewhere I’d like to see. We also have snow in northern Italy, not as much as there, but it looks beautiful in photos. Thank you for the great tips!

  • Puloma Bhattacharya

    Ottawa is city with so much to explore. The ice sculptures at Winterlude look amazing and do the heritage buildings in the old quarters. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Trisha Velarmino

    I heard that winter in Ottawa can be harsh and brutal. There’s a silver lining after all. With these activities, people will have something to look forward to despite the weather. I’m curious about the winter brewfest!

  • Katie May

    Wow, doesn’t Ottowa look like a magical winter wonderland. I’m currently putting together a list of places in Canada I want to visit next year, and I’m putting here straight to the top of my list! The winter festival looks amazing, and those hot chocolates look delicious!

  • Jennifer Prince

    I hate the cold, but it’s so much more bearable when there’s a lot to do. The Chateau Laurier looks so beautiful, and the ice sculptures are so amazing! I bet they last a long time outside. I need to get to this part of Canada!

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