17 Best Things to Do in Ottawa in Winter 2023/2024

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.

Want to know about all of the amazing things to do in Ottawa in winter?
I created a month-by-month view of what’s happening from markets to lights to special events.
Next, I share all of my favourite Ottawa winter activities like where to go skating, where to find the best hot chocolate, museums, and more.

I kinda consider myself a local. I lived in Ottawa for four years while doing my undergrad at Carleton University and I have to admit, I’m a bit biased as I think Ottawa shines in any season. So much so, that I jump at any chance to return and I have over, and over again.

What to Do in Ottawa in the Winter: At-a-Glance Calendar of Events

chateau and gardens in ottawa in the winter

Ottawa makes for a great destination for a winter getaway for families and couples. As soon as winter comes, and is here to stay, is the best time to visit Ottawa.

Whether that’s before the Christmas holidays to take advantage of the Christmas Lights and Markets. Or in January when there are fewer crowds. The most popular time to visit Ottawa is in February during its famous Winterlude festival.

Things to Do in Ottawa in November 2023

  • Glebe Christmas Craft Market (25-26)
  • Santa’s Parade of Lights (25)
  • The Nutcracker – Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (29-30)

Things to Do in Ottawa in December 2023

  • Nutcracker – Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1-3)
  • CrakdNutz: A Holiday Circus Dream Threatre (16)
  • Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village (1-30)
  • Magic of Lights in Wesley Clover Park (1-30)

Things to Do in Ottawa in January 2024

  • Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village (1-7)
  • Magic of Lights in Wesley Clover Park (1-7)
  • Skating rinks open (weather dependant)
  • Tobogganing, skiing, snowshoeing (1-31)

Things to Do in Ottawa in February 2024

  • Winterlude (2-19)
  • Skating rinks open (1-29)
  • Tobogganing, skiing, snowshoeing (1-29)

17 Best Things to Do in Ottawa in Winter

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

1. Visit an Ottawa Christmas Market

The Ottawa Christmas Market, known to us locals as Lansdowne Christmas Market, is a traditional festive market wonderland filled with pop-up shops, hot cocoa stands and beautiful Christmas lights.

It’s a little touch of European charm in one of my favourite Ottawa neighbourhoods, Glebe. Don’t miss out on the fun as this is one of the best free things to do in Ottawa!

  • Ottawa Winter 2023 Dates: November 24–December 23

2. Admire the Sparkling Lights

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 best place to see lights in Ottawa is at the Parliament Buildings. This must-see, free light display is part of the multimedia Christmas Lights Across Canada show that projects images on its famous buildings.

  • Ottawa Winter 2023 Dates: December 7 to January 7, 2024, from 5:30 PM to 11 PM

Here are more of my favourite places to see the lights in Ottawa.

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

If it’s too cold to walk, why not consider taking the popular hop-on, hop-off guided city tour bus? Get your pass here.

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. 

  • Ottawa Winter 2023 Dates: November 18 to January 7, 2024

3. Go Skating at One of Ottawa’s Outdoor Rinks

2 kids in red snowsuits skating in ottawa in the 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 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 late December to early March and are considered the top winter activities Ottawa offers.

4. Have Some Fun at the Winterlude Festival

ice sculpture during ottawa winterlude festival as free things to do in ottawa in 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 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 the 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.

Ottawa Winter 2024 Dates: February 2 to 19, 2024 for the 46th edition 

5. Fun Winter Activities in Ottawa

snow hill with kid on sled in ottawa winter activities

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 as some of the best free things to do in Ottawa winter.

Ottawa Winter Activities: 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. 

6. Watch The Nutcracker

One of my favourite things to do at Christmas time is to go see the ballet classic, The Nutcracker.

At the National Arts Centre, the famous Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet comes to town every year with this classic production.

Ottawa Winter 2023 Dates: November 29 – December 3, 2023

7. Ride on a Vintage Bus

red vintage trolley in ottawa winter

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

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

Let this trolly show you the best Ottawa places to visit in winter! Check prices and book your dates

8. Warm up with Winter Desserts Tea and Hot Chocolate

hot chocolate in ottawa in the 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, 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

9. Tour the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa this Winter

parliament buildings with war statue in things to do in ottawa in winter

You can’t visit Ottawa without touring the nation’s capital Parliament Buildings. It’s one of the top things to do in the city. But somehow in the Ottawa winter, it’s better.

Maybe it’s the uninterrupted views across to Gatineau. Or, it’s got to be the crowds. It’s far less busy than 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.

10. Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral

cathedral through trees as things to do in ottawa in winter

Visit the national historic site of the Notre Dame Cathedral another must-see site in the city.

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.

11. Enjoy Afternoon Tea at Chateau Laurier

Another iconic building in Ottawa is the beautiful French-inspired Chateau Laurier. Even if you are not a guest at this fine hotel, you can still visit it to enjoy afternoon tea at the hotel’s restaurant LOT 35.

Cozy up with a warm tea and classic finger sandwiches with a modern twist. The scones with the homemade clotted cream are my favourites.

12. Catch a Sunset at Rideau Canal

frozen canal with snow and sunset in ottawa in the winter
The Rideau Canal and its 8 locks – a UNESCO World Heritage site

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. 

13. Hang out in the Byward Market

red brick building in winter ottawa byward market is ottawa winter attractions

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.

14. Warm up at an Ottawa Museum to Visit in Ottawa in Winter

giant bronze statue of spider in front of museum during ottawa in the 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.

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. 

15. Relax at a Spa this Ottawa in Winter

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 beer garden, as well as, accommodations are on site. 

16. Winter Activities Near Ottawa: Parc Omega

caribou in ottawa winter activities
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 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. 

17. Take a Day Trip to Upper Canada Village

Families love this attraction! At least I know I did when I was a kid. But did you know this historic village showing what life was like in Canada in 1866 features a holiday event called Alight at Night?

Over a million lights, Christmas music, and more can be found just one hour south of Ottawa.

Ottawa Winter 2023 Dates: December 1, 2023 – January 6, 2024 (Website for more info)

Where to Stay in Ottawa this Winter

sunset in ottawa in winter time of skyline

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 to the Parliament Buildings.

When booking, request a room on the upper floor overlooking the Byward Market. I stayed in the corner suite, 1117. And, this hotel is dog-friendly too!

My other favourite hotel is Chateau Laurier, and if you again what a great view ask for room #324 where you will have views of the War Memorial, The Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal.

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.

I hope you found this helpful in planning your weekend getaway with these top things to do in Ottawa this winter. 

If you love day-tripping to Ontario small towns, why not join my mailing list?