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.
FUN WINTER ACTIVITIES IN OTTAWA
BEST PLACES TO SEE LIGHTS
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
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
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
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
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.
BEST MUSEUMS IN OTTAWA
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.
- The Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (free admission daily from 4-5pm)
- Canadian Museum of Nature (free admission Thursday 5-8pm)
- The Canadian Museum of History (free admission Thursday 5-8pm)
- Canadian War Museum (free admission Thursday 5-8pm)
- The Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum
- Canadian Science and Technology (free admission daily from 4-5pm)
- Royal Canadian Mint
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
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
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.
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