Come winter, some head indoors. Canadians go out—especially in Ottawa, Ontario. Ottawa is like a winter postcard come to life: lovely white snowscapes, strolling crowds bundled up in coats and scarves, lively outdoor festivals with enormous ice sculptures and al fresco ice bars, twinkle lights illuminating frosty trees, and skaters gliding along the Rideau Canal.
Winter in Canada’s capital city is delightful. It’s chilly, and that’s how the locals like it. In fact, they revel in winter. Join in the fun and while you’re at it, pause for a steaming hot chocolate and BeaverTail on the street, shop at the year-round, historic ByWard Market neighborhood, and warm up at one of the latest trendy restaurants, coffee shops, or a cozy heated patio.
Ice skate outside
Rideau Canal Skateway
It’s quintessentially Canadian: skating the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s biggest naturally frozen rink, free and open January to March, conditions allowing. Rent skates and see if you can make the nearly five-mile distance from downtown to Dows Lake, stopping at a snack shack or heated hut to recharge. If the canal’s not frozen, try the outdoor and lighted Ottawa City Hall Rink of Dreams (November to March). You can also snowshoe, cross-country ski, or winter hike around town.
See art, and plenty of it
National Gallery of Canada
You can spend all day or all week in the light-filled galleries of the country’s premier art showcase. Some 1,200 permanently displayed works of renowned artists in this architectural landmark tell the story of Canada’s heritage and culture. With a focus on Canadian and contemporary, collections of paintings, photographs, sculpture, and drawings include indigenous and international, plus high-profile visiting exhibitions—from centuries-old to the avant-garde. Out front, pause to take in the fabulous view of the Parliament buildings, festively illuminated during the holiday season.
Get your culture fix
Take in a concert at February’s popular jazz fest, with performances at multiple downtown venues. The three-day celebration—known for its bold programming, loyal fans, and enthusiastic audiences—spotlights emerging and established local artists and international headliners. Other not-to-miss events include WinterPride, the Ottawa Winter Brewfest and dozens of seasonal events and performances.
Celebrate the season in ice
It’s tradition: The first three weekends of February mean Winterlude, a city-wide annual celebration of all things winter. Taking place day and night, this free event showcases all things wintry—outside, of course. There’s an international ice carving contest downtown at Confederation Park, concerts and dancing, skating lessons, outdoor hockey tournaments, outside playground with giant snow slides (grownups welcome, too), outdoor skating along the Rideau Canal, food and wine pairings and chef demos, even a race across the ice with decorated beds. Who says summer gets all the glory?
Take in the twinkle lights
Parliament Hill is the heart of Ottawa. From early December through January, 400,000 lights illuminate the stately gothic parliament buildings overlooking the Ottawa River and nearby downtown. At the official lighting, carolers serenade gathered crowds. Stay for the evening light and sound show projected onto the Parliament buildings every 15 minutes from 5:30 to 11:30 pm. Listen to a daily bell tower concert or learn about the Hill’s many sculptures commemorating significant Canadian figures. If you like holiday cheer, the Hill is your place.
After your vacation in Ottawa, chances are winter will be your new favorite season.
See what else there is to do in winter at the Ottawa Tourism website.