Canada is famous for embracing the cold, and no part of the country does it better than the country’s capital, Ottawa. While the summer in Ottawa is beautiful, you haven’t really seen the city until you have seen it when covered in snow. Ottawa is a city that lives 365 days a year, and offers tons of activities for the whole family, no matter when you decide to visit. Here are 9 reasons to travel to Ottawa this winter. We’ll share some of the top winter attractions to visit and activities to join while you’re here. We’ll also give you a few tips to help you avoid mistakes when hitting Ottawa in the winter.
The World’s Largest Natural Ice Rink
If you love skating and you want a once in a lifetime experience, head on to Rideau Canal. The Rideau Canal is right next to Parliament Hill and freezes all the way to Dow’s Lake. It turns into a straight, clean and open natural ice rink almost eight kilometers long. You can rent skates or even rent a sleigh to travel along the lake. It is relaxing, scenic, affordable and accessible.
The Ability to Cross-Country Ski in the City
Canadians have ample opportunity to go cross-country skiing. However, a trip to Ottawa makes it incredibly convenient. There are more than 150 kilometers of trails in the greenbelt that are open for cross-country skiing in the winter. You can rent cross country skis and go skiing, and you’ll be in easy reach of any urban amenities you need. You can also go snowshoeing in Gatineau Park. There are free trials there that are reserved for this activity. And there are snowshoe rentals available in surrounding shops, too. Dog-sledding is available in nearby areas. Just make sure you book the outings well in advance, though you may be able to do it during the week.
The Local Pubs Geared Toward the Winter Crowd
After a cold day’s walk or skating, it is time to relax inside. You can stop by a number of pubs for a selection of hot drinks (with or without alcohol). Many even have a roaring fire for both warmth and ambiance. Better yet, some pubs set up shacks along the canal or in Winterlude locations so you can enjoy hot cocoa and beavertails. If you’re coming from south of the border and don’t know what they are, beavertails are a fried doughy treat named as the animal because it resembles its tail. It is topped with cinnamon, chocolate, sugar and lemon. You can’t visit Ottawa or the country without tasting this Canadian classic.
Winterlude is the city’s homage to winter. It runs from the end of January to the middle of February every year. People come from all over the world to see the ice art carvings, witness the fireworks and join in the other activities. Skating on the canal is popular at this time, though it isn’t limited to just then. If you’re lucky, Winterlude will overlap with the NHL All Star Weekend. Know that hotel rates will spike during Winterlude.
The Cultural Attractions
You should consider coming to Ottawa just to enjoy the cultural attractions available year-round. Stop by the Canadian Museum of History, War Museum or National Gallery. You’ll probably have plenty of time to visit due to the holiday break, but the crowds are not likely to be as heavy as they are in the summer. Know that the museums generally shut down during the second week of January.
Or you can take the kids for a walk past Parliament. In the winter, the center block of the Parliament is often open to tourists. This would allow you to see the House Chamber, Senate Chamber and Library of Parliament. You could tour the Peace Tower, as this has the side benefit of providing you great views of the city.
We do need to say that Winterlude isn’t the only reason to visit in the winter. For example, Christmas Lights Across Canada will be up in December, and Byward Market lights up for the holiday. It is also an excellent place to visit for your Christmas shopping. If you visit in the first week of January, most locations are still in holiday celebration mode but the crowds have thinned.
One of the great reasons to come to Ottawa in the winter is how accessible it is. There are many flights in and out per day, so you can find flights that fit your schedule. The flights are surprisingly affordable, too.
Regional carriers like Porter Airlines offer tons of cheap flights to the city. You can see the going rates for flights to Ottawa at flyporter.com. They also allow you to book both your hotel and your flight through the same, convenient portal. You can book flights up to a year in advance. You can also explore various routes through their site, allowing you to arrange a stop in Ottawa to enjoy the sights if you’re going to head on to another destination. Porter also gives you free drinks, free snacks and plenty of space.
Another great thing about Ottawa is how compact it is. All the major attractions are centered around the same area and you can join in the local nightlife or outdoor activities almost anywhere. You don’t have to drive hours to reach good spots and you can simply fit any activity into the schedule.
If you’re visiting or staying in the Byward Market area, you’ll be at the center of Ottawa’s amazing food culture. There are more than one hundred restaurants in the area with something representing nearly every type of known ethnic cuisine. You could eat at a different restaurant every night and not sample everything Ottawa has to offer in this regard. Or you could enjoy the rich offerings in a particular area such as Little Italy and Chinatown. Or go across the canal to Gatineau in Quebec and sample their unique cuisine.
Go Watch the Game
You can’t visit Ottawa in the winter without going to watch the Sens play. Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, this is a great experience you have to live at least once. The ticket prices are pretty affordable, and you’ll have the chance to watch some great action with one of the best hockey crowds you’ll find anywhere. However, note that the arena is located in Kanata, which is about a 40 minute drive from the city, but it’s well worth it.
Another great thing about Ottawa is the great museums the city has. Each one of them has something to offer and are great options if you’re travelling with your family. One of the most interesting museums is the Aviation and Space museum with real life airplanes from World War 2 and tons of different exhibits and attractions. Ottawa also has a great civilization museum where you’ll get to see old archaeological relics and a chance to delve into the history of Canada and the continent.
Ottawa doesn’t slow down with the winter’s chill. In fact, the city simply shifts gears to accommodate the winter, creating a number of events and opportunities you may have missed if you only visit in the summer. So, make sure you put Ottawa at the top of your destinations this winter, you won’t be sorry.