Winter is not my favourite season but over the last few years I have made a pact to try and enjoy it! Afterall- I do live in Canada where winter is loud and proud for over 5 months of the year! This past winter I had the chance to explore Canada’s capital and experience some amazing winter activities in Ottawa! It made me fall in love with winter just a little more…
Ottawa is such a stunning city and seeing it with a dusting of snow and walking around with a warm drink in hand makes it feel even more special. It is family friendly, only 4 hours from Toronto and has so many activities to keep you busy and entertained over a winter weekend getaway.
I have rounded up 10+ winter activities in Ottawa from our weekend visit to share with you!
#1- Go Skating at the Many Outdoor Rinks in Ottawa
I love skating and so does my husband (he used to play competitive hockey growing up!) and now with us having the girls- it’s even more of an awesome activity to do as a family.
While many people might automatically think that the Rideau Canal is the only skating option in Ottawa, there are actually a TON of options for skating.
Don’t get me wrong, Rideau Canal- the world’s largest outdoor skating rink is popular for a reason and well worth a visit alone, but there are some great smaller rinks and trails to explore!
You can visit some right within the city or go to the outskirts of Ottawa where you can skate through a forest (Hello Magical!) but either way skating in Ottawa is a must-do winter activity!
Here are some of the best skating options in Ottawa:
Image via RiverOak.com
- Rideau Canal Skateway: The Rideau Canal is the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, with 7KM winding its way through the heart of downtown Ottawa. As noted above, it’s pretty amazing and long!
- Lansdowne Park Skating Court: Located at TD Place in Lansdowne Park, this outdoor refrigerated rink is open during the winter months. It’s a popular spot for skating and is especially fun to visit during the adjacent Ottawa Christmas Market in December
- RiverOak Skating Trail: This outdoor skating trail is a dream! You can skate through a forest of apple trees by day or night (lit with twinkle lights) and they offer a bunch of other winter activities on the grounds like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing! You can spend a half day here, easily. You can spend a half day here, easily.
- Sens Rink of Dreams: The Rink of Dreams is an outdoor refrigerated rink located next to Ottawa City Hall. It’s a great place for families and individuals to enjoy skating in a central downtown location. Added bonus, there’s a BeaverTails stand on site!
- Ben Franklin Place Skating Rink: This outdoor rink is located in Nepean and is a popular spot for locals to enjoy outdoor skating during the winter.
#2. Secure a Visit Ottawa Pass- Your chance to save for fun activities in Ottawa!
During our visit, we secured a 3-day Visit Ottawa Pass which gave us discounted admission to popular museums and tours in the city! The Visit Ottawa Pass allowed us to maximize our visit while minimizing spending. For 1 price, you get access to 6 Ottawa attractions including:
● Canadian War Museum
● Canadian Museum of History
● Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
● National Gallery of Canada
● Royal Canadian Mint (fascinating place!!)
● The Haunted Walk (we didn’t make it here but how cool would this be in and around Halloween!)
The Visit Ottawa Pass allows you to choose from a 1-Day option or a 3-Day Option and once you purchase the passes, it’s delivered right to your phone for quick access and use.
Looking for other Winter adventures?
- 5 Romantic Getaways in Ontario
- 13 Magical Things To Do in Winter in Ontario
- Quebec City In the Winter
#3. Tour Parliament Hill in Ottawa
Did you even visit Ottawa if you didn’t see the Parliament buildings? To be honest, I was pretty excited to see Parliament Hill since my degree is in Political Science and I felt like throughout school I learned so much about some policies and laws that were made right in these buildings!
When I saw the buildings in person they actually surpassed my expectations! The scale of them, the architectural detailing and the grounds surrounding the buildings were simply outstanding.
Some winter activities in Ottawa come at a price but visiting Parliament Hill is free! You can however opt for a tour of the inside which has a cost associated but we decided to just explore on foot and really enjoyed it!
TIP: I would recommend coming here during the day and also at night. The buildings are illuminated for several weeks in December and January which are so mesmerizing at night
#4. Head to the ByWard Market
The ByWard Market is one of the coolest indoor and outdoor markets I have ever visited! It’s located in the vibrant downtown and is one of the largest (and oldest) public markets in Canada! The surrounding area is filled with top-notch restaurants, cafes, boutiques and attractions!
There are a variety of market stalls that sell homemade goods so it’s a great place for some unique shopping too! We absolutely loved the vibe around this area and we found ourselves there multiple times throughout the weekend as it’s so central to so many attractions we checked out as well.
#5. Head to an Outdoor Spa in Ottawa
Image Via Nordik Spa Facebook
Ottawa has some of the best outdoor spas in the game and visiting one of them is the ultimate winter activity!
Picture sitting in a steaming hot tub while the snow is falling around you, there are open firepits to warm up around and you can bundle up in a cozy robe afterwards! Sounds like a dream to me!
Here is a list of Spas in Ottawa that you need to visit:
- Nordik Spa Nature- This is North America’s largest spa and has a complete outdoor thermal circuit for you to enjoy!
- Au Naturel Spa at Brookstreet: This spa is located in the Brookstreet Hotel and offers a variety of spa services including massages, facials, body scrubs, and couples’ treatments. They also have a relaxation lounge and whirlpool for guests to enjoy.
- Koena Spa: Located along the Ottawa River, this outdoor sanctuary has a Hawaiian twist on it. It ties in ancient rituals from the Hawaiian culture making it a one-of-a-kind place!
- Uppliva Sauna & Steam: An urban spa experience that embraces the age-old Nordic sauna tradition. Guests can circuit through their Sauna & Steam rooms, cool off in refreshing rain showers or cold plunge tub, and finish fireside in a cozy chair complete with blankets and a book.
A few of these spas have the option to add on delicious lunch to your experience which makes for a great half-day excursion during your visit to Ottawa!
#6-Go Snowshoeing or Cross-Country Skiing
Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing are winter activities in Ottawa for those who want to add some movement into their itineraries!
The best place to do either of these winter activities is at Gatineau Park, which is located just 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa. There are a ton of trails for either sport ( over 200 Km to be exact!) and various trails with different levels of difficulty.
You can rent both snowshoes and skis right at the park. You can find more information here.
#7-Visit the Museums – Winter Activities in Ottawa for people who want to avoid the outside!
The list of museums in Ottawa is out of this world! There is such a variety of options to choose from, so whatever your interests are, you can definitely find the right museum for you. As a family, we find museums a great winter activity that we can all enjoy!
Here are the top 3 Museums in Ottawa that I recommend visiting in the winter ( or any season really)
- Canadian Museum of History: This museum explores Canada’s cultural heritage, including exhibits on Canadian history, Indigenous cultures, and special exhibitions. It has an INCREDIBLE kids area with mini country stalls set up where your kids can learn about each culture and features key food items or traditions from the country. I think I enjoyed it more than the kids haha. Also, the Canadian Museum of History is housed in one of the coolest architectural buildings I have ever seen! 10/10, do not miss this place!
- National Gallery of Canada: A renowned art museum featuring a vast collection of Canadian and Indigenous art, as well as international works. The iconic spider sculpture, “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois, is located outside the gallery. This is worth a visit alone!
- Canadian Museum of Nature: The museum focuses on natural history, with exhibits on fossils, minerals, mammals, and more. The impressive Victorian-era building itself is a landmark. This is an awesome visit for the kids especially!
#8-Visit Parc Omega
Parc Omega has been on my bucket list for SO SO long and let me tell you that it lived up to the hype!
Located only an hour from downtown Ottawa, Parc Omega is a 22,000-acre property filled with unique animals, overnight lodges and one-of-a-kind experiences. This is a winter activity in Ottawa that should be on everyone’s list!
Parc Omega is open year-round (even on Christmas!!) and you can get very, very close to animals like reindeer, moose, foxes, baby deer, pigs and what they are most known for: WOLVES!
You can visit for the day or stay in one of the “Wolf Lodges” where the Wolves often come right up to your floor-to-ceiling windows. This is the best way to view the wolves but if you are short on time like we were, I recommend the VIP tour! On this tour, you can drive through the park on a school bus and listen to a guide explain so many awesome facts about the animals. You can feed the animals through the window and even get out of the bus a few times to pet and play with the baby deer!
My girls were smiling ear to ear on this experience and so was I! The grounds itself were also very beautiful and the owners go to great lengths to make it a very natural setting for all these furry friends!
#9- Visit Some Amazing Ottawa Restaurants
The Ottawa restaurant scene is worth a visit to Canada’s capital alone! It is filled to the brim with so, so many cool, creative and mouth-watering places to eat. I could hardly decide on where to make reservations because there were so many places calling my name!
Since we went with the kids, we opted for some family-friendly restaurants and they did not disappoint! Here are a few places that you can’t miss (and bonus points because they are all located in and around the ByWard Market!)
- Zak’s Diner . This place is an institution in Ottawa and is known for being “locally world famous”. This retro-style diner, serves up some of the best milkshakes, breakfast, burgers, hotdogs and more! With a few locations in town, you need to have this place on your list!
- Lil Z’s Pizza. This Italian eatery is perfect for family dining. They have spacious booths, a serious pizza list, pasta dishes, wine, cocktails and even some TV’s if you want to catch a game! Loved the atmosphere just as much as the food!
- Nan’s Parlour: File this place under “CUTEST PLACE ALIVE”. With an eclectic array of furnishings, a creative cocktail list and some fun food bites, you can’t miss this spot!
- Little Victories Coffee Roasters: Coffee lovers this is for you. This independently owned coffee shop is located in one of the most beautiful buildings in town and has a great vibe and brew any time of the day. They have two locations–one on Elgin Street (where we went!) and one on Bank Street
- Cocotte Bistro: This is one of the most beautiful interior spots I have seen in my life. Go here for a fancier breakfast or lunch!
Some Other Winter Activities in Ottawa Worth Checking Out!
While I listed my personal favorite winter activities in Ottawa, there are still so many additional ones you can discover! The whole city is certainly special at this time of year and you can even just walk around town, eat and have the best weekend ever!
- Visit the Iconic Fairmont Chateau Laurier for High Tea
- Go to an NHL game to watch the Ottawa Senators play
- Visit the Rideau Center for some post-Christmas Shopping! January + February is often sale time- just saying;)
- Visit during Winterlude a three-week festival of winter wonder with over 200 activities in the Ottawa-Gatineau Region
- Go Tobogganing
Where To Stay in Ottawa?
We stayed at the very centrally located Ottawa Marriott Hotel on Kent Street. We were only 5 minutes from the Parliament Buildings which we loved, and a 5-10 minute Uber to the ByWard Market.
What we loved about it: The Ottawa Marriott Hotel is great for families, has an on-site Starbucks, views of the Parliament buildings, was reasonably priced and even has a pool!
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best winter activities in Ottawa and that you make your way to this stunning city in Canada! I definitely want to go back for Winterlude next year, and hope to also visit in the summer so I can experience this beautiful city during both seasons!