When it comes to the holiday season, there’s no denying the charm of Canada’s capital. From its lovely, decorated museums and storefronts, to thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights, you’ll instantly get into the festive spirit as you stroll around Ottawa! Use this handy three-day itinerary as inspiration to plan your own special holiday getaway to Ottawa this year.
DAY 1 – See Some Sights
Arrive in Ottawa and check into the hotel of your choice. Take a look at our accommodation members, most of which are located downtown near most of Ottawa’s attractions. Take your pick amongst luxurious, historical and economical establishments.
Why not start with a must-do: visiting the iconic Parliament Buildings, home to Canada’s federal government.
Head to the Capital Information Kiosk across from Parliament Hill to obtain your ticket for a free guided tour of Parliament’s interior. You might see treasures such as the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament. The tour ends with a trip up the elevator to the top of the 92.2-metre (302-foot) Peace Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. If time is tight, you can request a ticket to access the Peace Tower without a tour.
Afterwards, stop to warm up by the famous Centennial Flame outside. This bubbling fountain with its ever-burning fire commemorates Canada’s hundredth anniversary as a Confederation.
Lunch and Afternoon:
Explore and have lunch at the Ottawa region’s seven national museums. So much to choose from! The Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada are sure to get you into the holiday spirit.
Located just across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the expansive Canadian Museum of History is Canada’s most visited museum. Visit the permanent collections or catch a special exhibit. But don’t miss the museum’s impressive Grand Hall. This hall is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles and with its wall of windows, it offers fantastic views of the Ottawa River and the historic Parliament Buildings.
On Nov. 29, 2018, the Museum is lighting their giant outdoor Christmas tree. And between Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 2018, you can catch the Christmas Market which takes place in the Grand Hall, with over 80 vendors of delicious food items and unique, handmade gifts.
If art is what you’re after, spend the afternoon in the beautiful National Gallery of Canada. Enjoy the many gallery spaces, as well as the charming indoor gardens and courtyards. The Canadian and Indigenous Galleries alone feature the largest display of Canadian and Indigenous art in the museum’s history, including ancient indigenous art objects, religious art of New France, Group of Seven paintings and modern Inuit sculptures.
In December you can see the Gallery’s giant indoor Christmas tree set in the majestic Great Hall. Definitely Instagram-worthy!
Enjoy a relaxing meal. To help you narrow down the options, we’ve curated a list of Great Ottawa restaurants.
Take a stroll around Ottawa’s downtown core to enjoy Christmas Lights Across Canada.
From Dec. 5, 2018 to Jan. 7, 2019, the downtown core is lit up with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights. Also, if you walk up to Parliament Hill, you can take in a holiday-themed sound and light show. This free presentation, which is projected onto Parliament’s iconic Centre Block, runs at about 15-minute intervals from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. nightly until Jan. 7, 2019.
Complete your night out by attending an entertaining show. Ottawa is home to the National Arts Centre which features the best of music, theatre and dance. During your stay, you might catch holiday favourites like The Nutcracker ballet or A Christmas Carol. Other great theatres pepper the city, including the Ottawa Little Theatre, La Nouvelle Scène and the Théâtre du Casino.
DAY 2 – Shop and Savour
Why not opt for something French-inspired? In the ByWard Market Square Building, you’ll find French-style bakery Le Moulin de Provence.
Enjoy coffee with delicious French breads, pastries, sandwiches and more – all prepared fresh, every day. Le Moulin is also where you’ll find Ottawa’s famous ‘Obama cookie.’ This red and white, maple leaf-shaped cookie is great as a dessert or a souvenir. During his visit to Ottawa in February 2009, President Barack Obama made an impromptu stop at Le Moulin for a couple of these cookies, which became an instant hit.
Get some holiday shopping done while exploring some of the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods. No matter where you go, you’ll find great homegrown Ottawa style that you can take home with you.
The historic, compact and pedestrian-friendly area of the ByWard Market is a a joy to explore. You can hunt for local and Canadian-made items in the many boutiques, relax in a café, dine in a restaurant or go out to a club – all within four square blocks! This area is also home to the actual, open-air ByWard Market; one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. Open year-round, it’s one of the best places for souvenir and gift shopping in Ottawa.
Want to relax and recharge for a bit? Head to the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel to enjoy Afternoon Tea.
Served in Zoe’s Lounge – named one of the best bars in Canada by enRoute magazine – enjoy tea selected by a tea sommelier along with scones, small sandwiches and delicious pastries. Afternoon Tea at the Château Laurier rivals anything you might find in England. Just make a reservation, as this is a popular Ottawa activity for locals and visitors alike.
If you’d like to take a spin on the ice, head over to the SENS Rink of Dreams.
Located in front of Ottawa City Hall and named after Ottawa’s hockey team – the Ottawa Senators – the Rink of Dreams is lit up by colourful LED lights. Its surface is refrigerated which means it’s usually open mid-November to mid-March. There’s no entry fee and you can bring your own skate or rent some on site.
If you have a vehicle, head to Wesley Clover Parks to take in Magic of Lights. Just a short drive west of Ottawa’s downtown core, Wesley Clover is transformed into a magical wonderland. From Nov. 16, 2018 to Jan. 5, 2019, enjoy this drive-thru attraction that features nearly one million LED lights spread over two kilometres, including a 200-foot light tunnel and large LED displays of your favourite winter characters.
If you still feel full from afternoon tea treats, you could check out some of Ottawa’s great cocktail spots. Consider Copper Spirits + Sights Rooftop Lounge, located at the top of the Hyatt Andaz ByWard Market hotel. This trendy lounge and bar features wall to wall windows, offering breathtaking views of Ottawa bathed in Christmas lights.
DAY 3 – Get Outside
After breakfast, hop into your car or a taxi and head to Gatineau Park to take in a bit of fresh air and beautiful Canadian nature.
A short drive north of downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park sprawls over 90,000 acres and offers various outdoor activities year-round. Depending on the weather, you’ll find cross-country ski trails, winter hiking trails and Camp Fortune, which offers downhill skiing.
To to get up close and personal with wildlife, visit Parc Oméga.
Located about a 45-minute drive northeast of Ottawa’s downtown core in Montebello, Quebec, Parc Oméga offers thousands of acres of natural habitat for Canadian wildlife such as deer, elk, bison, caribou and more. Drive through the park’s 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) trail and feed the friendly animals as you go. Parc Oméga is open year-round, and features several enchanting walking trails that turn into snowshoe trails once the snow arrives.
After all that fresh air, there’s no better place relax than Nordik Spa-Nature.
Located just around the corner from the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre, Nordik offers a year-round Scandinavian-inspired spa experience. Rejuvenate yourself by alternating between the thermal baths and saunas, including hot tubs, cold pools, saunas, steam rooms and brief periods of rest. And with multiple dining and bar areas on site, it’s easy to spend the rest of the day here.
For other holiday festivities, visit our online Event Calendar.