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 hundreds of 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 – Sights with festive flair
Arrive in Ottawa and check into the hotel of your choice. Many Ottawa Tourism accommodation members are located downtown near most of Ottawa’s attractions. Take your pick amongst luxurious, historical and economical establishments.
Start by visiting Parliament Hill, a must-see historic site that is the home of Canada’s federal government. Admire the buildings’ architecture while warming up by the famous Centennial Flame outside.
Although the iconic Centre Block is undergoing a decade-long rehabilitation, you can enjoy two new free guided tours of other interior spaces: The House of Commons in Parliament Hill’s West Block, and the Senate of Canada Building (Ottawa’s original train station). Parliament spaces are extra photogenic when decorated for the holiday season! Reserve your free tour tickets online or in person.
Lunch and afternoon:
The Ottawa region is home to seven national museums that individually represent the entire country in fascinating ways. During the holiday season, the Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada are particularly spectacular.
Just across the Ottawa River from downtown Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec is Canada’s most visited museum: the expansive Canadian Museum of History. Marvel at the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles in the Grand Hall and journey through the past in the Canadian History Hall.
Holiday programming at the museum starts on Nov. 28, 2019 with the lighting of their giant outdoor Christmas tree and the start of their indoor Christmas Market. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 2019, over 80 vendors of local food items and unique, handmade gifts display their wares in the beautiful Grand Hall. A great way to get some holiday shopping done!
Back on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, renowned masterpieces and unexpected treasures await at the National Gallery of Canada. In the vast Canadian and Indigenous Galleries, you’ll see a wide range of works including paintings by the Group of Seven, modern Inuit sculptures and the multi-sensorial exhibit Forty-Part Motet. Set inside the ornate Rideau Chapel, the Motet features 40 separate speakers playing different recorded choir voices. Magical!
In December, the Gallery’s giant indoor Christmas tree fills the stunning Great Hall. Definitely Instagram-worthy!
Get a taste of Ottawa’s eclectic culinary scene with a memorable meal. Take a look at just a few of Ottawa’s great restaurants that you can visit during your getaway.
Stroll around the city and bask in the glow of Christmas Lights Across Canada.
Each evening from Dec. 4, 2019 to Jan. 7, 2020, Ottawa’s downtown core is lit up with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights along Confederation Boulevard and historic sites along the way. Make sure to stop at Parliament Hill for a holiday-themed multimedia show projected onto the iconic Centre Block. This free presentation runs at about 15-minute intervals from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. nightly until Jan. 7, 2020.
Other evening activities:
Go see an entertaining show! The National Arts Centre’s holiday programming includes comedy, music and theatre. Other performance venues in the city include the Ottawa Little Theatre, La Nouvelle Scène and the Théâtre du Casino.
Or stroll through an 1860s heritage village decorated with nearly one million twinkling lights! Located 45-minutes south of Ottawa in Morrisburg, Ont., Upper Canada Village hosts their annual Alight at Night event from Nov. 29, 2019 to Jan. 4, 2020. Enjoy festive music, carollers, treats, horse-drawn wagon rides, romantic carriage rides and more.
DAY 2 – Shop and savour the season
French-style bakery Le Moulin de Provence in the ByWard Market Square building is the perfect place to fuel up for the day.
Enjoy fresh coffee, French breads, pastries, sandwiches and more. Check out the cute seasonal cookies decorated like Santa Claus, snowmen and Christmas trees, as well as the famous red and white, maple leaf-shaped cookie now known as the Obama cookie. During his visit to Ottawa in February 2009, President Barack Obama made an impromptu stop at this bakery to purchase these cookies.
The historic, compact and pedestrian-friendly ByWard Market neighbourhood is a joy to explore. 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 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.
If brand names are more your style, stroll to the CF Rideau Centre – Ottawa’s downtown shopping destination. Gaze at the festive decorations as you browse retailers such as Nordstrom, Simons, Tiffany & Co., H&M, Anthropologie and Zara.
Relax and recharge over Holiday Afternoon Tea at the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel.
Afternoon Tea is served in Zoe’s, the hotel’s renovated lounge. Select among the specialty teas offered by the tea sommelier and nosh on classics like fresh scones, tiny sandwiches and delicious pastries – all prepared with a festive twist. Specialty cocktails or champagne can be added on, and kids can even enjoy their own Children Holiday Tea! Reservations are recommended for this popular activity.
Work off some of those treats with some ice skating. If the Rideau Canal Skateway is not yet open for skating, don’t fret! Ottawa has refrigerated outdoor rinks that are usually open mid-November to mid-March.
The SENS Rink of Dreams is conveniently located in front of Ottawa City Hall, near many downtown hotels. Named after Ottawa’s NHL hockey team the Ottawa Senators, the rink offers free skating and is decorated in colourful LED lights. Bring your own skates or rent some on site.
A short 20-minute drive west of the city takes you to Wesley Clover Parks’ Magic of Lights. From Nov. 21, 2019 to Jan. 4, 2020, you can drive through a two-kilometre display of nearly one million LED lights, including a 200-foot light tunnel and large LED winter characters.
Consider a nightcap at one of Ottawa’s great cocktail spots, like Copper Spirits + Sights, located at the top of the Andaz ByWard Market. This trendy lounge and bar features wall to wall windows with breathtaking views of Ottawa bathed in a seasonal glow.
DAY 3 – Markets and outdoors
On your last morning in Canada’s capital, indulge at one of the city’s hot brunch spots.
For festive fun, visit the Lansdowne area in the vibrant Glebe neighbourhood, just south of Ottawa’s downtown core.
Don’t miss the first ever European-style Ottawa Christmas Market! Enjoy seasonal food and drink (including alcoholic options), a giant Christmas tree, carolling, Santa Claus, performances and more. This free event takes place Friday evenings through Sundays, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 22, 2019.
The Christmas edition of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market also takes place at Lansdowne from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in December. Discover over 100 vendors of local crafts, food and other products inside the historic Aberdeen Pavilion.
Just behind the pavilion is the photogenic Skating Court, another refrigerated outdoor ice surface. Although skate rentals are not available here, you can easily change into your own pair in the heated changing facility.
To get up close and personal with Canadian flora and fauna, visit Parc Omega.
Just a 45-minute drive from downtown Ottawa in Montebello, Quebec, you’ll find Canadian wildlife roaming through thousands of acres of natural habitat. While driving Parc Omega’s 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) safari, you might see animals such as deer, elk, bison and caribou – some of which can be hand fed! You can also explore the park’s walking and snowshoe trails, some of which highlight elements of Indigenous culture.
If your love of Canadian wilderness runs deep, visit beautiful Gatineau Park.
Gatineau Park is a year-round outdoor paradise that sprawls over 90,000 acres – and it’s just a 15-minute drive from Parliament Hill! Depending on the winter weather, you’ll find cross-country ski trails, winter hiking trails and Camp Fortune, which offers downhill skiing.
After all that fresh air, there’s no better place to relax and end your getaway 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 indoor or outdoor hot tubs, cold pools, saunas and steam rooms. Then visit one of the multiple dining and bar areas on site for snacks, a meal or a beverage – all while staying in your bathrobe! You may never want to leave.