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, it’s hard to walk around Ottawa and not be in a cheerful mood.
Thinking of a little getaway this holiday season? Check out these ideas for a 5-day trip to Ottawa. Follow this itinerary or use it as trip planning inspiration and add your own ideas.
DAY 1 – See Some Sights
Arrive in Ottawa and check into the hotel of your choice. Ottawa has many hotels for you to choose from; from luxurious establishments to more economic options. Learn more about accommodations on Ottawa Tourism’s Stay page.
Lunch: Once you’ve check in, head into the bustling ByWard Market neighbourhood for a bite to eat.
In this busy and pedestrian-friendly area, you’ll find several dining options as well as many interesting boutiques and shops. This area is also home to the actual, open-air ByWard Market; one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. This market is open year-round and is a great place to find a unique Ottawa souvenir.
Afternoon: Opt to visit one of Ottawa’s national museums such as the Canadian Museum of History or the National Gallery of Canada.
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. And carve out some time to see the Canadian History Hall which was inaugurated in the summer of 2017. It’s the largest and most comprehensive exhibition about Canadian history ever created, recounting 15,000 years Canadian history through more than 1,500 priceless artifacts!
Visiting Ottawa in early December? Don’t miss the Museum’s giant outdoor Christmas tree as well as the Christmas Market which takes place in the Grand Hall. From Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2017, you can browse over 80 vendors offering 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 all of the different galleries as well as the charming indoor gardens and courtyards. And don’t miss the Canadian and Indigenous galleries, which opened in the summer of 2017. The spaces 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. As of Dec. 7, you can see the Gallery’s giant indoor Christmas tree set in the majestic Great Hall. Definitely Instagram-worthy!
Evening: Bundle up a little bit and take a stroll around Ottawa’s downtown core to enjoy Christmas Lights Across Canada.
From Dec. 7, 2017 to Jan. 7, 2018, 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 show, 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, 2018.
Optional activity: Complete your night out by attending a great 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 – Get Outside
Morning: After breakfast, hop in 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 west of Ottawa’s downtown core, Gatineau Park sprawls over 90,000 acres and offers various outdoor activities year-round. Want to do a bit of snowshoeing? Opt to rent a pair and explore the family and beginner-friendly Sugarbush trail. This shorter trail is located beside the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre.
But there is something here for every outdoor enthusiast! Within Gatineau Park, you’ll also find cross-country ski trails, winter hiking trails and Camp Fortune, which offers downhill skiing. You can even go winter camping if you wish! But you need a reservation for this activity.
Afternoon: Now after all of that outdoor activity, you’ll probably want to relax. There’s no better place to do that than Nordik Spa-Nature.
Located just around the corner from the Visitor Centre, Nordik is open year-round and offers a Scandinavian-inspired spa experience. Rejuvenate yourself with Nordik’s Thermal Baths and Saunas experience, which consists of a series of 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.
If you want to take your spa experience up a notch, opt to book a massage or try Nordik’s Källa treatment. Located five meters (16 feet) underground, Källa is a salt water floating pool that is only the second of its kind in the world, as the other one is in Switzerland. Float around in a unique, cave-like setting and enjoy health benefits that are similar to the Dead Sea. There is even music playing under water.
DAY 3 – Shop and Savour
Breakfast: Why not opt for something French-inspired? In the ByWard Market Square Building, you’ll find French-style bakery Le Moulin de Provence.
Here, delicious French breads, pastries, sandwiches and more are made every morning. This is a great place to enjoy a croissant and a Danish along with a coffee. Also, Le Moulin is 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.
Mid-morning: Now that you’re fed and ready to go, why not get some holiday shopping in?
The ByWard Market area has various unique boutiques to peruse for local and Canadian-made items. And just steps from it, you’ll find the CF Rideau Centre – Ottawa’s downtown shopping mall.
This shopping destination is home to retailers such as Nordstrom, Simons, Tiffany & Co., H&M, Anthropologie and Zara. With so many choices, you’ll be sure to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
Afternoon: 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.
Evening: Looking for an epic, once in a lifetime activity? For the first time ever, you’ll be able to skate on the first ever skating rink in front of Parliament Hill!
The Canada 150 Skating Rink, located in front of Centre Block, is open Dec. 7 to Feb. 28, 2018. Enjoy free ice time as well as a variety of wintery activities, special guests and events. For instance, on Dec. 9-10, you can sample northern cuisine prepared by top and indigenous chefs. For details on this and other Canadian Heritage events, consult their calendar of events). There will also be events hosted by the Ottawa Senators (for details, visit the Canada 150 Rink website). Skating passes are available on the Canada 150 Rink website 48 hours prior to each available date. Bring your skates and helmets or rent some on site.
If you brought your ice skates along you could also opt to skate on Ottawa’s colourful SENS Rink of Dreams.
Located in front of Ottawa City Hall in Ottawa’s downtown core 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 is no entry fee.
Optional activity: If you have a car, 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, 2017 to Jan. 6, 2018, 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.
DAY 4 – Take in Some Culture
Morning: No visit to Ottawa is complete without a visit to the iconic Parliament Buildings.
Head up to Parliament Hill to take a free guided tour of Centre Block, which is home to the iconic Peace Tower. On your tour, you can go up to the top of the Peace Tower to take in a dramatic, 360-degree view of the city. Free guided tours are available daily, but these are subject to parliamentary activity. And on your way out, don’t forget to stop for a moment and warm up by the famous Centennial Flame. This bubbling fountain with its ever-burning fire commemorates Canada’s hundredth anniversary as a Confederation.
Afternoon: Opt to do a little bit of sightseeing.
As Ottawa has several national museums, there’s a lot for you to choose from. Also, you can grab something for lunch as you visit. Go to the Canadian War Museum to learn about Canada’s Military History or head down Elgin Street to the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about animals and dinosaurs. Or if you’re interested in aviation and space, head just east of the downtown core to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
Evening: Opt for a later dinner and before your meal, head to Copper Spirits + Sights Rooftop Lounge for a cocktail.
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. From this raised vantage point, you can see several important landmarks as well as the Ottawa River, which was recently designated as a Canadian Heritage River.
DAY 5 – See Some Canadian Wilderness
If you have access to a car, pile in and head to the unique outdoor attraction that is Parc Oméga.
Located at about a 45-minute drive east of Ottawa’s downtown core in Montebello, Quebec, Parc Oméga offers about 2,200 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 carrots as you go. The park has many great photo opportunities, so make sure to bring a camera.
Parc Oméga is a lovely place to visit all year long. But once the snow arrives, enjoy snowshoeing; a quintessential Canadian activity. Here, you’ll find several enchanting walking trails that turn into snowshoe trails over the winter months. Parc Oméga is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Coming to Ottawa for New Year’s Eve? There will be many events going on and special offers at venues around town as Canada’s Capital welcomes 2018!
This year, you can ring in the new year on Parliament Hill during the Canada 150 Closing Party. From 9:00 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 31, 2017, you’ll find an electrifying dance and skating party with pyrotechnics, multimedia show, DJs and a performance by Canada’s own hip-hop ambassador Kardinal Offishall. A great photo opp to wish loved-ones a happy New Year!
For other ways to ring in the new year, visit our online Event Calendar.
And for more holiday-themed activities, read our Holiday Season Mood article.