Coming to Ottawa over the winter months? Don’t be intimidated by the cooler Canadian weather. As Canada’s Capital, Ottawa thrives from January to March!
Wondering what to see and do in this vibrant yet relaxing city? We’ve gathered five great activities that will make you love winter in Ottawa.
Canada 150 Skating Rink
There’s a new rink in town this winter and it’s bucket list-worthy! For the first time ever, you can skate in front of Parliament’s Centre Block on the Canada 150 Skating Rink. From Dec. 7, 2017 to Feb. 28, 2018, you can get free ice time in front of this iconic Canadian backdrop!
The Canada 150 Rink website contains all the information you need about rink accessibility and how to reserve free skating passes (they are released 48 hours prior to each available date). You can bring your skates or rent some on site. Don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity!
Rideau Canal Skateway
The quiet, flowing Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – freezes over in the winter months, to become the world’s largest skating rink.
Stretching over 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles), the Rideau Canal Skateway allows skaters of all ages and skill levels to make their way (as far as they wish) from Ottawa’s downtown core to Dows Lake and back again. Also, all along the way, you’ll find heated change huts, which are the perfect spots to put your skates on or just warm up for a bit. Additionally, vendors along the way offer comforting items such as Ottawa’s famous Beavertails pastries, poutine, hot soup, hot chocolate and more.
The Skateway is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week from roughly January to late February or early March (weather depending). About 20,000 skaters take to the Skateway each day it’s open! Admission is free. This is an iconic Ottawa winter activity! Skate rentals are available as well as sled rentals for non-skaters.
Want to know where else you can get your ice skating fix? Check out a longer list of great ice skating options on our Where to Ice Skate in Ottawa page.
This year is the 40th edition of Ottawa’s winter festival, Winterlude (Feb. 2 – 19, 2018). This popular annual event takes place at sites throughout the city and most of the activities are free!
At Crystal Garden in Confederation Park, you can admire beautiful ice sculptures created by carvers from around the world during the International Ice Carving Competition. Also, Winterlude’s Snowflake Kingdom is a family favourite as children (and adults!) enjoy the giant snow and ice slides. Throughout the festival, you’ll find great free events taking place on the Rideau Canal Skateway and in Ottawa’s downtown core. One of the most unique events is the Ice Dragon Boat Festival which takes place on Feb. 10, 2018. For the second time in North America, dragon boats will race down the frozen Skateway. Cheer them on! About 600,000 people take part in Winterlude each year.
This is a quintessential Canadian winter activity! Just a 20-minute drive north of Ottawa’s downtown core, you’ll find the luscious and expansive Gatineau Park. At the park’s Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Quebec, you can rent a pair of snowshoes for an hour, a day or even overnight; as Gatineau Park offers winter camping areas. And if you have your own snowshoes, just purchase a daily snowshoeing pass. Gatineau Park offers 60 kilometres (37.3 miles) of snowshoeing trails that vary in skill level from easy to difficult.
Never been snowshoeing before? No problem. Opt to head out onto the beginner-friendly Sugarbush trail, which is located just beside the Visitor Centre. Take in the beautiful scenery as you go!
After all of that outdoor winter fun, you’ll no doubt be in the mood to warm up. Just around the corner from Gatineau Park’s Visitor Centre, you’ll find Nordik Spa-Nature.
Known locally as “Nordik,” this is the largest outdoor spa in North America. Here, you can enjoy Nordik’s Thermal Baths and Saunas. In this Scandinavian-inspired experience, make your way from hot tubs as well as saunas and steam rooms to cold pools and rest areas. And don’t worry about being outside! Nordik has many great assets to keep you warm such as closed gazebos with wood burning fireplaces, heated porches and even heated hammocks.
If you want to take your spa experience one step further, opt to add a massage or try Nordik’s Källa treatment. Located in a cave-like structure five metres (16 feet) underground, Källa is a salt water floating pool that like the Dead Sea, offers several health benefits. Nordik’s Källa pool is only the second pool of its kind in the world, as the other one is located at a spa in Switzerland.
Looking for even more ways to enjoy winter in Ottawa? Explore our Winter Activities page!