As a four-season destination, Canada’s capital boasts year-round attractions and events – some of which are at their best in winter! And with most sights located within a 20-minute walk from many downtown hotels, you can easily enjoy the city’s snowy beauty while you explore. Here are just five of the many sights and experiences you shouldn’t miss when visiting Ottawa in the winter.
1. Majestic Parliament Hill
The most iconic site in Canada’s capital, Parliament Hill, sits on a scenic hill overlooking the Ottawa River. Warm up at the Centennial Flame while admiring the three neo-Gothic-style federal government buildings (East Block, West Block and Centre Block) which were constructed between 1859 and 1927. Special free events are held on the grounds year-round including and the Christmas Lights Across Canada multimedia show which is projected on the Centre Block from early December to early January.
While the Centre Block’s interior undergoes a decade-long rehabilitation, you can take free guided tours of two sites temporarily housing Parliamentary Chambers: The House of Commons in the renovated West Block, and The Senate in the Senate of Canada Building just one block away (a Beaux-Arts-style structure which was originally Ottawa’s train station built in 1912).
2. Epic ice skating
The Ottawa region is an ice skating paradise, boasting several outdoor rinks in the city (some of which are refrigerated) as well as enchanting skating trails in the countryside. Best of all, the bucket list worthy Rideau Canal Skateway becomes the world’s largest skating rink when it freezes during the winter months (roughly late December through February, weather permitting). You can glide 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) through downtown Ottawa day and night on this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. Iconic national museums
Museums are the perfect place to warm up, especially in Canada’s capital where you can visit seven of nine national museums. Choose from the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, beautiful Indigenous and Canadian art, ancient dinosaur fossils, Canadian military stories and aviation artefacts. Museums often host temporary blockbuster programming, including special exhibits from around the world. Get Canada’s National Museums Passport and save when you visit three museums in three days!
4. Historic Byward Market neighbourhood
The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada as well as the name of the historic neighbourhood that surrounds it. Visit the indoor and outdoor vendors around the central building for local products like maple syrup and crafts as well as fun souvenirs and gifts. You’ll also find fashion, jewellery and homewares in the many independent shops throughout the neighbourhood. When it’s time for a treat, nibble on a tasty BeaverTail pastry at its original stand located on George Street, sip a cocktail in a cozy bar, or fulfil your culinary cravings at the many restaurants. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the huge OTTAWA letters on York Street near Sussex Drive and tag #MyOttawa on social media!
Fun winter activities are easily accessible within Ottawa’s urban spaces and in the nearby countryside. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers love the scenic trails along the Ottawa River (including the SJAM Winter Trail) as well as those within the Ottawa Greenbelt parkland surrounding the city (like serene Mer Bleue). Hilly Gatineau Park is a winter wonderland, with over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of groomed trails and heated huts.
The wintry beauty of partly frozen waterfalls is on display at Hog’s Back Falls and Rideau Falls – both within the city. And Winterlude, Canada’s winter festival, highlights outdoor activities, Canadian culture and urban fun for the whole family during the first three weekends of February each year.
Prefer to stay inside during the colder months? Check out our suggestions for top indoor activities to warm you up this winter in Ottawa.