Did you know that Ottawa is home to the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world, as designated by Guinness World Records? Each year, from roughly January to late February or early March, the scenic Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – freezes and welcomes nearly one million visitors for winter fun. Best of all, the Skateway conveniently winds through downtown Ottawa and vibrant neighbourhoods. This epic urban skating rink is a bucket list must!
A magical experience
People come from around the world to experience the Rideau Canal Skateway’s 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles), which stretch from Ottawa’s downtown core near the National Arts Centre to spacious Dows Lake. The Skateway’s total skating surface is 165,621 square metres, which is bigger than 105 National Hockey League rinks or more than 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks! On cold nights, The National Capital Commission (NCC) – the organization responsible for the Skateway – drills holes in the Canal ice and pumps water onto the surface. They also use a special Zamboni that smooths the ice surface.
The Skateway hosts a daily average of 20,000 visitors during the winter months, including many Ottawans who live near the Canal and use it to skate to school or to work. What a fun commute! The Skateway also hosts special programming during the Winterlude festival which takes place during the first three weekends of February each year.
Free and accessible
When the Skateway is open (weather permitting), it’s free and accessible 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, with lamps lighting the Skateway from above at nighttime. There’s nothing more romantic on a wintry evening than gliding hand in hand with a loved one on this magical skating rink!
Everyone can access the Skateway thanks to universally accessible facilities like access ramps, heated change rooms and washrooms. If you can’t skate or prefer not to, you can walk or shuffle your way along the edges of the Skateway (away from skaters), or up above it on the pathways that line the Rideau Canal.
Skate and sleigh rentals
If you don’t have your own skates, you can rent a pair from Capital Skates on the Skateway near the National Arts Centre or at Fifth Avenue. You can also rent sleighs which need to be pushed by skaters – a great option for children or non-skaters. For hours of operation, rates and details, visit the Capital Skates website. The Dows Lake Pavilion at the other end of the Rideau Canal also rents equipment.
Food and facilities
All along the Skateway, you’ll find various stands offering poutine, hot chocolate and other treats to keep you cozy and warm. There are also heated change huts, where you can put your skates on, take a warm break or even use the washroom. And while you’re on the famous Skateway, make sure to get a BeaverTails pastry! This deep fried, cinnamon and sugar, beaver tail-shaped pastry was invented in Ottawa in 1978. There’s nothing more Canadian than enjoying one on skates on the Skateway in the winter!
Before you go
Since the Rideau Canal Skateway is an outdoor skating rink, it’s dependent on weather conditions. Make sure to verify its status and the ice conditions before you go. If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and the Skateway is not open, don’t fret! Consult our list of Best ice skating experiences in Ottawa for amazing alternatives.