Ottawa is well known for its lively winter activities like skating on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway, cross country skiing in Gatineau Park and enjoying ice sculptures and snow slides during the annual Winterlude festival. But when you need to warm up, there are tons of tasty, tropical, relaxing and fun things to do indoors. Here are a few of Ottawa’s best indoor activities this winter season.
Start with a hot mug of traditional Gluhwein (mulled spiced wine) at Das Lokal, a restaurant that serves German and Austrian-inspired cuisine in the ByWard Market neighbourhood. The flavours of orange, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and French brandy will warm your tummy. Enjoy a cup in the cozy restaurant or by their outdoor firepit as you browse the menu (think cheese raclette, spätzle and flammkuchen).
Also in the Byward Market, Fatboys Southern Smokehouse specializes in mouth-watering southern BBQ served in a friendly biker-style ambiance. They use a custom Southern Pride smoker to prepare their slow-cooked BBQ including Memphis ribs, Carolina pulled pork, Texan beef brisket and chopped BBQ chicken. Make sure to try one of the hearty side dishes like Kansas corn bread, Texan black bean and corn chili, or smoked bacon mac ‘n cheese. The smell alone will suck you into its doors!
Sometimes a good fondue is the perfect antidote to chilly evenings, and fondue with a view is hard to beat! At Copper Spirits and Sights on the 16th floor of the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market hotel, you can dip fresh fruit and doughnut holes into decadent chocolate ganache. For savoury fondue, head to Meule et Caquelon in Gatineau. Every table gets its own raclette stove, raclette du Valais or Chinese fondue with your choice of dipping ingredients.
One of the best places to warm up in Ottawa this winter is the Butterflies in Flight exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature. You’ll feel like you’re on a mini vacation as you stroll through the warm, humid and relaxing solarium filled with luscious plants and hundreds of fluttering butterflies. (The museum recommends that you reserve tickets in advance for this popular timed-entry exhibit). And see live reptiles, sloths and other creatures up close and personal at the Survival of the Slowest exhibit.
The Central Experimental Farm (where the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located) may not be hosting butterflies, but its permanent tropical greenhouse is another balmy spot to warm up in. You’ll find a diverse collection of exotic plants beautifully presented in the elegant octagonal structure – a heritage building. Access is free!
Holtz Spa is a local favourite located in the ByWard Market area near the CF Rideau Centre. Their signature Tropical Escape treatment is a great way to rejuvenate your skin and awaken your senses. After a full body mango body scrub and a citrus body buff, you’ll be pampered with a luxurious vitamin C facial, and a heavenly raindrop massage. You’re guaranteed to leave feeling revitalized and invigorated.
In Centretown, you can try floatation therapy at ISÖ Spa. Enter one of the private float tanks filled with body temperature water mixed with over a thousand pounds of Epsom salts. The combination will make you feel amazingly buoyant as well as soothe aching muscles, detoxify your body and rejuvenate your skin and hair. The low sensory deprivation environment also soothes the mind.
Looking for a full day escape? Head 10 minutes north of Ottawa to Nordik Spa-Nature, an award-winning spa oasis in Chelsea, Que. Nordik’s signature thermal experience is the perfect way to relax on a cold winter day. In a picture-perfect winter setting, move from a series of warm and hot baths, saunas, and whirlpools, all aimed at relaxing muscles, boosting the immune system and eliminating toxins from the body. Add on a massage or the unique Källa treatment (their therapeutic underground salt-water pool), for the ultimate day of indulgence.
Cultural fun (day and night)
On the last Friday of each month, the Canadian Museum of Nature heats up in the evening during their popular Nature Nocturne event. The museum transforms into an exciting venue with music, dancing, mingling and engaging activities that are perfect for an outing with friends (for ages 19 and up). Or opt to join local company Escape Manor for two adrenaline-pumping escape room mysteries inside the museum (for ages 13 and up). These escape adventures are only available on select evenings from until February 24, 2019.
A must-do in Ottawa is to join a free tour of Parliament Hill’s interior spaces. Until the end of January 2019, you can visit the iconic Centre Block and see the current Senate, House of Commons and beautiful Library of Parliament, as well as take an elevator to the top of the Peace Tower for a 360-degree view. (If your itinerary is jam-packed, request a ticket to go up the Peace Tower without the tour.) Starting in February 2019, the Centre Block is closing to the public while the building undergoes a decade-long rehabilitation. Free guided tours will be offered at two new sites: the West Block House of Commons in Parliament Hill’s West Block, and the Senate in the Senate of Canada Building, which is Ottawa’s original train station.
If the arts scene is your preference, add the beautiful National Gallery of Canada to your list. Explore the vast permanent collections of Canadian and Indigenous art, the on-site Canadian Photography Institute, and the tranquil landscaped courtyards of the Garden Court. For a more local perspective, swing by the always free Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) which focuses on art from the Ottawa area and within Canada. And no culture vulture can resist the performing arts at the National Arts Centre where theatre, music, dance and other programming are on stage in English and French.
No matter how you choose to warm up indoors during your Ottawa visit, we recommend you embrace winter at its fullest by getting active as well. See our Winter Activities page for suggestions!