Come celebrate Canadian winter fun during the annual Winterlude festival in Ottawa, January 31 to February 17, 2020! During this free annual event, you can marvel at beautiful ice sculptures, skate on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway, and play till you drop in Snowflake Kingdom. But many more indoor and outdoor activities await, all highlighting Canada’s cultural, artistic and culinary diversity!
Most festival activities are free and take place in the urban Ottawa-Gatineau region during the first three weekends of February (including Family Day, Monday, Feb. 18). Here’s your guide to the main festival sites in 2019.
Rideau Canal Skateway: Epic skating memories
Grab your skates or rent a pair and glide along the Rideau Canal Skateway – the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020! This 7.8 kilometre (4.8 mile) UNESCO World Heritage Site conveniently winds through downtown Ottawa within walking distance of most hotels.
The Skateway is weather dependent, but when it’s open to skating, it’s free day and night! To check the status and see current ice conditions, visit the Rideau Canal Skateway website. If the Skateway is closed, try one of the many other places to ice skate in Ottawa.
During Winterlude, special programming is offered at sites on or near the Skateway, including these two big events:
- Winterlude Triathlon: On Feb. 1, cheer on brave athletes who skate, ski and run at Dows Lake!
- BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival: On Feb. 7-8, dragon boats outfitted with special blades race down the frozen Rideau Canal Skateway at Dows Lake. Plus, enjoy free concerts inside the Dows Lake Pavilion!
Jacques Cartier Park: Giant winter playground
During Winterlude, Jacques Cartier Park in downtown Gatineau – just across the Alexandra Bridge from downtown Ottawa – becomes a giant winter wonderland for all ages. Snowflake Kingdom is packed with fun activities, including:
- Tube sliding
- Skiing and snowboarding lessons
- Kiddie Zone for toddlers
- Zip line
- Indigenous performances
- Snow sculptures
Snowflake Kingdom is open Thursdays through Sundays during the festival (plus Family Day, Monday, February 17).
The Winterlude mascots – the Ice Hogs family – are reputed to live in Snowflake Kingdom where they love to play in the snow and meet families. Give them a hug when you see them! (They also like to visit the other official Winterlude sites.)
Sparks Street: Fancy ice, interactive lights and urban fun
Just one block south of Parliament Hill, Sparks Street is a historic and pedestrian gathering place for events in Ottawa.
This new Winterlude site will host three ice carving competitions throughout the festival: the Winterlude International Ice Carving Challenge, the Winterlude Battle of America’s Ice Carving Challenge and the Canadian Ice Carvers Society Championship.
Other programming on Sparks Street includes:
- Winterlude kick-off party
- Winter edition of Capital Pride, celebrating the LGBTQ2+ community (Feb. 4-9)
- Various live performances
- Interactive light structures
Additional programming throughout Ottawa
Other areas and sites throughout the city will also host special Winterlude programming, including neighbourhoods (ByWard Market, Downtown Rideau, Bank Street and the Glebe), as well as national and local museums, performances venues and historic sites.
For more information about all of the events mentioned above and more, see the full schedule on the official Winterlude website.
Free bus shuttle between official sites
The free OLG Sno-Bus provided by OC Transpo and the Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO) are a great way to get between official Winterlude sites on weekends and on a Family Day (Feb. 17).
Special services on the Rideau Canal Skateway include: ramps to access the Skateway, accessible heated change facilities and accessible portable toilets.
A limited number of accessible parking spots are available for people with disabilities at these paid parking lots:
- National Arts Centre (NAC)
- Ottawa City Hall
- Dows Lake parking (corner of Preston Street and Prince of Wales)
- Bronson Avenue’s National Capital Commission parking space
Not sure what to bring to Ottawa to make the most of your Winterlude experience? Consult our handy Winterlude Packing Guide.