There are so many wonderful things to do in Ottawa in the Winter. Come December, Canada’s capital is lit up with Christmas lights, hot chocolate inexplicably tastes better, and everyone is waiting for the Rideau Canal to freeze over. I’ve lived in Ottawa for most of my life, and love winter in the capital. The variety of things to do in Ottawa in the winter makes it the perfect weekend getaway, or addition to any winter trip to Canada. 

I know what you’re thinking – it’s so cold. Yes. Yes, that is true. But with some warm weather gear and cozy nights in to balance out the brrrr factor, it’s nothing you can’t handle. In fact, it’s straight up magical when the city is covered in snow and lights.

Here are my favourite things to do in Ottawa in winter! Prefer to stay in? Check out this post of Ottawa experiences you can have at homeWinter 2020 – 2021 

I have indicated what activities are open or will be open in 2020-2021, but always check before you go as restrictions are subject to change.

Ottawa Winter

Things to do in Ottawa in Winter

More winter in Canada posts:

Go Skating at one of Ottawa’s Outdoor Rinks

When you’re thinking of things to do in Ottawa in winter, skating comes to mind right away. There are so many beautiful outdoor rinks open across the city every year winter, for every level of skater. Go on an adventure through the forest, across the city, or twirl around on a rink. I love skating, and make a point of visiting a couple rinks every year. Make sure you check out my Canada gear guide to stay warm! Here’s what’s open in winter 2020-2021.

Skating rinks will be open this winter!

Rideau Canal Skateway 

Ottawa’s greatest claim to fame is the Rideau Canal. It’s the longest skating rink in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site. If you meet any one from Winnipeg that tells you differently, you can share this link to the Guinness World Records website with them.

Skate through the Forest at Lac de Loups

There’s a beautiful skating trail in Gatineau Park that I’m excited to visit this winter. The trail opened in December this winter season, and stays open through until March, weather and ice conditions permitting. This 3km trail wraps through the trees. Skate around, or snowshoe a trail alongside the ice. The trail is open daily from 10AM to 4PM, and there are evening skating events scheduled for January and February. Details on the skating trail website!

The Governor General’s Skating Rink

The Rideau Hall grounds are beautiful in the winter, and if you visit during the afternoon on a weekend, the skating rink is open, too! Off to the side of Rideau Hall and slightly concealed by the trees is a beautiful little skating rink. It’s open from 1-5PM every Saturday and Sunday, with some extra opening hours during the holidays. 

The SENS Rink of Dreams at City Hall

The SENS Rink of Dreams in front of City Hall is free, and open daily from 6AM to 11PM, so you can even catch a sunset on the ice. Skate rentals and sharpening are available. City Hall is right across from Confederation Park, too, where the trees are covered in beautiful lights throughout the holiday season. Come February, it’s also a Winterlude venue decked out ice sculptures.

The Skating Court at Lansdowne Pavilion

Skating at the Lansdowne Pavilion is free, and open from 6AM to 11PM daily. Lansdowne is also home to a wonderful Christmas Market throughout December, and year round there’s a movie theatre, great restaurants, and a market on Sunday mornings. 

Rideau Canal Skateway, the Governor General’s Skating Rink, the SENS Rink of Dreams, and the Skating Court at Lansdowne are all available by public transit. 

Ottawa winter outdoors
Mer Bleue [left] and Jack Pine Trail [right]

Get Outside

Pull on your winter gear and head outside to enjoy Ottawa in winter. Right after a fresh snow, some places in Ottawa look straight out of a hallmark movie. There are lots of places both inside the city and on the outskirts to experience the winter wonderland!

NCC Trails are open!

Mer Bleue

One of my favourite spots for a winter walk is Mer Bleue. The 1.2km interpretative trail loops through a bog (so stay on the boardwalk). Mer Bleue is a bog, a very unique ecosystem for the area and it looks incredible with the marshes covered in snow. Parking and entry free, and it’s best accessed with a vehicle. You can also bring your snow shoes! View on map.

Jack Pine Trail

Make your way to Jack Pine Trail and help keep the chickadees well fed! Jack Pine trail is a beautiful place for a winter walk, and the birds will eat out of your hands. Get a big scoop of premium bird seed for $1 at Bulk Barn to attract chickadees and nuthatches. My family and I recently learned that woodpeckers love crushed peanuts! There are 3 loops at Jack Pine trail – I recommend the medium loop (1.7km) for bird feeding. Free parking, free entry, best reached by car but it is possible to bus and walk. View trail maps and location.

Dominion Arboretum

Completely accessible by bus, the Dominion Arboretum is a snowscape within the city that is free and easily accessible. Walk the 3km loop beginning at the main parking lot and enjoy a view of the Rideau Canal along the way. I like to take the Line 2 Train to Carleton Station and cross Rideau Canal Locks 9 & 10, walk through the arboretum looping upwards the main parking lot, and then catch the train again at Carling Station on the side. The walk takes about 30 minutes (2.4km). View on map.

Christmas Lights Across Canada

Enjoy the Lights at Night

Every winter through December and in to early January, Ottawa is covered in beautiful Christmas lights. I absolutely love this time of year! Unfortunately, light shows in and around Ottawa only last until early January so make sure you get out to enjoy the lights before they’re gone. 

Light shows are on!

Magic of Lights at Wesley Clover Parks (Drive-Thru)

Experience a dazzling, drive-through holiday light show from November 13th, 2020 – January 9th 2021. You will drive through light-adorned tunnels and past holiday scenes and familiar holiday characters. Prices are per car and can be found on the Wesley Clover Parks website.

Christmas Lights Across Canada 

This Magical Winter Lightscape multimedia show projects on to the Parliament Buildings at 5:30-11PM every night, and until midnight on New Year’s Eve. The capital region is covered in Christmas lights during the time, too. Major’s Hill Park and Confederation Park are a couple of my favourite places to go for an an evening stroll and see the lights! Lights go on at 4:30PM every evening, until 2AM. Getting out to see the lights is one of my favourite things to do in Ottawa in winter, and all you need is some warm mittens!

This event begins the first week of December and ends January 7. View details

Enchanted Ottawa Holiday Drive Thru

New this Christmas season, this drive in experience takes over a former go-kart track and takes you through a spectacular light display. Explore 8 festive scenes, see Santa, lights, and other holiday characters. Get tickets here.

Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village

One of the biggest outdoor light festivals in Ontario is at Upper Canada Village until January 5th. Heritage buildings, trees, and fences are decorate with hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights. Get your tickets in advance and arrive early. This event sells out!

Saunders Farm Drive Through

Saunders Farm is hosting both daytime and nighttime holiday fun this year! Join Mazey, a young sapling, as she explores the farm in search of her Christmas star. Stop by the night patio and Farm Shop afterward for mulled wine, craft beers, hot drinks, and Beavertails. You can also buy trees, wreaths, and gifts. Get your tickets here.

Lights at Lansdowne

Ottawa’s biggest Christmas tree is back! Wander the Casino Lac Leamy Plaze at Lansdowne and immerse yourself in lights. I have already visited this year and it is the perfect spot for holiday Instagram pictures! Pose in a giant light adorned ornament or take your picture with the Xmas or Noël sign. This event is free, visit anytime. Bring your skates for the rink! Find out more.

The Vintage Village of Lights

Step back in time with the Vintage Village of Lights at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. This drive-through edition features over 30,000 lights and an old-fashioned radio program to listen to while you drive. Costs is per vehicle and tickets can be found here.

Christmas Villages & Farms

Ian’s Christmas Adventure

This Christmas tree farm has lots to see and do! Enjoy a hay ride out to the fields to choose your own Christmas tree, visit Santa for a socially-distanced photo, or stop by the petting farm. Enjoy mazes and stroll through Candy Cane Lane – which lights up at night! There’s even a skating rink, sledding, and winter movie nights. The property is enormous and you can explore it all for $10. Learn more.

Saunders Farm: A Country Christmas

Make your way to Saunders Farm during the daytime for A Country Christmas! You’ll find mazes, a maze observation tower, and play structures for the kids. Enjoy a wagon ride and relax at the winter patio for a mulled wine, craft beer, or a hot drink and a Beavertail. Shop the Christmas mark for trees, local makers, and gifts. Pre-purchase required: get tickets.

Stanley’s Olde Maple Farm Christmas Village

Visit a stunning Christmas Village in your family bubble! When you arrive you will be greeted be a Christmas Elf. Enjoy a sleigh ride through the forest to the Christmas Village! Explore, warm up by the bonfire, say hi to Santa, and enjoy a hot chocolate! Get tickets.

ottawa art gallery

Museums to Visit in Ottawa in Winter

The snow is lovely, but sometimes you just want to take off you coat! Things to do in Ottawa in winter don’t have to be cold: Ottawa is home to some incredible museums, and important buildings that offer tours of the inside. Museums are open. Masks are required.

Many of the museums have free access times that you can take advantage of! On Thursdays, admission to the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature are free from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This does not include special exhibits, only the permanent collections. The Aviation and Space Museum and the Science and Technology Museum offer free admission daily between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Visiting? Get the Ottawa Museum Passport and visit 3 museums, in 3 days for $35. There are 7 participating museums and you can purchase it at any one.

Closure Reminder: Every year on the Monday following New Year’s Day (January 6, 2020) the Canadian Museum of History, Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian War Museum, and National Art Gallery close for 5 days for annual maintenance.

The Canadian Museum of History

The Canadian Museum of History is located on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River. Check out visiting exhibits, or explore the permanent collections that will walk you through Canada’s history, beginning with the First People. 

The Canadian Museum of Nature

Permanent galleries here include the fossil, earth, mammal, bird, and nature galleries, just to name a few! The Butterfly Exhibit is held annually throughout the winter – it feels a little bit like Costa Rica in there! Check the website for other special exhibits. 

Ottawa Art Galleries

Other great places to this winter include the National Art Gallery, with visiting photography and art exhibits, and permanent collections from all over Canada and the world. The Ottawa Art Gallery is also downtown, and always free to enter. It features both classic and contemporary pieces for Canadian artists.

Go on a Tour of Parliament

West Block is open for tours and is easily one of Ottawa’s most beautiful interior. Book a ticket for a cold day and spend some time indoors taking in the stunning renovations. You can also visit the Senate, located a former train station across from Chateau Laurier. The Senate and House of Commons tour tickets are free and can be booked separately. More details to come once it’s open and I’ve visited myself!

Nature Nocturne at the Museum of Nature

Nature Nocturne at the Museum of Nature

Currently unavailable. The Museum of Nature hosts an event called Nature Nocturne on the last Friday or every month, for 19+ only. That’s right, drinks and dinosaurs. Best of both worlds, right? I’ve been to several Nature Nocturne events since they started up a few years ago. Every event has a different theme, and it’s a great chance to get dressed up, have a fun night out, and see one of Canada’s most beautiful museums.

Once you buy your Nature Nocturne ticket, you have access to everything going on in the museum that night: multiple dance floors, all exhibits (including special exhibits that you would normally pay extra for), and whatever fun, extra activities are going on that night. Get your tickets in advance! This event sells out.  

loft board game lounge

Cozy Up Indoors with a Game Night

Ottawa locals have developed a loving for game nights in recent years. Escape Rooms and board games have really caught on, and I think the cold weather does have a bit to do with it – that, and they’re awesome. 

If you are looking for more cozy, indoor activities check out this post!

Loft Board Game Lounge

Loft is board game lounge located near Rideau Centre. This place is always packed, so get there early in the evening. Loft has 2 stories of board games, video games, and big tables and cozy couches for game play. Cover is $5.50, and you can stay for up to 3 hours when there’s a wait list. They have great hot chocolates and lots of snacks available for order, too. This place is a favourite for my friend’s and I, and one of our favourite things to do in Ottawa in winter when we’re looking for a night out that is still a little low-key.

Escape Manor

Escape Manor is open! Play is restricted to 4 people, private bookings. Or, you can play Taken, their online escape room.

There are few things more fun than being locked in a room with 5-11 other people, and no way out but your wits… (kidding, of course you’re not really trapped, but it’s all in the fun). Escape Manor sprang up in downtown Ottawa a few years and now has locations of Queen’s Street, Hintonburg, the Byward Market, and even hosts escapes in the Museum of Nature. I have done several Escape Rooms over the year, including the ones at the museum (highly recommend Framed) and it’s always fun! Book for yourself, with a partner, or a big group of friends. If you don’t have enough people in your group to fill up the booking, other groups of people will book alongside you.

Nordik spa in winter

Relax at an Ottawa Spa in Winter

Here’s another place that many people don’t realize is open in the winter: outdoor spas are wonderful in the snow. Of all the things to do in Ottawa in winter, this is by far the most relaxing. Soak heated pool or unwind in steamy sauna while the snow comes down.

Spas are open (subject to change) with restrictions on the number of guests. Saunas are closed.

The Nordik Spa

Winter transforms the Nordik spa, so that it looks like hot springs up in a mountain somewhere. Lounge around in the hot tubs and saunas, or try the essential-oil infused Aufguss ritual to cleanse and revitalize. Entry is $55 Monday-Thursday, and $65 Friday – Sunday, and it’s really nice to have lunch on site at one of the spa’s restaurants. Check out my guide to visiting the Nordik Spa in the winter! I regularly collaborate with the Nordik Spa.

Amerispa

There are two Amerispa locations near Ottawa, but the one in Cantley is the most scenic in winter. The Scandinavian-style spa includes hot and cold pools, a eucalyptus-scented steam bath, a Finnish sauna, and other amenities. Enjoy evening access to the thermal spa for only $34 (5:30PM to 9PM) or daily access for $48 (includes access, a towel, a bathrobe, slippers, and a locker).

The Spa Ottawa

Prefer to stay indoors? The Spa Ottawa recently opened a new salt room where you can enjoy Halotherapy. Relaxing in the salt room brings numerous health benefits including helping to relieve headaches, and the common cold and cough. Most importantly, it’s tranquil, cozy, and indoors.  Sessions are only $25/ hour. I tried it last year (as a guest of the spa) and loved it! Combine with a massage or mani-pedi for the perfect spa day.

Omega Park animals

Discover a Winter Wonderland at Omega Park

Omega Park is open! Omega Park is a true winter wonderland. Yes, it’s open in the winter! It actually never closes: there are always cute animals in want of carrots and visitors. 365 days a year, including Christmas Day and New Year’s. Omega Park is one of my absolute favourite places. The animals here have many acres of land to roam on, so they’re free to choose whether they interact with people. You stay in your vehicle, and they come to you. Make sure you have lots of carrots!

Omega Park is a 1.5 hour drive from Ottawa, in Montebello, Quebec. Come first thing in the morning, for opening at 10AM. That’s when the animals are most playful! Entry is $26/adult in the winter. 

Winter activities at Omega Park include sleigh rides, visiting the sugar shack, sleigh rides, visiting the wolves, and there are beautiful walking and snowshoe trails. Make a getaway out of it, and sleepover in one of Omega Park’s cabins. Of all the things to do in Ottawa in winter, this is the most “winter wonderland” experience to be had!

Check out my guide to visiting Omega Park in the winter

Omega Park and Nina Near and Far have an ongoing partnership. I visit regularly, and love it every time!

chateau Laurier afternoon tea

Warm up with Winter Desserts, Tea, and Hot Chocolate

Dine-in options are subject to change, but all of these spots offer take-out or delivery!

Afternoon Tea at Zoe’s in Chateau Laurier

Enjoy a 3 tier assortment of sconces, sandwiches, and delicious desserts in the historic and stunning Chateau Laurier. Take a little bit of time explore the hotel as well! In December the lobby is covered in Christmas trees, and any time of year you can explore the main floor, and one level down. Afternoon tea is offered from 2-5 PM Monday to Friday and 12 -5PM on weekends with extended hours during the holidays.

New: order Afternoon Tea to your home on Saturdays and Sundays! Zoe’s is on Uber Eats.

Moulin de Provence

Moulin de Provence is one of my favourite places for a big hot chocolate and themed cookies. There are two locations in the downtown (30 Metcalfe Street and 55 Byward Market Square). Get something to warm you up, and have a delicious maple leaf, snowman, snowflake – or whatever other cute cookie they’re serving that day! The Metcalfe location is only a block away from Parliament, so it’s a great place to go before or after a tour.

Beavertails

This is a classic, and it’s must-do activity. This is one of those things to do in Ottawa in winter that the locals repeat every year, multiple times a year. PSA: no beavers were harmed in the making of this delicious dessert. Beavertails are like fried dough covered in sugar – only they’re inexplicably better. There’s a stand in the Byward Market open year-round, and during the winter you can also buy beavertails at stands along the Rideau Skateway, and at any Winterlude venue. Visitors to Ottawa: don’t leave without getting a beavertail!

things to do in ottawa in winter

Visit Ottawa During Winterlude

Winterlude is still on the schedule! I will post updates as more is known about the format for 2021.

If you’re visiting from out of town, you may want to come during Winterlude. Locals, get outside and enjoy this fun winter festival! Bundle up in snow pants, mittens, coats, and toques to spend the day outside in the snow. This year, Winterlude runs from February 5 – 21, 2021. There are 3 official Winterlude venues, but keep an eye out for ice sculptures all over the city in February!

Ice Sculptures

My favourite Winterlude location is in the Byward Market. During Winterlude it becomes Crystal Gardens and is decked out with beautiful ice sculptures. It’s worth going back more than once, because different sculptures sometimes come and go! The sculptures are lit up at night, making for a totally different experience than visiting during the day.

Snowflake Kingdom

This venue is basically a massive playground made of snow. Slides, games, and dog sled rides take place here. Snowflake Kingdom is the best Winterlude location with children, but it’s worth stopping by either way to see the snow sculptures. When you’re sufficiently chilly, step in to the dining tent for hot chocolate and beaver tails. 

The Rideau Canal

While open outside of the Winterlude dates as well, the canal is considered a interlude venue. During Winterlude, you might run in to mascots or come across special performances and events happening on the ice.

 

 

One Reply to “26 Wonderful Things to do in Ottawa in Winter: A Local’s Guide”

  1. So many fun things, I can tell by experience that there’s so much to do here even in below freezing temperatures. Hope to come back to experience what we missed this time 🙂

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