An Ode to Winter in our Nation’s Capital

There’s only one way to enjoy a cold Canadian winter: Bundle up, gather your loved ones, get out there and play! With so many outdoor activities happening in the heart of downtown Ottawa, experiencing the joys of winter (think snow sports, festivals and an epic Nordic spa) has never been easier.

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Rideau Canal Skateway (Photo, Ottawa Tourism)

Skate the Iconic Rideau Canal

No winter escape to the capital is complete without skating the 7.8-kilometre stretch of Ottawa’s scenic Rideau Canal Skateway—a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized as the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. Just how big is it? Its skating surface spans a massive 165,621 square metres, the equivalent of 105 NHL rinks.

Skating on the Rideau Canal (Photo, James-Peltzer)

Whether you bring your own skates or rent a pair for the day (sleighs, locker rooms, safety gear and sharpening services also available), it’s an invigorating activity the entire family will love—especially since it usually ends with hot chocolate, BeaverTails (an Ottawa staple since 1978) and, of course, delightfully rosy cheeks.

Winterlude Confederation Park BeaverTails stand (Photo, Ottawa Tourism)

Enjoy Festivals Galore

If you thought Ottawa came to life with world-class festivals in the summer, just wait until you see what’s going on in the winter! Some of the region’s most popular celebrations happen in February, including the Ice Dragon Boat Festival (with action-packed races, Chinese lion dancing and guest appearances from Disney’s Frozen, Princess Anna and Queen Elsa), Gatineau Winter Beerfest at the Canadian Museum of History (with more than 35 craft breweries from Ontario, Quebec and all over the world, plus live entertainment and workshops), and the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival (the 2019 lineup includes instrumentalists Pugs & Crows, Kevin Breit’s Bona Fide Scoundrels, and a tribute to Aretha Franklin by The 33Z).

USA Team Racing (Photo, Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival)

Winter Beerfest (Photo, Gatineau Winter Beerfest)

And at the intersection of everything that’s extraordinary about winter in Ottawa is Winterlude, a signature event that’s been an annual February rendezvous since 1979. This year, Winterlude runs February 1 to 18 and promises to celebrate uniquely Canadian themes: all-things Indigenous, LGBTQ2+, family fun and local culinary delights. The schedule for the event’s 41st edition is jam-packed with activities everyone can enjoy, from horse-drawn carriage rides and maple-themed food tours to the 32nd International Ice Carving Competition and the wildly entertaining Accora Village Bed Race (in its new ByWard Market venue this year). Bringing the kids? Of all the sites you’ll find throughout the city, Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau’s Jacques Cartier Park is a must-visit, with snow slides, live performances, games and the Ice Hog family, the selfie- and hug-loving Winterlude mascots.

Winterlude Confederation Park (Photo, Ottawa Tourism)

Winterlude Ice Hog Family (Photo, Ottawa Tourism)

Ski, Snowshoe and Spa in Gatineau Park

For a daytrip that will immerse you in nature and get those endorphins flowing, head to Gatineau Park—an easy 15-minute drive from Parliament Hill—for some cross-country skiing. The picturesque park boasts 50-plus groomed, maintained and patrolled trails suitable for any skill level and style (classic or skate). If you prefer to take it slow, snowshoeing is also a great way to discover the pristine park’s flora and fauna.

Cross country skiing Gatineau Park (Photo, James-Peltzer)

When your legs are screaming for mercy, it’s time for a visit to Nordik Spa-Nature, North America’s largest Nordic spa tucked into the woods in the village of Chelsea. The world-class spa features a dizzying array of amenities, including 10 outdoor baths, nine saunas, four cold-plunge pools and a variety of indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, plus a floating saltwater pool that is one of only two in the world (the other is in Switzerland). Add à la carte treatments like facials and massages, and you’re sure to leave refreshed and blissed out.

(Photo, Nordik-Spa-Nature)

Ready to brave the cold and go? For more information, visit Ottawa Tourism.