When it comes to the holiday season, you’ll instantly get into the festive spirit as you visit Canada’s capital before and during Christmastime. You can explore beautifully decorated museums, do some Christmas shopping and enjoy some seasonal treats—all under hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights. Use this handy three-day itinerary as inspiration to plan your own memorable (and safe) holiday getaway or staycation in Ottawa this year.
Note: Advanced reservations are required for most tours and attractions. Please contact sites and businesses individually to confirm details before visiting. You can easily visit Ottawa safely by following the most recent COVID-19 regulations as stated by Ottawa Public Health, as well as those stated by the specific establishments.
DAY 1 – Sights with festive flair
Accommodation options in the Ottawa area range from historic hotels to simple hostels. Visit our stay page for all the options and to take advantage of any promotions and discounts.
Start by visiting Parliament Hill, a must-see historic site that is the home of Canada’s federal government. Admire the buildings’ architecture while warming up by the famous Centennial Flame outside.
Although the iconic Centre Block is undergoing a decade-long rehabilitation, the iconic Peace Tower remains visible. Explore the grounds to see several monuments that depict important events and figures of Canada’s past.
Lunch and afternoon:
Lunch options abound near Parliament Hill. Choose from restaurants, cafés and food halls throughout the areas of Sparks Street, Downtown Rideau and Elgin Street. Several have cozy heated outdoor patios (weather dependent) and offer takeout options.
Ottawa is home to most of the country’s national museums and many other attractions that highlight art, nature, history, aviation and other topics. Most are open and offering limited reserved ticketed admission. For current information including operating hours and access, visit our museum and attraction programming page.
While enriching your mind at these sites, you can also capture the beauty inside. See our insider tips on great indoor spots to photograph in Ottawa—they’ll even be enhanced with holiday decorations!
Visit the National Gallery of Canada to get up close with renowned masterpieces and unexpected treasures. In the vast Canadian and Indigenous Galleries, you’ll see a wide range of works including paintings by the Group of Seven, modern Inuit sculptures and the multi-sensorial exhibit Forty-Part Motet. Set inside the ornate Rideau Chapel, the Motet features 40 separate speakers playing different recorded choir voices. Magical!
For a more regional perspective on art, visit the Ottawa Art Gallery, a beautiful modern building where admission is always free. Explore art pieces from the Ottawa area and beyond, including a collection of works by the popular Group of Seven.
Visit the public spaces inside the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, even if you’re not staying there. The lobby and lounge feature sumptuous décor and art, and the heritage gallery presents photos of the building’s history.
If you’re visiting in November, join one of The Haunted Walk’s cloaked guides for a family-friendly, lantern-lit journey through downtown. These fun and spooky outings focus on the city’s fascinating history as well as ghost stories. On various dates, you can also join their virtual events including Christmas-themed online campfires.
Then stroll around the city and bask in the glow of Christmas Lights Across Canada. Each evening from the end of November to early January, Ottawa’s downtown core is lit up with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights along Confederation Boulevard and historic sites along the way.
DAY 2 – Shop and savour the season
French-style bakery Le Moulin de Provence in the ByWard Market Square building is the perfect place to fuel up for the day with fresh coffee, French breads, pastries, sandwiches and more. Check out the cute seasonal cookies decorated like Santa Claus, snowmen and Christmas trees.
Join C’est Bon Cooking for a walking food tour of the ByWard Market area. You’ll discover some foodie favourites, learn about local flavours and enjoy samples along the way. If you prefer to get hands on, sign up for one of their cooking classes available in person and online.
Continue exploring the historic, compact and pedestrian-friendly ByWard Market neighbourhood on your own. Hunt for local and Canadian-made items in the many boutiques, have a warm beverage in a café, or dine on a heated patio or get takeout from the many restaurant—all within four square blocks! This area is also home to the open-air ByWard Market; one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. During this season, it’s full of items like fresh wreaths, Christmas trees and handmade decorations.
If brand names are more your style, visit the CF Rideau Centre—Ottawa’s downtown shopping destination. Gaze at the glitzy decorations as you browse retailers such as Nordstrom, Simons, Tiffany & Co., H&M, Anthropologie and Zara.
Go hunting for holiday treats. The sweet and savoury options including doughnuts, cookies and chocolate will satisfy your Christmastime cravings.
Work off some of those calories by going ice skating. If the Rideau Canal Skateway is not yet open for skating, don’t worry! Ottawa has refrigerated outdoor rinks that are usually open from late-November to mid-March (weather depending).
The SENS Rink of Dreams is conveniently located in front of Ottawa City Hall, near many downtown hotels. Named after Ottawa’s NHL hockey team the Ottawa Senators, the rink offers free skating and is decorated in colourful LED lights. Bring your own skates (facilities are closed until further notice).
Drive out to some of the region’s spectacular light displays for a dose of brilliant colour.
A short 20-minute drive west of the city takes you to Wesley Clover Parks’ Magic of Lights. From Nov. 13, 2020 to Jan. 9, 2021, you can drive through a two-kilometre display of over one million LED lights, including a 200-foot light tunnel and large LED winter characters.
Just south of Wesley Clover is Saunders Farm which is hosting their new Amazing Winter Wonderland Drive-Through Experience 2020. Stay in the comfort and safety of your vehicle as you search the historic farm’s grounds for a Christmas Star.
Or, stroll through an 1860s heritage village decorated with nearly one million twinkling lights! Located 45-minutes south of Ottawa in Morrisburg, Ont., Upper Canada Village hosts their annual Alight at Night event from late November to early January.
DAY 3 – Markets and villages
Take in some festive fun at the Lansdowne area in the vibrant Glebe neighbourhood, just south of Ottawa’s downtown core.
On the outdoor plaza at Lansdowne, you’ll find a large Christmas tree, large lit up signs and other festive visuals (the previously scheduled Ottawa Christmas Market is cancelled due to COVID-19).
Get some breakfast, brunch or lunch at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market which takes place inside the historic Aberdeen Pavilion during the colder months. Browse the many vendors of local crafts, food and other products. This year-round market takes place from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each Sunday throughout the year, with an expanded Christmas edition on both Saturdays and Sundays in December.
Just behind the pavilion is the photogenic Skating Court, another free and refrigerated outdoor ice surface. Bring your own skates (facilities are closed until further notice).
On the way home, explore some of the region’s best places to get into the holiday spirit. Discover hidden treasures, beautiful architecture and friendly businesses in nearby quaint communities and villages.