When you visit Canada’s capital before or during Christmastime, you’ll instantly get into the festive spirit as you explore beautifully decorated museums, do some Christmas shopping and enjoy seasonal treats—all under hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights. Use this handy three-day itinerary as inspiration to plan your own memorable holiday getaway or staycation in Ottawa this year.
DAY 1 – Festive food and flair
Accommodation options in the Ottawa area range from historic hotels to simple hostels. Visit our stay page for details and to take advantage of special promotions and discounts.
Pop culture alert!
Did you know that the Ottawa region is full of Christmas movie filming locations? If you’re a festive film fan, you could spend an entire trip visiting sites and businesses where some of your favourite scenes were filmed! Consider planning your own tour, or note places to check out as you explore urban and rural areas.
Start your stay by getting a taste of the culinary scene on a food tour of the historic ByWard Market area with C’est Bon Cooking. You’ll discover foodie favourites, 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 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 eat in one of the many restaurants—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. You can also embark on vintage heated trolleys for Ottawa’s new hop-on/hop-off winter tours with Cobblestone Tours, departing from the ByWard Market neighbourhood until spring.
During the winter season, the area has a festive feel and vendors sell items like fresh wreaths, Christmas trees and handmade decorations. Plus on December weekends, you might encounter special programming such as free horse-drawn carriage rides, carollers and more. Don’t miss a great photo opp at the OTTAWA letters on York Street near Sussex Drive.
When you need a meal or a snack, you’re never far from a restaurant, café or food hall in the downtown areas of Sparks Street, Downtown Rideau and Elgin Street.
Or go hunting for delicious holiday treats. The sweet and savoury options including doughnuts, cookies and chocolate will satisfy your Christmastime cravings.
Take a culture break by visiting some of Ottawa’s many museums and other attractions, including seven of the country’s nine national museums! Take your pick of art, nature, history, aviation and other topics. Plus, many of them are hosting fascinating special exhibits as well as holiday programming including activities for kids and giant Christmas trees.
These and other sites are a treat for the eyes, and perfect indoor spots to photograph, especially while decorated for the holidays. Get your camera ready and capture the beauty.
One of these locations is the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel, whose public spaces are filled with sumptuous décor, art pieces and old photographs. In December, dozens of decorated Christmas trees are displayed throughout the main spaces during the Trees of Hope event (you can vote for your favourite). For the full experience, consider making a reserving for Afternoon Tea at the stylish Zoe’s.
Stroll around the city and bask in the glow of Winter Lights Across Canada. Each evening from early December to early January, the Pathway of lights features thousands of colourful lights along Confederation Boulevard, including many parks and historic sites in Ottawa and Gatineau. And don’t miss a new winter-themed multimedia projection show on Parliament Hill, presented in a 15-minute loop.
Make a side stop for a Winter Wander down Sparks Street. The pedestrian walkway is decorated with illuminated displays and fun selfie opportunities. Warm up in one of the restaurants or pubs along the way.
Immerse yourself in a magical European market atmosphere at the Ottawa Christmas Market, a free event held at Lansdowne in the Glebe neighbourhood, just south of the downtown core. Visit in the evening to fully appreciate the giant Christmas tree, light displays, performances and vendors. This festive fête runs on weekends in December, plus additional days leading up to Christmas.
DAY 2 – Shop, skate and glow
Is there anything more satisfying than brunch? Among the numerous hot brunch spots in Ottawa, you’ll find classic diners, fancy restaurants and popular bakeries.
Score the perfect presents by shopping local. We can help you find unique gifts for everyone on your list as well as top ten local stocking stuffers for people who love Ottawa, Canada, food, drinks, culture, animals and more.
For big brand name shopping options, visit the CF Rideau Centre—Ottawa’s premiere downtown shopping destination. Gaze at the glitzy decorations as you browse indoor retailers such as Nordstrom, Simons, Tiffany & Co., H&M, Anthropologie and Zara.
Ice skating is one of the must-do magical holiday activities. 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 Rink of Dreams is conveniently located in front of Ottawa City Hall, near many downtown hotels. You can skate for free and rent skates on site, or bring your own. Visit in the evening to see the rink decorated in colourful LED lights.
Another option is to fly in a vintage biplane with Santa as your and enjoy great views from above! These special Ottawa Biplane Adventure tours depart from the Canada Aviation and Space Museum on weekends in December.
Prefer relaxing indoors and taking in a show? The National Arts Centre is a mecca for holiday programming including orchestra concerts, theatre presentations and musical performances.
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 where you can drive through a two-kilometre display of over one million LED lights, including a 200-foot light tunnel and large winter characters.
Just south of Wesley Clover, visit Saunders Farm for A Country Christmas Drive-Through light and sound experience, and to browse the Farm Shop and enjoy seasonal treats.
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, farms and villages
Return to the vibrant Glebe neighbourhood to enjoy some daytime festive fun at Lansdowne.
Get some breakfast, brunch or lunch at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market which takes place inside the historic Aberdeen Pavilion during the colder months. Shop for unique and local Christmas gifts offered by 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.
Whether you visited the Ottawa Christmas Market in the evening or not, the free event next to the Aberdeen Pavilion is worth a daytime wander.
And just behind the pavilion is the photogenic Skating Court, another free and refrigerated outdoor ice surface. Unlike the Rink of Dreams, rental skates are not available, so bring your own, or simply admire the people twirling on the ice.
If you have kids in tow, local farms are perfect family-friendly destinations in the daytime. Enjoy a winter wonderland experience with outdoor games, activities, goodies and more at sites such as Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm (east), Saunders Farm (west) and Log Farm (southwest).
Before you leave, make sure to 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 including Almonte, Manotick and Wakefield.
If you can extend your stay in Ottawa, consider even more holiday events, including additional special markets, craft sales, concerts and festivals.