When exploring Canada’s capital city with your family during the winter months, whether for Family Day Weekend or a fun family getaway, here are the must-experience cultural activities you can all enjoy. Take a tour of Parliament Hill, skate along the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, learn something new at a national museum and more!
Day 1: Explore Parliament Hill and the ByWard Market
Start your family weekend in Ottawa with a brunch both you and your children will love. Zak’s Diner is an Ottawa staple with two locations, one in the bustling ByWard Market neighbourhood and another on vibrant Elgin Street. Zak’s keeps the diner classics untouched, so you’ll all feel like you’re stepping back in time. With a special kids’ menu, there’s something for everyone.
Once the whole family is full, you’re ready to start exploring. Head over to Parliament Hill, walking distance from both Zak’s Diner locations, for a free tour of the home of Canada’s federal government. With historic paintings, as well as architecture decorated with Canadian motifs, you’ll be in awe as you learn something new. Tours of both the West Block and Senate of Canada Building are available. Check here for other free programming offered year-round.
Once the tour is done, walk over to the historic ByWard Market Square — one of Canada’s oldest farmers’ markets — established in 1826 by Lieutenant-Colonel John By, the builder of the Rideau Canal. The ByWard Market neighbourhood is full of restaurants, boutiques, shops, a gigantic, brightly lit “OTTAWA” sign to capture your family photos and more. It’s the perfect place to visit when exploring Ottawa with your family.
A great way to experience six of Ottawa’s main attractions is with the Visit Ottawa Pass. Choose between a 1-day or 3-day pass and you and your family can explore the Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of History, the National Gallery of Canada and more.
Use the Visit Ottawa Pass and check out the National Gallery of Canada, located on Sussex Drive near the ByWard Market. The gallery is home to a variety of permanent and special exhibitions where you can discover contemporary and historical artworks, including a number of pieces by the famous Group of Seven.
For dinner, stop by one of the many kid-friendly restaurants found conveniently in the ByWard Market. Blue Cactus and the Grand Pizzeria are great options for young families! For dessert, walk over to the BeaverTails stand located on George Street in the ByWard Market. You and your kids can choose from an array of flavours and pair with a hot chocolate to keep warm. BeaverTails are a must-try local dessert when in Canada’s capital!
Day 2: Experience a winter wonderland
Get your second day started by grabbing a muffin, donut or iconic maple leaf cookie (dubbed as the “Obama Cookie” because it’s the cookie the former President bought for his daughters when he visited Ottawa in 2009) at Moulin de Provence located in the historic Byward Market
After grabbing a snack, weather permitting, strap on some skates and cruise along the historic Rideau Canal Skateway — Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site! The Rideau Canal is the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, s 7.8 kilometres long. With various entry points, you can get on and off wherever works best for you. Huts are set up so you can treat the kids to another BeaverTail and hot chocolate along the way. If the Rideau Canal isn’t open, don’t worry! There are many other skating trails to experience for family fun.
Every February, Ottawa is home to Winterlude, an exciting outdoor winter festival that takes place during the first three weekends of the month. From family-friendly activities to group adventures and date nights, there’s something for everyone at Winterlude. Don’t miss out on all the magic this festival has to offer. Watch as artists carve extraordinary ice sculptures and bring your children to Snowflake Kingdom, a gigantic snow playground!
Winterlude activities highlight Canada’s cultural and artistic diversity as sites, museums and special events showcase seasonal programming as well as opportunities to connect with Indigenous culture. Most festival activities are free and conveniently take place in the urban Ottawa-Gatineau region.
Warm up inside one of the many museums Ottawa has to offer. You can use your Visit Ottawa Pass for the Canadian Museum of History, located just across the bridge in Quebec. Canada’s most visited museum showcases the events, people and objects that have shaped the nation. The museum also boasts the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles as well as being home to the Canadian Children’s Museum!
It’s time to fuel up at a kid-friendly restaurant for dinner. Found in the ByWard Market neighbourhood is Lone Star Texas Grill. With kids’ menu items like cheese quesadillas and meat fajitas, along with classics like chicken fingers and burgers, you can’t go wrong with this option.
Another great kid-friendly restaurant is Johnny Farina. Located on Elgin Street, Johnny Farina serves up Italian favourites like pasta and pizza. Your kids can order their own small-sized pizza or pasta and pick their own toppings.
Day 3: Museum magic and more
Finish your time in Ottawa with one last family-friendly brunch at The King Eddy. Your children will love the retro vibes and incredible food. The King Eddy offers eggs benedict, pancakes, omelettes and more. If your kids want more milkshakes, they can find eight different flavours here.
Take the time today to explore a couple of the many museums in the Ottawa area! Canada’s capital region is home to seven of Canada’s nine national museums. These include the Canada Science and Technology Museum which is a paradise of fun activities for both kids and adults. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum has an extensive collection of aviation crafts from every era, you can even sit in some cockpits!
Or you can check out the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum to learn about Canada’s unique agricultural heritage. The castle-like Canadian Museum of Nature is where you’ll find dinosaur replicas, live animals and much more. Learn about tanks, jet fighters and artillery at the Canadian War Museum.
After a full day of experiencing some of the many incredible museums and attractions in the Ottawa area, it’s time to eat. Try something a little different and check out The Green Door Restaurant & Bakery. This is a vegetarian buffet that’s open until 8:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The self-serve buffet allows you and your children to all create your own unique plates, perfect for picky eaters!