No matter the season, Ottawa is a great city for outdoors and sports enthusiasts—but winter definitely brings out its playful side. A visit to Canada’s capital promises plenty of fun and heart-rate-raising outdoor activities in gorgeous natural settings, not to mention several professional sports teams, top-notch restaurants serving healthy and delicious cuisine, plenty of great gear shopping, and fun sports bars to watch a game with friends. Here’s a sample three-day winter fun itinerary to get you started!
Ottawa is no slouch when it comes to great breakfast spots. Grab a booth at a diner for some eggs and pancakes or seek out a fruit-and-veg-focused power bowl or smoothie—whatever will fuel you up for a high-energy morning spent outside in the fresh air.
Gatineau Park is the ultimate Ottawa-area outdoor destination, especially in winter. Rent some cross-country skis from local outfitters in Ottawa or Gatineau (on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River) and spend a few hours exploring the park’s many groomed trails. Required skill levels range from beginner to expert, so check the map and plan accordingly. There are plenty of other great cross-country ski spots around Ottawa-Gatineau as well.
When you need a break, head to the Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea, Quebec, located just outside Gatineau Park, for some indulgent R&R. The spa boasts multiple saunas and steam baths, invigorating cold pools and waterfalls, outdoor hot tubs and two restaurants in a secluded hillside forest setting. Enjoy a late lunch in your bathrobe or work out the kinks with a massage from a registered therapist.
In the evening, cheer on a home-away-from-home hockey team: Head to the Canadian Tire Centre in the suburb of Kanata for an Ottawa Senators National Hockey League (NHL) game, or catch an Ottawa ‘67s Ontario Hockey League (OHL) game at TD Place at Lansdowne in the vibrant Glebe neighbourhood, just south of downtown.
Winterlude is a three-week celebration of all things snow and ice that brings visitors to the city each February. Join them for a skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest outdoor ice rink (weather permitting). Skate rentals are available at several locations along its length. Don’t forget to try a BeaverTail, a flat fried pastry invented in Ottawa and topped with cinnamon sugar, jam, or chocolate-hazelnut spread—the ultimate skate snack. You can also indulge your inner kid with a zip down the giant snow slides at Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau, Quebec during Winterlude.
Recharge over lunch at any of a growing number of vibrant vegetarian and vegan restaurants around Ottawa serving up creative and satisfying plant-based cuisine.
If the forest is still calling, you can skate there, too: Patinage en forêt at Lac des loups, just 45 minutes from downtown Ottawa, offers a 3-km skating trail through a wooded area. You can also snowshoe or just take a walk in the woods. Need more ice time? Check out the many other places to skate in Ottawa.
Over dinner, catch up on March Madness or a good old hockey game at a sports bar with huge TVs and great food. There are dozens of great options in Ottawa, including Sens House in the ByWard Market neighbourhood, both locations of the Senate Tavern, MacLaren’s on Elgin Street in Centretown (where you can shoot some pool while you watch the game), Craft Beer Market at Lansdowne, the legendary Prescott in Little Italy, and Playback Bar in Ottawa South, which boasts indoor lawn games like shuffleboard, archery, and bocce.
Discover the beauty of downtown Ottawa on a winter’s night with a stroll through the downtown core. In December and early January, Winter Lights Across Canada illuminates much of the city centre, and in February, weather permitting, check out the stunning, beautifully-lit Winterlude ice sculpture competition entries done by professional artists from all over the world.
From giant skillet-baked pancakes to epic Caesars topped with enough goodies to make a meal out of, there’s no shortage of indulgent weekend brunch spots to choose from in Ottawa. You’ll need a hearty meal to keep you going all day! Indulge in a sweet gluten-free treat at many of the cozy neighbourhood cafes.
Central Ottawa is surrounded by the Greenbelt, a ring of undeveloped land with plenty of forested areas and trails that are perfect for snowshoeing. Any of the trailheads in the Stony Swamp area in West Ottawa are a great place to start a refreshing winter tromp through the woods. Bring some seeds or nuts for the many friendly birds, who are used to visitors and will be happy to land on your hands (or head!) for a snack.
Retail therapy, anyone? Snap up some fresh winter outdoor gear at one of Ottawa’s many sporting goods stores, including outlets, malls and independent shops.
For your last evening meal in Ottawa, consider the city’s well-known international cuisine options. Enjoy familiar dishes like Middle Eastern shawarma and Italian pizza, or try lesser-known items such as Mexican mole or Sri-Lankan kothu roti.
Spend the remainder of your evening balancing all that lower-body exertion with some upper-body work and gleeful destruction by hurling axes (well, hatchets) at wooden targets at the Backyard Axe-Throwing League. If you prefer your recreation with no sharp objects involved, perfect your swing at Par-Tee Putt indoor mini golf course instead.