Whether you celebrate Christmas or simply enjoy the cheerful holiday season, Ottawa has so many pretty places that will lift your spirits. The city’s urban core and nearby rural areas are full of quaint villages, decorated neighbourhoods and cool local shops that can turn any scrooge into an elf. Go on a Christmassy crawl and visit these places in Canada’s capital to get into the holiday spirit in 2020. (Note: Many of the businesses and sites mentioned below have virtual options.)
Ottawa’s oldest shopping district, the ByWard Market, has a timeless Christmas vibe. Meander along Sussex Drive, where the huge windows in elegant boutiques and cafés cast a Dickens-style glow. Then find the hidden cobblestone courtyards, with their lit-up arches and public art. Pick up one-of-a-kind items in the gift shops at the National Gallery of Canada and the Ottawa School of Art. Inhale the scent of fresh-cut pine and spruce as you visit vendors selling Christmas trees and wreaths outside the central market building. Then warm up with a BeaverTail, Ottawa’s famous confection of deep-fried dough.
The sidewalks of the charming Glebe neighbourhood, just south of downtown, are often filled with pedestrians browsing the many independent shops like J.D. Adam Kitchen Co., Octopus Books and The Papery. Depending on the weather, paths along Patterson Creek and the Rideau Canal are picturesque places for a walk, as are streets lined with elegant brick homes. On weekends, check out local products at the December edition of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market inside the historic Aberdeen Pavilion and admire the surrounding festive decorations during Lights at Lansdowne.
Old Ottawa South
Immediately south of the Glebe, Old Ottawa South is another lively ‘hood filled with heritage homes. For gifts, try Garden of Light (yoga and meditation supplies), Chef’s Paradise/C.A. Paradis (kitchen accessories) or the enormous Ottawa Antique Market. Consider creating a pottery gift for someone at The Mud Oven; browse a wide selection of used books and pick up takeout coffees and treats at Black Squirrel Books; warm up with rich gelato and hot chocolate (or something stronger) at Stella Luna; or check out what is probably Canada’s only oatmeal cafe/whisky bar (Oat Couture by day, Montgomery Scotch Lounge by night)
Christmas Lights Across Canada
Every year, the federal government strings trees and buildings throughout downtown Ottawa and Gatineau with thousands of colourful Christmas lights. They are illuminated each evening, from November 30, 2020 to January 7, 2021. To enjoy them, explore the ceremonial route called Confederation Boulevard, which includes Parliament Hill/Wellington Street, Confederation Square, Confederation Park and Sussex Drive in Ottawa; Laurier Street and Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau; and the Alexandra and Portage bridges, which connect the two cities across the Ottawa River.
Suburbs and rural
The small town of Almonte, located about 40 minutes’ drive west of Ottawa is picture-postcard cute—so cute, in fact, that it’s become something of a production hub for Christmas-themed TV movies. Walk along the Riverwalk to see old stone mills—now converted into shops, restaurants and apartments—overlooking frothing waterfalls on the Mississippi River. Don’t miss L.G. Lee & Sons, where you can browse for intriguing home and garden products in a restored heritage shop (complete with tin ceiling and antique shelves).
The beautiful suburban village of Manotick lies just 20 minutes south of downtown on the banks of the Rideau River. The Gingerbread Man bakery is a popular year-round destination for families, with its gorgeous displays of gingerbread cookies and houses. You can also visit an array of charming gift shops, and stroll past historic Dickinson House and Watson’s Mill. Every year, the mill hosts a lively Christmas Market, which will take place virtually in 2020 (November 1 to December 6).
Taffy Lane (Orleans)
This small street in the east-end suburb of Orléans punches far above its weight when it comes to holiday home decoration. For years, Taffy Lane has drawn visitors from across the city, who come to admire fabulously elaborate Christmas displays: huge candy canes, inflated snowmen, rooftop reindeer, illuminated trees and lots of Santas. Insider tip: Visit later in the evening on a weeknight early in December. On early weekend nights close to Christmas, it can be busy.
This historic riverfront community is part of Gatineau, Ottawa’s sister city immediately across the Ottawa River. Aylmer’s popular outdoor Christmas Market takes place over two weekends (November 27 to 29, and December 4 to 6, 2020). A charming mix of heritage and new buildings along rue Principale are home to unique boutiques, bakeries and restaurants—check out the artisanal truffles and pralines at Béatrice et Chocolats, electronic bikes and other sporting goods at E-Cycliste, or craft beers to go at 5e Baron Microbrasserie. And get some takeout from the atmospheric pub at The British hotel, housed in a 19th-century stone building.
The charming town of Wakefield in the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa is home to unique, independent boutiques such as Khewa (Indigenous art and jewellery), La Confiserie (chocolate and jams), End of the Line (fair trade clothing and local artisanal products) and Jamboree (home décor). While in the village, reward yourself with some pampering at the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa. Bring your camera for a Christmas card-worthy selfie in front of the red covered bridge over the Gatineau River.
Less than an hour’s drive south of Ottawa, the historic community of Merrickville is a lovely destination along the Rideau Canal for Christmas shoppers. Its streets are lined with inviting shops in Victorian limestone buildings. Choose from a huge array of house-made mustards at Mrs. McGarrigle’s, shop for hand-blown glass ornaments at Gray Art Glass or pick up some award-winning butter tarts at Nana B’s Bakery.