As a four-season destination, Canada’s capital boasts year-round attractions and events—some of which are at their best in winter! And with most sights located within a 20-minute walk from many downtown hotels, you can easily enjoy the city’s snowy beauty while you explore. Here are just five of the many sights and experiences you shouldn’t miss when visiting Ottawa in the winter.
1. Majestic Parliament Hill
The most iconic site in Canada’s capital, Parliament Hill, sits on a scenic hill overlooking the Ottawa River. Warm up at the Centennial Flame while admiring the three neo-Gothic-style federal government buildings (East Block, West Block and Centre Block) which were constructed between 1859 and 1927.
While the Centre Block undergoes a decade-long rehabilitation, two sites are temporarily housing Parliamentary Chambers: The House of Commons in the renovated West Block, and The Senate in Ottawa’s original train station (a Beaux-Arts-style structure built in 1912) just one block away.
2. Epic ice skating
The Ottawa region is an ice skating paradise, boasting several outdoor rinks in the city (some of which are refrigerated) as well as enchanting skating trails in the countryside. Best of all, the bucket list worthy Rideau Canal Skateway becomes the world’s largest skating rink when it freezes during the winter months (roughly late December through February, weather permitting). You can glide 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) through downtown Ottawa day and night on this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. Iconic national museums
Museums are the perfect place to warm up, especially in Canada’s capital where you can visit seven of nine national museums. Choose from the world’s largest collection of Indigenous and Canadian art, ancient dinosaur fossils, Canadian military stories, aviation artefacts and more. Museums often host temporary blockbuster programming, including special exhibits from around the world.
4. Historic Byward Market neighbourhood
The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada, as well as the name of the historic neighbourhood that surrounds it. Visit the indoor and outdoor vendors around the central building for local products like maple syrup and crafts, as well as fun souvenirs and gifts. You’ll also find fashion, jewellery and homewares in the many independent shops throughout the neighbourhood.
When it’s time for a treat, nibble on a tasty BeaverTail pastry at its original stand located on George Street, sip a cocktail in a cozy bar, or fulfil your culinary cravings at the many restaurants. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the huge OTTAWA letters on York Street near Sussex Drive and tag #MyOttawa on social media!
5. Great outdoors
Wonderful outdoor winter activities are easily accessible within Ottawa’s urban spaces and in the nearby countryside. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers love the scenic trails along the Ottawa River (including the SJAM Winter Trail) as well as those within the Ottawa Greenbelt parkland surrounding the city (like serene Mer Bleue). Hilly Gatineau Park is a winter wonderland, with over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of groomed trails and heated huts. You can also go sledding, snowboarding, tubing and even ziplining in winter!
Winterlude, Canada’s winter festival, highlights some of these outdoor activities, as well as Canadian culture and urban fun for the whole family during the first three weekends of February each year.
Some of Ottawa’s top outdoor places to photograph in winter don’t require much physical effort to access. For instance, you can easily view some of the city’s partly frozen waterfalls at Hog’s Back Falls and Rideau Falls.