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Parliament Hill in Winter

Holiday season highlights to photograph in Ottawa

Decorated Christmas trees, thousands of colourful lights and fun holiday events create endless opportunities for memorable photos in Canada’s capital. Whether you snap a quick photo on your phone or bring your tripod and camera for creative long exposures, check out these spots for Instagram-worthy shots of Ottawa’s seasonal spirit.

Christmas Lights Across Canada

Join the throngs of revellers on Parliament Hill on December 4, 2019, for the launch of Christmas Lights Across Canada. From that night until January 7, 2020, hundreds of thousands of lights glow from trees and buildings throughout downtown Ottawa and Gatineau, including the Parliament Buildings, the National War Memorial, and trees along Laurier Street in Gatineau and Sussex Drive in Ottawa. Each night, the lights come on at 4:30 p.m. and shine until 2:00 a.m.

TIP: Don’t miss the free, 13-minute multimedia light show projected onto the Centre Block of Parliament Hill each evening on a continuous loop, from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Ottawa Christmas Market

The Ottawa Christmas Market—the city’s first European-style Christmas market— is a new free event at Lansdowne in the central Glebe neighbourhood. Wander from stall to stall beneath strings of holiday lights while sipping a beverage (alcoholic or not), eating tasty treats and snapping photos of festive displays. The event runs on Fridays (5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.), Saturdays (10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.) and Sundays (10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.), from November 29 to December 22, 2019. On weekends, you can also check out the Ottawa Farmers’ Market next door, inside the domed 19th-century Aberdeen Pavilion (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.).

TIP: Live entertainment, glowing fire pits and an outdoor bar offer extra photographic possibilities.

Christmas trees

Numerous Ottawa malls, museums and hotels put up festive Christmas trees. Once they’re lit for the first time, most stay illuminated throughout the holidays. The large outdoor trees at the Canadian Museum of History and at Lansdowne are lit on November 28 and November 29, respectively. Indoors, the National Gallery of Canada lights a giant tree in the Scotiabank Great Hall on December 5, and the CF Rideau Centre has a large tree in Nordstrom Court during the holidays.

TIP: From November 25, 2019, until January 3, 2020, the historic Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel presents a collection of indoor Christmas trees decorated by local groups as part of a fundraiser called Trees of Hope.

Magic of Lights

In the city’s west end, Magic of Lights is a Christmas light display that takes over the Wesley Clover Parks equestrian site during the holidays. From November 21, 2019, to January 4, 2020, you can drive through an LED-lit wonderland of holiday scenes and characters.

TIPS: The ticket price is per vehicle, not per person, so carpool if you can. Since you’ll be inside your car and the vehicle will be moving, plan on shooting video as well as stills (just make sure you’re not driving at the same time!).

Christmas Glow

Christmas Glow, a new indoor event at the EY Centre in Ottawa’s south end, will feature children’s playgrounds, an artisans’ market, light gardens, live music, munchies and a bar, along with glittering light displays. Check out the LED-lit swings and hopscotch courts, which change colour as you interact with them! The event runs from December 5, 2019, to January 4, 2020.

TIP: On select nights after 9pm, the attraction is reserved for adults.

ByWard Market neighbourhood

The ByWard Market, a lively area just east of Parliament Hill, is a wonderful place to shoot candid night photos—particularly when big snowflakes are lightly drifting down. Windows of shops and restaurants glow with cozy light, and trees and buildings are illuminated. Outside the ByWard Market Building, vendors sell wreaths, trees and other fragrant holiday decorations, along with maple syrup, ornaments and other gifts. During the first three weekends of December, you’ll also see wagon rides and Christmas choirs!

TIP: Slip into the Sussex Courtyards, hidden behind several blocks of buildings on Sussex Drive, to capture atmospheric photos of 19th-century stone buildings. Clarendon Courtyard, which runs between George and York streets, is one of the prettiest (the archway framing the entrance to the Courtyard restaurant is a popular photo spot).

Taffy Lane

Every Christmas, homeowners of Taffy Lane—a residential street in suburban Orleans—vie with each other to create the most dazzling displays of lighting, trees and inflated characters. Some of the decorations are even timed to music. The street draws many spectators, so be prepared to spend a bit of time queued up in your car if you want to drive through. The wait is worth it!

TIP: You’re welcome to park at the nearby Orleans United Church anytime except Sunday mornings and Christmas Eve. If you walk along Taffy Lane instead of driving, you’ll get even better photos!

Parades of Lights

Evening holiday parades are an increasingly popular way to welcome Santa Claus to town while also brightening up the winter night. The colourful lit-up floats are practically tailor-made for photographers. Among the evening events you can enjoy in Ottawa and the surrounding areas this year are parades in Barrhaven (November 17), Orleans (November 30), Stittsville (November 30), Osgoode (December 6), Richmond (December 7) and Almonte (December 8).

TIP: Osgoode’s parade kicks off the community’s three-day Christmas in the Village celebration. And Almonte is holding its Light Up the Night festival on December 6 this year, with live music and other entertainment for all ages.

Illuminated village museums

On Ottawa’s eastern edge, the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum will be transformed for the season into the Vintage Village of Lights. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from November 29 to December 22, the museum’s collection of vintage and reconstructed 1920s and 1930s buildings will be illuminated. Depending on the day, visitors can decorate ornaments, take a horse-drawn wagon ride, sing Christmas carols and more.

Just an hour south of Ottawa, Upper Canada Village is a living-history site that recreates a typical Canadian community in 1866. On select nights from November 29, 2019, until January 4, 2020, its heritage buildings, fences and trees will be lit with almost a million holiday lights during Alight at Night. While you’re there, you can also enjoy a carriage ride, take your kids on a vintage carousel or visit St. Nick.

TIP: You can fuel up with a meal at one of Upper Canada Village’s three licensed restaurants, or pick up some fresh bread or a gooey cinnamon roll at the Village Bakery.

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

In 2019, the popular CP Holiday Train will be passing within an hour’s drive of Ottawa on Wednesday, November 27. On-board musicians will give concerts when it stops in Finch, Merrickville, Smiths Falls and Perth (the latter three stops will be after dark, when the train’s engine and 14 boxcars will be illuminated with colourful Christmas lights).

TIP: The train is free to see, but visitors are encouraged to bring a donation of food or money for local food banks.

Easily plan these and other activities during your visit with our 3-day itinerary: A holiday season getaway to Ottawa!

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