Ottawa is well known for its lively winter activities like skating on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway, cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park and enjoying ice sculptures and snow slides during the annual Winterlude festival. But there are also lots of tasty, tropical, relaxing and fun things to do indoors when it’s chilly outside. Here are a some of the best ways to stay warm indoors this winter season in Canada’s capital.
Start with a hot mug of traditional Gluhwein (mulled spiced wine) at Das Lokal, a restaurant that serves German and Austrian-inspired cuisine in the ByWard Market neighbourhood. The flavours of orange, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and French brandy will warm your tummy. Enjoy a cup in the cozy restaurant or by their outdoor firepit as you browse the menu (think cheese raclette, spätzle and flammkuchen).
Also in the Byward Market, Fatboys Southern Smokehouse specializes in mouth-watering southern BBQ served in a friendly biker-style ambiance. They use a custom Southern Pride smoker to prepare their slow-cooked BBQ including Memphis ribs, Carolina pulled pork, Texan beef brisket and chopped BBQ chicken. Make sure to try one of the hearty side dishes like Kansas corn bread, Texan black bean and corn chili, or smoked bacon mac ‘n cheese.
Sometimes a good fondue is the perfect antidote to chilly evenings. Meule et Caquelon in Gatineau, Quebec, has all of the savoury and sweet options you could want. Choose your own ingredients and dip them into cheese, Chinese and chocolate fondues, or eat them with gooey raclette.
One of the best places to warm up in Ottawa this winter is the Butterflies in Flight exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature. You’ll feel like you’re on a mini vacation as you stroll through the warm, humid and relaxing solarium filled with luscious plants and hundreds of fluttering butterflies.
The Central Experimental Farm (where the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located) is another balmy spot. Visit their permanent tropical greenhouse (located in a heritage building) to see a diverse collection of exotic plants beautifully presented in the elegant octagonal structure. Access is free!
Holtz Spa is a local favourite located in the Downtown Rideau area near the CF Rideau Centre. Their signature Tropical Escape treatment is a great way to rejuvenate your skin and awaken your senses. After a full body mango body scrub and a citrus body buff, you’ll be pampered with a luxurious vitamin C facial, and a heavenly raindrop massage. You’re guaranteed to leave feeling revitalized and invigorated.
On Bank Street in Centretown, you can try floatation therapy at ISÖ Spa. Enter one of the private float tanks filled with body temperature water mixed with over a thousand pounds of Epsom salts. The combination will make you feel amazingly buoyant as well as soothe aching muscles, detoxify your body and rejuvenate your skin and hair. The low sensory deprivation environment also soothes the mind.
Looking for a full day escape? Head 10 minutes north of Ottawa to Nordik Spa-Nature, an award-winning spa oasis in Chelsea, Que. Nordik’s signature thermal experience is the perfect way to relax on a cold winter day. In a picture-perfect winter setting, move from a series of warm and hot baths, saunas, and whirlpools, all aimed at relaxing muscles, boosting the immune system and eliminating toxins from the body. Add on a massage or the unique Källa treatment (their therapeutic underground salt-water pool), for the ultimate day of indulgence.
Cultural fun (day and night)
A must-do in Ottawa is to join a free tour of Parliament Hill’s interior. Although the iconic Centre Block is undergoing a decade-long rehabilitation, you can now visit two other interior spaces: The House of Commons in Parliament Hill’s West Block, and the Senate of Canada Building (Ottawa’s original train station). Reserve your free tour tickets online or in person.
Art-lover? Start by exploring the National Gallery of Canada and its vast permanent collections of Canadian and Indigenous art, the on-site Canadian Photography Institute and the tranquil landscaped interior courtyards. For a more local perspective, swing by the always free Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) which focuses on art from the Ottawa area and within Canada. And visit the National Arts Centre to experience Canada’s performing arts including theatre, music and dance.
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Ottawa is Rideau Hall, the Governor General of Canada’s official residence. The grand and sumptuous State Rooms include the Tent Room—a large ballroom covered in red and white striped fabric. You can visit Rideau Hall’s interior by joining a free guided tour (reservation required during the winter months).
On the last Friday of each month, the Canadian Museum of Nature heats up in the evening during their popular Nature Nocturne event. The museum transforms into an exciting venue with music, dancing, mingling and engaging activities that are perfect for an outing with friends (for ages 19 and up).
No matter how you choose to warm up indoors during your Ottawa visit, we recommend you embrace winter at its fullest by getting active as well. See our winter activities page for suggestions!