Visiting Canada’s capital during the epic annual Winterlude festival, January 31-February 17, 2020 is like stepping into a winter wonderland! We’ve compiled this list of tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your visit. Because no matter how amazing the ice sculptures, how romantic the outing on the Rideau Canal Skateway, or how exhilarating the slides at Snowflake Kingdom, you’ll enjoy them even more if you and your loved-ones are well prepared!
What to bring
- A backpack: It’s great for stashing your boots while you go skating on the Rideau Canal. Pack a few large plastic bags to put your boots in and a small hand towel to wipe down the blades of your ice skates to prevent rusting. The heated change huts located along the Skateway are handy places to change in or out of your skates, take a break or even go to the washroom. (Some people leave their boots in these cabins or under benches, but most people throw them in a backpack and take them along.)
- Snow pants: For so many reasons: they block the wind and add warmth, they protect your pants from snow and slush and prevent you from getting wet and therefore even colder.
- Accessories: A warm hat, gloves or mittens, a scarf…these are necessities. And don’t feel self-conscious—the entire city battles hat-head! The more colourful, the better! Portable or disposable hand warmers that can be put in your mittens and boots to keep your fingers and toes warm are also a great idea.
- Footwear: Don’t skimp here! Warm socks and boots are a must (stick an extra pair of socks in your bag). Locals often wear practical boots to get where they're going and bring indoor footwear that they can change into once they're inside.
- Indoor clothing: Bring an extra layer or two of clothing so if it’s warmer or colder than you think, you’re prepared—this is key! Thin sweaters and shirts that whisk away any moisture are the best and they pack well, too.
- Outdoor clothing: A warm jacket or parka is a must. Ideally, it would be a fabric that blocks the wind and repels moisture. Borrow one from a friend if you don’t have something appropriate. Don’t think that what keeps you warm when it’s above zero will do the job when the mercury drops! Remember to layer in order to stay warm, throw on a pair of leggings or long johns under your clothing for extra coziness.
- Skates and sleighs: If you don’t bring your own pair of ice skates, you can rent some from Capital Skates at either the downtown end of the Rideau Canal near the National Arts Centre or half-way along the Canal near Fifth Avenue. You can also rent sleighs which need to be pushed by skaters and are the perfect means of transportation for children or non-skaters. For hours of operation, rates and details, visit the Capital Skates website. The Dows Lake Pavilion at the other end of the Rideau Canal also rents equipment.
- A little cash: You’ll want to indulge in a BeaverTails pastry, hot chocolate or other treat, so keep some small bills or coins in a handy spot.
- Snacks: Raisins, chocolate, power bars—you need something to munch on to keep your energy level up while skating, snowshoeing, skiing, or just wandering around town.
- Water bottle: Even though it may be cold, you need to stay hydrated! An insulated water bottle is best.
- Sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm: Think about it—the sun reflects off the snow and ice so it’s extra strong. Plus sunglasses might help you combat hat head once you move inside.
- Tissues and wipes: Cold weather often means runny noses, so you’ll appreciate a handy supply of tissues.
- Bandaids: If you haven’t skated in years, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to blisters (though modern skates are MUCH more comfortable than they used to be).
- Mobile phone, camera, batteries, recharger, and adapter: You want to record and share these moments with your friends and followers, don’t you? Pack your smartphone and/or camera securely—and warmly—in an inside jacket pocket, not in your backpack where it might freeze! Bring extra batteries as the cold sometimes drains them faster than normal usage.
- If you see one of the Winterlude mascots, the Ice Hog family, be sure to say hi! Mama, Papa, Noumi and Nouma don’t talk but they love to give out hugs. They’re a mythical species of furry animal that is usually found up north but during Winterlude, they visit Canada’s capital region to spread the joy of winter.
- Keep track of your trek down the 7.8 km Skateway with the mileage markers so you can see just how far you’ve come – and how far you have to go back when you turn around!
- There’s nothing more Canadian than standing in your skates with a BeaverTail (a hot pastry treat) in one hand and a hot chocolate in the other, on the Rideau Canal Skateway.
- Watch for the only-in-Ottawa “Skaters Crossing” signs along Colonel By Drive and Queen Elizabeth Drive!
- Don’t miss the annual BeaverTails Ice Dragon Boat Festival, February 7-8, 2020! Teams use ice-sticks to propel dragon boats outfitted with skates across the frozen Rideau Canal at Dows Lake.
- In 2020, Sparks Street is an official Winterlude site with great programming including the International Ice Carving Competition.
- Feb. 4-9, 2020, Winterlude and Capital Pride present WinterPride – a new festival to celebrate Ottawa and Canada’s rainbow community on Sparks Street, Bank Street, and throughout the city.
Free shuttle service
Use the free OLG Sno-Bus to get between official Winterlude on weekends! OC Transpo and the Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO) provide a free shuttle service linking official Winterlude destinations in both Ottawa and Gatineau.
More skating options
If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and if the Skateway is not open, don’t despair! Ottawa has many other skating options, some of which are also conveniently located downtown. The SENS Rink of Dreams offers free skating on a refrigerated rink on the grounds in front of Ottawa City Hall (plus skate rentals and sharpening are available on weeknights and weekends). And just south of downtown at Lansdowne in the Glebe neigbourhood is the free Skating Court (rentals are not available at this refrigerated outdoor skating rink). For more details on these options and many others, see our list of Best ice skating experiences in Ottawa.
Share the Winterlude joy
Take a photo for Twitter, Instagram or your Facebook page or upload a video to YouTube!