I’m just going to say it out right: WINTERS IN CANADA CAN BE ROUGH.
But, the particularly rough part about winter here, is the period between January and March. The hype around Christmas and NYE has passed, and we pray for a groundhog to tell us that there won’t be “6 more weeks of winter” (though, spring always seems an eternity away, no matter what Sir Willie might say…).
That being said, life’s too short to mope about cold weather or a lack of tropical vacation opportunities. So, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few months to focusing on the amazing winter activities and destinations Canada, more specifically Ontario, has to offer! These guides will particularly address weekend getaways and the main experiences to take advantage of in a short period of time.
To get the ball rolling, this first blog of the series will be dedicated to none other than our Nation’s capital, Ottawa.
So, whether you, like me, are a local attempting to avoid SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder), or you’re an excited bright-eyed traveler looking to experience the Great White North, I hope this post will provide a little inspiration for what you can look forward to with a trip to one of Canada’s greatest cities.
Without further ado, check out why Ottawa should make your Canadian winter getaway list!
Activities for everyone
Whether you’re an outdoors enthusiast, or an urban adventurist, Ottawa’s got you covered.
When it comes to the cold winter months, Ottawa knows how to take particular advantage of a time of year that might otherwise be hated (weather-wise) for all eternity.
For starters, they have their own festival, Winterlude! An annual celebration, held in the beginning of February (currently taking place through to the 19th), this is a fantastic option for families looking to entertain children, couples looking for a fun date, or any individuals just looking to experience something a little different! The celebration has its own “Snowflake Kingdom” with a collection of epic snow slides, as well as an international Ice Carving competition – a competition which attracts artists from all over the world. These works of art can be viewed throughout the day and long into the night, when they are lit up. There is even an Ice Dragon Boat Festival, in which dragon boats race down the frozen Rideau Canal.
Can’t make the festival? No problem. You can still take part in what is perhaps one of Ottawa’s most well-known winter activities, ice skating. The awesome part is there are several unique rinks to choose from! Oh, and did I forget to mention? If you have your own ice skates, it’s FREE.
The first location, new to Ottawa, can be found in front of Parliament Hill – The Canada 150 Rink. This year, the rink opened on December 7th and will remain open until February 25th. In addition to public skating, the rink is also a host to a number of its own events and special guests. Click here for the full list. Just make sure to call in advance to book your pass!
Looking for something a bit bigger? How about skating on the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world?! An activity many would deem a ‘bucket list item’, the Rideau Canal Skateway is 7.8km in length and takes you through the city to a gorgeous view of Canada’s parliament, and the very picturesque Fairmont Château Laurier. This rink is open late December through to late February (weather permitting). While you’re enjoying your afternoon ice skate, make sure to stop in at one of the many break huts along the canal for hot cocoa or an infamously delicious Canadian treat: a BeaverTail.
Skate rental is available at approximately $22 / 2 hours, plus $11 per additional hour.
Skating not really your thing? Check out Gatineau Park for a wide range of other winter activities including winter camping and cabins, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. With over 200km of well-kept trails and heated shelters, there is plenty of space to enjoy the serene beauty of the Canadian Greenbelt. If you’re looking to spend a night in one of their romantic winter yurts or cabins, be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time!
Rentals and trail passes are available at the Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Quebec.
Spent enough time outside and looking to cozy up indoors? As Ottawa’s largest shopping centre, the Rideau Centre is located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, offering a diverse shopping experience with approximately 180 retailers across four levels. If you’re looking for something a bit more food centred, head to the ByWard Market. A popular hub comprised of specialty food shops and outdoor farmers’ market stalls, this is the spot to check out for artisan Canadian cheeses and chocolates, or a night out in rustic taverns and edgy bars. This area of Ottawa is also known for its street art and stylish boutiques.
The epitome of Canadian culture
As I previously mentioned, Ottawa is the capital of Canada, which means you can 10/10 times expect to feel as nationalistic as Canada gets. In addition to the ever-popular Parliament Hill, which is home to Canada’s federal government and the setting of national celebrations year-round, you can also check out many cultural attractions, including the National Gallery of Canada or the National Arts Centre.
Boardering Quebec, Ottawa is a bilingual city, home to many Canadians who speak both official languages: French and English. This is noticeable throughout the city, from reading street signs and menus in restaurants, to passing by casual conversations in the streets. If you’re interested in practicing one of these languages, or both, this is a great spot to hit up for a getaway destination!
And finally, the food. Now I mentioned BeaverTails earlier in this post, but that is not where the deliciousness of Canadian pride ends! No, no. Ottawa is also home to a thriving community of chefs and restaurants from all over the world. While you will be able to find a little bit of everything, including amazing French, Italian, or Chinese, you can also find a few tasty treats completely distinct to Canada. Some of these treats include maple infused chocolates, poutine, and the mighty Canadian caesar! Dare I forget to mention, Ottawa is also home to a booming display of craft beer pubs and local breweries, including Waller Street Brewing, Bicycle Craft Brewery, and Beyond the Pale Brewing Company.
And there you have it. With its wide range of diverse winter activities, and its blooming display of Canadian culture, Ottawa is sure to feed you the warm fuzzies during this dreary time of year.
Have you been to Ottawa before? If you haven’t, how does this kind of winter getaway sound to you? 🙂
Stay warm and keep adventurous, folks!