Winter in Ottawa is more of a spectacle than a season. If you are looking to explore Canada’s capital, consider going in winter and experience some one of a kind experiences. I find being downtown and near the activities makes the trip more manageable and more fun. Hotels and restaurants are more expensive the closer you are to downtown but you can offset the costs by choosing free and low-cost activities.
Here are some fun things to do with kids outdoors.
Skating on the Rideau Canal is a family favourite and your kids will love this experience. The canal freezes over from late December to late February. Check with your hotel each morning and they will let you know if the canal is open. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site and when frozen become the world largest skating rink. The great thing is the Canal is open 24 hours and entry is free. Don’t want to pack your skates? Skate and sleigh rentals are available during the regular business hours.
Another great place to skate is the Sens Rink of Dreams. Located just in front of Ottawa City Hall, this rink is a bit more predictable in availability to skate because it’s a refrigerated surface and not as dependent on weather conditions the way the canal is. It’s also open longer from December to March. The great thing about this rink is it has a heated has a heated change hut, picnic tables and benches. At night it’s lit up with multi-coloured LED lights. Skate rentals are available but hours are limited.
The Skating Court is another refrigerated ice rink located at Lansdowne a bit out of downtown but easily accessible by transit and they do provide learn to skate programs. Similar to the Sens Rink of Dreams it’s open from December to March. The only downside of this rink is that skate rentals are not available. While here there are some great restaurants and craft beer places that you can check out.
There is a lovely skating rink at Rideau Hall. It was originally built in 1872 by the Earl of Dufferin, Canada’s third Governor General. This historic site is home to Canada’s Governor General. You can book a free guided tour during opening hours in the winter from 8:00 a.m. to one hour before sunset. Skating is available on Saturdays from early January to early March.
And of course, the gem of visiting Ottawa in winter is Winterlude! This winter festival is on for 3 weekends in February and is pure joy for the whole family. Even if you are not a winter person this is a fun experience to see and be a part of at least once. It’s considered North America’s greatest winter festival and has a bit of everything. You’ll see beautiful ice cravings, the kids can explore the playground made of snow, and depending on what time of the day you go there are music, food and treats.
Hiking – Yes you want to go hiking and the most gorgeous place to do it in Ottawa is Gatineau Park. This park is absolutely stunning all year round but in winter it becomes a Winter Wonderland, you’ll have the feeling of being in a snow globe and it’s a great way to get the kids out and burn off some energy before doing a quieter afternoon activity. What makes this park so great for a family hike in winter is that once it starts snowing 10 Kilometres of trails are groomed and compacted once a week for winter hiking. The trails are free to use and it’s absolutely stunning.
Do you love to Cross Country Ski? Gatineau Park is a great place to do it but you’ll need your own skis and a cross country skipass to use the trails.
Another place to Cross Country Ski is Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail you can use the trails for free and it’s suitable for beginners as well.
If you are not a fan of lugging equipment with you there is also several Tobogganing hills in Ottawa. Check The National Capital Commission to see where you can do this activity.
Here are some great free things to do with your kids indoors.
When you get tired of exploring the great outdoors there are some really great indoor things to do like visiting the interior of Parliament Hill. Tickets to free guided tours are available almost every day of the year across the street at 90 Wellington Street (tours can be cancelled or rescheduled due to Parliamentary activity). Be sure to check out the Peace Tower where you can get a bird’s eye view of Downtown Ottawa and beyond.
The Ottawa Art Gallery is free to enter and was recently reopened with new space and exhibits. This is a great activity for the whole family.
The National Arts Centre also offers free programming and depending on when you go they also offer events like Toddler Tuesdays, music shows and meditation.
I cannot recommend the Canadian Museum of Nature enough. We’ve been a few times with the kids and they loved it every time. On Thursdays, there is free entry from 5 to 8pm but the entrance fee is fairly low at regular times so it’s well worth the visit. Some other free options are the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum which offer free admission daily between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
All after exploring with the kids you’ll be tired. Here are some places to rest.
If you are looking for a boutique hotel the Alt hotel is a great option. It’s walking distance from the Market. If you are looking for something right in the market the Courtyard by Marriot is an excellent option and the cost is reasonable. If you are looking for the ultimate luxury experience then the Fairmont Chateau Laurier is your spot.
As of February 1, 2019 Centre Block is closed for 10 years of renovations. The House of Commons has moved to a newly renovated space within West Block on Parliament Hill and the Senate has moved to the Government Conference Centre just down the street (across from the Fairmont Château Laurier). Free tours of both venues are still offered, but tickets are now available either online at https://visit.parl.ca/ or at the new Visitor Welcome Centre (located between West Block and Centre Block). The Capital Information Kiosk at 90 Wellington remains open for visitor information, but no longer offers parliament tour tickets.