There is perhaps no other city that embraces the winter quite as warmly as Ottawa does. Despite its reign as the coldest capital city in the world, Ottawa routinely finds itself ranked as having the best quality of life among Canadian cities. With a unique blend of pristine nature, welcoming people, and a burgeoning foodie scene, Ottawa offers an endless variety of activities, sights, and flavors for when the mercury drops.
A Welcome Winterlude
The first stop in any discussion of Ottawa’s winter offerings is the citywide, three-week festival Winterlude. Taking place over three weekends in February, Winterlude is an Ottawan celebration of the cold that unfolds across the city’s many parks, museums, markets, and restaurants. The festival’s wide-open nature makes for a great excuse to become acquainted with all of Ottawa, though you’ll be forgiven for spending an inordinate amount of time skating at Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest ice skating rink and the centerpiece of Winterlude.
Turn up the heat at the nearby Rink of Dreams at Marion Dewar Plaza, an interactive skating experience with outdoor concerts and dazzling visual projections by local artists. Weekends at the Rink of Dreams feature graceful skate programs by professional figure skaters. After a night on the ice, follow your appetite rinkside, where famed local bakers BeaverTails can be found dishing out their namesake fresh and sweet pastries.
For a change of pace, put the skates away and head over to Jacques Cartier Park, known during Winterlude as Snowflake Kingdom. Massive snow sculptures and exhilarating slides await visitors at this veritable winter paradise, where admission is free. With so many activities across the city, booking centrally located accommodations will help to make your Winterlude experience a magical one.
Fresh Air and Pastries
Ottawa’s quaint open-air Byward Market is a public market and foodie haven sprawling across four square blocks. Farmer stalls, craft breweries, museums, galleries, boutiques, and local eateries all rub elbows in this uniquely Ottawan outdoor gathering. Strolling around the market on a crisp winter morning with the comforting aroma of baked goods in the air will leave you no doubt as to why Ottawans are so cheery.
Being a capital city affords Ottawa the distinction of housing Canada’s premier art collection within the National Gallery of Canada. What better place to spend a day warming up indoors than with the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Warhol? The National Gallery of Canada counts among its premier collection some of the most well-known works of art in the world.
The Canadian Museum of History, the War Museum, and the Museum of Nature provide other great museum options that go beyond impressionism and modernist sculpture.
Being so far north has compelled Ottawans to adapt to their surroundings in a unique way that embraces and makes the best of winter. Long overshadowed by other Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Ottawa has finally emerged into the spotlight and deserves a visit as Canada’s true winter capital.
Ryan Tyson is a travel writer and mother. She enjoys spending time with her family, going to the movies, and outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking.