If there is one city that knows how to do winter, it’s Ottawa. We spent a frigid few days in the nation’s capital swapping in our summer adventures for one filled with skating, skiing and hot tubbing outside. (The latter a glorious afternoon without kids in TOw – see photo at the end of story.)
If you’re planning a winter séjour, here are some destinations where you can embrace or hide from the great outdoors.
Visit during Winterlude: The annual celebration of winter is the epitome of outdoor frosty fun in Ottawa and Gatineau. This year Snowflake Kingdom sets up in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau with super slides and snow sculptures. On the Ottawa side, be sure to lace up and take whirl on the Rideau Canal, the world’s largest skating rink that stretches 7.8km from the Chateau Laurier up to Dow’s Lake. It is open throughout the winter, weather permitting.
Trip tip: The Rideau Canal Skateway is open daily (weather dependant). Get this, some Ottawans (is that correct?) actually skate to work. For us tourists, it’s fun to explore even a short portion of it. It’s stroller- and sled-friendly so bring your own or you can rent a sleigh for $32+tax.
Mosaivernales: A series of snow sculptures (similar to the flower version during the summer’s Canada 150) is on display in Jacques-Cartier Park. Tickets are $10; kids 12 and under are free.
Trip tip: If you’re family is adventurous, it is possible to walk across the Alexandra Bridge from Ottawa. The views are fantastic.
Skate on the Canada 150 Rink:
This temporary rink has one of the prettiest backdrops — Parliament Hill! It’s free to skate – you just need to reserve the passes online to secure a 40-minute slot. Passes are available up to two days in advance with reservations beginning at noon. Closes February 25, 2018.
Trip tip: Skate mid-week if you can to avoid crowds. Skate rentals are available across the street on Wellington.
Trip tip: You can head out of the cold and inside the Parliament Buildings for a free tour. Tickets are required and can be picked up across the street on Wellington as of 10 a.m. daily.
Spend time indoors at one of the many museums and galleries:
Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau: The Dreamworks Animation is on until April, with sketches, models, videos that tell the story of some of your family’s favourite films like Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda came to life. The Grand Hall and First Peoples galleries are not-to-miss and you can easily spend hours in the Children’s Museum. There is a restaurant on-site that has one of the best views of the Parliament Buildings.
Trip Tip: Coat check is free so bring along indoor shoes.
Trip Tip: There are so many amazing museums and galleries; many are free on Thursday nights. Check out the Canadian War Museum, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, National Art Gallery (special family programming on Sundays) and the Museum of Nature (Butterflies on until April 2018). We also highly recommend a guided tour of the Royal Canadian Mint during the weekdays (as opposed to weekends) so that you can actually see the process in action. You can call ahead to reserve in advance.
Trip Tip: Lots of restaurant and snack options in the Byward Market. We ate at Zak’s Diner – super kid-friendly.
Trip Tip: Consult this list of free or nearly free activities in Ottawa.
Gatineau Park: We skipped over to Gatineau Park in Quebec – only 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa – and spent a day of downhill skiing at Camp Fortune. There are also tons of hiking, snowshoing and cross-country skiing trails in Gatineau Park.
Trip Trip: The small town of Chelsea, just outside the park, is so cute. We recommend lunch or dinner at the Pub de Chelsea, before or after skiing, or while mom spends an afternoon up the street at the Spa Nordik.