Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, may be small but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of Ottawa things to do for visitors.
Whilst Canadians we’ve met have told us it’s just full of government workers and not much else we found there was plenty to keep us entertained on our trip to Ottawa in winter!
Average temperatures for February in Ottawa are about -9 degrees although it often feels much colder thanks to the icy winds! Locals don’t let that stop them from venturing outside though.
We visited Ottawa in winter during our first month in Canada and it was very, very cold since we’re used to such mild temperatures in the UK (& now in Vancouver on the west coast).
Many of the best things to do are outdoor activities in Ottawa. Wrap up warm and prepare yourself for these adventures!
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Top things to do in Ottawa in winter
Ice Skating the Rideau Canal
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Ottawa then you can’t get much more unique than this.
Usually full of boats in the warmer seasons, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal freezes over in winter creating the world’s longest ice skating rink. When the conditions are right you can skate for a whole 8km down the canal and it’s well worth doing!
It’s certainly one of the coolest things to do in Ottawa (in more ways than one!). I also think it’s a great thing to do on a couples getaway in Ontario if you’ve chosen Ottawa. You can skate hand in hand before warming up with a hot drink!
Whether you’re a skating pro or a skating novice you have to try this since it’s one of the best winter activities in Ottawa.
If you’re tired or need to warm up there are stops roughly every kilometre where you can buy hot chocolates, Beavertails (more to come on that later) or sit inside for a little bit.
The canal gets busy at the weekends so try and skate on a weekday if you can. Skate hire costs $20 for 2 hours and if you have your own ice skates you can hop on and off whenever you please; ideal if you’re looking for free stuff in Ottawa.
Watch an Ottawa Senators ice hockey game
If you’d rather leave the ice skating to the professionals, then make sure to cheer on the local team at an ice hockey game! Watching the local team makes for one of the more fun things to do in Ottawa at night.
The Ottawa Senators play at the Canadian Tire Centre about 30 minutes out of downtown Toronto and when they’re playing special buses are put on to take you there and back (the number 403 bus).
You can usually get pretty cheap tickets on StubHub for the games; ours cost about $18. What more could
Party at Winterlude
Wondering where to go in Ottawa for a winter party? Winterlude has been celebrated in Ottawa and Gatineau for almost 40 years. It’s a festival that spans three weekends in February and there is plenty to see and do. If you’re looking for things to do in downtown Ottawa, look no further.
During Winterlude, there are so many things happening in Ottawa. Check out the Ottawa events calendar for a full list. This is one of the highlights when it comes to Ottawa tourist attractions in winter.
The first weekend sees the kick-off party take place with live music and an outdoor dance party that should keep you warm late into the evening!
Try and plan your visit over a weekend as this is when most of the events take place including the Ice Dragon Boat Festival and the village bed race.
The best part is that it’s pretty much all free which makes it great if you want cheap things to do in Ottawa!
Marvel at the ice sculptures in Confederation Park
During Winterlude, one of the most awaited Ottawa events, Confederation Park near Parliament Hill is transformed into an ice sculpture park.
The ice sculpture artists are from all over the world and their sculptures are incredible. If you’re wondering what to see in Ottawa this winter then check out these impressive sculptures.
The best time to view the sculptures is during the week when there are a lot fewer people.
However, if you want more of an atmosphere then go at the weekends when there’s music and the food stalls are open. It’s a must for those looking at what to do in Ottawa this winter.
Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing
Ottawa is an ideal city if you’re a fan of cross-country skiing. Most people head off to Gatineau Park which is just over the river in Quebec although normally considered to still be a part of Ottawa.
Here you’ll find over 200km of trails for cross-country skiing which includes rolling and hilly terrains too. If you want to make a weekend trip out of it, there are also ready-to-camp units and campsites in the park so you can spend all weekend out in the fresh air.
Gatineau Park also has trails reserved especially for snowshoeing and you can hire the special racquets at the park. Strap on your snowshoes and go. It’s a super cool destination to check out if you’re looking for things to do in Ottawa in December, or the other winter months.
Don’t worry you won’t actually be eating a beaver if you tuck into a Beavertails while in Ottawa in winter! This yummy treat is in fact pastry, in the shape of a beaver’s tail, covered with several tasty toppings.
The original is cinnamon and sugar and it’s super tasty. You could also opt for Nutella, peanut butter or a savory option.
Even Obama is said to be a fan having stopped off at Beavertails in Ottawa during his first Presidential visit to Canada! If you’re looking for a tasty snack, make sure this is on your list of places to visit in Ottawa in winter.
Toboggan at Green’s Creek or Mooney’s Bay
This is such a great idea for people looking for fun things to do in Ottawa. Age is truly just a number in this instance.
Tobogganing is always fun! Head to Green’s Creek or Mooney’s Bay are some of the places to visit near Ottawa for tobogganing fun.
Go dog sledding in Ottawa
Dog sledding is a super fun experience where you get to hang out with dogs and experience beautiful snowy landscapes.
I’m lucky enough to have been dog sledding in Canada twice and I’ve loved both trips. I’d definitely go a third time!
there are some great dog sledding tours near Ottawa which are well worth trying during your trip to the country’s capital
Explore the houses of parliament without the queues
If you want to do some Ottawa sightseeing then the Houses of Parliament should be on your list of Ottawa places to visit.
We were told that we might have to go to the ticketing office for Canada’s Houses of Parliament early in the morning and not get a tour until the afternoon. That’s the case in summer and the weekends anyway. But we rocked up and got a tour within the next 10 minutes!
There were absolutely no queues to check in our bags either. You could see the queues laid out though with the barriers, so I can only imagine how busy it must get – especially as it’s a free tour!
Whilst it’s not exactly a museum it may as well be considering how much you’ll learn. In my view, it’s gotta be the best of free museums in Ottawa.
Relax at Nordik Spa-Nature
This is one of those Ottawa activities that you’re not going to want to stop. Nordik Spa-Nature is an outdoor spa just 10 minutes outside of downtown Ottawa and is one of the best places to visit in Ottawa.
Soak in the heated pools and saunas and then jump into the cold pools if you’re brave enough. This is one of the best winter activities Ottawa has to offer!
Browse Byward market
You can’t come to Ottawa and not visit this famous Ottawa market that’s one of the premier Ottawa tourist attractions.
Byward Market is one of the top indoor activities in Ottawa to do in winter (and any other time of year).
This is one of the top Ottawa attractions in winter and it’s easy to see why!
Go hungry and feast on the delicious treats you see. It’s also great for some souvenir shopping too.
Do some winter hiking
Just because it’s no longer summer that doesn’t mean that hiking season has to be over. The majority of Ottawa (a massive 90%) is rural. This means there is a lot of open space that’s just waited to be hiked, walked, and snowshoed on in the winter.
Not only going for a winter hike one of the best free things to do in Ottawa, but it’s good for you too! THe trees and trails here make it one of my favorite places to visit near Ottawa in winter.
Some of the best areas to for hiking in Ottawa include Gatineau Park (one of the prettiest things to see in Ottawa). This park is packed full of trees and it’s one of the more romantic things to do in Ottawa.
Grab a hot chocolate to go beforehand for the ultimate winter stroll. You really can’t beat a walk around here if you’re looking for Ottawa places to visit in winter.
Getting to Ottawa and around the city
How to get to Ottawa
If you’re looking to visit Ottawa you’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of direct flights to Canada’s capital city.
Alternatively, if you’re coming from within Canada then you could look into Greyhound buses.
Getting around Ottawa
Ottawa has a pretty great public transport system that we used during our visit. We found the Ottawa bus system pretty useful.
Where to stay in Ottawa
If you’re looking for Ottawa hotels check out these places to stay in Ottawa for every budget.
Final thoughts on the best Ottawa winter activities
When it comes to winter activities Ottawa is full of them. The city really knows how to celebrate the cold weather and puts on a range of festivals throughout winter which are some of the best things to do in Ottawa year-round!
One of my favorite things to do in Ottawa winter season is to go ice skating on the Rideau Canal. This is such a uniquely winter in Ottawa experience that you just have to try!
If you’re looking for more Ottawa places to visit, and still wondering what to do in Ottawa in winter, I highly recommend the parks around the city and it’s worth checking out Ottawa’s restaurant scene too as there are some gems to be found.
Last Updated on November 10, 2023 by Hannah
Hannah started That Adventurer after graduating back in 2013 and has documented all of her adventures since then. From backpacking South America to city breaks in Europe, a 3 month road trip across the USA in a self-converted van and 6 years living in Canada, you’ll find posts on all of this.
Hannah specialises in active travel and on That Adventurer you’ll find hiking, walking, biking, skiing and all sorts of active travel guides to allow you to see a destination in an adventurous way.