Winterlude in Ottawa takes place annually in Canada's national capital.
We've been lucky to attend three Winterlude celebrations in Ottawa, Canada and we always find something new to do. Our nation's capital is always looking for unique ways to celebrate winter in the great white north.
Our weekend in Ottawa is the perfect getaway to beat the February blues for everyone. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and spent the next three days enjoying the celebrations.
All About Ottawa Winterlude
Winterlude is an annual event taking place every February for three weeks.
It is spread throughout the city and in the neighbouring city of Gatineau in Quebec.
Popular venues for Winterlude are on the Rideau Canal, in the ByWard Market, Sparks Street and Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau.
There is the free Sno-Bus shuttle that takes people to Gatineau from Ottawa (and back) making transport very easy.
We used Uber to get around.
Uber is very affordable, convenient and reliable in Ottawa.
- But take note: Uber does not operate in Quebec, so you will need to hail a taxi if you go to Gatineau.
How to Dress for Winterlude
Winterlude is a winter carnival that can easily be enjoyed outdoors if you dress for it.
Packing is key to taking part in all the activities the event has to offer.
What we packed for Winterlude:
- Base Layers: Merino wool leggings and a base layer shirt – it wicks away moisture to keep you warm if you plan on doing some skating or hiking.
- Fleece mid-layer: Our fleece mid-layer insulates from the cold to keep us toasty warm.
- Mid Layer: You can wear a mid-layer if you are choosing to only wear a lightweight windproof, yet breathable outer layer. When we wear our outer layers, we wear fleece pants and a fleece jacket.
Parka and Snow Pants
It was particularly cold during our weekend in Ottawa, so we opted for parkas and snow pants instead of a mid-layer.
Make sure you bring a good parka and lined snow pants to keep the cold out.
- Hats: a good wool hat always does the trick, you don't have to get fancy with aviator or fur-lined hats. I find a good tuque with a fuzzy liner does the trick.
- Balaclava – we packed balaclavas and it kept our heads and necks warm. I prefer a balaclava over a scarf.
- Boots – lined, breathable and waterproof boots are a must. Make sure they are not too tight so you can wear extra socks and put in toe warmers.
- Socks – Dave likes a liner sock, I just wear a good pair of merino wool socks.
- Toe and Hand Warmers – these will save your life in Winterlude. We could stand outside watching the shows and festivities while our tootsies and hands stayed toasty warm.
Read our winter layering tips to avoid the deep freeze.
Watch our Video: the Best of Ottawa and Winterlude
What to Expect from Winterlude in Ottawa
Ottawa is a very walkable city.
Until you go across the river to Gatineau, you won't need to hire a taxi very often.
Most of Winterlude now takes place in the ByWard Market. This is where the ice sculpture competitions take place and where the winners are on display.
Many pubs and restaurants set up outdoor patios and ice bars with fire pits to keep you warm.
The main event happens on the Rideau Canal where you can skate on the world's largest skating rink.
At 7.8 km long and skating on Dows lake, that's a lot of ice.
There are warming stations and food stalls along the way where you can get hot chocolate, BeaverTails, and Maple Syrup treats.
There are a lot of nighttime events taking place along Bank Street and Spark Street. Spark Street is a walking street filled with Winterlude Activities.
Winterlude Weekend Itinerary
Trying to get everything in for Winterlude can be overwhelming, so we have decided to break down an Itinerary for you to help you make the most of Ottawa in winter.
Day 1: Friday Afternoon:
If you have never been to Ottawa before, we suggest popping over the Parliament Hill to see the Parliament Buildings. They are a gorgeous work of architecture and seeing them never gets old.
After you've checked out the House of Parliament, it's time to get into Winterlude Festivities.
Afternoon Winterlude Activities
When you arrive in Ottawa Friday afternoon is the time that things are gearing up for Winterlude. There may be events happening at Dows Lake.
We hopped in an Uber after checking into the Westin Ottawa to catch the final warm-ups for the Dragon Boat Races taking place over the weekend.
Teams from around the country take part in the annual ice dragon boat race on Dows Lake. It's dragon boating, but it's on ice. Instead of paddles, they use sticks with little spikes on them that look like horses hooves.
Dave and I had the chance to do a trial run, and we now have great respect for dragon boat racers. They work hard!
After you finish up at the lake, take a stroll into the Byward Market to look for a spot for dinner.
ByWard Market Dining
There are many places to choose from. We tried Play Food and Wine for the first time and loved the shareable small plates.
The cheese platter was to die for and the steak was outstanding.
Located on the corner of York and Sussex Drive, it's centrally located at the entrance to the ByWard Market.
After dinner, we took a stroll along Sparks Street where the entertainment begins at 6:00 pm.
Ottawa Winter Pride happens at this time of year and brave burlesque dancers strip down to their pasties in 20 below putting on a fun and festive show on the stage.
DJs keep the party going between acts and food stalls and outdoor bars keep your bellies full and your blood warm.
If you have kids, the Sparks Street Ice-Cade has winter carnival games like ice ring toss, ice air hockey, and ice benches.
We as adults loved it too!
When visiting Ottawa during special events like Winterlude, they always make sure to have various things going on.
After the Burlesque show from 6 – 8 for us (it keeps going to 11 pm!) we made our way to Bank Street for a Silent Disco.
Thinking we'd be outdoors we bundled up only to enter a cozy tent filled with street performers and people dancing silently with headphones on.
This is our kind of party. Finally, a night out where we aren't screaming over the DJ!
There were 3 DJs playing music for everyone. You can change the channels to suit the music of your choice.
Your headphones light up either Green, Red or Yellow. Dave and I found ourselves on the classic rock channel, but definitely flipped through to listen to the others when we saw our fellow party goers getting down!
The Westin Ottawa
It was a jam-packed afternoon and evening, and we looked forward to returning to our hotel.
We had spent very little time in the Westin so far and loved our room overlooking the canal.
The Westin Ottawa has a fantastic view of the city and while we love other hotels in Ottawa, this is the best for Winterlude.
It is located right at the entrance to the canal making skating easy.
It's also connected to the Rideau Centre, so you can do some shopping without having to put on your heavy parka.
And the view is unparalleled to any other lookout in Ottawa.
Saturday – Day 2 at Winterlude
Today was the day to check out all the fun in Gatineau at Jacques Cartier Park.
Jacques Cartier Park
This is the place to go if you have kids. (or if you are like us and are a kid at heart)
The park is filled with outdoor winter events.
We arrived early to beat the line for the snow tube park and whizzed down the gates.
Dave and I have often called snow tubing the ultimate couch potato thrill ride. You really don't have to do a lot but sit on an inner tube and let gravity do the work.
These are all temporary tubing lanes though, so you will have to walk up carrying the tube yourself.
It's a great way to tire the kids out for the day. There were two snow tubing sections built up for Winterlude with about six lanes each, so the lines are never too long.
I never thought of Ziplining in the winter, but Ottawa has it all.
During Winterlude, they build a zip line over the park that nearly goes to the river.
Climbing up the high scaffolding, we put on our harnesses and sipped over the park.
It's $10 per ride or $20 for the day unlimited.
If I had kids, I'd choose the $20.
After a fun-filled morning, it was time to explore more of the city.
We don't recommend skating on the canal in the afternoon. It is very crowded and the ice is very chopped up.
So instead of going for a skate, we walked around the ByWard Market taking in all the festivities around town.
There were ice sculpting demonstrations and competitions going on.
We took a look at our schedule and made sure not to miss the artists at work.
Dave had the opportunity to try some ice sculpting of his own and had a knack for chiseling away at the ice.
Even if you are dressed for it, the cold can take a lot out of you, so for the afternoon, we decided to duck inside to enjoy a couple of the many Ottawa museums.
The National Gallery is just a short walk from the ByWard Market and we went inside to check out some of its iconic art.
The building is a work of art unto itself.
It was first unveiled at the Tate Modern Art Museum in London England and it has been reproduced around the world, including Ottawa.
There is a beautiful glass ceiling in the foyer and our favorite exhibit was definitely the Chapel of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart complete with a choir surrounding us bellowing from 20 speakers. t was serene and beautiful.
We've been to many museums and galleries in Ottawa if you are looking for other ideas, the Canadian Museum of Nature, which is our favourite museum in Ottawa.
The Canadian Museum of Science and Technology is fun for the whole family and the ByWard Museum down by the Rideau Locks is a great way to learn of the history of the ByWard Market.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Another Good place to warm up for Winterlude is inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Check out its beautiful interior located directly across the road from the National Gallery.
Where to Warm Up in Winterlude
When walking around outdoors in winter, people are always looking for places to warm up.
The ByWard Market is mostly outdoors, but the main building has shops and eateries inside and is a great place to escape the cold.
We popped into Corazon de Maiz for authentic Mexican Cuisine.
Make sure you try their array of hot sauces ranging from easy green to XXXX!
Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Another great warm-up spot for Winterlude is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel. We've stayed here a couple of times and love this place.
It is inviting to walk inside and browse its history. If you walk to the back of the hotel, there are boutiques and shops to browse.
And you can check out the photography display showcasing history dating back to the early 20th century.
And finally, the Rideau Centre is a huge shopping mall filled with high-end stores, restaurants, and chain clothing stores. You can easily spend a couple of hours getting lost in here.
Best Place for Sunset
After exploring Ottawa for the afternoon, we were ready for some cocktails at the top of the Andaz Ottawa in the ByWard Market.
The Copper Ice Bar is an outdoor bar complete with a vodka ice luge, fireplaces, and blankets.
It was toasty warm tucked behind the glass secluding us from the wind. Andaz is one of the premier spots in Ottawa to watch the sunset over the city.
There was another night of festivities planned with drag queen shows, and burlesque still going strong on Sparks Street, but after a day of activities, we made it an early night.
After strolling through the Crystal Garden to see the ice sculptures lit up with colorful lights, and a quick stop on the Ice Throne to do our best impression of the Game of Thrones, we opted for a nightcap in the Westin cozy Shore Club.
Sunday: Day 3 Winterlude
Today is the big day!
Skate on Rideau Canal
We woke up early for sunrise to skate on the canal.
This is the best time of day to skate as you have the canal all to yourself save for a few locals commuting to work.
The ice has been freshly flooded and it's smooth and easy to skate on.
Wind is usually less in the mornings so we skated in comfort.
When skating, we dressed in fewer layers. It was just a pair of long johns under our jeans and our parkas.
We could have gone with warm fleece and an outer layer, but we were taking it easy so the parka worked well.
None of the snack bars are open at this time of day but the skate is outstanding.
We made sure to come back later for a Beaver Tail and maple syrup treat.
We couldn't eat too much though because it was time for our food tour of Ottawa.
Other Places to Skate in Ottawa
The Canal isn't the only place to skate in Ottawa
The Sens Rink of Dreams by City Hall is a popular arena. And yes, there's hot chocolate and Beavertails rinkside.
Rideau Hall is a historic arena was built in 1872 and is located on the site of the residence of Canada's Governor General.
C'est Bon Food Tour
Fitting for Winterlude, we went on the Taste of Maple Tour with C'est Bon Food Tours.
We met our guide Sabrina at the clock in front of the ByWard Market and began our culinary tour around the area.
The tour includes samples of maple made delectables.
We had everything from maple butter, to maple tea, maple cupcakes, maple bacon donuts, and maple ribs!
The highlight of the stop was learning of the maple rib slow cooking system at Fatboys Southern Smokehouse.
Chef Rob Plummer trained in Memphis to learn all about ribs and they have the best in town.
Prime Minister Harper was a regular and even had his final cabinet meal at the restaurant.
We really loved how the owners and managers of the establishments came out to talk to us and tell us about their products.
My favourite thing about food tours is that they take you to local businesses owned and operated by people who have a passion for their business and community.
The Tea Store was packed and we loved it so much, we bought some to take home with us.
FYI they take online orders and there's free shipping with for orders over $100!
Where to Eat at Winterlude
You would think that with all that food, we'd be ready for a nap, but by the time we walked back to the hotel, it was time to eat!
- Joey Landsdowne – This was a great location near the Westin. We could walk nearly all the way indoors through the mall. We both went for pasta and enjoyed the ambiance of a very packed place located on Rideau Street.
- The Brig Pub – Located in the Byward market, it's a good place for lunch or grabbing a beer.
- Riviera Restaurant – Voted as one of the best restaurants in Canada by enRoute Magazine, the Riviera Restaurant is the place to eat! It's located right on Spark's Street near all the Winterlude activities.
- Zoes – Elegant and delicious, it's a great eatery located in the Chateau Laurier.
- The Grand Pizzeria – Located right across from Beavertails in the Byward Market, the Grand Pizzeria was the original Grand hotel dating back to 1812. There's an outdoor ice bar with fire pits, and they have fabulous pizza and pasta.
- Corazon de Maiz – A tiny eatery in the Byward Market that has fantastic tacos and burritos.
- Play Food and Wine – Wonderful setting serving small shared plates. It had fantastic service.
- Where to Stay at Winterlude
Where to Stay for Winterlude
Westin is the best location for Winterlude. Located across the road from the canal, it's just a short walk to the entrance to the skate way.
The Westin has a skate lounge where you can warm up in your gear.
For winter it's excellent because it is connected to the Rideau Centre shopping mall so you can warm up.
It has an excellent pool and hot tub and breakfast offer a gorgeous view of the canal and Chateau Laurier.
Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Ottawas most famous hotel dating back to 1912.
It is also an excellent place to stay during Winterlude located directly across from the Westin.
If we had to choose, we'd say stay at the Westin for Winterlude and the Fairmont for all other trips to Ottawa. How can you not get excited to stay at the grand hotel.
This is a popular hotel in the ByWard Market known for its rooftop patio for sunset.
It feels like a business boutique hotel. There is a gym. (no pool or sauna)
The rooftop bar is its best feature.
Winterlude Wrap Up
Winterlude is an annual event that happens every year from around Feb 1 -18.
Most activities are free and most are held on the weekends.
Most of the action takes place on the Rideau Canal which turns into the world's largest ice rink when it freezes.
Winterlude is also celebrated around various sites in the capital like Confederation Park, The ByWard Market, Sparks Street, Bank Street, The Parliament Buildings and across the river in the city of Gatineau.
The Snowflake Kingdom Gatineau is a winter playground for the kids.
For more information on Winterlude, check out the official Ottawa Winterlude website.
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Our trip to Ottawa is in partnership with Tourism Ottawa. All opinions are our own. Visit their website for more information on travel to Ottawa.