Visiting Ottawa, Canada for a winter family vacation means enjoying the outdoors at a winter festival, gliding over the ice of the Rideau Skateway, touring the Parliament buildings, or uncovering history at a downtown museum.
When traveling to Ottawa, Canada for a winter family vacation, it’s important to be prepared for the cold weather. Hats, gloves, scarfs, boots, and winter coats are essential for making the most of the city.
Winter Family Vacation Activities
These Ottawa winter activities are favorites for locals and visitors alike:
Skating on the Rideau Canal: The whole family can enjoy a sunny afternoon skating on the Rideau Canal. The Skateway is a true Ottawa winter attraction because as Canada’s largest outdoor ice rink, it only freezes over during the winter months. Skate rentals are available at three locations on the Skateway. Call (613) 239-5234 for updates on ice conditions.
Tour the Canadian Parliament buildings: When the weather is especially cold, head indoors to tour the buildings on Parliament Hill. As Parliament and the Senate are both in session over the winter, visitors have an opportunity to observe questions period and sit in the public galleries.
Visit an Ottawa museum: There is a concentration of excellent family-oriented museums in Ottawa, some offering free admission. The Canadian Museum of Nature remains a family favorite, but the Canadian War Museum and the National Gallery of Canada also offer quality exhibits.
Winter Festivals in Ottawa
Ottawans love to celebrate winter. The highlight of the cold season is the three-weekend-long Winterlude Festival, but holiday celebrations are also a favorite reason to visit the city for a winter family vacation.
Winterlude Festival: Each February, Ottawa is overrun with ice sculptures, snow activities, and music to help folks enjoy winter in the Canadian capital.
Christmas Lights: The holiday season display of lights in Ottawa includes a bedecked Parliament Hill, an illuminated National War Memorial, a lighted Jacques-Cartier Park, and seasonal-spirited 24 Sussex Drive.
Ottawa Family Attractions
Beyond winter festivals and Ottawa museums, there are interesting family attractions throughout Ottawa. Visit the Carleton County Gaol Heritage Centre where families can tour a former jail. The 1862 building at 75 Nicholas St. now houses an international hostel, but the 8th floor is reserved as a museum of prison life. Call the hostel for more details on visiting the jail: (613) 235-2595 or 1 (866) 299-1478.
Or, head out for some Ottawa shopping at the ByWard Market. The public market combines food, fashion, and artisans with accommodation and restaurants over multiple city blocks. Start an exploration of the market on Rideau Street at Sussex Drive or at the information center at 55 ByWard Square.
On a sunny day, visitors can also enjoy shopping along the pedestrian-friendly Sparks Street Mall, 35 O’Connor St. The mall stretches from Elgin to Kent streets and includes restaurants, cafés, boutiques, and the Currency Museum.
Planning an Ottawa Winter Family Vacation
Flights, trains, and buses to Ottawa run year-round. Driving in winter conditions can be difficult. If driving, arrive well prepared with winter tires and an emergency kit. Winter parking can be a challenge so visitors will find using the excellent OC Transpo system, (613)741-4390, an easier option.