Wintering in Canada’s capital city — especially during the country’s year-long 150th birthday celebrations — offers fun for the whole family. There’s skating on one of the world’s biggest outdoor rinks. An indoor roller coaster. And noshing on BeaverTails. Let Indulgent TravelingMom Andrea Traynor help you plan a family friendly visit to try her 6 favorite things to do this winter in Ottawa.
6 THINGS TO DO THIS WINTER IN OTTAWA
Most of us have to work five days a week, leaving us with a mere two days to explore this big world of ours — one weekend at a time. Thankfully, visiting most major cities in a weekend is usually pretty doable. So allow me to help you plan your 48 hours with 6 things to do this winter in Ottawa that my family loves.
Whether you’ve lived in Canada your whole life or are visiting from another country, experiencing Ottawa — Canada’s capital city since 1857 — should definitely be added to your bucket list. In ink.
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1. STAY SOMEWHERE CENTRAL
Downtown Ottawa is so easily accessible on foot and by transit that you don’t need a car if you plan to stay in the city center. Choosing a hotel that’s central is key, especially if you’re only there for a weekend.
Andaz Ottawa is a new boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s famed ByWard Market. And although it’s billed as a four-star property, it has all of the class and service you’d expect from a fancy five-star. From the stunning décor and complimentary welcome beverages — wine or beer for you, hot chocolate for the kids — to the cozy bedding and stocked mini-bar that includes Ottawa’s world-famous Hummingbird chocolate, Andaz is an indulgent delight.
The best part about staying at the Andaz is its walkability. Restaurants, arts and culture, parks and one of Canada’s longest skateways are all within easy walking distance.
Nothing is too far by car either if you need to venture out to the city limits for an activity or two.
Oh, and then there’s this view:
2. HAVE SOME WINTERLUDE FUN
If you happen to be in Ottawa during Winterlude — which runs each year during the first three weeks of February — it’s a family-fun must. And it’s all free!
Pack warm layers and waterproof snow suits (and boots) and be sure to do as much as you can in a single day. We loved looking at the ice sculptures at the Crystal Garden in Confederation Park, created by artists from around the world, and we spent a lot of time at Snowflake Kingdom at Jacques-Cartier Park.
Now, although Snowflake Kingdom is technically in Quebec, it’s part of the Outouais region that lies just north of the Ottawa River. It’s a five-minute bridge-crossing that takes you from Ottawa to Gatineau that also plays host to Winterlude.
Here we found massive snow sculptures and maple taffy — and awesome entertainment. The Extreme Aerial Acrobatic and Trampo-Wall Show was really impressive. Picture a bunch of grown men in a Cirque du Soleil-like display, but in sub-zero temperatures! There are even dogsled experiences to be had here, but we were deterred by the long lines.
But the real star of Snowflake Kingdom are the ice slides. Wow! Kids and adults alike can slide down a number of these throughout the park, so definitely come prepared with snow pants. I only had on a long coat and my butt got the chill of a lifetime.
We also had a blast dancing away to evening DJ tunes back at Confederation Park.
TravelingMom Tip: A word of advice if you’re there on a Saturday or Sunday — take the OLG Snow Bus, which is a free shuttle between all of the Winterlude sites. While we were able to walk from Andaz Ottawa to Confederation Park, we had a heck of a time finding parking when we ventured off to Snowflake Kingdom. Once we did, it was $10 to park and still a good 10-minute walk from the park.
3. SKATE ON THE CANAL
The Rideau Canal Skateway had been crowned the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink until this year (when a 30-something-kilometre-long river near Panorama Mountain Resort took the honours), but even without the Guinness Record, it’s still a must-do family activity when you visit Ottawa in winter.
Ontario’s first UNESCO Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal stretches 7.8km through downtown Ottawa. It was so fun to become four of the Skateway’s one million seasonal visitors.
No skates? No problem. We rented skates at the onsite Capital Skates kiosk (there are two along the Canal). You’ll need a piece of ID and you’ll want to bring along a couple of backpacks so you can keep your boots with you.
4. GO TO FUNHAVEN
Forty-eight hours is a long time to spend solely outdoors in one of Canada’s premier snow belts. Ottawa can get bitterly cold, so I suggest carving out at least a few hours of indoor activities, too.
Funhaven will not disappoint.
This indoor amusement park was a big highlight for my kids. And arriving before 10:30 a.m. not only meant we were among the only people there, but it also saved $20 off the all-inclusive Family Fun Combo play package.
For $79, we got one family Laser Tag game (which we opted to do alone rather than with others and LOVED that because the space is dark and pretty big), arcade cards loaded with $5 each, and all-day unlimited access to the climbing wall, jungle gym, laser frenzy and bumper cars.
And, oh my God, the bumper cars are FANTASTIC! We must have gone on them at least 27 times. There’s top-40 music playing and the cars randomly spin, which significantly ups the fun factor.
We also added a roller coaster ride. Yes, Funhaven has an indoor roller coaster. While it is small, it also is mighty! It ended up being too much action for my kids, but I loved every second of it.
5. SKI AT CAMP FORTUNE
Although this is again something local Ottawans may lay claim to, Camp Fortune is not technically in Ottawa. In fact, it’s in another province altogether. But since it’s only a 16km drive from downtown Ottawa, this ski hill feels like it’s still in the capital.
Our hotel was just 15 minutes from Camp Fortune, making it easy to get out on the slopes for even half a day.
We’ve skied at both big mountains and small hills, and Camp Fortune holds its own. Lift tickets are comparatively inexpensive — day passes are $40 per adult, $20 for 7-12 year-olds and only $5 for kids 6 and under — when you consider that this hill boasts two Magic Carpet learning areas, some legit “au naturel” (ungroomed) ski terrain and night skiing.
Camp Fortune prides itself on being a hill for the whole family, and that made a lot of sense once we spent a day skiing there. My children reported that their lessons were with kid-friendly instructors who made their morning fun and yet still challenged them to progress.
My husband and I thought the conditions and the variety of trails were excellent. For a relatively small, 600-foot hill, we were surprised by how even some of the blue runs put our skills to the test. Those who appreciate off-piste conditions will find a little piece of heaven at Camp Fortune, especially if you luck out with some heavier snowfall during your visit like we did.
6. EAT ALL THE FOOD
After several visits to Ottawa over the years, one thing is always consistent for us — drool-worthy food. Here are a few options during your winter weekend in Ottawa:
feast + revel
Not to be missed is this farm-to-table gem located in the Andaz Ottawa hotel, opposite the lobby. This stands as one of our most memorable dinners of all time. Start with an Anka cocktail (named after Canada’s beloved singer, Paul Anka) and indulge in the foie gras starter followed by the elk rib entrée. You absolutely must leave room for the Hummingbird chocolate tarte!
Flapjack’s Canadian Diner
What began as a food truck is now a permanent fixture just beyond the downtown core. It’s the kind of gluttony that’ll get you in trouble if you visit too often, but if you’re in the area, I encourage you to try the breakfast sandwiches (because the sandwich “bread” are pancakes and will blow your mind) and the over-the-top buttermilk-battered bacon.
The Grand Pizzeria
Seriously good wood-fired oven pizza in the ByWard Market that’s perfect for casual family dining. The Sambuca shrimp were oh-so-tasty, and the calamari breading was among the lightest and nicest we’ve ever had
An Ottawa staple that every visit should include. BeaverTails are simply a fried pastry shaped like a beaver’s tail and they have a number of different toppings. My personal favourite is the cinnamon, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon BeaverTail, while my kids ooh and ahh over the Nutella version. You can find kiosks dotting the Rideau Canal Skateway, pop-ups at Winterlude and brick-and-mortar stores throughout the Ottawa region
If you don’t yet have a free Parks Canada pass for 2017, you may find it comes in handy in Ottawa if you decide that visiting in nicer weather is more your thing. And if you want to build in some educational activities in the capital, Teaching TravelingMom Kristen Maxwell calls the Canadian Museum of History near Ottawa one of the best museums in the world for families.