Celebrate winter in the most Canadian way possible
at Ottawa’s Winterlude Festival
Maybe you already are a lover of all things winter and live for all of those cold-weather activities like skating, skiing, etc. Or perhaps you are the kind of person who usually spends more time indoors by the fire with a hot chocolate when the temperatures drop. Regardless of which side you fall on, Ottawa Winterlude offers many reasons for you to get out and embrace the best of winter in Canada’s capital region.
For the past 40 years, Ottawa has been hosting one of Canada’s most popular winter festivals: Winterlude. Typically held over the first three weekends in February, Winterlude is one of Ottawa’s most significant tourism events, drawing in thousands of visitors from all over. There are many events held at various locations throughout the city, including ice carvings, skating, concerts, and a winter playground.
Ottawa Winterlude is a great reason to shake off the winter blahs, get outside, embrace winter, and have some fun.
Skating on the Rideau Canal
One of the most popular activities at Ottawa’s Winterlude festival is skating on the Rideau canal. The canal skateway is a 7.8 km course beginning at the base of the Chateau Frontenac and ending at Dow’s lake which becomes an outdoor skating rink. If you took a road trip to Ottawa for Winterlude but didn’t bring your skates, there are places to rent a pair so you can show off your skills.
If you are like me and cannot ice skate, don’t worry. You can still take part in the fun and enjoy a nice leisurely walk on the canal as you watch more seasoned skaters zip past. On Dow’s lake, you can even rent a sleigh where u can take a seat and have your friends or family push you along.
Since the feezing of the canal and Dow’s Lake is dependent upon the weather conditions, there may be a chance that the skating may be closed during your visit. So, it is a good idea to check the current skating conditions before you go.
Gatineau Snowflake Kingdom
One of the primary locations for activities for Ottawa Winterlude is actually in Gatineau, QC. Just a short drive (or ambitious walk) across the Ottawa river is the town of Gatineau, part of the National capital area. Here, at Jacques Cartier Park is a massive winter wonderland of activities. They have giant snow sculptures, snow tubing hill, zipline, shows, children’s play area, and many other fun events. You can try your skill at the Snowflake Kingdom Winterlude obstacle course challenge as well.
As these activities are very popular, lineups can long, so be sure to pack your patience. They are worth the wait.
Just a block away from Canada’s parliament buildings is Sparks Street, a historic outdoor pedestrian mall. As you walk along Sparks Street, there will be plenty of Winterlude attractions and activities to enjoy. There are many ice carvings on display here for you to check out. Some of these carvings have been made into games like air hockey, ring toss, bowling and others, which you can actually play. Interactive ice carvings can also be found here as well.
In addition to great shopping, Sparks street has many fantastic restaurants and pubs to enjoy a delicious meal.
After a busy day of skating the canal and having fun in the snow, check out the Byward Market.
This area of Ottawa is a major attraction for visitors at any time of year. It is full of great shops, bars, restaurants, as well as the market.
As you walk around this section of town, there will be plenty of Winterlude activities and events for you to enjoy. Ice carving artists from around the world compete in the big ice carving contest at Ottawa Winterlude. You will see the award-winning sculptures and runners-up on display here. You can warm up with a hot cocoa as you enjoy the variety of entertainment on stage. This includes Indigenous performers, Canadian musical acts, DJ’s, and other various live performances.
There are plenty of food vendors selling everything from maple sugar taffy, beavertails, carnival eats, and other snacks to satisfy your hunger. (or your sweet tooth). Be sure to check out the Winterlude culinary events and food tours taking place throughout the Byward Market.
Tips for making the most of Ottawa’s Winterlude
This is a winter festival in a cold area of Canada so temperatures can be brutal at times. Layering your clothing is the best approach in case the temperature rises. Make sure you have comfortable winter boots, a warm coat, scarf, toque, earmuffs, and mittens/gloves. If you head to your local Hudson Bay store, you can grab these items from their Canadian Olympic Team winter gear collection. In addition to being very Canadian, this winter gear is comfortable, stylish, and warm. So, you can wear your Canadian pride.
Snow pants, long underwear, and extra pairs of warm socks will all come in handy.
Ottawa Tourism has a great “What to pack” for Winterlude article on their website.
Planning a trip to Ottawa Winterlude? Book your hotel in advance to get the best rate and availability. That being said, when we went, we decided very last minute to go. We still got a great room at a reasonable price, and in a convenient location near parliament.
Tip: you will want to stay closer to the central core for walkability to most of the events and attractions.
Service your vehicle
If you are taking a road trip to Ottawa for Winterlude, have your car serviced before you go. The weather can affect driving conditions quite quickly, and you don’t want to get into trouble. Fill all fluids, check your heating, make sure you have winter tires with good treads, etc.
For more on getting your vehicle road-trip ready, click here.
As you know by now, we love to travel with dogs on many of our road trips, and you may think that this would be a fun road trip to take your dogs on, but it would be best that they stay home for this one. This is not a pet-friendly activity, and the canal skateway does not allow dogs.
I admit it, I am not a huge fan of winter. I usually prefer hibernating when the temperatures drop. So, when Nick suggested we go to Ottawa Winterlude, I wasn’t entirely on board with the idea. However, I do love taking road trips, and we rarely turn down the opportunity to go to a good festival. So the Roguetrippers were off to Winterlude.
Absolutely, no regrets.
A visit to Ottawa is a great weekend getaway any time of year, but why not plan your 48-hour trip during winter? Winterlude festival in Ottawa is such a fun event, and it is a fantastic way to beat those winter blues.
The 2020 Winterlude Festival takes place from January 31st to February 17th.