This year’s Winterlude (an everything winter celebration) in Ottawa, Ontario runs from Friday January 31 to Monday February 17, 2020.
Winterlude has seen upwards of 600,000 people in previous years and as it is the 50th season of the Rideau Canal Skateway, this year’s winter celebration will draw larger crowds.
If you’re planning to make a trip to the nation’s capital for Winterlude this year, here are 8 tips to ensure the entire family has fun in Ottawa.
1. Check the Schedule of Events
Prior to your visit, I’d recommend getting familiar with the different areas where Winterlude activities are taking place.
There are 7 major areas with winter related activities – everything from tubing, skating, ice sculpture competitions, and culinary events.
Below is a brief summary of each of the areas and some of the activity highlights.
Sparks Street – Interactive art and technology installations, ice sculpting challenges and demonstrations, a hockey challenge for kids, live performances and snack and drink kiosks (including free coffee and hot chocolate from Tim Hortons).
Snowflake Kingdom – Kids of all ages will enjoy this large winter playground at Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Quebec. There’s tube slides, an obstacle course, free snowboarding and skiing lessons for kids 5 to 8 years old (equipment is provided so there’s no need to bring your own), a playground area with various play structures, zip lining (fee applies), games and puzzles, food samples and Tim Hortons Chill Zone (free coffee and hot chocolate).
Rideau Canal Skateway – This year marks the 50th season of skating on the Rideau Canal. Don your skates (you can walk too – we saw plenty of parents pushing their kids in strollers or pulling them on plastic sleds) and see how far you can make it down the canal.
Downtown Rideau – This is the area for shopping, arts, and culture. Home to the National Arts Centre and Ottawa Art Gallery, Downtown Rideau hosts music festivals, culinary championships, and live performances by Indigenous artists. If you can, check out the geometric crystal art installations at the underpass at Rideau Street and Colonel By Drive. The Sens Rink of Dreams is also in this area if you don’t want to make the trek to the canal.
ByWard Market – This area is for families who want to spend some time exploring one of Canada’s oldest public markets, boutique shop and variety of restaurants. There’s a petting zoo, horse and wagon rides and a Craft Beer Market during Winterlude.
Bank Street – This is the area you need to head to for the Fire & Ice Festival (February 8 and 9), shops, restaurants and theatres. There’s silent disco, a street skating rink and live performances.
Glebe – This neighbourhood is known the “Snowman capital of the planet”. The Glebe is also where you can enjoy films by Indigenous filmmakers or test out your rollerskating skills at the retro roller disco.
For a full list of activities, make sure to check out the List of Events page on the Winterlude website. Certain activities only run on specific days and we recommend having a rough itinerary before your visit.
2. Dress for Winter
If you plan on taking part in the activities at Snowflake Kingdom (the world’s biggest snow playground) in Jacques Cartier Park – tubing, obstacle course, snowboarding or skiing, you will definitely need a pair of snow pants.I’d recommend putting them on before you head out to Snowflake Kingdom as the wait for the bathroom / change room area can be fairly long.
Who cares if they make you feel like the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters – you’ll blend in with everyone else.Well, except for those that miss this post!
Along with snow pants, Winterlude visitors should wear boots that are insulated and waterproof. Although it wasn’t too cold last weekend, the snow was up to our ankles most of the time.
We also had neck warmers, winter hats, long johns (husband and son) and leggings (daughter and I) keeping us warm too.
3. About Skating on the Canal
The Rideau Canal Skateway is 7.8 km long and depending on weather, parts of it may or may not be open. Make sure to check this page for openings and closures.
If you don’t want to bring your skating gear from home, skates, helmets and sleighs are available for rent at several locations along the canal – Capital Skates at the National Arts Centre and Fifth Avenue and Dow’s Lake Pavilion.
4. Free Sno-Bus Transportation on Weekends
If you are planning on only doing Winterlude activities and are planning on staying at a hotel in the Downtown area, then a car rental may not be necessary.
There is a free shuttle that runs on weekends (called the Sno-Bus) that takes Winterlude goers to each of the activity areas.
There is a bus that stops at several points along the canal for skaters and one that strictly goes from Jacques-Cartier Park and back. Check out the Sno-Bus routes on this page.
5. Bring Cash for Snacks and Drinks
Several food vendors may not accept credit or debit cards so if Beavertails or maple taffy (you ABSOLUTELY must!) are part of your Winterlude plans, you’ll have to pay for them with cash.
Skate, helmets, ice bicycles, skate trainers and sleigh rentals are available at several points on the Rideau Canal (see the locations mentioned above) can be paid for with credit or debit cards but smaller vendors are cash only.
6. Take a Backpack
If you’re skating on the canal and don’t want to leave your shoes at the side of the canal, bring a backpack so you can store your boots in them.
It’s easier to skate on the ice too instead of having a messenger style bag constantly hitting the side of your leg.
A plastic bag works well for keeping your boots separate from everything else.We forgot to do this on a previous Winterlude trip and ended up with a pool of melted snow, wet maps and brochures sitting at the bottom of our backpack by mid-afternoon.
Make sure to pack some wipes too if you have little ones. Snacks and drinks on the go can be quite messy at times! There’s also lots of snow to clean up the juice spills on jackets and mitts. HA!
7. Choose a Centrally Located Hotel
If you want to be close to all the action, choose one of the three official Winterlude Headquarters hotels in Downtown Ottawa.
- The Westin Ottawa (click for latest prices and reviews)
- Fairmont Chateau Laurier (click for latest prices and reviews)
- Lord Elgin (click for latest prices and reviews)
These three hotels have a Sno-Bus stop out front or a few steps away for families who prefer to save their energy for Winterlude activities.
There’s also a long list of partner hotels too – the majority of them are walking distance to the major attractions like the Rideau Canal, Sparks Street, Downtown Rideau and ByWard Market.
You can see the entire list of Winterlude hotels here.
Which brings us to our next tip…
8. Indoor Activities for Kids
The majority of our weekend getaway was spent outdoors and I had planned a few indoor activities in case the weather didn’t co-operate or we just needed some time to decompress. The weather was really nice this past weekend so we didn’t make it to any of the indoor spots I had researched. And we didn’t have time – we were too busy tubing or skating! 🙂
If you’re looking for a plan B for your visit, maybe you’ll find this list helpful.
Downtown Rideau Area
- Rideau Centre – Four-level shopping centre with a Disney Store, LEGO store, Nordstrom and a large food court
- National Arts Centre – Performing arts centre
- Parliament Hill – Free guided tours of the Senate and House of Commons
ByWard Market Area
- Royal Canadian Mint – The Ottawa location is the Royal Canadian Mint’s headquarters. Learn how collector and commemorative coins and medals are made
- National Gallery of Canada – Canada’s national art museum. Free admission every Thursday 5 to 8PM and children 11 and under are free everyday
Jacques Cartier Park Area (Snowflake Kingdom)
- The Canadian Museum of History – Located in the Hull area of Gatineau, Quebec this museum teaches visitors about the history and cultural diversity of Canada. Check out the Children’s Museum area here. Free admission daily 4 to 5PM
- Canadian Museum of Nature – Explore nature and learn about the natural sciences at this museum less than 10 minutes driving from the Glebe. Free admission every Thursday 5 to 8PM
Winterlude is a family friendly and wallet friendly celebration. Many activities are free at Jacques Cartier Park, Downtown Rideau, Sparks Street and the Rideau Canal areas and we’d highly recommend visiting if you get a chance this year.
For more information on Winterlude, head on over to the official Winterlude website.