things to do in ottawa

How to spend 36 hours in Ottawa during the winter

Ottawa is an incredible destination to visit any time of the year, but winter is a magical time in our capital city. CNN Travel even named it as a top place to visit in 2023, calling it "graceful and understated". 

Ottawa has fascinating history, arts, and culture to explore, with festivals in every season to experience. There are also so many outdoor nature and adventure activities to try, you'll never be bored.

While it's impossible to fit everything to do and see into 48 hours, here's a suggestion of how to spend a winter weekend in Ottawa.

Saturday
9 a.m. - Grab breakfast and caffeinate

Ottawa doesn't mess around when it comes to breakfast and brunch, and there are countless great options to choose from. Wilf and Ada's is almost guaranteed to have a line unless you go early, but you'll see what the hype is about when you try their daily frittata or duck eggs benny.

The Manx on Elgin Street is another great option, serving breakfast comfort food at affordable prices. Also, consider HQ Cafe's instagrammable offerings, and don't miss their espresso cream cheese pancakes.

For coffee, Figaro Coffee House is a Canadian company that roasts their beans right in Ottawa, made with some of the finest Arabica coffee beans from around the world.

The Ministry of Coffee is another staple with globally sourced coffee beans, or try Little Victories in The Glebe for espresso-based drinks with impossibly beautiful designs.

10 a.m. - Go skating or cross-country skiing 

Ottawa is blessed with amazing nature trails and natural frozen rinks to glide across. One of the biggest winter outdoor attractions in the city is skating on the Rideau Canal, the world's largest skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts millions of visitors each year.

You'll find skate rentals, warming huts, hot chocolate and Beaver Tails along the frozen ice path.

RiverOak Skating Trail is another amazing skating path, which leads you through forests and orchards.

For cross-country skiing, head to the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail, a groomed multi-use path that stretches along the Ottawa River Capital Pathway. Keep an eye out for the adorable snow bears a local artist built in the trees at Kitchisippi Woods.

12 p.m. - Refuel and try a local favourite

Locals might disagree on who is the best here, but one thing is certain - Ottawa has some of the best shawarma around. Shawarma King is almost a right of passage to anyone visiting or who has lived in the city, and is a must-try at least once.

Another staple is the gravy-smothered pizza slices at House of Georgie. Classic pizza slices are served with a ladle full of savoury gravy. Don't knock it 'til you try it!

1 p.m. - Relax at the spa

While technically not in Ottawa, the Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea, Quebec is just a quick 20 minute drive from downtown and an must-do luxurious spa experience, particularly in the winter.

Using the Scandinavian practice of alternating through hot and cold rituals, the Nordik has indoor and outdoor hot tubs and pools to soak in, cold plunges, sitting areas with burning fires, saunas, and steam rooms for ultimate relaxation.

Uppliva Spa in Hintonburg is another Scandinavian-inspired spa in the city which also has a steam and sauna circuit, as well as a range of spa treatments.

4 p.m. - Check into your hotel

The capital has countless accommodation options to choose from. For a uniquely-Ottawa experience, opt for the regal Fairmont Château Laurier in the heart of downtown.

The Fairmont is historical yet luxurious, resembling a Renaissance-era French château with castle-like architecture. It has a prime location within walking distance of the ByWard Market and Rideau Canal.

Art lovers would also love the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market, with its modern rooms decorated with art by local artists and views of Parliament Hill. The Alt Hotel is another more affordable option, with bright playful decor and a lobby cafe. 

5 p.m. - Stroll the ByWard Market

The ByWard Market is one of Ottawa's top must-see attractions, with over 600 businesses open year-round. The square has a famous farmers' market, unique boutiques, galleries, pubs, restaurants, bars, bakeries, coffee houses, and street art, and a lot of it is indoor so you don't have to walk in the cold.

Grab a Beaver Tail with your choice of sweet toppings, or peruse the handmade products from around the world at Quichua World Market.

7 p.m. - Indulge in a seafood dinner

While Ottawa may not seem like your typical seafood destination, one beloved restaurant just may change your mind. The Whalesbone serves exceptionally fresh and sustainable oysters and seafood, and its popularity has now seen it expand to several locations throughout the city.

If you're in ByWard Market, Sidedoor is a cozy and intimate option with delicious Asian-inspired tapas and tacos, or pop into Chez Lucien's tavern for comfort food.

9 p.m. - Try a creative cocktail at a local institution

To end the night, head to Apothecary Lounge in the ByWard Market and try one of their artisanal cocktails made with real botanicals and house made syrups.

Alternatively, try The Hyde, a newer cocktail lounge serving curated shaken and stirred creations.

Sunday
10 a.m. - Brunch time

Lexington in Westboro is a smokehouse and bar with creative takes on brunch classics. Try their spin on chicken and waffles with Korean fried chicken and a spicy honey drizzle.

Art-is-in Bakery is another great bakery and cafe, with freshly baked breads and breakfast options you can enjoy in their contemporary and stylish space.

11 a.m. - Take a winter hike

Ottawa has some stunning trails for winter hiking, including Gatineau Park which has over 183 km of trails to discover. 

With lush forests and rolling hills, it's a beautiful way to get some fresh air with picturesque views.

2 p.m. - Explore Parliament or one of the many museums

While in the nation's capital, you can visit Canada's Parliament and take a free guided tour of the Senate or House of Commons. 

Ottawa is filled with so many museums, you would need much longer than a weekend to see them all. Some notable ones to marvel at include The Canadian Museum of Nature, The Canadian War Museum, The National Gallery of Canada, or the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

4 p.m. - Check out Winterlude

Arguably Ottawa's most anticipated festival of the year, Winterlude celebrates all things winter, and has for the past 40 years. With ice sculptures, maple taffy and food stalls, light and art installations, and countless other free events, the festival spans over 3 weekends in February and is a must if you're in town.

After dark, the ice sculptures are illuminated with colourful lights, and Sparks Street is filled with evening attractions.

5 p.m. - Warm up with a hot chocolate

There's nothing like a good cup of hot chocolate in the winter, and Stubbe Chocolates makes one decadent cup. Their original hot chocolate is made with Callebaut Belgian cocoa, whole milk, and a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Quelque Chose is a charming patisserie with flavoured and elaborate flavours you can try, along with their macarons. Try their Mexican or S'mores hot chocolate.

6 p.m. - Enjoy a delicious dinner

End the weekend with an amazing meal at Supply and Demand and their spectacular menu of small plates, pasta dishes, and raw bar.

Just steps away, you'll also find Absinthe and their modern bistro featuring dishes prepared with classical French culinary techniques.

8 p.m. - For something sweet

There's always room for dessert, and there are plenty of sweets to satisfy that craving around. If you're up for ice cream in the winter, Moo Shu Ice Cream is a dessert joint offering craft ice cream with unique, Asian-inspired flavors and a rotating menu of snacks.

Alternatively, you can grab churros at La Catrina Churros + Café Bar, a hip bi-level cafe with fun murals.

Lead photo by

Ottawa Tourism


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