When the cut-throat corporate executive has to decide if they’ll shut down the candy cane factory or follow their heart, where do they go? Why, to Ottawa, of course! Canada’s capital city is a beloved filming destination and made-for-television holiday movies use this gorgeous spot as a stand-in for Chicago, New York, and a whole slew of generic “big town USA” locations.
So what makes Ottawa such a terrific spot for feel-good holiday films? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with snow. As a long-time resident, I can attest to the fact that there are few things so pretty as Ottawa after the first fluffy snow of the season. However, holiday films are shot early in the year so all on-screen snow is artificial. Instead, filmmakers love Ottawa because the city is affordable, filled with stunning architecture, and ample nooks and crannies that perfectly set the stage for cozy encounters. Nearly 100 spots in the city and surrounding communities have been featured in holiday films.
2022 was a record-setting year for Ottawa, as 16 holiday films were shot in and around the city. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a movie star or even a confectioner looking for love to enjoy many of Ottawa’s most popular film backgrounds. Here are some to look out for whether you’re watching your favorite film or planning your next vacation.
1. The Fairmont Château Laurier
The city’s most famous hotel offers 429 rooms, an elegant afternoon tea, and spectacular views of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River. The Château Laurier also offers a whole lot of romance if holiday movies are to be believed! This landmark property bears more than a passing resemblance to a castle and the impeccable service would make anyone feel like royalty. You can see this iconic symbol of Ottawa in movies like the aptly named Hotel For The Holidays and dozens more, including A Christmas Carousel.
2. The ByWard Market
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a made-for-TV holiday movie that was shot in Ottawa without featuring the ByWard Market. It’s an essential location on every director’s list! Tucked behind the Château Laurier, the ByWard Market offers a slew of popular restaurants, chic bars, funky little shops — and, of course, their namesake market.
One of the most popular film locations is Le Moulin de Province. This large bakery and eatery can be glimpsed in movies like Great Holiday Bake War and One Delicious Christmas — and it was nearly the scene for my very own movie-worthy romance. When I first moved to Ottawa, I would visit Le Moulin and treat myself to a delicate pastry and sit by the windows, savoring my treat. One week, a rather comely pumpkin vendor set up shop just outside my favorite seat.
With his flannel shirt and carefully arranged gourds, he looked like a handsome Hallmark character coming to life. Surely he would eventually look my way and realize that love and croissants were there all along? Then one day, as mysteriously as he arrived, he was gone. Did another movie lover capture his heart? I’ll never know but I suspect I’m not the only one who has plotted their love life over eclairs and café au lait.
3. The ByWard Market “Courts”
Don’t let the name fool you. “Courts” in this context don’t refer to legal buildings (though both the Supreme Court of Canada and the City of Ottawa Courthouse are a short walk away and can be glimpsed in many films). When you’re in the ByWard Market, the “Courts” are narrow laneways that widen to reveal a larger central courtyard. Lined with cute shops, cafés, and restaurants, holiday filmmakers adore these charming little spots, as does anyone visiting Ottawa. Here are the three most popular:
- The Tin House Court features a unique piece of public art and has been seen in Mistletoe Time Machine, All I Don’t Want for Christmas, and A Christmas for the Books.
- At Clarendon Lane, you’ll see art on the stone walls and the ByWard Market’s sweetest coffee shop, Planet Coffee. The adjacent courtyard has been included in A Christmas for the Books, Midnight at the Magnolia, One Delicious Christmas, All I Don’t Want for Christmas, and many more.
- Finally, at Jeanne D’Arc Court (which was featured in The Most Colorful Time Of The Year), you’ll see a true Ottawa darling. The courtyard is home to Dancing Bear, a sculpture by Nunavut-based artist Pauta Saila. I don’t know anyone who has come upon this sculpture and not immediately fallen in love with it. Nearby are the backdoors of Paper Papier and Fleurissant, a boutique stationery shop and florist respectively. It holds a special place in my own romantic heart because when I got engaged (no, not to the pumpkin vendor), my beloved and I popped in to pick up a guestbook made of homemade paper infused with flower petals. So dreamy!
4. Sparks Street
Ottawa’s pedestrian-only street is just steps from Parliament Hill but it feels miles removed from the hustle of the city. Even though it’s filled with offices, shops, and pubs, Sparks Street has a quiet vibe on weekdays, one that filmmakers love. It’s the perfect spot for filming, as there are no traffic interruptions and there’s plenty of interesting architecture to set up a shot. Come weekends, the space comes alive with festivals and special events. See the magic for yourself in films like Hotel For The Holidays and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.
5. City Hall And Confederation Park
Can government buildings be whimsical enough for a Hallmark movie? In Ottawa, they are! City Hall, its outdoor winter skating rink, and the adjacent Confederation Park have been included in recent films like Christmas Unwrapped, A New Diva’s Christmas Carol, Boyfriends Of Christmas Past, and Great Holiday Bake War. Visitors can expect lots of festivals on the grounds and the public spaces within City Hall are home to the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, Karsh-Masson Gallery, City Hall Art Gallery, and Barbara Ann Scott Gallery.
Just up the road is a stunning spot that I suspect will soon feature in many a holiday movie. At 44 Elgin St., you’ll find a branch of Little Victories, a trendy local coffee shop. Their interior space features gorgeous huge windows that let in incredible light. Frankly, the space is just dying for a storyline in which a prim and proper city bureaucrat falls head over heels for a free-spirited barista who needs a little help with their paperwork.
6. The Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal links Ottawa to Kingston along 125 miles of waterways. As you might imagine, it’s a beloved route for boaters from spring to autumn, but Ottawa residents love it most in winter. When the Rideau Canal freezes, the section between Parliament Hill and Carleton University becomes the world’s largest skating rink (and, I’d argue, the most picturesque). In winter, visitors can rent skates and celebrate Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival. In May, the Rideau Canal has a starring role in the Canadian Tulip Festival and Ottawa Race Weekend. Throughout the summer it’s a tranquil spot for a relaxing boat ride.
There is nothing prettier than a day on the canal, no matter the season. This is something that the producers behind Christmas Jars and A Cheerful Christmas agreed with. You can also spot Patterson’s Creek (an offshoot of the canal in the Glebe neighborhood) in films like Christmas Unwrapped.
7. The Glebe Neighborhood
This gorgeous, canal-side neighborhood features heritage homes with delightful tiny gardens, lush mature trees, and a host of small shops and restaurants. No wonder it’s been in the background for so many holiday films! My favorite watering hole, Irene’s Pub, even featured in The Truth About Christmas and A New Diva’s Christmas Carol! This Bank Street lodestar is known for its live music and does a terrific job with well above-average pub food, which includes homemade soups, desserts, and excellent coffee.
8. Bramasole Diner
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include one of my romantic spots on this list. Bramasole Diner is an old-fashioned eatery with excellent breakfasts and, when my husband and I first got married, we lived just around the corner from it. There was no better place to grab a hot plate of bacon and eggs on a chilly morning and movies like Christmas Unwrapped and Christmas Jars have immortalized its charm.
Bonus: Charming Trolly Tour
The newly opened Cobblestone Tours is offering something Ottawa has long needed. A winter tour program! Visitors can enjoy a hop-on, hop-off tour featuring 11 stops, which include views of the ByWard Market, the Chateau Laurier, and the Rideau Canal. They also offer a holiday light themed-tour. The old-fashioned vehicle only adds to the fun of the experience and I can’t help but wonder if romance might brew one day between a driver and tour guide or maybe a ticket clerk and a lost tourist. Time can only tell!