Ottawa’s residents know a thing or two about celebrating winter in style and this February, they’re going to prove it. This year marks the 45th Winterlude festival. This annual celebration has been enjoyed since 1979 but the last few years have seen in-person activities placed on hold thanks to pandemic-related restrictions. As such, locals are more eager than ever to get outside — and to welcome visitors once again. This year’s Winterlude promises to be bigger and better than ever, so pack your wooly socks, fuzzy hats, and thick mittens and get ready to have some fun. Here’s what you need to know for this year’s celebrations.
When Is It?
Winterlude takes place over the first three weeks in February, with most activities happening on weekends. In 2023, the event runs from February 3 to 20. You can get the hour-by-hour details on the official schedule found here.
Where Is It?
Winterlude takes place in Canada’s National Capital Region, primarily in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, and downtown Gatineau, Quebec.
How Can You Get There?
There are bus and rail links from Toronto, Montreal, and many other communities in the region. Most air passengers fly into Ottawa International Airport. Those driving up from the United States will likely cross the border at Ogdensburg, New York, which is just over an hour away.
How Much Does It Cost?
Frugal travel fans, rejoice! Nearly all of the Winterlude events are free and those that do have a cost are affordable. There’s even a free bus to help you get around!
Some expenses you might want to consider (in addition to transportation, accommodations, and food) include renting ice skates, museum admissions, or maybe tickets to the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival (which takes place February 3-4).
Best Things To Do
Visit The Snowflake Kingdom For Fun, Culture, and Community
At the northern part of Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, visitors will find a “Snowflake Kingdom” with snow-based fun. Activities include super slides for tubing, ziplining, a kids’ zone, a labyrinth, an obstacle course, and spectacular snow sculptures. On the south end of the park is the Canadian Museum of History. During Winterlude, the museum doubles as a festival site. Some of the activities include the Minoshkite (music to your ears) show on opening weekend. Visitors are invited to celebrate community spirit at the mini powwow and tour the artisan fair to learn more about Indigenous culture. Inside, if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia to warm your heart as you warm your feet, the museum’s current exhibit is From Pepinot To Paw Patrol®: Television Of Our Childhoods.
Pro Tip: Love snow sculptures but a visit to Jacques-Cartier Park isn’t in your plans? The Ottawa neighborhood of The Glebe has a snow sculpture competition called Snowphy Trophy.
Go To Sparks Street For Pride And Carving Competitions
Just steps from Parliament Hill, the pedestrian-only Sparks Street is home to two of the biggest events of Winterlude. On opening weekend, the National Ice-Carving Championships take place. This is one of the longest-running and most popular activities in all of Winterlude and carvers represent all of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories, plus ample international destinations. Their creations are truly spectacular.
Things are equally exciting during the second weekend of Winterlude when Sparks Street hosts Ottawa’s Winter Pride, highlighting the city’s diversity and inclusion. You can see the full list of events here, including the Capital Pride Ice Parade, which takes place nearby at the Rideau Canal. Is this the only Pride parade that takes place on ice? We think so!
Pro Tip: On opening night, Friday, February 3, DJ Ashen will be at the Musical SHACK on Sparks Street. You can dance, celebrate Indigenous culture, and hang out by the fire pit if you need any extra heat (though this event will be hot enough on its own).
Skate And Snack On The Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal is the world’s largest natural ice rink and it’s at the heart of Winterlude’s fun and festivities. Skating is the star of the show here and you can rent equipment from several locations. However, if you’re none too steady on your blades, you can also walk. No matter which way you choose to explore, be sure to stop for some canal-side treats, including hot chocolate and BeaverTails. These flat, oblong pieces of deep-fried dough are said to resemble the shape of their namesake’s tail — no beavers are involved! They’re traditionally covered in cinnamon and sugar but you can get other toppings like chocolate, bananas, Skor bits, and more.
At press time, all of Ottawa was eagerly awaiting an announcement about when the Rideau Canal would open for the season. As the National Capital Commission reports: “The Skateway will open when a 30-centimeter (11.8 inches) thickness of good quality ice has formed. To get there, our ice experts need about 10 to 14 consecutive days of temperatures between -10 and -20 degrees Celsius.”
At present, one Winterlude event, the ice-based dragon boat races on the first weekend, has been postponed as conditions aren’t quite right.
Take In The Sights At The ByWard Market
If your idea of winter fun includes looking at the sights from indoors as much as outdoors, you’ll want to head to Ottawa’s ByWard Market. There’s plenty to do outdoors when the weather is mild (including sleigh rides and interactive art installations). However, you will have just as much excitement if you’re mostly indoors. Lots of restaurants and bars have special menus for the festivities. On weekend nights, you’ll want to make reservations for dinner here as it will get busy. Some even have their own mini ice sculptures or snow sculptures outside their doors, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Pro Tip: Photography fans, you’ll want to swing by the ByWard Market in the early evening to check out the Sonic Runway. This art installation converts audio signals into light patterns down a corridor that’s 342 to 432 feet in length.
For more information on visiting Ottawa, check out these articles: