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When given a choice between something like a Mexican beach getaway and a wintery wonderland, I’ll always choose the icy locale. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my whole life in a four season location. I don’t think snow and cold are reasons for constant hibernating. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sitting at home in front of a fireplace and warming up with a nice Bordeaux blend. But if there is daylight, or even artificial evening light, I will often find myself out and about. That’s why my husband and I decided to spend our first anniversary somewhere where we could really get down with our love of all things arctic. The peak of winter fun and whimsy can be had at Ottawa’s Winterlude Canada.
How To Prepare for Winterlude Canada in Ottawa
If you are not sure where to start, visit one of the Ottawa’s Winterlude Canada Information Centers. These are located throughout the city. Check in the lobby of the Château Fairmont Laurier, as well as in Byward Market or on the Rideau Canal. The official Ottawa Winterlude/Bal de Neige map is available here. These bilingual informational kiosques are manned by local volunteers and can help you navigate Winterlude.
No matter the weather, there can be light to moderate crowds. This is very dependant on where you are visiting from. Since the full time population of Ottawa is under 1.4 million people, this may be a large city for you to explore. Coming from Chicago, Ottawa was a breath of fresh air. The city is quite spread out, so consider using the free Winterlude shuttles available on weekends and Family Day. Winterlude even extends across the river into Québec and the city of Gatineau, so no one place was crowded enough to create crowd based anxiety
Major Attractions of Ottawa’s Winterlude Canada
Each year, there is a little something different that Ottawa’s Winterlude Canada offers to its visitors. It may be a new location to visit within the city, a new art installation or live show, or even a new type of treat. Not everything must be new however, and there are elements of Winterlude Canada that are crowd favorites and return every year.
Check out the Official Ottawa Sign
Take a chance to see one the official “Ottawa” sign located in the pedestrian square at Sussex Drive and York Street. Here you will find chairs available for seating as you warm your hands and feet by a large, fire warmed hearth. These “Chill Zones” are sponsored by Tim Hortons, a Canadian staple. On weekend days during Ottawa’s Winterlude, there are often free samples of coffee, hot cocoa, and even some nibbles.
You can expect to delight in some of the most elaborate ice sculptures you’ll ever see. That’s because typically, the first weekend of the event is host to The Winterlude International Ice Carving Competition. Countries from all over the world are represented, with carvers from places like Nicaragua, France, and China making the trek to compete. To watch the pieces come together from a chunk of ice while seeing the progress throughout the weekend is a treat. There are over 20 countries that participate so there is no shortage of art to enjoy.
Enjoy Oversized Snow Structures
Throughout Winterlude Canada, you will have the opportunity to see various snow sculptures. Across the Ottawa River in Québec, there is the massive Snowflake Kingdom/Domaine des Flocons. Along with incredible structures built and shaped of snow, there is free tubing! (See the video above.) Some sculptures may even be in the process of being shaped by an artist, such as those lining the streets of The Glebe neighborhood.
Learn and Enjoy Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Traditions
One of the coolest parts of Ottawa Winterlude in Canada is the programming related to the area’s native peoples. We watched traditional wood carving demonstrations and videos by native artists. My favorite though, was the evening performances of traditional dance. Depending on the weekend you attend, there may be more indigenous peoples programming or LGBTQ+ programming.
Food and Treats
You can’t bounce around from attraction to attraction without working up an appetite. Luckily, in addition to the myriad restaurants that are all over Ottawa, there are plenty of food stands throughout Winterlude Canada’s programming.
What’s a Trip to Winterlude Canada without Hockey?
Since my husband does not ski, we tend to do a lot of ice skating together. Usually, it consists of going to an indoor or outdoor rink and skating in circles. While fun, it doesn’t compare to the amazingness of the World’s Largest Skating Rink. Each year, once the Rideau Canal freezes completely to a point that is safe for use, the entire 7.8 kilometer waterway is used as a skating rink. People use it as a means of transportation to and from work and obligations as well as a method of exercise and recreation.
During Winterlude Canada, there is extra special programming on the frozen Rideau Canal. We watched youth and adult pond hockey tournaments, and even got to catch an “Old Senators vs. Old NHL” hockey game of retired, professional hockey players. It was such a treat!
We had such a blast at Winterlude in Ottawa. If you like winter carnivals or winter in general, consider taking a trip to Ottawa, Canada for their yearly Winterlude. The crowds are manageable, programming is free, and the hospitality of the city can’t be beat.
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