Ottawa, Canada’s bilingual capital, is a fine urban getaway. Mouth-watering dining, architectural diversity, a walkable downtown and outdoor fun lure visitors to the French-speaking Ontario city. Yes, winters are long and cold, but with snow-capped festivities and a range of cultural offerings, don’t dismiss a frosty visit. It’s closer than you might think — just a one-hour flight or seven-hour drive — and a favorable exchange rate is the cherry on top.
Where to go
Locals relish sub-freezing temperatures, so pack your long johns and join them outdoors. Glide the five miles of groomed surface at the seasonal Rideau Canal Skateway (open daily from Jan. 20-March 10 weather permitting, FREE to skate, skate rentals available along the route; rcs.ncc-ccn.ca), the world’s largest naturally frozen ice-skating rink. Fortifying snacks and hot drinks can be found along the way.
Get a break from the cold with a guided tour of Canada’s Parliament (FREE; 111 Wellington St., parl.gc.ca). You’ll get an informative overview of our northern neighbor’s government and history as you roam the imposing Gothic structure. Sneak a peek at the meticulously restored Library of Parliament, affectionately called the most beautiful room in Canada. The 30-minute tour is offered in English and French. Get there early to snag a same-day ticket.
Explore the story of human flight from its infancy to the Jet Age at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (closed Tuesdays from Sept. 6-May 10, 13 Canadian dollars — about $10; 11 Aviation Parkway, casmuseum.techno-science.ca). An extensive collection of perfectly preserved vintage aircrafts, dynamic interactive experiences, demonstrations and tours offer visitors of all ages the opportunity to contemplate the impact of flight.
Where to eat
Riviera (closed Sundays; 62 Sparks St., dineriviera.com) is a sophisticated new dining spot that’s vibrant enough for a happy hour cocktail yet intimate enough for a romantic dinner. The inventive menu is loaded with earthy charcuterie and house-made pasta, like the chanterelle orecchiette carbonara pasta, a lush tangle of woodsy mushrooms and smoky bacon laced with an impossibly creamy sauce. The wine list includes some of Ontario’s finest vintages.
The sugar fairy has blessed this city, so leave your diet at passport control. Holland’s Cake and Shake (closed Sundays; 229 Armstrong St., cakeandshake.ca) is dedicated to diminutive desserts. Pastry chef Michael Holland spins magic into his miniature layer cakes. His addictive treats are a fantasy of flavors and colors as beautiful as an edible art installation.
The Table (1230 Wellington St. W., thetablerestaurant.com) is a casual vegetarian eatery located in the up-and-coming Hintonburg neighborhood. The hot and cold buffet offerings are charged according to weight, so you control the portion size. The raw coconut caramel squares are an addictive ending to a health-conscious meal.
Where to stay
The stately Fairmont Chateau Laurier (1 Rideau St., fairmont.com/laurier-ottawa) is an old-world property with a dignified air. Its location, next to Parliament, is unbeatable. The guest rooms are loaded with creature comforts, and the regal afternoon tea is straight out of “Downton Abbey.”
The Andaz Ottawa Byward Market (325 Dalhousie St., ottawa.andaz.hyatt.com) is Ottawa’s hippest hotel. Guest rooms and public areas reflect a sense of place, proudly showcasing Canadian design and materials. Complimentary in-room perks include locally made snacks, none more irresistible than the award-winning Hummingbird Chocolate Maker. The rooftop bar’s photogenic views and craft cocktails make it the perfect spot for a nightcap.
Time for a Winterlude
To fully experience Ottawa’s arctic glory, plan a visit during February’s annual citywide festival, Winterlude (most events are FREE; ottawatourism.ca/ottawa-insider/winterlude). Held over three consecutive weekends from Feb. 3-20, the festival includes snow and ice sculpture competitions, snow playgrounds, hockey and other sporty activities and a show-stopping Ice Dragon Boat Festival that transforms Ottawa into a winter wonderland.