Ottawa Winterlude Festival 2023: Info & best recommendations!

Updated on:  
November 16, 2022
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As one of the top attractions in Canada, Winterlude is a festival you must have on your bucket list. Never heard of it before? Use this guide to learn all the details about Canada's winter wonderland. 

Winter festivals are one of the most magical experiences around. From the Sapporo Snow Festival to the Ice Sculpture Festival of the Netherlands, the beauties of winter are displayed at these magical events. Winterlude is one of these unique winter experiences you shouldn't miss out on!

Winterlude is a must-visit, hosted annually in one of the top winter destinations: Ottawa, Canada. For those who love the cold, it's sure to spark a flame. Since Canada's capital is an excellent place for a family vacation during the winter, enjoy this frosty experience with all your loved ones during the holidays.

winterlude logo
Image Courtesy of Winterlude

What is Winterlude in Canada?

Starting in 1979, Winterlude is a winter festival held annually in Canada's capital region. This event features the national ice-carving championships and an ice skating experience on the world's longest frozen canal open to the public. 

Drawing in hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, Winterlude is a staple event for Canadians and winter lovers alike. Want to learn more? Take a look at the festival's history or continue through this guide on what to do at Winterlude.

Where is Winterlude held?

Winterlude occurs in Canada's capital region, including cities like Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec. Unique events during the festival take place all across both cities. So consider this a festival experience and a tour of some of the most famous Canadian towns. 

When is Winterlude 2023?

Winterlude 2023 will begin on Friday, February 3, and end on Monday, February 20. It's held Monday to Thursday in between three weekends of February so there's plenty of opportunity to visit!

With winter in full swing, expect snow, ice, and sub-zero temperatures of up to 25°F/-13°C. Similar to what you would experience over the European Christmas season. That said, you may find it lacking in festive holiday décor. 

Winterlude is a celebration of the winter rather than the holiday season, and celebrates popular winter activities, like ice carving, snow fights, ice skating, light shows, and winter markets. It's a unique experience for families, couples, and first-timers. 

How to get to Winterlude

Getting to Winterlude is easy, especially since the cities are pretty close to one another. Furthermore, the events are easily accessible by various modes of transportation. Depending on where you're staying, you can choose to explore by foot, bus, taxi, Uber, or train. 

Most activities, bar Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau, Quebec, are held in Jacques-Cartier Park, Confederation Park, and Rideau Canal Skateway. 

Plus, many of Winterlude's main attractions are free to attend, making Winterlude an excellent choice for budget-conscious travelers and families. Some events and their locations vary each year. So it's recommended you double-check the details on the Department of Canadian Heritage Winterlude website page.

Ice skating on the Rideau Canal
Image Courtesy of Carey Moulton, WikiCommons

What to do at Winterlude: Top 5 things to do

There are just so many things to get up to at Winterlude. From chilly sculpture displays and competitions to unique winter activities, staying indoors is a no-no despite the cold. These are my top picks of things to do at Winterlude:

5. Go ice skating on the world's largest ice-skating canal

The frozen-over Rideau Canal is one of the top attractions during Winterlude. Why? The entire length of the 7.8 km Rideau Skateway is free to skate, making it the world's largest ice-skating rink. 

Ottawa's frozen canal certainly one-ups the Central Park rink, which has limited space and is often crowded!

While you skate down the canal's length, you'll find several activities, food & drink stalls, and shops to explore. Just like Glacier National Park in British Columbia, this canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, offering outstanding views of the city. 

If you don't have skates, don't worry! You can rent good quality skates and sharpen them at various locations on the canal. You can also find sleds to rent at some of the rental shops. 

The best thing to keep you warm is to grab a hot chocolate and a hot snack. My recommendation is to grab a Beavertail! Although they come in sweet and savory options, the Nutella-coated versions are the most popular.

Pair of skates on ice skating rink the Rideau Canal
Image Courtesy of Sandra Ivleva, Unsplash

4. Fill up on all-you-can-eat stew at ByWard Market, Ottawa

Hungry from all that ice-skating and snow-fighting? Winterlude's Stew Cook-Off is one stopover you must make, particularly after a busy afternoon. The best part about this event is that it's basically an all-you-can-eat buffet!

For around $10 per person, you can keep taste-testing the different stews as long as your stomach allows. Canadian cuisine is largely inspired by its diverse, multicultural population, notably French, English, African, and Asian. 

Expect some exciting takes on stew, and not just your Mom's Monday night one-pot wonder! Each competitor has a secret recipe, often featuring warming red meats, vegetables, and a good glass of wine. 

The cook-off is held in the ByWard Market, where you can also shop for the best souvenirs to bring back after your travels. 

3. Take a day trip to the Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau, Quebec

Just across the Ottawa River sits Gatineau, Quebec, home to another top Winterlude event, Snowflake Kingdom. You can get there quickly in a number of ways: by train, taxi, and bus, as it's just 5 km away. If you're looking to take a break from Ottawa, plenty of winter activities await in Gatineau.

As the name implies, Snowflake Kingdom is all about snow, not ice. This stop is for you if you love making snowmen, snowball fights, and other snowy activities! 

Besides gigantic snow sculptures, the event typically offers dog-sledding, snow-tubing, and plentiful snow for your snow fights. What are you waiting for?

Pair sliding down the ice
Image Courtesy of Michel Rathwell, WikiCommons

2. Chill out at some of the "coolest" Ottawa ice bars

Although Winterlude isn't a music festival, like Osheaga or Escapade, there's still plentiful adult nightlife and entertainment to enjoy. Most notably, the seasonal ice bars pop up in Ottawa throughout the festival. Check out the Grand Ice Bar in ByWard Market and more for a unique experience.

Due to weather changes, the bars usually only last one season. So I can't give you exact details of the best Ottawa ice bars to frequent when you visit. Fortunately, most Ottawa bars and restaurants that may host these seasonal ice bars are situated in or nearby the ByWard Market. 

A quick Google search or asking for recommendations should lead you in the right direction.

Image Courtesy of Andaz Ottawa Hotel on Instagram

Appreciate the ice sculptures at Crystal Gardens, Confederation Park

Ice sculptors and carvers from all over Canada come to Ottawa to show off their skills. The Winterlude National Ice Carving Championship offers them a chance to compete for prizes and display their beautiful sculptures. 

This event is usually located in Confederation Park, also known as Crystal Gardens. Visit during the competition to watch them at work or return once the ice sculptures are fully finished. The best time to view the sculptures is at sunset or night-time when the city lights glint in the ice. 

Don't forget to wrap up and grab a warm beverage from Tim Horton's or one of the Ottawa cafes nearby! 

Image Courtesy of Michel Rathwell, WikiCommons

Is Winterlude worth it?

Canada boasts many attractions, including Niagara Falls, Banff National Park, and The Butchart Gardens. 

However, if you're a winter wonderland lover, this festival is worth it! Few events are as magical as Winterlude Festival in Ottawa and Quebec. 

The fun activities, delicious food, and welcoming atmosphere are everything you could wish for, bar the Christmas décor. Plus, Winterlude sure makes that freezing Canadian weather more manageable.

Where to stay in Ottawa

If you're considering attending the 2023 Winterlude in Ottawa, you're likely wondering about where the best accommodations to stay are. Some affordable options include Ottawa Backpackers Inn, Homewood Suites, or the Holiday Inn. Wherever you decide, staying close will ensurethat you have more time for activities at the event!

Although, if you do decide to stay not within close proximity to the festival, the transportation system in Ottawa is certainly doable and easy to navigate.

Pilot your next winter adventure

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Published on:  
November 16, 2022

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