I'm a winter child. I was born in the winter and thrive in the snow. For Valentine's Day, I wanted to take my husband on a white, romantic adventure to Ottawa Winterlude, so he too can immerse himself in the joys of winter love. I orchestrated a plan to take romantic evening walks amongst marvellous ice sculptures, kiss and hug on snowy evenings and hold hands as we skate on the world-famous Rideau Canal.
Our first Ottawa Winterlude was out of this world: think maple syrup body massages, bewildering spa sessions, BeaverTail breaks and ice taffy sweets. Confused? Don't worry, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about the Ottawa Winterlude so you can plan a romantic getaway with your loved one.
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What is Ottawa Winterlude
The Ottawa Winterlude is, in our opinion, the quintessence of Canadian winters and a true time to celebrate the elements. The festival takes place in Canada's capital region in the first three weekends of February. During the fair, you can admire beautiful ice sculptures which are created during the International Ice Carving Competition. You can ice skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway, and have some family fun at the Snowflake Kingdom. Read more about it on Ottawa's official website.
The downtown will be packed with awesome street food options and you'll be able to eat and drink local delicacies and celebrate Canada's true cultural and artistic spirit.
And if you think this is not enough, you'll undoubtedly be interested in attending the Ottawa Winterlude when we tell you there is such as a thing as an outdoor bed race. No, seriously, you read that right. Several teams come together with a highly decorated bedframe on wheels and race one another on the most unusual winter competition we've ever seen. Bring your warm boots and your thermos and be amazed by how locals can run and withstand -25C temperatures in shorts and t-shirts while pushing a real bed frame around the city. Now that's what we call unusual winter fun!
How to prepare for Ottawa Winterlude
First of all, make sure you mark the dates in the calendar. Ottawa Winterlude starts at the beginning of February and we recommend that you integrate it into a long weekend as part of your Valentine's Day celebration. There is lots of romance awaiting for you in and around Ottawa during the Winterlude, so you'll have plenty of awesome things to do.
But to really prepare for the Ottawa Winterlude, we need to have a winter talk. Ottawa is cold, especially in February, temperatures plummet to -20C. Now, I love winter but even for me, this is cold. And honestly, once the cold gets into your bones, that's reason enough to start having a bad time. Luckily, I believe winters are misunderstood and there's plenty of outdoor activities (and warm gear) to keep you warm. So you might as well embrace the winter and have some fun.
So the first thing you need to have is a really good pair of snow boots. I bought a pair of Columbia snow boots prior to our arrival which are lightweight, waterproof and meant to withstand temperatures of up to -35C. With my feet being well insulated, I bought merino wool thermals. Then I invested in a down jacket and got some insulated gloves and a hat. We both bought some woolly sweaters and some synthetic inner layers to ensure we are very warm.
During winter, you won't really be as thirsty so you'll forget your normal hydration habits. Make a point of drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, keep your lips nice and moisturised with some lip balm and ensure you apply plenty of moisturiser on your face.
Our Ottawa Winterlude romantic long weekend
Dressed up for winter, we began our romantic long weekend in Ottawa. Valentine's Day is meant to be celebrated in snowy destinations, where you could cuddle up in front of the fire, enjoy cocktails and reconnect with your loved one. Well, our Ottawa escapade ticked all the boxes.
Ottawa was the first destination in Canada for us. A long wish list destination for us, we couldn't wait to land in the capital and start exploring the city.
Where to stay during the Ottawa Winterlude
Since we were in it for the romance, we wanted to live the fairytale life, so we stayed in the famed Fairmont Château Laurier in the centre of Ottawa. You might think the pictures look amazing, but our jaws seriously dropped when the taxi parked in front of the entrance. It looks like a real-life castle, which made us feel like (ice) royalties.
After a quick check-in, we went up to our beautiful room. We stayed in one of the Gold rooms, in order to get access to the beautiful lounge, which offers stunning views over the Major's Hill Park and Rideau Canal. With a Gold room, you can also enjoy breakfast in the exclusive lounge and have daily high tea.
What to do during the Ottawa Winterlude
We spent 4 days exploring the Ottawa Winterlude. It was just about the right amount of time to explore the city, partake in wintery activities and indulge in romantic spa sessions.
Ottawa Winterlude - Day 1
Arrival in Canada
Once you arrive at the airport, go through security clearance and make sure you collect your luggage before exit. For your safety, we recommend using Airport-authorized transportation services. You can prebook a car or grab a taxi from the airport terminal. You can also take public transport, route number 97.
Leave your luggage at your hotel, rest for an hour or two, and get ready to enjoy dinner. Your long weekend in Ottawa is about to begin!
Dinner at Play Food & Wine
If you are a bit jet-lagged like we were, you might not be super excited about eating a lot, so enjoying small bites at Play Food & Wine seems like a brilliant idea. Get a bottle of wine and try a variety of items from the menu.
Play Food & Wine specialises in full appetizer-sized portions. If you ever wanted to order everything from the menu but you were worried you won't have enough room for everything, then this restaurant is for you. It is a popular restaurant which gets full pretty quickly, so make sure you make a reservation in advance.
Ottawa Winterlude - Day 2
(Super early) Breakfast at your hotel
If you decided to stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier in the centre of Ottawa, your breakfast will be the perfect way to start the day. In February, the days are shorter, so we recommend waking up just before sunrise, to admire the glowing colours over the Major's Hill Park. The Fairmont Château Laurier has gorgeous castle features all around, and with its roof covered in snow and icicles, it will make you feel like you landed in a fairytale.
Our room was facing the opposite direction so we woke up to sunrise pastels over the Connaught Building.
So why wake up so early? Because today is a super special day where you and your partner are in for a real treat. Our first morning in Ottawa was spent (wisely) in Le Nordik, the largest spa in North America. Nestled in the picturesque village of Old Chelsea, Nordik Spa-Nature is a relaxation and wellness centre focused on thermotherapy techniques from Scandinavian countries.
In our opinion, Le Nordik was a multisensory experience in a natural setting. It was spectacular, divided into three sections for three different types of experiences. You can enjoy the quiet, the murmur or the social section. You'll find 10 exterior baths, 9 different saunas, 4 restaurants, a panoramic pool, a saltwater floating pool, meditation rooms and many, many relaxation areas.
Throughout the day, there are different programs held in one of the saunas, where you can learn about the secret of aromatherapy and indulge your senses in a sublime olfactive discovery.
Overall, Le Nordik was the highlight of our romantic time in Ottawa. We can't recommend this place enough. So make sure you book it advance for when you visit the Ottawa Winterlude.
Lunch at Restö
Once you feel relaxed, head over to one of the restaurants located in Le Nordik and have a scrumptious gourmet lunch. What better way to start exploring Ottawa, than by spending a luxury morning enjoy the spa, followed by a sexy lunch with your loved one.
Snow Shoe Experience
Are you revigorated? Great, because after the warm sauna, it's time to do what Scandinavians do best: face the elements. Head over to the Gatineau Park’s Visitor Centre, rent a pair of snow-shoes and go on a snowy track along the park.
Gatineau Park is a giant park with myriad plants and animals and several trails where you can enjoy outdoor activities in every season. Immerse yourself in the wilderness and test your snow-shoeing skills.
Cocktails at Zoe’s at Fairmont Château Laurier
Zoe's is the place for afternoon teas, but it's also the place for incredible cocktails. We do love sharing a cheese board with a cocktail on the side. It's a nice way to celebrate the day together and talk about the cool memories you just made during the day. We recommend the Aurora and the Statesman (which comes with a beautiful cheddar smoke).
Dinner at The Whalesbone
Did someone say amazing oysters? Prebook a table at the Whalesbone and we promise you won't be disappointed. We indulged in a variety of fresh oysters and incredible seafood from their menu. It was divine. In fact, we loved it so much that we decided to come back for lunch after a few days. Totally worth it!
Winterlude’s Crystal Garden
Spend the evening around the Winterlude’s Crystal Garden and admire some of the most beautiful ice sculptures in the world. International talented artists come together to present some of their magnificent ice creations. During the night, you'll see the sculptures lit up. It really looks divine and it gets extra points as it is quite romantic.
Ottawa Winterlude - Day 3
Visit the Parliament in the morning
Take a guided tour around the Parliament and learn about how politics work in Canada. It may not be for everyone, but as a law graduate, I was super interested to understand more about the Parliament in Canada works. Besides, we do share a queen as head of the state, so it was quite interesting to see how and why.
Lunch at ByWard Market
Go free, and pick as many items as you can possibly eat. ByWard Market is basically like enjoying street food but indoors. And during a proper winter in Canada, nothing beats a cosy lunch indoors with an array of food options. Fish, burgers, vegan food, chocolate, gourmet specialities and tacos, are all there waiting for you.
Check out the annual Accora Village Bed Race for Kiwanis
Guys, we really didn't joke when we told you there is a bed race in Ottawa. And that's cool because you'll get to see a cultural activity like no other.
Fifty teams race modified beds down a 50-metre course. The fastest one wins. And hey, there is such a thing as the winner of the best-decorated bed, so you'll want to stick around to see that!
Enjoy a Chocolate Lovers’ Tour with C’est Bon Cooking
It's February, it's the Ottawa Winterlude, it's Valentine's Day! Naturally, we wanted to eat our way around Ottawa. And what screams romance more than a ridiculous amount of chocolate. From cakes, through ice creams, to bonbons, the Chocolate Lover's tour will take you from shop to shop to experience what it's like to have a proper sugar rush. You'll be hyper for an hour after, which is exactly what the doctor ordered during the winter.
However, if the weather is too harsh, you can always join a cooking class with C'est Bon instead. Why not learn how to make a chocolate cake and make new friends in the process.
The Snowflake Kingdom at Jacques-Cartier Park features giant sculptures and snow slides, which are constructed in January by using snow-making machines that are usually found on ski hills. This is seriously an experience like no other and even if you don't have kids, you'll get in touch with your inner child during the time you zoom down some of the coolest snow slides.
Don't miss on the Ice Hogs' Walkabout, the live woodcarver and the cool introduction to downhill skiing and snowboarding.
There are incredible snow sculptures all around the park and plenty of photo spots.
Dinner at Pure Kitchen Ottawa
After all the chocolate from earlier, it's probably a good idea to end the evening with a lighter, healthier yet fully satisfying dinner. Head over to Pure Kitchen and order one of the delicious vegan sandwiches or hot bowls. The restaurant prides itself on offering wholefood made from scratch. It will be a fresh and lovely dinner. They have some really cool cocktails on the menu too. We tried their matcha mojito and pink moon.
Ottawa Winter Brewfest
Do you still have some energy? Go to the Ottawa Winter Brewfest where you can sample several local beers on tap. This is a festival for craft beer lovers who want to try artisanal drinks. There is lots of food there and plenty of beer samples if that's your fancy. Make friends with the locals and do the boogie all night long with epic live music in the background.
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Ottawa Winterlude - Day 4
Skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway
Rise and shine, because today you are going to do the most romantic thing ever: skating with your partner on the Rideau Canal. Head out first thing in the morning to avoid potential crowds. You'll find several people commuting to work on their skates which we found pretty cool.
If you are new to skating, take some time to get used to them. If you roller skated before, ice skating is pretty similar. You just need to give it some time to get back into it. Once you are ready, hold hands and start skating together.
The Rideau Canal Skateway stretches 7.8 km (4.8 miles) so you'll have plenty of time to do your morning exercise.
Time for sugar break: try a BeaverTails pastry
Ever since we visited Ottawa, we can't stop thinking about the BeaverTails! A BeaverTails pastry is a real Ottawa delicacy as this is where these cool treats were born. Have the original with cinnamon and sugar, or go all in and add some fun toppings to your BeaverTail.
It is called a BeaverTail because the pastry is shaped to resemble the tail of a beaver. Don't worry, no beavers were harmed in the process of making these treats.
Lunch at ByWard Market
Once you finished skating, head over to eat some lunch at the ByWard Market neighbourhood. You can sit down at one of the fancier restaurants, go for sushi or just head back to the indoor market to try a variety of dishes.
Around the ByWard Market neighbourhood, you'll find street vendors selling ice taffy. Ice taffy is a cool Canadian treat where hot maple syrup is poured over a bed of ice and rolled up on a stick to form a toffee-like candy. It's delicious!
Enjoy the Maple Luscious Body Scrub and Wrap treatment at Holtz Spa
One last treat during the Ottawa Winterlude? Head over to Holtz Spa and enjoy a Maple Luscious Body Scrub. Exfoliate with maple sugar so you can have silky smooth skin. Then get wrapped in maple shea butter, in a special inflatable cocooning bed. You'll feel like you are floating in a warm dream.
Your senses will be truly pampered with these locally produced pure maple products. And you'll smell sweet and lovely. Leave Holtz Spa totally relaxed!
Want a funkier dinner than usual? Try Poutine, one of the main culinary gems you can find in French-Canada. And since Ottawa is so close to Quebec, you'll find Poutine pretty much everywhere. It is believed that this dish dates back to 1950s. Try real poutine with meat-based gravy and cheese curds on your fries. One of the locals recommended that we try it at Smokes-Poutinerie.
Are you ready for your own long Valentine's Day weekend during the Ottawa Winterlude? Tell us what you'll like to do during your time in Ottawa and how you'll be spending the romantic winter with your loved one!
Practical Information: We partnered up with Destination Canada in order to bring this post to you. We spent 4 days exploring the Ottawa Winterlude and extended our stay at our own accord for an extra couple of days as we fell in love with the city.
Some of the flights, activities, accommodation and meals were provided by Destination Canada. We covered some expenses on our own, including all tips to staff.
Destination Canada provided us with the playground; the post above is our labour of love and a true representation of how much we loved spending a romantic time together during the Ottawa Winterlude.