I experienced a real life winter wonderland this past weekend at Ottawa’s Winterlude festival. We were only there for two nights, but I still managed to check two items off my bucket list making for an unforgettable trip. This year marks the 40th edition of the Ottawa-Gatineaux celebration of climate and culture that happens every February. Winterlude continues until the 19th, so there’s still one more weekend to experience the snowy magic if you love winter like I do. Follow along as I take you through our weekend getaway in Canada’s capital.
We took VIA Rail roundtrip from Toronto’s Union Station to Ottawa and back again. The journey takes around 4.5 hours each way. Ian and I were extra excited because we had the opportunity to check out VIA Rail’s Business Class experience. There’s something that I find so romantic about train travel and I loved watching the winter landscape pass by while we were warm and cozy inside. The staff were wonderfully friendly, the chairs were big and comfortable, the meals were delicious and we even had one of the best Caesars I’ve had in a long time. They also served chocolate and wine. Basically, it was a heavenly winter travel experience. There was a minor storm that weekend, so airports were backed up and driving would have taken days. Instead, we arrived comfortably, on time and caught up on emails thanks to VIA Rail’s wifi.
We had the pleasure of staying at the super cool Andaz Ottawa Byward Market Hotel. Located right in the heart of the Byward Market area, it’s the perfect location for sightseeing in the city. The Andaz Ottawa Byward Market Hotel opened it’s doors in 2016 bringing a new luxe vibe to accommodation in a city where heritage hotels were the norm. The Andaz brand is literally the millennial’s dream aesthetic. Everywhere is in Instagram and they execute it perfectly.
The hotel staff were welcoming and knowledgeable about the city. Certain room packages came with breakfast which was available until 1 pm (genius) and came with the option of a la carte or buffet. The lobby bar cocktails were everything and the rooftop bar boasted one of the best views in the city where a DJ played on the weekend. The rooms had chevron hardwood flooring and rose gold accent furniture. There was complimentary chocolate in the mini bar. I know, dreams.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, this was the view from our room at The Andaz Ottawa Byward Market. Unreal!
A Late Night Snack
Although we had a yummy dinner on the train to Ottawa, we still wanted to try Zak’s Diner for a late night snack. Ian had a burger, I had breakfast (of course) and the milkshake really was one of the best I’ve had in awhile. To top it off, it had the coolest old school diner vibes that made for cool photo ops.
The Rideau Canal Skateway
I still can’t believe I did this! Skating on The Rideau Canal had been on my bucket list for years. This experience was a winter dream for me, so finally getting to do it was almost too good to be true. We entered The Canal just below The Parliament resulting in the perfect backdrop for the experience. Skates were available to rent right on the ice, as well as food, drinks and of course, Beavertails.
The entire skate way is 7.8 km long and there are people who literally skate to work every day in the winter! How cool is that? Almost a million people a year visit The Rideau Canal to go skating, so you can imagine that’s it’s quite busy. I would suggest going on a weekday if possible, or earlier in the day on the weekend. We got on the ice around 10 am and it was already significantly busier by the time we got off. The ice is flooded with water at night to ensure the skating conditions are as smooth as possible. All in all, it’s fun for people of all ages!
Exploring The City
We definitely completed our 10 000 steps a day during the trip. We loved wandering the streets. Although it wasn’t warm, it wasn’t too cold either (around -6). I brought my two favourite parkas and warm winter boots, so I could have walked around all day. Just make sure you pack tissues cause the cold invokes a serious case of the sniffles.
Shop My Winter Favourites
The Food Tour
We had the chance to participate in a C’est Bon food tour of Ottawa’s Wellington Street West. Located about 5 km from the downtown core, it was a quick taxi ride to the beginning of the walk. We likely never would have explored this district if it wasn’t for C’est Bon and it turned out to be one of the coolest neighbourhoods we visited. Without any franchises in the area, Wellington Street West is a hub of local food, drink and fashion businesses that all work to support each other.
There were nine great stops along the tour. In addition to the delicious food we sampled at every venue, we had the chance to chat with representatives from each business to learn more about what they do. It turns out that the people were just as epic as the food. We started at a local market, then explored a Parma Ravioli for fresh pasta (they even had pink Ravioli in the shape of hearts!) and then moved on to The Ottawa Bagel Shop where I had Montreal style bagels fresh from the oven. I had no idea how dreamy fresh bagels would be! Then we moved on to Strawberry Blonde Bakery for delicious vegan baked goods (the scones were heavenly) and then we went to Thyme & Again for some heavenly cheesecake. Seriously, it was so good. Next, we tried The Table for their vegetarian buffet where you pay by weight (such a perfect lunch spot), followed by Holland’s Cake and Shake were you can literally get a cake blended into your milkshake. Finally, we stopped at Urban Juice Press for the a fresh ending to a delightful afternoon.
If you’re looking for a quick way to experience Wellington Street like the locals do, I definitely recommend a C’eat Bon food tour. So many hidden gems along the way!