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.

Getting There

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.

Our Hotel

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.

The View

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!

The Winterlude Ice Bar

If you know me, you’ll know that I love me some cocktails. Add in the allure of a bar made out of ice and I’m legit like a kid in a candy shop. This ice bar was located at The Grand Pizzeria in Byward Market (just by our hotel) and was complete with an outdoor bar, music and fire pits with seating. Literally the best way to spend a snowy evening. We enjoyed Top Shelf Gin with tonic and lavender before heading to dinner. Best happy hour ever! It was also my first time trying Top Shelf Gin from Perth, Ontario and it’s so yummy!

A Delicious Dinner

I was really excited to try Play Food & Wine because everyone had told me it was delicious. The concept is gourmet food in small pates with a reasonable price point allowing you to try several things. This means that I was able to enjoy a Gnocchi dish and a Halloumi dish in the same meal. It was heavenly. Those are two of my favourite foods and I had never enjoyed them in the same sitting before.

Located right at the base of parliament hill, the restaurant’s dim lighting boasts a romantic atmosphere that goes perfectly with wine. Ian and I were there for several hours enjoying each and every bite. The staff were all very knowledgeable and ensured we had a fabulous time. A must visit while in Ottawa!

Parliament Hill at Night

After dinner we spent a few hours wandering around taking photos. I love this long exposure of Parliament Hill shot by Ian around midnight.

The Snowflake Kingdom

The next morning we went to The Snowflake Kingdom located just across the bridge at Jacques Cartier Park. It was seriously next level. This is where I went dogsledding and fulfilled bucket list item number two for the weekend. The Snowflake Kingdom can be accessed by the free Winterlude Snow-Bus. I recommend wearing warm clothes because you will be outside for the majority of the time. Having said that, there is a heated tent if you need to warm up.

The Snowflake Kingdom is home to some seriously big snow slides, a mini ski hill for kids, lots of cool art installations and snow sculptures, games and finally, the dog sledding. If you are even remotely into winter activities, this is the place for you. I was in heaven! Just a note that this is really meant for kids, but I basically am a kid.

Skating on Parliament Hill

As part of the Canada 150 celebrations, a skating rink was installed on the lawn outside Parliament Hill making it one of the coolest rink venues there is. Skates can be rented right across the street and free tickets are reserved ahead of time with designated time slots. Skating around right beneath The Parliament is definitely a once in a lifetime experience! So neat. You may reserve tickets here. The rink is operating until February 25th.

The National Gallery of Canada

The final stop during our weekend in Ottawa was The National Gallery of Canada. I saw my very first Warhol piece which was seriously cool. I mean, I didn’t know it was a Warhol until Ian told me, but still cool. We had a blast checking out all the amazing art and taking fun photos while we were at it. There’s nothing like being surrounded by masterpieces to inspire you to get creative with your photography!

That wraps up our Winterlude weekend in Ottawa. I was living in a winter wonderland dream where I easily could have a stayed for a few more days. Winterlude 2018 continues for one more week (until February 19th) if you want to want to check it out. The festival will be back again next year too. A big thanks to Ottawa Tourism for showing me the winter experience of a lifetime. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. I’d be happy to help you plan your trip!