10 ideas for winter fun

Student experience
Student life
A snowman in front of Tabaret Hall
Keep your eyes on the prize by looking ahead to all the fun things you can do in Ottawa over the winter holidays, or if you simply need a quick break from studying.

1. Enjoy hundreds of thousands of winter lights

Winter holiday lights in downtown Ottawa
Photo credit: Canadian Heritage

Take a walk through a pathway of thousands of lights across Canada’s Capital Region. The pathway runs past many key sights, including Confederation Park, the Peacekeeping monument, the Supreme Court of Canada and Portage Park. The lights are lit every evening from December 7, 2023, to January 7, 2024. A stroll is a wonderful way to refresh after studying or to celebrate after your last exam!

2. Embrace your inner elf

The Lansdowne Christmas Market at Aberdeen Square next to TD Place is already in full swing but there are still plenty of performers to enjoy, not to mention the North Pole vibe of snow-capped heritage buildings and wooden chalets. Get giddy like Elf watching the kids line up to see Santa, grab a bite to eat or buy a holiday gift at one of 45+ vendors. The market is open on weekends, starting at 5 p.m. on Fridays, and then every day from Wednesday, Dec. 20 to Saturday, December 23 at 10 p.m. It’s also an easy 40-minute walk from campus across the Corktown Footbridge.

3. Shop smart and find a thoughtful gift

Skip the big malls and instead choose from original artwork, ceramics, jewellery, crafts, books and more at the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Art & Parcel Holiday Sale, which runs until January 7, 2024. Find an original, thoughtful gift and support up-and-coming Canadian artists, or simply enjoy the art. It’s also just steps away from campus on Nicolas Street at the foot of the Mackenzie King Bridge. And the Jackson Café in the same building has one of the trendiest vibes in the city.

4. See magical trees for a good cause

Wander through the lobby of the Fairmont Château Laurier on Rideau Street and gaze at the 32 tastefully decorated Trees of Hope. You can walk in for free but this annual event is held to raise funds for a good cause –the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation. Scan the QR code on site and vote for your favourite! The event runs until January 5, 2024.

5. Explore Indigenous art

Support local Indigenous women artists by visiting (and shopping) at the Adàwàning: Indigenous Women’s Art Market on December 15-16, 2023, at the National Arts Centre on Elgin Street. The market showcases jewellery, beadwork, paintings, sculptures, mittens, moccasins, coffee and crafts produced by Métis, Inuit and First Nation makers.

6. Start skating (before the Rideau Canal freezes over)

If you can’t wait for the Rideau Canal, Ottawa’s famous UNESCO World Heritage site, to freeze over (and let’s hope it does this year), slide on over to the Rink of Dreams outside Ottawa City Hall. You can skate there for free from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 days a week, weather permitting.

7. Try forest skating

If you’re willing and able to go further afield for a skate, you could try a forest trail. You may need a car to get to some of these spots, and it’s also a good idea to call ahead to check if the ice is ready, but there are many adventurous options: RiverOak Skating Trail, Icelynd Skating Trails, Countryside Adventures and Little Penguin Trail. In Quebec, you can try Éco-Odyssée or Patinage en fôret. Be sure to do your research to get the best option, but the average cost is around $20.

8. Create a snow sculpture

Build random snow sculptures! If the snow is sticky enough, why not create your own frosty art and post it on Instagram. Have you ever heard of  “Snow-Banksy” (Vanier resident Gilles Bergeron)? Get creative! Or just have a snowball fight with friends.

9. Visit the Vintage Village of Lights

Go back in time to the 1920s and ’30s and explore festive light displays at the Vintage Village of Lights based at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. It’s about a half-hour drive from downtown Ottawa. Each $25.50 ticket is good for a group of 1-to-6 participants, so be sure to go with friends to make the most of this outing. You do need to register and keep in mind that it’s only open on weekends until December 17.

10. Discover winter wonderland trails

A forest in winter at sunset

Take a hike, snow-shoe, ride a fat bike or cross-country ski (if there’s enough snow) on many winter wonderland trails throughout the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The Britannia Winter Trail is a popular option just over an hour away from campus via public transit. (We recommend you use the OC Transport planner.) In all, there are more than 150 kilometres of Greenbelt trails in the Ottawa region to explore. Some, like the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail, the Rideau Winter Trail and Ski Heritage East are easily accessible from downtown Ottawa. You can also head into Quebec: Leamy Lake is not too far away and, if you have a car, Gatineau Park offers more possibilities.