The City that LOVES Winter
Few cities embrace the winter season like Ottawa does. Canada’s capital city gets a ton of snow, boasts the longest skating rink in the world and has a treasure trove of national museums to explore. Add Winterlude, Ottawa’s ten-day winter festival, and March Break a month later, and it’s easy to see why so many families head here for winter fun.
I hardly recognized Lansdowne Park. It is now a huge four-season indoor/outdoor entertainment venue with special events attracting families year-round. Ottawa’s newest outdoor refrigerated skating rink is here and I was happy to see the park’s historic Aberdeen Pavilion still standing. During Winterlude 2019, it is hosting a special roller disco night! Roller blade rentals are available, but book ahead if you plan to go. Weather-permitting, you may also get to skate on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is accessible from Lansdowne Park and several other points in the city. It freezes over in winter to become the world’s longest skating rink. Skating on the frozen canal is free and rentals are available.
Ottawa’s Albert at Bay Hotel claims to have ‘Really, Really BIG Hotel Suites”. It’s true. Our one-bedroom suite was not only spacious, it came with a fully-equipped kitchen and could have easily accommodated two couples or a family of four. Other hotel amenities included an indoor pool and underground parking. I liked the location too – a quiet one-way street in the centre of town. Nice!
Our hotel kitchen allowed us to take advantage of Byward Market food finds. We loved the fresh sushi we found at Lapointe Fish Market which has been serving market customers for over 150 years and is still owned by the same family.
After some Saturday museum-hopping, we met up with friends at the CRAFT Beer Market for an enjoyable meal washed down with fancy brews. It is one of several restaurants in Lansdowne Park with kids menus (which, I needn’t really mention, do not offer alcoholic beverages to children, but serve to distract them while the adults sample the crafty, malted libations).
Montreal may have smoked meat but in Ottawa, shawarma is king. Spicy, slow-cooked chicken or beef is shaved off a giant spit and rolled into a pita sandwich with a choice of sides. In the 1970s, Lebanese immigrants fleeing civil war introduced this food in a big way. Today, shawarma joints are all over town but the three cabbies we spoke to all swore by Shawarma Palace on Ottawa’s Rideau Street. Sure enough, the place had a line-up when we arrived. Portion sizes are huge, so go hungry.
Shawarma isn’t the only popular Middle Eastern food. Fairouz restaurant is housed in a mansion in the city’s Somerset Village. It was packed with diners when we arrived. We chose a grazing menu and paired it with a choice of wines. My favourite dish was the Fava Bean and Crunchy Hot Hummus served with warm pita made in-house. Peter Hum, the Ottawa Citizen’s food editor, wrote this favourable Fairouz review.
The shiny black SUV that dropped us off for Sunday Brunch at Sutherland gave our friends a bit of a start. They thought it was the prime minister stopping by, as he’s been known to do. Sutherland Restaurant is a great addition to Ottawa’s east end and a good choice if you’re headed to one of the museums on this side of the city.
We loved our visit to the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Pat Brennan, a regular Roadstories.ca contributor, wrote this story about its new look and feel.
Minutes east is the Canada Aviation and Space Museum where you can find one of Canada’s greatest achievements: the robotic Canadarm. You can also step into a flight simulator to experience virtual flight. If you want to actually leave the ground you can book a vintage biplane ride, but these are only available in the warmer months.
We became time travellers at the Canadian Museum of History. Its Canadian galleries wowed us with their extraordinary stories from across the country. The Canadian Museum of Nature is another sure bet. We especially liked its Arctic Galleries and the giant slabs of ice that we could touch and feel, though we’re still stumped by why it doesn’t melt. I also discovered while researching this story that the museum hosts Nature Sleepovers during colder weather months. Five to twelve year olds accompanied by an adult enjoy a flashlight tour of the dinosaur gallery, a scavenger hunt and a 3D movie before sleeping in the gallery overnight.
We’ll be back, because there is far too much to do in just one trip, in just one season, in Ottawa.
Roadstories.ca needs to acknowledge the always-generous help of Ottawa Tourism for putting us up in a nice hotel and showing us around the city with pride and a big smile.