Ottawa is Canada's capital, and just like any other capital city, the standard of living may seem to be high, but you can still find lots to do on a budget!
Ottawa is home to several parks, museums, and attraction sites, as well as a vibrant culture that makes life all the more colourful. During the winter, the city has several activities for its residents whether indoor or outdoor. Fortunately, most of these activities are quite affordable, and some are even free of charge.
Having lived in Ottawa for some time and being challenged to find some cost-friendly activities for the kids, here is my list.
1. Skating on the Rideau Canal
Lace up your skates and GLIDE. Ottawa has various skating spots that you can take advantage of, and a favourite is the iconic Rideau Canal Skateway, where you can visit any day and time (literally 24/7) up until late February and enjoy free skating. Another favourite is the Sens Rink of Dreams, which is open until later in the year.
2. Take a Free Tour at Parliament Hill
Before I visited the parliament buildings, I didn't think much of it. After my visit, I realized that it is one historic building everyone in Ottawa should visit. Free tours of the interior of Centre Block are offered daily on a first-come, first-served basis until the end of January. Visit the Capital Information Kiosk at 90 Wellington Street to get tickets. During the tour, you may get to visit the beautiful Library of Parliament, the current Senate and House of Commons, and the Peace Tower!
An easy and cheap way to keep the kids entertained for hours. There's plenty of good spots in the Ottawa area, here's some of our favourites:
- Green's Creek
- Seneca Avenue - near the Rideau Canal and good for younger children
- Conroy Pit - on Conroy Road
- Bruce Pit - good for daytime use, not lit at night
- Windsor Park - good for younger children
4. Use the SJAM Winter Trail
The Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail is a well groomed multi-use pathway that allows everyone to be active even throughout the cold winter months! Whatever you've got, whether snowshoes, skis, snow bike, or your own two feet, you can make use of this trail for free.
Explore Canada's rich history of scientific and technological achievements through interactive and immersive exhibits. The Canada Science and Technology Museum has 11 exhibits that spark visitor's curiosity and creativity. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day, admission is free.
6. Slide Down the Water Slide at Kanata Leisure Centre
Sure, it's no giant water park, but kids love the two-storey water slide, wave pool, and whirl pool, and they love playing in the water at Kanata Leisure Centre. Plus it's only $3.75 per person when you go as a family!
It's about a one-hour drive, but well worth it! Starting February 17th they will be open daily for their Winter Magic & Maple Harvest Season. At Fulton's you can enjoy outdoor winter activities and access to three beautiful trails, learn about maple production, go on sleigh rides, eat at the pancake house, browse the maple shoppe, and take part in other special events! Some activities have a fee, but there's also plenty to do without spending any money as admission and parking are free.
The Ottawa Farmers’ Market is the only year-round, producer-only farmers’ market in Ottawa. This means that every vendor at the market grows, makes, and bakes everything that they offer from within 100 kilometres of the City of Ottawa. Switch up your routine and get some groceries from the market to make an experience out of it for the family!
Get cultured and visit the always free OAG! The Ottawa Art Gallery fosters connections between artists and the diverse members of our broader community. They have new exhibits often, so even if you've been in the past, there are always new and changing things to see.
A fun time for the whole family. Shiverfest is on Friday and Saturday January 24 and 25. There will be skating, magic shows, sleigh rides, free hot chocolate and Timbits, and more free family entertainment! There's also a pancake breakfast and chili cook-off to enjoy.
Arts and crafts, singing, dancing, stories, and more! The NAC offers a range of free programs for kids and families. Visit the NAC for free and join an instructor for learning, exploration, and fun. Explore the Family Programming Page on the NAC website to learn about free family activities that are happening soon.
This year, you’ll find your iconic festival favourites, as well as new experiences and locations. As always, you’ll be able to marvel at the sculptures created during the International Ice Carving Competition, skate on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway, and go crazy at Snowflake Kingdom. But many more indoor and outdoor activities await, all highlighting Canada’s cultural, artistic, and culinary diversity! Most festival activities are free and take place in the urban Ottawa-Gatineau region during the first three weekends of February.
The world's largest Ice Dragon Boat Festival is taking place on the Rideau canal skateway February 7–8! The boats get equipped with skate-like blades, and competitors propel themselves along the course using spiked ice-picks. The festival is a world-class celebration that offers free concerts, family fun, all aged activities, traditional aboriginal dancers, and traditional Chinese lion dancers.
14. Window Shopping in Westboro Village
The adorable little shops will make you want to go on a never-ending shopping spree. You will also find cute and affordable eateries where you can spend a whole afternoon catching up with family as the kids roam around looking for niceties.
15. Catch a Cheap Movie at Cineplex Odeon for $2.99 Family Favourites
Did you know that every Saturday at 11 a.m. is a family-favourite movie screening that's only $2.99? It's a fun and affordable way to enjoy time with your family and friends! A portion of the proceeds goes towards supporting WE Charity. Here are the upcoming movies and participating theatres.
16. Stroll Through ByWard Market
The ByWard Market is one of Canada's oldest public markets and is Ottawa's number one tourist attraction. There are over 600 businesses in the market, so you're sure to have fun browsing through shops and the market building itself. There are also tons of events taking place in the market, so make sure to check them out on the ByWard Market Facebook page.
17. Visit the Public Library
Choose a new book, or visit during one of their public events such as storytimes or seasonal crafts. Visit the website of your nearest library for a list of events! Plus you can cozy up with a magazine while you're there. Score!
Cacao 70 has many locations around Ottawa and arguably has the best hot chocolate in the city (depending who you ask). Whether you want it basic, spicy, flavoured, or even frozen, they can add a fun spin on the classic. There's nothing better than warming up on a cold day with a cup of cocoa.
A fun indoor place to escape from the cold! It's free to enter and there's tons to do, from arcade games to lazer tag to indoor playground areas, to escape rooms, and much more! You pay for the attractions you do. We suggest going on Thursday evenings for half priced games!
20. Geocaching Adventure
Did you know there are secret treasures hiding all around this city? Set out on a treasure hunt with the kids as a fun way to stay active in the winter and spring months. Go to geocaching.com to find treasures hidden all around Ottawa, and then leave something behind!
Looking for more fun activities to in Ottawa with the family? Check out our Events page! New events are added daily, so make sure you check in often to know what's going on in the capital.