Rideau Canal in winter, Ottawa (Dreamstime)
List 16 January

5 reasons to visit Ottawa now

Dress warm, embrace the cold and get outside: Lori Anne Heckbert suggests five reasons why you should visit the Canadian capital in the winter months

1. The world's largest naturally-frozen ice rink

Join the winter-loving crowds skating the frozen length of the Rideau Canal from near Parliament Hill all the way down to Dow's Lake. This way provides an alternative commute for many Ottawans in the winter. Rent skates or a sleigh from a kiosk along the route.

With luck, a couple may glide on by, turning the frozen waterway into a picturesque sight right before your eyes. This 7.8km-long open air glide is to ice skating what the long, beautiful ski runs at Lake Louise are to downhill skiing – enormously satisfying, active relaxation. You won’t realise you’re tired until you stop for a break. Speaking of which...

2. Warm up with a cocoa and a beavertail

There are few rewards more pleasing on a cold winter’s day, especially after exertion. Skate up for a cup with a beavertail along the canal, or stop in one of Ottawa’s fine pubs or hotels. Try the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, or any pub with a roaring fireplace and selection of hot drinks, with or without spirits to suit your taste.

What’s a beavertail? It’s a delectable deep-fried doughy local treat shaped like its namesake, then topped with chocolate, cinnamon, lemon and sugar, or more savoury treats. You’ll find them at shacks along the canal route and at some Winterlude locations.

3. Cross-country ski... in the city

Go for a cross-country ski on city trails or on some of the 150+ km of trails in the surrounding Greenbelt area. Or give snowshoeing a try at Gatineau Park across the Ottawa River, where you’ll find free trails reserved specially for this fun activity.

Expect to pay $15-35/day if you need cross country ski rentals, check out XCOttawa.ca for more information on area rental shops, or $6-$12/day for kids-adult show-shoes. See Ottawapaddleshack.ca for rental info.

4. Wonder at Winterlude

Take in the city’s premier winter event, Winterlude, now in its 36th year from 31 January – 17 February 2014. Enjoy the spectacular international ice art carvings on display as part of this annual competition in Confederation Park, downtown Ottawa. For more details see the official Winterlude website.

5. Soak up the culture

Warm up indoors with a visit to fantastic Ottawa area museums and galleries: check out the cultural history of snow at the Canadian Museum of History (formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization) on the Hull side (exhibiting now through September 2014). To learn about Canada’s history in space, go see the Canadarm on permanent display, or explore the Living In Space exhibit, at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Browse the extensive Canadian art collection and special exhibits at the National Gallery of Canada.

Lori Anne Heckbert is a Toronto-based former lawyer who now teaches advanced negotiations skills workshops, when she isn't pursuing her passion for travel, photography and writing. Lori Anne's new travel photography and writing website www.lorianneheckbert.com is launching soon and will showcase photos from recent extended travels to eight countries in Africa as well as stories from other trips.