Skating down Ottawa's Rideau canal on a perfect, sunny winter's day is an unmissable adventure. Proudly declared as the world's largest skating rink at 7.8 kms, the canal begins downtown next to the NAC (National Art Centre) and continues all the way past Dow's Lake in Little Italy!
Side note 1: I was a bit skeptical of the claim that the canal is the largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world, BUT the Guinness Book of World Records agrees- so it must be true.
There are multiple ways to access the canal with lots of free parking along the route. Check out what works best for you here. There are places to rent skates, use fully plumbed bathrooms and heated change huts all actually on the ice! (everyone knows its no fun to tie your skates with frozen hands- so these heated huts are a nice touch). While you're making your way down the ice you'll find a smattering of Beavertails (obviously), hot chocolate and maple taffy stands to keep your energy up.
Side note 2: if you don't know what a Beavertail is.. well first, I'm sorry, that's devastating and secondly- they're fried dough topped with cinnamon sugar, or chocolate, or cheese- depending on your preference. They are so delicious and were born in the small town of Killaloe, just east of Algonquin Park. A skate on the canal doesn't even count unless you've finished it off with a Beavertail- its true- ask anyone.
Locals love the canal just as much as tourists do and almost anyone in Ottawa can tell you whether the canal is open at any given moment. It is especially impressive that canal can be used to both commute downtown to work from surrounding neighbourhoods and as a tourist attraction. The skateway is closely monitored and opens and closes based on the safety/quality of the ice. Skating on the canal is a fleeting opportunity that can be stolen from you any moment by Mother Nature's moods. Nothing is more sad than pulling on your thermal long johns and thick woolly socks only to find out that the canal is closed for the day! While the canal is open an average of 50 days a year, we were all devastated back during the 2015-2016 skate season when it was only open a sorry 18 days! Again- ask anyone in Ottawa- we all remember that most heartbreaking of all skating seasons!
Despite the popularity of the canal, it doesn't take away from how uniquely-incredible of a winter activity it is. It goes without saying that weekdays are less busy than weekends, with Ontario's Family Day weekend which overlaps with Winterlude being the busiest time on the ice.
Another quick idea- since it goes against my character to write entire post without mentioning beer- the skateway passes right by Lansdowne! With your boots in your backpack you can always stop in at Craft or Local for a drink to break up all that exercise! If its Sunday morning, the Ottawa Farmer's Market is held 10am-3pm in the beautiful Aberdeen Pavilion (also at Lansdowne), so you can also check that out! See! I have SOME ideas that don't include beer.
Oh, right, and skating on the canal is free!
Check the conditions/ Make sure the canal is open for skating here.
Last note: You can leave your boots in the changing huts (they are not watched). Otherwise (and definitely if you're planning on stopping in at Lansdowne), bring a backpack with you to cart them around. I always wear my lightest boots... for the benefit of my porter! (thanks, J!)