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11 things to do in Ottawa for free this holiday season

The Ottawa sign on York Street lit up at night is seen in this undated photo. (CTV News Ottawa) The Ottawa sign on York Street lit up at night is seen in this undated photo. (CTV News Ottawa)
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CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at 11 things to do for free in Ottawa this holiday season.

Winter Lights Across Canada

Be dazzled by the thousands of lights that brighten Canada's capital this holiday season.

Winter Lights Across Canada leads you through Ottawa and Gatineau to view illuminated sites like Confederation Park, the Rideau Canal, National War Memorial, Jacques-Cartier Park and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Winter Lights Across Canada runs every evening from Dec. 7 to Jan. 7.

For more information, visit https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/winter-lights.html.

Skating

You can skate for free on Ottawa's outdoor refrigerated rinks, weather permitting.

Here is a list of locations in Ottawa:

  • Rink of Dreams at Ottawa City Hall (scheduled to open on Sunday, Dec. 3)
  • Lansdowne Park skating court
  • Ben Franklin Place skating rink
  • Jim Tubman Chevrolet Rink (Canterbury)

Children and youth can also skate for free at arenas until Dec. 23.

The city says all public and family skating sessions will be free for children and youth. View a list of facilities that offer skating on ottawa.ca.

Skaters on the Rink of Dreams at Ottawa City Hall on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

Cross-country skiing

You can go cross-country skiing on several trails in Ottawa this winter, weather permitting. Donations are appreciated.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is available in Gatineau Park, but a winter pass (seasonal or daily) is required to access the trails

David Hetherington cross-country skis on the morning of Christmas Eve at Gatineau Park near Chelsea, Quebec, on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. Despite the sun, a -31 C wind chill was expected in the region Tuesday morning and a frostbite advisory was issued by Ottawa Pulic Health. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Go for a hike

You can go for a winter hike this holiday season in Ottawa and Gatineau.

In Gatineau Park, 11 kilometres of trails are compacted once a week for winter hiking. Hiking is free in Gatineau Park during the winter.

For more information, click here

The National Capital Commission also features natural trails through the Greenbelt in Ottawa for hiking. For a list of winter trails, visit https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/hiking-and-walking-greenbelt.

Swim Saturdays

Children and youth can swim for free at city of Ottawa pools on Saturdays in December.

The city is offering free drop-in swimming sessions on Saturdays for children and youth until Dec. 30. Fees still apply for wave swims.

View a list of recreation and community centres with pools on ottawa.ca.

National Arts Centre

The National Arts Centre offers several free events through the holiday season.

  • Toddler Tuesdays – Dec. 5 and Dec. 12
  • NAC Orchestra Players' Association presents FanFair 2023 – Dec. 10
  • NAC Indigenous Theatre presents Powwow Life Drawing – Dec. 12
  • NAC Indigenous Theatre presents Adawaning: Indigenous Women's Art Market on Dec. 15-16
  • Capital Sessions – house dance workshop – Dec. 17.

For a full list of events at the National Arts Centre, visit https://nac-cna.ca/en/discover?price=free.

Museums

Museums in the national capital region offer free admission during the following periods this holiday season:

  • Canadian Museum of Nature Admission is free to all permanent galleries on Thursday evenings after 5 p.m. (Tickets are required) (The museum is closed on Dec. 24, 25, 26 and Jan. 1)
  • Canada Agriculture and Food Museum Admission is free daily between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. (The museum is closed on Christmas Day)
  • Canada Science and Technology Museum Admission is free daily between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. (The museum is closed on Christmas Day)
  • Canada Aviation and Space Museum Admission is free daily between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. (The museum is closed on Dec. 25)
  • Canadian War Museum Admission is free on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. A timed ticket is required. (The museum is closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day)
  • Canadian Museum of History Admission is free on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. A timed ticket is required. (The museum is closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day)
  • National Gallery of Canada Admission is free to all visitors every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  (The museum is closed on Mondays until Jan. 1 and on Christmas Day)
  • Ottawa Art Gallery – Admission is always free to the Ottawa Art Gallery. Donations are welcome. (The museum is closed on Mondays and is closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day)
  • The Bank of Canada Museum on Bank Street is always free. (The Bank of Canada Museum will be closed from Tuesday, Dec. 19 to Wednesday, Jan. 3)

Parliament of Canada Tours

Enjoy a free, guided tour of the Senate at the Senate of Canada Building and the House of Commons in the West Block this winter.

For tickets and tour times, visit https://rts.parl.ca/. There will be no guided tours available on Christmas Day and on New Year's Day.

Parliament: The Immersive Experience

Explore the main Parliament Building, also called Centre Block, in this new innovative experience.

Parliament: The Immersive Experience at 211 Sparks Street includes an exhibition and a 360-degree multimedia show that takes you on a tour through Centre Block, which has been closed since 2019.

The experience is closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Tickets are available at no cost at visit parl.ca.

Rideau Hall

Visit the historic mansion and expansive landscaped grounds of the official residence and workplace of the governor general this holiday season.

Rideau Hall offers guided tours of the residence, while you can also explore the grounds. Guided tours are available daily.

For more information, click here

Horse-drawn carriage rides

Cundell Stables offer festive carriage rides in the ByWard Market on Dec. 3, Dec. 10, and Dec. 17.

For more information, visit https://www.byward-market.com/events.

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