My husband and I both love to travel, but traveling with a baby for the first time and doing it in the winter was new for us. I have family living in Ottawa, Canada and we have visited several times over the years. Ottawa is beautiful, has a small town feel, great food and the downtown core is easy to get around in! There are so many things to do in Ottawa in the winter, as we learned while traveling with our baby.
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Summers in Ottawa are beautiful, and include an amazing Canada Day celebration, but I had only visited Ottawa once in the winter when my Opa had passed. It was a blur and the main thing that I remember… it was cold. Now we’d be visiting Ottawa in the winter with a baby.
First Trip with a Baby
Fast forward to when we had our little girl. I felt really uncertain about traveling with an infant. You hear a lot of stories about babies on planes and travel going horribly wrong and I really did not want to be that mom.
I was nervous! Especially for the four hour flight from Calgary to Ottawa and back. But, I really wanted to go out east to visit my family and introduce our little one. Especially to my 93 year old Oma! We took the plunge and booked a trip to Ottawa with our baby for February, when she was only four months old!
Flying home for the holidays? Read all our tips on holiday travel with babies and toddlers to help your trip go smoothly!
We researched and talked to our doctor before making any plans to travel with an infant and she was up-to-date on her vaccinations. She was exclusively breastfeeding and it was going relatively well at this point. She was also generally easy going.
We live rural and she was doing well in her car seat for the drives to and from town, about 45 to 60 minutes one way. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – she was still up at least one to two times per night to feed and also had reflux that required daily medication. We also had to consider the two hour time change and any other changes that travel would bring to her normal schedule.
Flying with a Baby for the First Time
We flew direct from Calgary to Ottawa and back on a day-time flight, which we booked specifically over nap time and upgraded our seats. This was our first time upgrading ever and it was so luxurious, even flying with an infant on lap!
All three of us had plenty of room and our baby could sit propped on the floor by our feet, when she wasn’t eating or sleeping in our arms. For our baby’s first flight, blowout free with very little crying, it went amazingly smoothly!
The best tip that I can give for flying with a baby from my experience is to feed your baby at take-off and landing when the cabin pressure changes. It kept our little one distracted, happy and full which is a great combination on the packed flights!
Packing for Winter Travel with a Baby
I packed a lot of stuff to carry on! In the diaper bag I packed two full clothing changes, enough diapers for at least a couple of days, wipes, my nursing cover, her reflux medication, Tylenol, a thermometer, a wetbag, a blanket, two books, two of her favorite toys to entertain her on the plane and one of her noise-making toys as an emergency distraction. Plus each of us had our own carry-on bag.
We definitely did not need all of these things and I have learned to pack light for travel with a baby since that time!
Travel with a Car Seat and Stroller
We traveled with a car seat and stroller so we gate checked them both so that we had them with us up until we boarded the plane and immediately after we exited. She was in a Baby Trend bucket car seat that attached to our Baby Trend Convoy DX running stroller (similar to this Baby Trend Jogger travel system).
It was nice to have the stroller with us in the airport, as it primarily carried all of our bags and the car seat making it much easier to get around. The stroller reclines for impromptu naps on the go and folds nicely in half. As it is a jogging stroller, it is solid and a bit heavy with nice big wheels, and was excellent on the snow covered streets of Ottawa. I am not sure a light-weight umbrella stroller would have cut it in the cold and snow.
We do use a baby carrier quite often at home, but as we had already over packed for this first trip together and it was February in Canada, we opted to only travel with the jogging stroller.
In addition to the carry-on bags and all the winter gear that we wore to the airport, we also brought one medium sized suitcase that we checked for the flight. It included our bblüv-Nidö 2-in-1 Travel & Play Tent as our portable travel crib. We also packed our warm winter clothes and pajamas, all the diapers and wipes we would need (even though we could buy them in Ottawa), blankets for our little one, and all of our toiletries.
For more on what to pack for babies and toddlers in winter see our post on essential winter travel gear for babies and toddlers.
Getting Around Ottawa in the Winter
To get around in Ottawa, unless you are just in the city centre, a car is by far the best. We rented at the airport and brought our own car seat with us. When we booked the rental, we made sure that the car had a large trunk, so that we could easily fit our folded stroller into it.
Ottawa is a pretty easy city to navigate and we had a lot of freedom to come and go as we pleased. The roads were cleared, sanded and in good winter driving condition while we were there.
There is a solid public transit system in Ottawa, but because it was winter, we decided that we did not want to deal with potential wait times in the cold due to delays, or be uncomfortable if a bus or train was full and we had a stroller.
Where to Stay in Ottawa
There is a wide variety of options for places to stay while in Ottawa.
We chose to stay in a hotel in Gloucester, near Ogilvie Road. This was primarily because it is the community that my family lives in. The hotel was run-of-the-mill, but gave us a place to sleep and enough room to play.
Ogilvie Road is a main thoroughfare through that area, there are restaurants and the St. Laurent and Gloucester malls were close by. It was a quick 10-15 minute drive to get downtown on the Queensway, depending on traffic.
Things to do in Ottawa in the Winter
This is definitely a place to stop when touring around downtown Ottawa! The Parliament and surrounding buildings are up on hill with a beautiful view of the Ottawa River and the bridge into Gatineau. There are statues (so many photo ops!) and the Centennial Flame to look at outside and they keep all the roads and sidewalks cleared in the winter. It is a nice place to just walk around and see firsthand.
On this trip, we did a tour of Parliament and the legislative buildings as well as walking around outside. The tour is free, easy to do with a stroller and completely indoors, so the three of us stayed nice and warm for the approximately 45 minutes that we were there. You do have to wait in line to get in and go through a security check, but it moves quickly. They checked the stroller as well, but once cleared, we were able to use it again.
When we stopped with the group in smaller areas such as the Library of Parliament, the House of Commons, and the Peace Tower, we left our stroller just outside the door and carried our little one inside.
Update: The Centre Block of Parliament is currently closed for rehabilitation, but you can tour the new West Block.
We had no problem maneuvering our stroller around both outside and inside the buildings. It was a very cool experience, especially with a baby!
This is one of my favorite places to visit while in Ottawa! It is a public market with outdoor farmers market stalls, specialty stores, restaurants, bars and bakeries. The market runs all year long and the wares sold change with the seasons!
This is the place to buy any and all Canada-themed clothing and accessories, procure maple syrup-related goods and eat a “beaver-tail”. With Winterlude (Bal De Neige) taking place and the colder temperatures while we were there, there were mittens and toques a plenty!
As you primarily walk outside to see the wares of the market stalls, having appropriate winter gear for babies or toddlers and a sturdy stroller were a must. The road and sidewalks were kept nicely cleared of snow. However, in some cases, going into shops with the stroller could be a bit trickier, but was manageable overall. Having the big pocket at the bottom of the stroller and cup holders was nice for storing our purchases, the diaper bag and snacks.
A must-stop place for me is the Le Moulin De Provence Bakery in the market square. It has a café that is always busy and can be hard to find a seat, but worth stopping at for some delicious baked goods and hot chocolate to warm up. I highly recommend it!
National Gallery of Canada
This is one of the coolest museums that I have explored to-date! First of all, it has a giant spider out front with eggs inside of it (a great photo opportunity) and the building architecture itself is very cool.
Don’t miss the National Gallery of Canada when traveling to Ottawa with a baby. It’s a great option since you get to be warm and inside for a time. We just cruised around looking at the exhibits at our own pace, before heading back out into the cold. The exhibits and hallways have ample space for a stroller. Our little one napped in the stroller while we were there.
It did have an admission fee of about $15 at the time, but children under 11 are free. There is also parking on-site for a fee and a coffee shop, restaurant, tapas bar and a large boutique for anything you may need including souvenirs.
This is the big, central mall downtown. It is a stopping point for most transit and has a large paid parking garage. It is nice and warm, has a large food court and many stores. As it is central and easy to find, we parked in this parking garage when went downtown to explore.
Parliament, Byward Market, the Rideau Canal, the National Gallery and many other sights are all within a few blocks.
Winterlude (Bal De Neige) with a Baby or Toddler
There are so many things to do during Winterlude in Ottawa and many of them are free. The festival is based out of downtown and easy to access. There is a daily event schedule available online. But even to just head downtown and wander around, you would find many different activities to participate in.
With our time constraints and the -20 degree Celsius (-4 deg F) weather, we were only able to participate in a few events, but I have noted some additional baby-friendly activities at Winterlude that we just didn’t have the time for.
International ice carving contest at Confederation Park
- The sculptures are outside and amazingly intricate!
- It is free to walk around and check them out!
- We even got to see a couple of people actively working on their sculptures.
- There were also stages set up in the park and music was going while we were there.
Update: The ice sculptures were relocated to Byward Market.
The Snowflake Kingdom with a Baby or Toddler
- This is the kid’s area in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, just across the bridge from downtown, less than a ten minute walk.
- It has a big playground, plus ice slides, mascots and other kid-friendly activities.
- Our little one was too young to appreciate all the gleeful things happening, but there was a toddler specific area for slightly older children. I think that if she was a bit older, we would have been here for most of the day!
- It is outside, so it is important to dress appropriately for rolling around in the snow.
Rideau Canal Skateway with a Baby
- The skateway is 7.8km in total, plowed and very scenic. It is on the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River with many entry/exit sites to get onto the ice.
- It is free to use and it starts right downtown.
- There are also many skate rental places around the skateway, but you are able to walk on it as well.
- The canal has accessible entrances where you can bring your stroller on the ice using a ramp: Mackenzie King Bridge, Bronson Avenue, Fifth Avenue and Dows Lake
- We did not have a chance to do this, but felt that with our stroller we would have been able to easily participate either with skates or in our winter boots.
Final Thoughts on Ottawa in Winter with a Baby
There truly are so many things to do in Ottawa in the winter with a baby, especially during Winterlude! Just make sure you have all the proper winter gear to keep your baby warm and happy.
For this first trip away from home, we focused on having ample time to visit with family and tried very hard not to overbook our schedule. I am a jam-packed schedule vacationer from way back, so having down-time together as a family away from home was refreshing. It definitely was a different pace than our pre-baby travel, but Ottawa was a great first experience and trip as a family!
This guest post was written by Jamie McElgunn
Jamie is a nurse, mother and runner that lives on a ranch in rural Southern Alberta. She and her husband love to travel and explore new places. Sharing these amazing experiences with their daughter is one of the many reasons that they continue to travel regularly as a family.