While the festival season is pretty evenly split between summer and winter, the best time to visit Ottawa is in the summer when the city is still buzzing off the heels of Canada Day and the weather is ideal for outdoor dining and enjoying strolling through the city. If you enjoy outdoor activities, Ottawa is also ideal to visit in the winter when its Rideau Canal transforms into the largest outdoor skating rink.
The Weather in Ottawa
Like many cities in central Canada, Ottawa has four distinct seasons—and there are benefits and pitfalls to each one. Winter is quite frigid and snowy with temperatures dropping as low as 6 degrees F (-14 degrees C) with a healthy layer of snow and slush almost always blanketing the ground. The weather usually begins to warm up by mid-March but more colder conditions (including the last bit of snowfall) don't usually dissipate in full until the end of April.
Summer is in full swing by the time June rolls around—you can expect temperatures to sit around 75 degrees F (24 degrees C) well into July and August. Unlike other cities in Ontario that border Lake Ontario, summer in Ottawa is notably humid, even into the evenings.
Popular Events and Festivals
Most of Ottawa’s most popular events and festivals take place in July when temperatures are hot—but not yet getting into the end of summer heatwaves. The most renowned among the pack include the Ottawa Bluesfest—the largest blues festival in Canada, Canada Day on Parliament Hill, and the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Peak Season in Ottawa
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Ottawa—which is something to keep in mind and plan around based on your particular interests. If you’re not a fan of crowds or festivals, you may want to sidestep visiting in July and opt for the beginning or the end of summer to take advantage of the weather without having to worry about standing in line for a patio table or paying surge pricing for a downtown hotel.
Spring is pretty slow in terms of tourism and general liveliness in the city thanks to the chilly temperatures and moderate amounts of rain. While the potential of snowfall and sub-zero temperatures may deter some travelers, spring remains a wonderful time to visit if you travel for the flora—the abundance of rain results in more than 1 million tulips in full bloom across the city.
Events to check out:
- Planning to visit Ottawa around the month of May? The annual Canadian Tulip Festival is a must-see whether you consider yourself to be a flower enthusiast or not. While there’s no one specific spot to peep the blooms, Commissioner’s Park by Dow’s Lake is a common observation point.
- The Ottawa International Children's Festival in May is a great excuse to round up the little ones in your life and take in the many performances, activities, and interactive programming across LeBreton Flats Park.
- In June, the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival features thousands of paddlers racing dragon boats along the Rideau Canal as well as free Chinese dragon troupe performances and live music.
Ottawa really comes to life in the summertime—which only makes sense given the frigid winter and rainy, slushy spring. Despite being a large city in Ontario, summer in Ottawa is nothing like summer in Toronto—it’s much hotter and more humid—but the long, sun-flooded days are perfect for enjoying the abundance of outdoor festivals and cooling off with a patio beer.
Events to check out:
- Annually, on July 1, all of Canada celebrates its birthday—but Canada Day is the most exciting in the capital city. The compact city fills with travelers and locals alike who flock to Parliament Hill for live music, fireworks, and more.
- Whether you’re a fan of the blues or not, the annual Ottawa Bluesfest is a must-visit. Taking place for about 10 days in July, the outdoor festival is considered to be the largest blues festival in Canada and second-largest in North America.
- Tucked into the heart of the downtown, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival has performances from some of the world’s top jazz musicians—many of which are free to attend.
- Considered to be the world’s largest chamber music festival, the Ottawa Chamberfest takes place annually in July. The orchestra and choir promote live classical music with historical properties around the city—like the Rideau Hall—shifting to serve as performance venues.
While the weather starts to turn dramatically into the fall, it shouldn’t deter anyone from visiting the capital city—in fact, the dropping temperature comes as a nice reprieve after the hot, sticky winter. What’s more, as the temperature cools down and makes way for a distinct crispness in the air, the foliage in the city begins to turn slowly—and then all at once. The bursting burnt oranges and reds are best enjoyed outdoors at the open-air farmer’s markets or on one of the many hiking trails around the city.
Events to check out:
- In November, folk music fans should keep an eye on the Cityfolk Festival; a multi-day celebration of music, dance, community, and artisan crafts at Lansdowne Park.
- The Ontario Festival of Small Halls typically takes place in the first two weeks of October and features big-name music performances in small and unique venues across Ottawa and Eastern Ontario.
Winter in Ottawa is not for the faint of heart. By December, the city usually becomes blanketed under regular snowfall that doesn’t start to melt until well into the spring. January and February are particularly frigid, with temperatures typically dropping to 6 degrees F (-14 degrees C). That being said, there are still many reasons to visit Ottawa come wintertime—especially if you enjoy outdoor activities like skating or snowshoeing.
Events to check out:
- Slated for the first three weekends of February, the annual Winterlude festival is considered to be one of the biggest winter festivals in all of Canada. Featuring impressive ice sculptures, snow playgrounds, skating on the world’s largest skating rink—the Rideau Canal Skateway, and more free cultural and seasonal activities. If you’re in Ottawa in February this well-loved event is a must-see.