In a city that gets as cold as Ottawa does, there are only two ways you can approach winter: hibernate or celebrate. On the first three weekends each February, Winterlude (tel. 800/465-1867; www.canadascapital.gc.ca/winterlude) takes over the city of Ottawa with parades, family winter fun in the snow and ice. Sites on both sides of the Ottawa River are transformed into winter wonderlands filled with gigantic snow sculptures, glittering ice sculptures, and a Snowflake Kingdom especially for kids. Children's entertainment, craft workshops, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowboarding demonstrations, dogsled rides, and more are on offer for little ones.
But Ottawa's biggest annual event, surprisingly, is the Canadian Tulip Festival (tel. 613/567-5757 or 800/66-TULIP; www.tulipfestival.ca), which takes places over 2 weeks in mid-May. Ottawa blooms with millions of tulips every spring, courtesy of an annual gift of bulbs from the Netherlands, given in gratitude for Canada's sheltering of the Dutch royal family during World War II. Visitors can view the blooms at sites along a 15km (9 1/4-mile) Tulip Route, explore the Tulip Explosion floral design show, or catch concerts and a craft show in Major's Hill Park.
Mid-June brings the Festival Franco-Ontarien (tel. 613/321-0102; www.ffo.ca), a 3-day celebration of Francophone Canada, featuring classical and other musical concerts, fashion shows, street performers, games and competitions, crafts, and French cuisine. Also in mid-June, the city is filled with the sounds of the Ottawa International Jazz Festival (tel. 613/241-2633 or 888/226-4495; www.ottawajazzfestival.com). Local, national, and international artists give more than 125 performances at more than 20 venues.
Each July 1, hundreds of thousands of Canadians gather in Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day (tel. 800/465-1867; www.capcan.ca/canadaday) -- activities center around Parliament Hill, Majors Hill Park, and Jacques-Cartier Park in Hull. Shows, street performers, and concerts mark the event. Don't miss the spectacular nighttime fireworks display over the Ottawa River. The 2-week Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (tel. 613/234-8008; www.chamberfest.com), the world's largest, brings dozens of concerts to the city's most beautiful churches in late July and early August.
On Labour Day weekend (early Sept), about 150 brilliantly colored balloons fill the skies over Ottawa, while on the ground, people flock to musical events and midway rides during the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival (tel. 819/243-2331; www.balloongatineau.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.