If you’re like me, you make lists of things you want to do but when planning a date you can’t think of a single idea and gravitate to the easy “dinner and a movie” idea. There is SO much to do here in the capital, it can be overwhelming. So, for my significant other’s birthday I wrote twelve seasonal date ideas and put each idea in an envelope. I then marked each envelope with a month and we open the envelope together on the first of every month to plan a date night. I included a mix of free, cheap and expensive ideas to mix it up throughout the year.
I also wrote a post about COVID safe date ideas for staying in here.
Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links. That means that at no cost to you, if you click a link and make a purchase I will earn a commission.
Tips and Notes
- I’ve included a ton of different date ideas in this post but COVID may change those plans! With restrictions increasing and recommendations to continue to social distance, check out my recent post for 7 Fun Date Ideas for Staying In.
- If you want, you can just use this list to refer to from time to time to get inspiration for new date ideas. You don’t have to make an envelope for each month, but it’s fun to open a date idea on the first of every month and plan something to do together.
- I have organized this post to categorize date ideas in the seasons of the year but a lot of ideas could be interchanged so feel free to mix it up!
- I’ve included a wide variety of free, cheap, mid-range and expensive date ideas. Everyone’s budget is different! You may be a couple on a budget or someone who can afford to spoil their significant other or anywhere in between.
- I created a downloadable template to fill in your dates for the year and I bought beautiful red envelopes from Paper Papier in the Byward Market (support local y’all). You could also purchase cue cards from the dollar store, create your own cards from scratch, purchase some fun cards from Blissful Notes or the Papery (two of my favourite card businesses in Ottawa) or print my version!
- Where possible, I recommend you support local: giving your business to small businesses rather than large corporations/chains keeps money in your community and helps small business owners.
- Please tag me on Instagram if you’re inspired by this post – I would love to see what you get up to!
January/February/March in Ottawa
The first three months of the year in the capital are cold but there are still so many fun outdoor activities to do, you don’t want to miss out! If you’re really just not an outdoorsy person/couple, there are still lots of fun indoor things you can get up to.
Snowshoe Under the Stars or Rent Snowshoes/Cross-county Skis in Ottawa/Gatineau
Snowshoe Under the Stars: This is a bilingual event hosted by NCC in Gatineau Park, so make sure to check if they’re still running the event (COVID dependent). You have the option when booking to bring your own snowshoes or rent some at the visitor’s centre. It’s a lot of fun and the guide will point out animal prints and discuss the various animals and how they cope with winter.
You can rent snowshoes or cross-country skis at the Gatineau Visitor Centre or at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa. It’s such a great activity to get outside and there are a wide variety of trails in Ottawa and Gatineau to explore. Note: There is a daily pass fee for trails in Gatineau but the NCC Greenbelt trails are free. Be sure to stay off the cross-country ski grooves when the trail is for both uses.
TIP: You can purchase snowshoes for about $150. At about $30/day rental at the Gatineau Visitor Centre, that means you only have to wear the snowshoes 5 times ever in their life span and they’ve paid for themselves.
TIP 2: I love my crampons (size medium here or size large here for about $20) because I find snowshoes are best after a fresh snow and not great on packed down snow.
Go Skating and get Hot Chocolate and a Beavertail
You can skate at numerous places in Ottawa/Gatineau including: Rideau Canal (free or the cost of renting skates), Rink of Dreams (in front of City Hall, free or the cost of renting skates) and Lac-des-Loups (skating in the forest, purchase tickets online or with cash in person). To make a date out of it, stop for hot chocolate and a beavertail (a Canadian classic).
Winterlude is Ottawa’s winter festival and there are events spread out across Ottawa and Gatineau. Check out their website for the most up-to-date schedule of events. Tubing in Jacques-Cartier Park last year was such a blast! There are numerous free events across the city which makes this perfect for couples on a budget.
Indoor Rock Climbing/Ninja Course
Try Altitude Gyms for indoor rock climbing or try their Ninja Course! Be prepared to test your strength on the Ninja Course, it was such a fun but difficult course.
Try a new restaurant/bar
Ottawa has so many restaurants and bars in every neighbourhood. There are local restaurants of all varieties no matter what part of the city you’re in. Pick one you’ve never tried before and order in! Some suggestions for some of my favourite restaurants are: Table Sodam (the portions are huge), Cafe Cristal High Tea, H&R Pizza, Union Local 613 Speakeasy, El Camino‘s for tacos, and Pure Kitchen (even if you’re not vegetarian, their food is so good). Some cocktail bars/breweries I love are: Charlotte, Bar Lupulus, and Pub Italia (check out their Beer Bible). Some desserts that are scrumptious include: Maverick’s Donuts, Cacao 70, Stella Luna (50% off on Sunday evenings), Cinnaholic and Sweet Bite on Bank Street.
TIP: to save money, check out Groupon for savings on Ottawa restaurants.
April/May/June in Ottawa
Things are starting to warm up around this time but it can still be pretty wet out there, especially in April. The city starts blooming and outdoor activities are much warmer!
Cherry Blossoms at the Arboretum (Late April/Early May)
Unfortunately I haven’t made it to check out Cherry Blossoms anywhere in the world but I’ve heard the ones at the Arboretum are stunning! This one is free and accessible by car (free parking at the Arboretum), bus or bike!
Ottawa’s Tulip Festival (in May)
Pack a picnic and head to Major’s Hill Park! Check out Ottawa Tourism’s website for a complete list of activities and where to see the tulips. Commissioner’s Park by Dow’s Lake is beautiful and the National Capital Commission does an excellent job of planting beds of tulips that have different flowering periods so you can be sure to see some tulips in bloom at any time in May.
There are actually two different Poutinefest’s in Ottawa: one on Sparks Street and one at City Hall so just double check the location and weekend it’s open before making plans. It’s usually held around the end of April but is currently scheduled for end of October 2020 (rescheduled due to COVID). Try the deep fried cheese curd poutine for a small twist on a classic or go completely different with a Shawarma poutine. Admission is free and poutine’s are about $8-15, depending on the size so it makes for a relatively cheap date idea!
NCC Greenbelt Paths
The National Capital Commission (NCC) has over 150 km of walking and hiking trails and they are working on connecting one side of the City to the other (approximately 56 km in total). Some of my favourites are the Mer Bleue Bog and Stony Swamp (bring some sunflower seeds for the chickadees or peanuts for the woodpeckers), Pine Grove Trail and Shirley’s Bay. There are also the multi-use pathways along the Ottawa River, Rideau River and Rideau Canal to walk along if you’re more interested in an urban setting.
Wander the streets to see Ottawa’s Murals
You can pretty much pick any neighbourhood in Ottawa and wander the streets for a variety of murals. Ottawa Tourism has pulled together a pretty great list, check it out here. This one is free but there are so many amazing coffee/tea shops and bakeries, I’ll suggest stopping at one of them and wandering with a coffee and baked good!
July/August/September in Ottawa
Rent a kayak or canoe at Dow’s Lake
Rentals at the Dow’s Lake Pavilion are open from May to October. Rates vary, depending on what water activity you want to do but is a reasonably affordable activity for an hour. Lifejackets are included in the rental price and you can rent a dry bag or locker for an additional fee.
TIP: You can purchase a blow up kayak here ($150) and it’s easy to throw in your back seat without having the worry about somewhere to store it or hitching it to your vehicle. It’s not as good as a regular kayak and I don’t recommend it in open water or if you’re looking to go fast but if you use it around Ottawa about 6-7 times, it’s paid for itself.
Discover Gatineau and pick a new hike to try
The hiking trails closer to Ottawa are much busier than trails farther from the City. If you are hesitant on which trail to pick, the Gatineau Visitor Centre employees are very knowledgeable. You can ask them for a specific time/length and difficulty and they’ll have a suggestion for you to try and will direct you to parking. Some of my favourites are Pink Lake (has two great lookouts and is fairly easy), Wolf Trail (about 2.5-3 hours in the summer and is medium difficulty) and the Luskville Falls Trail (about 2.5 hours with a fairly steep hill and can be difficult for new hikers).
Hike then stop in Old Chelsea for food
After you’re hiking in Gatineau Park, you HAVE to stop in Old Chelsea. La Cigale has delicious ice cream and Pub Chelsea has amazing food and a great beer selection, and Biscotti has my favourite loft and the best tea lattes.
Apple Picking and Baking
They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away so is that also true if I eat the apple crisp I made every day?? I personally don’t eat apples but I love baking with them! After spending an hour or two picking the best apples with your partner, find a few recipes to try at home. I suggest apple and cinnamon muffins, apple crisp, applesauce or apple pie. The muffins and applesauce are easy to freeze to enjoy later if you find you have too many baked goods to eat (but really, that isn’t a problem, right?).
Go Bungee Jumping or Skydiving
The Great Canadian Bungee in Quebec or GO Skydive tandem skydiving in Ottawa are adrenaline pumping activities and SO much fun! This one is definitely on the pricier side but it is such a rush!
Drive in Movie Theatre
With the COVID-19 shutdown, there were a lot of pop-up drive-in theatres and concerts but I’ve been to the Port Elmsley drive-in theatre a few times and it is a smooth operation. They have double features or, sometimes, triple features with bathrooms and snacks available on site.
TIP: Bring mosquito nets to put on your doors to roll down your window. The bugs can get pretty bad in the middle of the summer.
TIP 2: Stop at Jersey Joe’s in Smith Falls for pizza and snacks.
October/November/December in Ottawa
The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler but there are still so many fun activities to be done!
Check out Parc Omega
Parc Omega is open year round and sometimes you can find Groupon discounts (the first time I went was in the winter with a Groupon). Carrots to feed the animals are available to purchase at the main hut or you can purchase your own bags at a grocery store and bring them along. Make sure to bring lots because it’s so much fun to feed the animals!
Feed the chickadees in the NCC Greenbelt
As you can see, the chickadees will land on your hand to eat the sunflower seeds! I would recommend bringing your crampons during the winter and remember to stay to the side and not walk on the cross-county ski paths. #ShareThePath
Go Pumpkin Picking
To be fair, I had the most fun taking photos of the pumpkins but eyeing up all the pumpkins in the patch to pick the perfect one is a great date idea. You can turn this into TWO date ideas by picking another evening to carve them!
Take a flight over Ottawa to see the fall colours
I did the Ottawa Biplane adventure last year and saw some spectacular views of Ottawa and the Gatineau Park hills. You could also take a helicopter ride over the city! Watch the Fall Foliage Map in Ontario and Quebec to plan the best time to fly above and see the most vibrant fall colours.
Nature Nocturne at the Canadian Museum of Nature
The Museum of Nature puts on a monthly event where they open the museum as a night club with fun themed activities in the exhibits. There’s multiple dance floors, a bar, interactive activities (we made bath bombs last time), and you get to see the full exhibits!
And there you have it! An entire years worth of date ideas in Ottawa to plan and enjoy.