GETTING THERE: Air Canada operates nonstops from Dulles to Ottawa, while all the major airlines have connecting service from Reagan National, Dulles or BWI. Fares in February start at about $300 round trip, $340 for nonstop.

WINTERLUDE: The National Capital Commission hosts Winterlude beginning the first weekend of February and continuing through two subsequent weekends. Snowflake Kingdom is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Other attractions are open all week, but most special events, such as performances and contests, are scheduled Fridays through Sundays. This year's festival runs Feb. 3-19. Details: 800-465-1867, www.CanadasCapital.gc.ca/winterlude.

WHERE TO STAY: For a capital city, Ottawa's hotels are relative bargains. Double rooms at Ottawa's premier hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (1 Rideau St., 800-257-7544, www.fairmont.com), start at about $184 on Winterlude weekends. The turreted landmark offers luxury, history and charm.

Both the Westin (11 Colonial By Dr., 888-625-5144, www.westinottawa.com) and the much older Lord Elgin (100 Elgin St., 800-267-4298, www.lordelginhotel.ca) have the advantage of being smack in the heart of Winterlude festivities, and the Westin is attached to a shopping mall that fronts the canal. Double rooms in the Westin start at $175 on Winterlude weekends, and at $125 in the Lord Elgin.

The Holiday Inn and Suites (111 Cooper St., 800-267-8378, www.hiottawa.ca) is half a block from Rideau Canal, near the center of the action. Double rooms during Winterlude weekends start at about $95.

Travelers needing extreme basement prices might consider the Ottawa Backpackers Inn (203 York St., 888-394-0334, www.ottawahostel.com), where a clean bed in a hostel costs less than $20 a night.

WHERE TO EAT: You are promised a "gastronomic experience" by classically trained French chefs at Signatures (453 Laurier Ave. E., 613-236-2433), the restaurant that is part of Le Cordon Bleu, the famed Parisian cooking school. Highly acclaimed as one of the best restaurants in Canada, it's also pricey by Canadian standards, with dinner entrees ranging from $24 to $35, but that doesn't seem to deter diners. Reservations required.

Bistro 115 (110 Murray St. in the ByWard Market, 613-562-7244) is a romantic but unpretentious French restaurant in a house built in 1908. Well-prepared meat and seafood entrees are complemented with at least one vegetarian offering per night. Prices for dinner entrees range from about $15 to $30.

Irish Village (67 Clarence St. in ByWard Market, 613-562-0674) is an Irish-style pub serving sandwiches and pizzas and, in a separate dining area, entrees of pasta, fish and meat beginning at under $10, sometimes with live entertainment.

INFO: Ottawa Tourism Convention Authority, www.ottawatourism.ca, 800-363-4465.

-- Cindy Loose