Softly falling snow. Hot mulled wine. Sticky maple taffy. Montreal, Canada is a winter wonderland, and one of the best places to visit for winter cheer!
As Californians, there’s nothing more exciting to us than traveling somewhere cold and snowy – especially if there will be Christmas Markets. Christmas just doesn’t feel right without a cozy mug of mulled wine and a blanket of snow! But while we love hopping on a plane and flying to Europe – the reigning champion of Christmas Markets – let’s face it: it’s not always feasible.
So instead, this year, we boarded an Amtrak train in New York City and headed up to Montreal, Canada! To our delight, Montreal is every bit a charming winter wonderland – complete with Christmas Markets and delicious treats. Plus, we were introduced to a Canadian winter tradition that immediately won us over: cabane à sucre, aka Sugar Shacks!
To be honest, we didn’t know much about Montreal before our trip. We had no idea that Montreal is actually an island 5 times larger than Manhattan, or that it’s second only to Las Vegas in hosting bachelor and bachelorette parties in the world (the legal drinking age is 18 – the lowest in North America). And while we knew Montreal-style bagels were a thing, we didn’t realize how good they are.
Y’all: we learned so much. And now we’ve stuffed it all into this massive guide to Montreal in the winter! Here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip, from what to pack to the best things to do in Montreal in the winter.
Table of Contents
Looking for more winter travel inspiration? Take a look at some of our other winter posts to help you plan your winter getaway:
- 10 Things to do in Quebec City in the Winter
- 12 Epic Things to do in Banff in Winter
- 8 Magical Winter Getaways in Ontario
- What to Pack for Canada in Winter: 31 Canada Winter Essentials
Need a handy dandy checklist to help you pack? We’ve got a printable version of our Canada in Winter packing list that includes EVERYTHING you’ll need for your trip to Montreal in the winter. Sign up in the box below and we’ll deliver it right to your inbox. Just call us the fairy godmother of packing lists!
Montreal Winter Travel Tips
Before you book your trip, here’s what you need to know about visiting Montreal in the winter.
- How cold is Montreal in the winter, really?
There’s no way to sugar-coat this (get it? Because sugar shacks?? eh?!?!): Montreal in the winter is cold. Average temperatures in December and January range around 20 degrees, meaning there is a high likelihood of snow, slush, or ice. Which, personally, we consider a plus!
That said, if you bundle up and wear the right clothing, and you’re spending most of your time outdoors walking, exploring, adventuring, and otherwise moving your body, you’ll be just fine! We’ve included specific, tried & tested cold-weather suggestions for your trip in a “what to pack” section below.
- Why should I visit Montreal in the winter?
We got a lot of skeptical looks when we announced our plan to visit Montreal in the winter. We get it – we’ve heard wonderful things about Montreal in the spring and summer. And while we can’t compare seasons, in our experience winter in Montreal offers plenty of opportunities.
Advantage number one: winter in Montreal is the tourist off-season! As budget travelers, we love traveling during off-season because it means fewer crowds, emptier streets, and cheaper prices.
Advantage number two: Montreal is a foodie city with stunning natural scenery and parks. Which, to us, translates into playing in the snow all day and then stuffing our face with comfort food and warm beverages.
Advantage number three: it’s Christmassy AF. We visited Montreal between Christmas and New Years, when the city was still decked out in stunning Christmas displays and windows were bedecked in wreaths and pine boughs. The crunching snow – er, slush – beneath our winter boots only enhanced our Christmas cheer. Plus, Montreal’s Christmas Markets rival Europe’s. Need we say more?!
If you’re looking to experience Montreal on a budget and you don’t mind a little bit of snow and ice, Montreal in the winter is a magical weekend getaway – and easily accessible from much of the East Coast by train!
- Do people in Montreal speak English?
Although the most commonly spoken language in Montreal is French, most people in Montreal will have no problem speaking to you in English. In fact, around 20% of the city’s population speaks English at home.
During our visit, we had no trouble finding English speakers, even though we heard otherwise before our trip.
- Did you say you took a TRAIN to Montreal?
Yes! We boarded the Adirondack Amtrak train in New York City. The trip to Montreal took about 10 hours, but we had plenty of legroom to stay comfortable. Plus, the scenery outside as the train wound through the Hudson Valley was stunning!
We took advantage of the WiFi and copious surface space to work during the ride. Honestly, I would never fly again if I could take trains everywhere. And it’s usually much cheaper than flying!
We also combined our trip to Montreal with a trip to Quebec City – the two are easily linked with a short flight or another scenic train ride.
Train Travel Tips: Arrive at Penn Station super early – there are no reserved seats, so the early bird gets the best view. You’ll need to stand in TWO lines, a Canada Check-In line and then the actual line to board the train.
- Do I need a car in Montreal in the winter?
No, you do not! We didn’t rent a car for our trip to Montreal. We took a train from Quebec City and used public transportation during our stay.
That said: if you do rent a car, make sure you are familiar driving – and parking – in snow and ice. To be on the safe side, we recommend upgrading to a car equipped with snow tires.
- How to get around Montreal without a car?
Montreal has excellent public transportation, so navigating within the city is easiest to do via transit and on foot rather than by car. Just make sure you have warm, comfortable winter walking boots (like these) or at the very least thermal insoles.
You’ll want to carry plenty of change – like, coins – for bus fare, or you can pre-purchase OPUS public transport tickets, including 1 day of unlimited travel around Montreal for $11 CAD.
If you fly in, look for an automatic ticket dispenser at the international arrivals terminal in the airport. The budget-friendly 747 bus line runs 24/7 from the Montreal airport into the city center and includes unlimited travel on public transport for 1 day within Montreal.
Things to Do in Montreal in the Winter
Now that you’ve got everything you need to prepare for your trip, here are the best things to do in Montreal in the winter during your visit!
Visit the Christmas Markets
Mulled wine, sugar pie, and Christmas Cheer: there’s nothing like visiting a Christmas Market during the holiday season! We’re obsessed with European Christmas Markets, and Montreal’s are every bit as magical (and much closer to home!)
You’ll find everything from seasonal delicacies (ahem: sugar shacks!) to handmade gifts and trinkets to zero-waste supplies – enough to shop local for everyone one your list! Or just yourself. We get it.
Explore Old Montreal
Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal) is considered one of the best-preserved old town centres in North America, with buildings dating back to the 1600s. Now, its winding cobbled streets are home to lively cafes, plazas, museums, and boutique stores!
We recommend spending a day doing a little self-guided walking tour of Old Montreal. Here are the best spots in Old Montreal to include:
- Notre-Dame Basilica: Notre-Dame Basilica is a 19th century Gothic Revival-style building and the city’s oldest Catholic church. Also, and arguably most importantly, it’s where Celine Dion got married! While the outside may not be all that impressive, the interior is awe-inspiring with its shades of blue and gold, stained-glass windows, intricate wood carvings, an assortment of sculptures, and a 7,000-pipe organ. Check out the church’s event website to see if there are any concerts that coincide with your visit.
- Place d’Armes: originally built in the 17th century, this square is home to some of Montreal’s most striking Art-Deco buildings and historic sights, including the Bank of Montreal (the oldest banking institution in Canada). The square is dominated by a 19th-century statue of Montreal’s founder, Paul de Chomedey, but is also adorned with quirky public art. See if you can find a sculpted man with the English bulldog and the sculpted woman with the French poodle while you are there!
- Champ-de-Mars: this open park located behind City Hall is a great place to take in the surrounding architecture of Old Montreal. Before the 19th century, Champ-de-Mars was a military parade ground. If there isn’t too much snow, you may be able to spot two lines of stone walls running through the park – these are the remains of Montreal’s original fortifications.
- Place Royale: this small, elevated square is the site where the area’s very first fort, Ville-Marie, was built in1642. The area was then used as a market and then the forecourt of the 1836 Old Customs House. It is also linked to the Pointe-à-Callière Cité d’archéologie et d’histoire de Montréal, and excellent historic museum, by an underground passage!
- Saint Sulpician Seminary: built between 1684 and 1687, the Saint Sulpician Seminary is the oldest building still standing in Montreal (and home to the oldest private garden in North America). This impressive U-shaped building is a prime example of the architecture of New France and is still home to the members of the Society of Priests of Saint-Sulpice. You can tour the Seminary for a small fee and learn about its inhabitants and the spread of Catholicism in Montreal.
- Saint Laurent Boulevard: Montreal’s Main Street! Wander past looking in anywhere that strikes your fancy, but be sure to make a stop at Eva B Vintage Store. Arguably one of the best vintage stores on the east coast of North America, Eva B is a quirky three-storied thrift shop located along Saint Laurent Boulevard. Bedecked with street art on the outside and full of one-off treasures, Eva B is a great place to browse, listen to music, and drink coffee at their in-shop cafe.
- City Hall/ Rue Saint Paul/Marche Bonsecours: Rue St-Paul has SO much to see, that we thought it deserved its very own section….
Explore Rue Saint-Paul
Montreal is best explored on foot – yes, even during the winter! Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing warm clothing and comfortable winter shoes (we recommend these). But once you’re all bundled up, walking will keep you warm and toasty.
The best place to explore by foot is Rue Saint-Paul, the oldest (and most iconic) street in Montreal. This street has over 2,400 years of history – some of its cobblestones pre-date the entire United States!
Approximately one mile long, Rue Saint-Paul was first built in the 1670s and was the center of North American fur trade for decades. As Montreal grew, warehouses sprang up as residents left the Old Montreal area, and by the 1950s, the street was rather run down and industrial.
However, in the 1980s, there was a revival of interest in the historic streets and corners of Old Montreal, including Saint Paul. The street is now home to some of the city’s most-known landmarks, cosy cafes, fine dining, hotels, hipster offices, and boutique shopping.
We suggest spending a morning or afternoon wandering down the street and popping into anything that looks interesting. Here are our suggestions for where to explore:
- Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel: This is the oldest chapel in Montreal and is also known as Montreal’s sailors’ church – there are miniature boats hanging from its ceiling! Don’t skip out on climbing up the chapel tower, which offers one of the best views of Montreal (more of those in our suggestions below).
- Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum: the museum includes a 2,400 year old archaeological site in its basement, and explores life during the early days of Montreal, including celebrating the city’s first and most celebrated teacher, Marguerite Bourgeoys.
- Marché Bonsecours: the silver dome of Marché Bonsecours, a 19th century market house that once served as the City Hall, has become an iconic symbol of Old Montreal. Window shop its many art galleries and boutique stores, or grab a bite at one of the restaurants or cafes
- Place Jacques-Cartier: Old Montreal’s central plaza and home of a charming Christmas Market, Place Jacques-Cartier is worth the stop to see some stunning 19th century architecture, including a towering Nelson’s Column and the City Hall – home of the upper balcony where the French President Charles de Gaulle yelled “Vive le Québec libre!” in 1967, escalating the secession debate of whether Quebec should seek sovereignty from Canada.
- Galleries, Cafes & Shops: Browse through one of the many bouquet stores and galleries, such as Iniuit art gallery, Elca London, which has a range of textiles, sculptures, paintings, and drawings from Iniuit artists. And be sure to stop at charming La Petit Dep for a delicious cup of coffee!
Stuff Your Face with Montreal Specialties
Listen: Montreal is a foodie city. Don’t hold back! Leave your tight-fitting clothes at home! Here’s all the things you need to eat in Montreal before you leave (seriously – like, print this out and make a checklist).
- Bagels: I would hop on a plane right now and fly to Montreal JUST for its bagels. Unlike the inferior bagels we have in the States (yes I SAID IT), authentic Montreal bagels are boiled in honey water and baked in wood-fired ovens, giving them a deep, rich, slightly sweet crunchy crust. Order whatever is freshly made at Fairmount Bagel or St. Viateur, the two most famous bagel shops in Montreal. Each are open 24 hours, and if you don’t want to stand in line, go at 3am. Don’t forget to bring cash!
- Smoked Meat: Montreal is famous for smoked meat, specially spiced and aged over a week. Try it at Schwartz, a famous spot and at 90 years old, the oldest deli in Canada. We recommend a smoked meat sandwich, some fries, and a cherry coke on the side. And yes – it’s worth waiting in line!
- Maple Syrup: Two-thirds of the world’s maple syrup is produced right here, in the province of Quebec. Statistically, the province of Quebec consumes more maple products per capita than anywhere else in the world! Try it on any menu, and bring some home from Delices Erable & Cie, a shop with tons of maple treats of every type and of course, samples!
- Dragon Beard Candy: One of the only places in the world outside of Hong Kong to get Dragon beard candy, an ancient treat, is in Montreal Chinatown. The stand here opened in the early 1990s, and the owner claimed this was the first in North America to sell it!
- Poutine: This quintessential Canadian dish didn’t actually catch on in Montreal until the 1990s, but it’s everywhere now! In Montreal, locals say the key to great poutine is squeaky curds – if the cheese doesn’t squeak, the curds are wrong. You can try authentic Quebecoise Poutine at La Banquise, a local favorite. There are 30 flavors to try – and there’s usually a line out front! Tip: the portions are HUGE – definitely split your order.
- Pudding Chomeur: this French Canadian classic, which translates to “unemployed man’s pudding”, is a delicious dessert with maple syrup and heavy cream, poured over cake batter and baked. If it’s done right, it’s a moist, delicious cake. Try it – along with other local favorites, including baked beans and tourtière -at La Binerie Mont-Royal,
- Anything and everything at a sugar shack (cabane à sucre): From February to April, locals and visitors alike flock to sugar shacks to consume rich, heart-stopping traditional Quebec dishes Tourtière (like a meat pie), Christ’s ears (deep-fried pork fat), pea soup, and maple syrup pie. A must-do experience at a sugar shack is sampling hot drizzled maple taffy on snow. Sugar shacks pop up around the city around February but, if you have a car, you can experience a real – and incredibly cute – sugar shack anytime of the year at Sucrerie de la Montagne, about a 40-minute drive from Montreal.
- Kouign Amann: How can I explain the pastry perfection that is a kouign amann? Imagine buttery, sugary, flaky wheels of croissant-sugar-butter-heaven with a soft, custardy center and a crunchy caramelized exterior. Are you drooling yet? Try a slice at Pâtisserie Au Kouign Amann. Just be sure to arrive before noon or they’ll probably be sold out!
Take a Tour
One of our favorite ways to experience a city is by taking a guided tour. You’ll learn about history and local culture, find secret spots you’d never discover on your own, and get to see the city all at the same time.
We make it a point to take a guided tour or two whenever we visit a new city! Here are our recommendations for tours in Montreal.
Take a Montreal Food Tour
We love taking food tours because we love to eat and we love to learn! So why not do it at the same time? Food tours offer a historical walking tour of the city while eating at the same time. We call that “efficiency.” Plus, it will really help you check thing off your “must-eat” list.
It should come as no surprise during our winter trip to Montreal, we chose to take a food tour of Montreal – and here are a few that we’ll be doing on our next trip:
- Old Montreal Food Tour: This 3.5-hour walking tour goes throughout Little Italy and Mile End and covers all the major sites, diving deep into Montreal’s French culinary heritage while tasting treats like smoked meat, pâtés, and macarons!
- Montreal Jewish Food Tour: Montreal is the birthplace of many of the world’s most famous Jewish foods! Ahem: bagels?! Smoked meats?!? You’ll try them all on this tour, and learn about Montreal Jewish history as well.
- Montreal Afternoon Tea Tour: Yep, Montreal is big into tea. They’re both French and British, remember? During your tour, you’ll explore Montreal while learning about tea ‘mixology,’ Montreal’s tea traditions, meet tea growers, visit a tea salon, and of course, taste a diverse range of delicious tea.
- Haunted Pub Crawl: Montreal has a thriving pub and nightlife scene (after all, it is second only to Las Vegas in the world for bachelor parties). Take a unique spin on a pub crawl on this creepy haunted tour, which visits three of the city’s most haunted pubs and learn about the dark side of the city’s history along the way.
Take a Montreal Walking Tour
- Old Montreal Christmas Walking Tour: Explore the delights of Old Montreal under a blanket of snow! Walking through historic squares, tour noteworthy buildings, and admire artwork as you take this winter-specific tour of Montreal’s top spots
- Beyond the Basilica: A Walking Tour of Montreal: Two-and-a-half hour walking tour through the historic Old Montreal to the borough of Plateau Mont-Royal, including beverages and snacks. Visit the ornately decorated Basilica then wander the streets of Old Montréal while learning about the city’s history, checking out its street art, and making stops in the entertainment district and Chinatown.
- History Walking Tour of Old Montreal: Learn more about the history of Old Montreal while seeing its most famous sights during this budget-friendly walking tour of either the east or west end of Old Montreal.
- Old Montreal Ghost Walking Tour: Take a 1 ½ haunted tour in Old Montreal as dusk slowly falls and you hear creepier and creepier stories! Learn about the most haunted places, gruesome murders, and witches. Fun!
Play in the Snow
Montreal is a winter wonderland, with several well-maintained parks that offer fantastic opportunities for snow sports and fun. If we had to pick just one recommendation,it would be spending a few hours at Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park, Montreal’s largest park. You’ll find snow sports, sledding, carriage rides, and even an authentic cabane à sucre! Although it is located outside of the city, there are occasionally free shuttles – more information here.
We’ve got a few more suggestions for snow fun – pick your favorite winter activity:
- Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing is essentially just hiking, but on top of the snow! It’s low risk and requires little athletic skill …so we love it. You may need to rent special gear, but it never hurts to bring along a pair of travel-friendly crampons that can slip over your favorite hiking shoes. You’ll find self-guided snowshoeing trails at Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park and Nature Park of L’Île-de-la-Visitation. If you prefer a guided tour (we do, because we are not great at following a trail that’s covered in snow) Mount Royal sometimes offers snowshoes tours and winter hiking around the Parc du Mont-Royal on winter weekends – check out their Facebook page for up-to-date information!
- Cross-country Skiing: Flying downhill on skis is one thing, but zooming through the countryside is a totally different athletic challenge and a great way to explore Montreal’s snowy winter wonderlands. Parc du Mont-Royal, the Montreal Botanical Gardens, and Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park all offer cross-country skiing trails.
- Snow Tubing: You can rent snow tubes at Mount Royal Park or Parc Jean-Drapeau throughout the winter. If you’re able to drive a bit outside of the city proper, there are tons of opportunities for snow tubing – here’s a great list. The best option for tubing enthusiasts is about an hour and a half away: Les Super Glissades St-Jean-de-Matha has 17 tracks dedicated to snow tubing and 13 tracks dedicated to snow rafting!
- Snow Scooters: Try your hand at snow scooters, snow bikes, or snow tubing at Voiles en Voiles, an outdoor adventure park.
- Downhill skiing: Only 9 kilometres from Montreal, Saint Bruno is a great spot for beginner skiers, with lots of instructors and course options to get you comfortable on moguls in no time. For those with more experience, the best ski resort near Montreal is Mont Tremblant, one of the top ski resorts in Eastern North America. It’s located about an hour and a half from Montreal, but accessible by bus. The ski resort offers multiple slopes for both beginners and intermediates!
- Snowmobiling: Take a snowmobiling guided tour and explore frozen plains, lakes, and forests just one hour from Montreal! You can choose between a morning or afternoon tour – all safety equipment and extra warm clothing is included. Note: you will need a car to reach this tour, which is about an hour drive from Montreal.
Go Ice Skating
There is possibly nothing more magical than gliding on a frozen pond underneath twinkling fairy lights. Actually, scratch that – the post-skate hot chocolate might actually be more magical.
Ice skating is as Canadian as curling or ice hockey, and Montreal is the ideal place to try out your triple axle (or just perfect the art of falling on your bum instead of your face). There are over 150 public ice skating rinks in Montreal alone!
You can rent skates at many parks, skate on public ponds, and visit ice rinks throughout the city. Here are our top picks for one of the most quintessential Montreal winter activities:
- Parc La Fontaine: This beautiful outdoor frozen pond is the most magical place to go ice skating in Montreal, because it’s lined with trees draped with sparkling fairy-lights! Located right in the city’s Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood in the heart of the park, you’ll find ice skating on the rink and on paths winding throughout the park. Skating is free if you bring your own skates, but you can also rent on-site. Also, and very importantly: Espace La Fontaine restaurant serves a delicious hot chocolate along with stunning views.
- Old Port Skating Rink: Rent skates at Patin Patin and take in the views of the river, old ferris wheel, and the city skyline at the Old Port Skating Rink.
- Parc Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier: At this wooded park, a frozen pathway circuit weaving in and out of the 27-acre park offers a fantastic challenge for confident skaters. There is also a traditional rink – and two ice hockey rinks if you want to try your hand! When in Canada, eh?
- Beaver Lake at Mount Royal: Rent some skates and enjoy this delightful outdoor lake in Montreal’s iconic park! There is also an enclosed ice rink nearby if you prefer. And, crucially: you can warm up with a hot chocolate and other treats at the near-by Lac-aux-Castors Pavilion.
Visit a Food Market
There’s nothing more French than picking up each of your groceries at 8 extremely specific shops, and then strolling home with a baguette tucked under your arm while sniffing a bouquet of fresh flowers with a jaunty little beret perched atop your glossy hair.
At least, I would imagine. Personally, the closest I ever get to feeling French is dunking a wheel of brie in a jar of nutella while loudly singing “Foux du Fa Fa“. But visiting a food market in Montreal is a close second!
- Travel Tip: Learn how to navigate Montreal’s food markets like an expert with a food market tour of Montreal! You’ll sample delicious specialties from local vendors while learning all about what makes up Canada’s varied food scene.
Montreal has several wonderful European-style food markets, full of fromageries and patisseries and whatever the French word for “shop full of Maple things” would be (érable-erie?). Put on a beret and visit these Montreal markets:
- Jean-Talon Market: one of North America’s largest farmers’ markets and one of the oldest markets in Montreal. During the winter, walls are erected around the usually open-aired market, so you can escape the winter chill and shop through the stalls of butchers, bakers, fishmongers, maple syrup purveyors, and grocers at your own leisure. Open from 9am-6pm on weekdays and from 8am-6pm on the weekends
- Marché Atwater: Located in one of the most beautiful Art-Deco buildings in the city, the Atwater Markets have been offering gastronomic treasures to visitors since 1933. Stalls are passed down through the generations, with merchants offering fresh and locally grown or processed foods all year round. Be sure to try out the artisan cheeses, such as the gouda from La Fromagerie Atwater, dried local fruits, and freshly-baked pastries!
- Marché de Lachine: the smallest of Montreal’s “big five” public markets is open year-round. This market has the makings of a delightful pit stop during a day of cycling or strolling by the Lachine Canal if only to taste the ridiculously delicious chocolates, croissants, and assorted pastries sold on location by Marius et Fanny. Just head up the Lachine neighborhood’s 18th avenue past one block and you’ll reach it.
- Marche Bonsecours: housed in a stunning 19th century building in the heart of Old Montreal along Rue Saint Paul, Marche Bonsecours is an artisanal shopping center. Browse through boutiques with unique pieces from local fashion designers, as well as art galleries, souvenir shops, and exhibition halls.
- Marché Maisonneuve: Another of Montreal’s smaller “big five” public markets, the market is located in a historic building. You’ll find a cafe, flower & cheese shops, and more for a slice of French life.
Take in the View
Montreal is simply stunning! To find the best views of the city for a picture-perfect moment, head to one of these scenic spots.
- For the best vantage point of Montreal’s downtown skyline, hop on a river shuttle and float down the St. Lawrence River to visit its other islands.
- You’ll find sweeping birds-eye views of Montreal from the top of Canada’s largest ferris wheel – sorry, observation wheel – at La Grande Roue de Montréal. It may sound cold, but it’s not: the ferris wheel is outfitted with cozy winter cabins. We recommend picking up a ticket online in advance to avoid waiting in line.
- Musee Marguerite-Bourgeoys: The highest view of Old Montreal can be seen from the tower of the chapel at this historic museum. Climb the museum’s wooden spiral staircase where the surrounding views of the river, neighbourhood, and the aged, glittering dome of the Marche Bonsecours is said to have inspired Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne.”
- Montreal Tower in the Olympic Park: built for the 1976 Olympic Games, the Montreal Tower is 541 feet tall and leans at a 45 degree angle, offering visitors sweeping vistas of the entire city and the St. Lawrence River. You can reach the top via a two-minute ride in a glass funicular – we recommend buying a ticket in advance.
- Mont-Royal Chalet: This mountain just west of downtown Montreal is the namesake of the city – Mont-Royal, Montreal, get it? – and remains a beautiful park to explore (or sled, ski, or ice skate) in the middle of the city. It’s also home to the best view of Montreal! During the winter, Mount Royal is an ideal place to take a break from the city, wander to the summit for some of the best views of the city, take a guided winter trek (try the City Lights evening tour on Fridays and Saturdays in the winter!), and then warm up with a hot chocolate at the small bricked Cafe des Amis. If its winding paths, public art, and open spaces remind you of another famous green space, it’s because Mount Royal was designed by the same person who designed Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. The park is also steeped in history: in 1535, Jacques Cartier climbed up this mountain and named it Mount Royal.
During our trip, as always, we asked locals for recommendations to include in our post. One helpful taxi driver suggested an entire self-guided tour of the best views in Montreal!
Here’s how it works: first, take a taxi, Lyft or Uber to Mont Royal. Then, ask them to circle Summit Avenue and Summit Lookout – you’re looking for this spot. Finally, ask your driver to take you to St Joseph’s Oratory. If you give this a try, let us know how it goes!
Learn About Montreal’s History
What we now know of as Montreal is an island at the confluence of two rivers, the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. The city was founded by the French in the 1600s as a fur trading post, but there have been peoples living in modern day Quebec much longer–for about 3500 years, in fact.
Montreal has a fascinating relationship with the rest of Canada, with certain factions of Quebec advocating for the province to be independent dating back to the 1960s. You can learn about this and other local history, including First Nations people, at the Centre D’Histoire de Montreal.
- Travel Tip: Download the free Cite Memoir app to interact with figures from Montreal’s history through projections around the city!
Here are a few suggestions to learn more about Montreal’s history, both pre and post-Colonization.
Learn About Montreal’s Indigenous Culture & History
Although the Indigenous peoples of Quebec have not been recognized historically, the City of Montreal recently updated its Crest and added a white pine for first Americans, joining French, British, Scottish and Irish symbols and acknowledging the importance of First Nations peoples in the area.
There are still Indigenous communities in Montreal, and opportunities for Indigenous-focused tourism which supports and benefits them. Check out the Mccord Museum’s rotating and interactive exhibits to learn about the local First Nations people or make a stop at the Musee de Abenakis , a museum devoted to the culture and traditions of the Abenaki First Nation founded in the 1960s.
Learn About Montreal’s European Culture & History
Montreal, along with the rest of French Canada, has a fascinatingly complicated and unique cultural makeup that comes from a historical melting pot of French, British and Indigenous peoples.
The first European to arrive in Quebec was explorer Jacques Cartier in 1635; the first French Settlers arrived a few years later. The French refined for over a century, until Montreal was captured by Britain in 1760 and remained under British rule until Canadian Independence.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Montreal is the Mount Royal Cross. The original Cross, made of wood, was erected in 1643 by Paul de Chomedey. Chamodey was a French general who founded the City and he erected the cross to thank God for sparing the community from major floods. It became iconic of Montreal, and it got an update in 1924: the cross is now made of steel and lit up at night to the delight of visitors.
- Fun Fact: No building in Montreal is allowed to be higher than the Mont Royal Cross – this is why there are no soaring skyscrapers in Montreal!
Relax in a Nordic Spa
Three words hot, cold, relax. That’s the basis of a Nordic spa cycle, which is something I’ve come to associate with cold destinations ever since jumping into a freezing cold fjord from a sauna in Norway. To my shock and surprise, I loved it!
Skeptical? Science and Nordes both agree: traditional Nordic spas – aka “thermotherapy” or “hydrotherapy” if you’re fancy – is AMAZING, and a wonderful way to relax and help your body adjust itself to freezing cold temperatures!
By dipping yourself into hot-water baths or heating up in a sauna, you’ll find that you’re newly comfortable relaxing in Montreal’s freezing cold air wearing nothing but a bathing suit or a fluffy robe, like some kind of Scandinavian goddess. All for much, much cheaper than a day at a spa in the states! It’s one of the best Montreal winter activities.
Montreal offers several Nordic spa opportunities:
- Bota Bota Spa: A unique family-run spa on the river with views of the city. It’s built on an old refurbished ferry boat, with each floor having at least three different kinds of spa treatments to try. You just sort of wander around the ship jumping into pools and such – their water circuit includes hot (saunas & steam baths), cold (plunging into the river, cold baths, showers), and relaxation (hanging chairs, hammocks, and bean bags) steps. There is also a floating sauna directly on the water! Prices start at $45 USD during the winter season (excluding Christmas period).
- Strøm Spa Nordique: Rejuvinate in outdoor Norwegian-style thermal baths on Nun’s Island. You’ll don a cozy robe and wander through various heated whirlpools and waterfalls and steam baths, all while taking in the stunning open-air view of the river. We visited a Strøm location in Quebec City and it was magical.
- Scandinave Spa Montréal: This traditional, completely silent Scandanavian-style spa experience is located right in the heart of Old Montreal – only a 5 minute walk from the Place d’Armes metro station. Prices begin at $60 CAD to use the Scandinavian bath treatment (a cycle of heat, cold rinse, and relaxation).
Attend a Winter Festival
If your visit to Montreal falls in December, you’ll have plenty of Christmas Markets to explore. But if you’re planning a trip to Montreal after New Years, we recommend timing your visit to overlap with one of Montreal’s many winter festivals! Here are a few to check out:
- BARBEGAZI festival: Usually held over two weekends in January, this festival transforms the city’s Olympic Park into an open-air action sports arena, complete with an obstacle course, wood chopping, skating, and a Christmas tree tossing competition.
- Fête des neiges de Montréal: For four weekends in January and February, this outdoor festival held in Parc Jean-Drapeau celebrates outdoor winter fun! The festival has a wide range of unique winter activities, including sliding on an ice boat, dog sled rides, and axe throwing. One of the highlights is a giant zipline through the wintery wonderland of Parc Jean-Drapeau. There are plenty of food and drink stalls to warm up at and try regional specialties as well. For more information on planning your festival weekend, check out this in-depth guide to the festival.
- MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE: At the end of Feb/early March, indulge in fine dining, live performances, and luminous public art during this festival in Quartier des spectacles. There is also an outdoor area with ice slides, stages, and a Ferris Wheel to take in the lighted spectacle.
- Igloofest: described as the coldest musical festival in the world!, Igloofest transforms Montreal’s Old Port into a giant EDM party, complete with heated dance floors, an “Iglooswag” snowsuit competition, an on-site ice bar with home-grown libations, such as caribou — a mix of whisky and maple syrup—, mulled ciders and specialty (read: alcoholic) coffees, and of course, igloos!
Take a Day Trip from Montreal
Frozen waterfalls. Rustic sugar shacks. Even more Nordic spas (yes, we’re obsessed). Here are some of the best day trips from Montreal in the winter:
The Laurentians Mountains: Winter Fun & Nordic Spas
Located north of Montreal, the Laurentians Mountains area boasts stunning peaks, rivers, and hundreds of lakes.
You can spend the first half of the day downhill skiing, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing and the second half of the day unwinding at one of the area’s many Nordic spas – like the Polar Bear’s Club. You’ll relax in outdoor heated pools while you soak up the views of surrounding forests and snowy plains.
Getting to and around the Laurentians is most easily done by car – it takes between 1 ½ to 2 hours to get there from Montreal. If you don’t want to take a car, you can join a Laurentian Mountains Day Trip tour that includes village visits, stunning mountain vistas, and a river cruise.
Mont Tremblant: Snow Sports
Mont Tremblant, one of Canada’s top ski resorts, is only an hour and a half from Montreal, making it a perfect day trip to enjoy the snow, including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, snow tubing, or just soaking at their spa.
To visit Mont Tremblant, you can book the L’Express du Nord coach every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the morning with an included return in the evening. If you prefer to rent a car, the trip should take around 90 minutes.
Quebec’s Eastern Townships: Food & Booze
Foodies, renting a car and day-tripping to the Eastern Townships is a must. Within these small towns and villages just one to two hours from Montreal, you’ll find microbreweries, vineyards, and a host of delicious cheese factories!
You can also snowshoe or cross-country ski through the many national parks in the region and enjoy the stillness of snow-capped forests.
Montreal Reading List
Fellow nerds: study up before your trip with these books that are either set in or about Montreal!
- The History of Montreal: The Story of a Great North American City: This book weaves the story of Montreal from prehistoric times, the establishment of the Iroquoian community of Hochelaga, to the bustling 21st economic metropolis of today. The book unpacks the diverse social, geographic, economic, political, and cultural forces that have driven the city’s development, including the French, British, and American influences that have shaped Montreal into what is today.
- This Place: 150 Years Retold: This brilliant graphic novel anthology by Indigenous artists explores First Nation peoples’ experiences since Contact. Stories of both the past and the future are woven together in intricate illustrations.
- The Tin Flute: The story of an impoverished family and their search for love in Montreal’s Saint Henri neighborhood during the Second World War.
- The Favorite Game: In this semi-autobiographical novel, songwriter Leonard Cohen (himself a son of Montreal) tells the coming-of-age story of Lawrence Breavman, the only son of a Jewish family in Montreal.
- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: this humorous novel tells of Duddy, an amoral, hilarious, scheming, lying protagonist from a third generation Jewish immigrant family in Montreal.
Where to Stay in Montreal
We recommend basing yourself near Old Town, as this is the most walkable and picturesque part of town! Here are a few suggestions for where to stay in Montreal in the winter:
- Vacation Rental: Check out this skylight-filled loft, with fabulous brick accents and stylish decorating, literally on the famous Saint Paul Street next close to the Norte-Dame Basilica – you can hear the bells rolling from the loft! We love this historic-feeling loft in the heart of Montreal, also on Saint Paul Street, with its exposed bricks and big, sweeping windows. It has all the historic charm of Montreal with modern comforts!
- Boutique Hotel: We love Gingerbread Manor: A charming 19th-century Victorian-style bed and breakfast with individually decorated rooms located within walking distance to Mount Royal Park and Old Montreal. We love everything about this adorable hotel, but we’re possibly most excited about the constantly-changing breakfast, featuring mouth-watering dishes like banana walnut pancakes, apple-cinnamon waffles, and white chocolate orange pancakes!
- Bed & Breakfast: The Bed & Breakfast du Village BBV is charming, bright and conveniently located close to the charming Old Town. Have an amazing, fresh breakfast before you start your day exploring all the restaurants, shops, and attractions just a 5 minute walk away!
What to Pack for Montreal in the Winter
Fun fact: Beanies are called toques in Montreal! Why? We haven’t the slightest clue! But we do have a bunch of tips for what to pack for Montreal in the winter to stay warm and toasty. Including toques.
Have you heard that saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing?” Well, it’s totally true. Don’t get nervous looking at the weather for your Montreal winter trip, cuz you’re going to be WELL prepared – and you might not even need to bring a big suitcase! I was able to pack for our 2-week winter trip in Canada in a single carry-on bag.
Packing light for winter travel sounds like an oxymoron – cuz you know, winter clothing is heavy and bulky – but actually, it’s totally possible to stuff everything you need into a carry-on! The beauty of winter travel is that 99% of the time, all anyone is going to see is the very outer layer of your clothing. So as long as you’ve got clothes that can withstand being worn over and over again, you really don’t actually need to bring very many items (ssh, we won’t tell anyone that you’re rewearing the same sweater for 2 weeks straight).
To maximize our packing efficiency, we’ve learned to be really selective about our textiles (thanks in no small part to my degree in Fashion Design, which taught me all about the scientific properties of a whole bunch of fabrics). For example, merino wool is super warm, incredibly soft (no, it’s not itchy!) and much more lightweight than other synthetic fabrics, as well as being naturally antibacterial, which means you can re-wear it without the re-wear funk.
We recommend wearing a merino wool base layer underneath your clothing every day during your Montreal winter trip – that means that the layer closest to your skin should all be made from merino wool. Or, if wool isn’t your thing, wear an equally insulating textile like hemp or silk. Avoid non-insulating fabrics like cotton, and remember that natural fibers are pretty much always better than manmade textiles like polyester.
After your base layer, you’ll need to add on at least 1 additional layer before your outerwear, like a pair of pants and a sweater. On REALLY cold days, where the temperatures are below 10 degrees, we recommend adding on another base layer before your clothing layer & outerwear. For more winter travel packing tips, head over to our Cold Weather Packing Guide.
Here are our tried and true travel essentials for winter travel.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. They’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. Jeremy has this pair. You’ll likely need to wear these underneath your pants every day during your trip.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Undershirt: Laying is crucial when it’s this cold, and you’ll need to start with a layer of insulation on top and bottom. Although sometimes I can get away with a short sleeved or even sleeveless undershirt, in Canada we both needed to wear a layer of long-sleeved wool. This is mine and this is Jeremy’s.
- Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks for Montreal. It gets COLD AF there, and most socks won’t keep your feet warm while you’re exploring! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these. I recommend 2 layers of socks – no more, no less.
- Warm Walking Boots: We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are totally waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’ve found the best boots for winter, and we’re OBSESSED with them (and yes, we both have the same ones. Because we’re kinda gross like that). They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather and lined with shearling to keep your toes toasty warm, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. Oh, and they have thin and flexible soles that let your feet function as if you were walking around in the cold completely barefoot! Note: you might find yourself in need of some calf strengthening if you’re not used to barefoot-style soles. We can’t recommend these boots enough. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
- Travel Jeans: My favorite travel jeans have 6 POCKETS. 6!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly even after walking through the snow, and roomy enough to layer over an insulating base layer. They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans on the Aviator USA website.
- Lined Leggings: On incredibly cold days, I add an extra layer of insulating warmth by throwing a pair of lined leggings on over my base layer and under my jeans (I’ve also worn them without extra pants on top of my base layer because leggings are real pants, fight me). I have two pairs of warm lined winter leggings, one lined with merino wool and one lined with fleece.
- Warm Hat: A warm tube/hat is an absolute necessity for chilly Montreal in the winter. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! You want a hat that will stay on your head even in blustery gusts of wind and keep your ears nice and warm – bonus points if it’s lined.
Warm Coat: Your jacket is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring to Canada in the winter other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos. I have a beautiful camel-colored A-line wool coat like this one that I usually wear on winter trips, but for this trip I switched it up and brought along this cozy fleece-lined coat. Jeremy wears a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
- Packable Down Jacket: Jeremy and I each bring two jackets each on our winter trips: our heavy/bulky coats, and a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket. It’s perfect for those days when I want the freedom of not wearing a big heavy coat, and it’s also a fantastic added layer of warmth on super cold days. For this trip, I brought this down jacket and Jeremy brought this down jacket.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in Canada in the winter without gloves on – we actually needed two pairs most days! Jeremy and I both have these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves. Over those gloves we layer on a thicker pair that allows us to do things like throw snowballs at each other.
- Scarves: I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! And you will absolutely need a good scarf for a trip to Montreal in the winter. I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
- Day Bag: You’ll want a bag with you to store things like extra layers, your camera, a phone charger, and souvenirs – you know, the essentials. I carried this day bag with me every single day packed with my packable down jacket, an extra pair of gloves, and anything else I needed for the day. We also have this theft-resistant camera bag specifically for our camera gear, because we’re extra AF professional bloggers or whatever. If you don’t have like … camera gear, you probably don’t need it, but if you do, it’s REALLY nice.
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Printable Winter Packing List
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Are you ready to throw on your cosiest layers, eat delicious French food and feel all European (without actually going to Europe)? What things to do in Montreal in the winter are you most excited about? Drop us a comment below!
Looking for more places to visit in Canada in the winter? Check our other guides:
- 10 Things to do in Quebec City in the Winter
- 12 Epic Things to do in Banff in Winter
- 8 Magical Winter Getaways in Ontario
- What to Pack for Canada in Winter: 31 Canada Winter Essentials
Want more winter trip ideas? Take a look at some of our other posts, or browse them all!
- The Winter Guide to Lake Tahoe (on a Budget)
- Two Super Detailed Winter in Europe Itineraries (For Two Weeks)
- The 4 Best Salt Lake City Ski Resorts for a Weekend Getaway
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