Montreal in winter is magical – the fairytale architecture, cobblestone streets, festive Christmas Markets, and French Canadian charm will all make you *almost* feel like you’ve transported yourself into a European winter wonderland (much like Leavenworth, WA does).
Except, of course, you’re in Canada. If you’re looking for those European vibes and snow without the transatlantic flight, then Montreal is the perfect winter destination for you!
After visiting Munich and Prague in the winter of 2019, I was itching to experience more European Christmas Markets. Except, of course, the universe had other plans (because of, well, you-know-what) and I found myself having to cancel (another) European winter getaway, I started looking for other places I could go to have a similar experience.
Enter Montreal (and Quebec City, just a few hours away). It was exactly what I’d been looking for. While I’ve visited several other Canadian destinations and loved them in their own ways (i.e. Vancouver and Banff), winter in Montreal is just different – it will give you a dose of fairytale architecture, European vibe, Christmas cheer, and a winter wonderland – all without leaving North America!
I spent 2 days in Montreal and loved walking through the charming cobblestone streets, gazing at the fairytale architecture (dusted under a coating of fresh snow!), visiting the festive Christmas Markets, and hearing all the French spoken around me.
I spent 2 days in Montreal (and 2 days in Quebec City), and it is the next best thing when you are itching for a taste of Europe, but can’t make it there for whatever reason.
Keep on reading for all the best things to do in Montreal in winter!
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Winter weather in Montreal
Let’s face it – Montreal in winter is COLD (way colder than some of Canada’s other cities, such as Vancouver).
Exactly how cold is it during winter in Montreal? Here are average temperatures for the winter months:
- December in Montreal: 28°F (-2°C) high / 16°F (-9°C) low
- January in Montreal: 22°F high (-5°C) / 9°F (-13°C) low
- February in Montreal: 25°F high (-4°C) / 13°F (-10°C) low
- March in Montreal: 36°F high (2°C) / 24°F (-4°C) low
As a lifetime California girl, I was scared of the cold but I found that with proper preparation, it is not so bad! (Ok, it’s still cold AF, but I mean, the winter wonderland vibes, festive vibes, and all that poutine more than make up for it.)
I visited in early December, and it was definitely cold. The daytimes were definitely doable, but it definitely got quite a bit chillier at night!
It also both rained AND snowed during my stay. And, the one thing that I was absolutely unprepared for was the ice – it was EVERYWHERE! – and I definitely struggled and slipped a few times while walking down the streets (feeling lucky that I didn’t break my ankle).
While I had a pair of sturdy snow boots (an absolute MUST), what I wish I would’ve had was some ice grips to help gain traction on the ice. Silly me didn’t even realize that these were a thing until AFTER I left Montreal, but am definitely going to snag a pair for future winter travels!
What to pack for winter in Montreal
Now that we’ve established that it’s definitely going to be COLD when visiting Montreal in winter, what exactly do you need to pack?
Here are some recommendations on winter gear + other essentials you will need during your Montreal winter activities:
- Base layers/thermals: I’ve been wearing the Uniqlo Heattech shirts for years and they definitely came in handy during my time in Montreal! I love that they are lightweight but keep you warm without making you sweaty and moist. I packed a few of the standard ones, but kind of wish I got some Extra Warm or even Ultra Warm ones.
- Warm Winter Coat: I wear a coat similar to this one, that has served me well on my winter trips.
- Puffy Jacket: For winter days that are less cold, OR as an extra layer of warmth under your coat. I recently got a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket and LOVE it – it is lightweight and packable, but super warm!
- Thermal tights or underwear: I packed a couple pairs of Uniqlo Heattech tights to wear under my pants.
- Snow Boots: You NEED something that will withstand the snow. These (they’re being discontinued so stock is low, but here is also a similar pair from the same brand) are my winter boots and I love them – they’re waterproof, sturdy, and comfortable!
- Ice Grips: I don’t think I was expecting as much ice as there was on the streets, and it can be slippery AF – it is no joke! I definitely ate it a few times. Definitely wish I had thought of getting some ice grips – they are pretty compact and very affordable.
- Fleece Lined Leggings: These are super comfy and warm. I ended up wearing these over my tights. These are my favorite pairs – they come in a bunch of colors too (and you can even choose ones with pockets)!
- Sweaters: For a warm, stylish layer.
- Fleece zip-up: I love, love, LOVE my Columbia fleece zip-up for an extra warm layer under my outerwear!
- Wool socks: I packed these and never once did my feet get cold.
- Leg warmers: Not only do they add a cute element to your outfit, they add another warm layer.
- Beanie: I also packed a knitted headband to switch it up a bit.
- Warm Gloves: These also allow you to use your touchscreen smartphone without taking them off.
- Scarves: I packed a thick infinity scarf, as well as a blanket scarf (this one is my FAVE).
- Hand Warmers: I was gifted some and I was sooo glad I had them! You can get the standard single-use ones, or a rechargeable one!
- Power Bank: To keep your devices charged as you explore Montreal in the winter! The cold makes your battery drain faster, so this is a must. I never travel without this one – one charge will give five full charges to your devices.
- Lotion: Winter weather tends to dry out your skin, so be prepared with some good moisturizing lotion!
- Lip balm: Same with your lips. This is my favorite lip balm, especially for those winter months.
Getting to Montreal
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) is located roughly 20 kilometers (~12 miles) from the city center and offers flights connecting it to many domestic and international destinations.
From here, you have several options for getting into the city:
- Car rental: Montreal’s airport is served by most major rental car agencies, including Enterprise, Avid, Budget, Thrifty, Hertz and more.
- Public transportation: At $11 CAD, this is the cheapest way to get into the city, and relatively efficient as well. From outside the airport terminal, hop on the 747 bus towards the Berri-UQAM station. This will stop several points of interest in downtown Montreal where many hotels are located, including the Old Town. Your fare includes unlimited rides on STM and metro lines for the remainder of the day. You can purchase your ticket at one of the vending machines outside the airport terminal, at a metro station, the tourist office in Old Town, and at other participating retailers. Service is available 24 hours a day. The trip takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour depending on your destination and traffic conditions.
- Uber: Uber service is available from the Montreal airport. On average, fares usually hover around $40, however, be prepared to pay more during periods of high demand, off-peak hours, or during inclement weather. I unfortunately arrived on a super delayed flight and had to request an Uber at 1:30am – this cost me $80.
- Taxi: You can also hail a traditional taxi to and from the airport. This costs roughly $40.
Montreal is connected to many other Canadian cities (which makes it super easy to combine it with Quebec City) by rail on Via Rail, or even to New York City via Amtrak.
There are three train stations that serve the city, but most will arrive to Gare Central station in downtown Montreal. From here, it is super easy to connect to many points of interest like Old Montreal on foot, or by metro or bus.
Intercity coach buses are an easy way to travel within the Quebec province, including to Quebec City. Orleans Express provides many departures throughout the day (I took a bus to Quebec City because it had more departures, and the train back) which depart out of Gare d’autocars de Montreal in downtown.
You can easily take a bus here, or a quick Uber.
How to get around Montreal in winter
While Montreal is a relatively large city and it is impossible to explore exclusively while walking, there are areas of the city that are perfect for wandering and exploring on foot, such as Old Montreal.
Exploring at least a bit on foot allows you to really take in the European vibes and see the city as a magical winter wonderland – just bundle up, put on some sturdy footwear (and get some ice grips), and wander!
If you want to escape the cold, there is an Underground City that connects many points of interest downtown, allowing you to walk when through Montreal in winter without experiencing the blistering cold outside. But, more on that later!
Montreal has a relatively extensive and easy-to-use public transportation system that connects you to almost anywhere you need to go. STM (Societe de Transport de Montreal) operates the city’s network, which includes over 200 bus lines and four metro lines, which serve 68 stations.
A one-way fare costs $3.50 CAD; if you see yourself using public transportation often when visiting Montreal, consider an unlimited use pass as well. A 1-day pass costs $11 CAD, a 3-day pass is $21.25 CAD, and a 7-day pass will run you $29 CAD. There is also a weekend pass that costs $14.75 CAD. You can pay for fares on buses, or from a ticket machine in metro stations.
For more information and schedules, visit STM.
Taxi + Uber
Montreal is served by both traditional taxis and Uber. I took Uber a few times during my stay when I didn’t want to deal with the ice anymore, and when it was raining – my rides averaged around $10 CAD.
Renting a car could be a good option if you are considering visiting surrounding areas. However, like most major cities, parking and traffic can be a challenge, as well as driving in the snow. If you can avoid it, I recommend against driving during winter in Montreal.
Other things to know about visiting Montreal in winter
Language in Montreal
You may be aware that French is the official language in the Quebec province. A common question that people have when visiting Montreal is – do you need to speak French, or else people will be rude to you?
Answer: NO! While it’s true that the native language of 80% of Quebec’s residents is French, most people speak at least a bit of English as well. This is especially true when visiting the main tourist areas in the city.
While I’ve been brushing up on my French on Duolingo (ever since my last trip to Paris), I found that I didn’t need to use it at all (which is probably good, since my pronunciation is sadly still atrocious). While it may be helpful to know a handful of phrases, it was not needed at all.
That said, a few people did humor me and my laughable French pronunciation, and I was so appreciative. One of my Uber drivers during my stay did point out that Montreal can be a good place to practice French since most people speak English as well!
Currency + Tipping
Canada’s official currency is the Canadian dollar. The exchange rate works out to around $1.25 USD to $1 CAD (it ends up being like an automatic 25% discount if coming from the United States, yay!).
I found that virtually all places that I visited in Montreal took credit cards, so you probably won’t need to take out any cash. The one notable exception to this is the Christmas Markets – I recommend that you have a little bit of cash on hand as not all vendors accept cards! I took out some Canadian dollars when I first arrived in Montreal for this purpose.
Canada has a tipping system similar to the US, so expect to tip 15-20% when dining out. Tips are also expected for taxis, hotel housekeeping, and bag service.
Canada entry requirements (for US citizens)
Please note that the entry requirements are constantly changing and evolving. Be sure to check the current entry requirements here.
As of September 2022, pre-departure testing is no longer needed when traveling to the United States. If your destination after Montreal is not the US, other countries may have other travel and testing requirements, so double check before leaving Canada.
If traveling back to the United States: Do note that most Canadian airports offer pre-departure clearance when traveling back to the United States (including Montreal YUL airport). This means that you complete customs and immigration screening BEFORE departing Canada, not upon arrival in the US. As lines can sometimes be long, especially during busy times, be sure to leave some extra time at the airport when leaving.
Where to stay in Montreal
There is a wide range of accommodation options in Montreal, from luxury hotels, unique boutique hotels, apartments, and hostels.
I highly recommend staying in downtown Montreal, and specifically Old Montreal, when visiting Montreal in winter. I loved staying in Old Montreal because of the walkability factor (and proximity to some of the best things to do in Montreal in winter), but also because of its historical charm. Plus, it was a hop and skip away to public transportation, which connected me to all of the best winter activities in Montreal.
Some recommended places to stay include:
– Hotel Uville: Where I stayed and I LOVED it! When I saw photos of the fun decor of this hotel, I knew I’d have to book it! The property is themed after 1960s Montreal, and along with the retro vibe, they have mini-exhibits throughout the hotel about the city during this era. Each room also comes with fun little details, such as a record player, along with a small collection of records that you can play!
You also get a free breakfast delivered to your room each morning, a fun play on “breakfast in bed!” I loved that the breakfast included a sampling of local specialties, such as Montreal bagels!
The location is also super convenient, just minutes walking from the Notre Dame Basilica and Place d’Armes, Rue Saint-Paul, the Old Port, Place Jacques Cartier, and more.
Fairmont Queen Elizabeth: If you’re looking for a luxury hotel, you can’t do wrong with the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. The beautiful hotel is located right above the central train station for easy access to all the top sights in the city!
What I love about this Fairmont location is that it has a much more contemporary vibe than many other Fairmont properties. Plus, you get the unparalleled luxury and attentive service that are synonymous with the Fairmont brand.
M Montreal: This is a good option for travelers on a budget, offering both dorm rooms and private rooms. Reviews say that it is super clean and modern, and the convenient location – just a 15 minute walk to the heart of Old Town.
There are also lots of common spaces, including a retro bar and a patio with hot tubs, and they put on tons of fun events!
Things to Do in Montreal in Winter
Take a walking tour
Whenever I visit a new city, I love taking a walking tour. This is a fantastic way to acquaint yourself with your surroundings and get your bearings, while learning a bit more about the history and culture of the destination you are visiting.
Therefore, I highly recommend taking a walking tour as one of the best things to do in Montreal in winter – it will help you warm up in no time (and work up an appetite for extra poutine, of course)! Here are some suggestions:
- Winter Walking Tour of Old Montreal: See the best of Old Montreal in the winter! This tour takes you through the highlights of Old Montreal and learn the history behind it, as well as soak in all of the winter wonderland vibes.
- Old Montreal VIP Walking Tour: This small group tour (max 6 participants) takes you through the highlights of Old Montreal with plenty of historical, architectural, and anecdotal tidbits about the area.
- Old Montreal History Tour: For the history buffs. This walking tour will give you an insight into the history and heritage of Montreal and how it became the metropolis that it is today.
- Christmas Walking Tour of Old Montreal: This is a fantastic tour if you are visiting Montreal in December! You’ll wander through the historic streets and admire all the twinkling lights, as well as stop at the Bonsecours Market, where you can shop for some unique holiday gifts.
- Montreal Ghost Walking Tour: This unique walking tour takes places at night and takes you to haunted places in the city, with stories about crimes, witchcraft, and gruesome events.
- Montreal Mural Tour: If you love street art like me, then you will love this tour, which takes you to notable murals along Saint Laurent Boulevard.
Check out the Christmas Markets
Is there anything better than going to a European Christmas Market during the holiday season? And even if you can’t get over to Europe this holiday season, checking out the Christmas Markets in Montreal are the next best thing.
Montreal has several Christmas Markets that take place around the city, and if you are visiting in December, you need to go to at least one of them. You’ll find everything from handmade trinkets, maple treats, and gluhwein (obviously) at the markets, and they are the perfect way to experience some festive cheer – it is one of the best things about winter in Montreal!
Here are some of the Christmas Markets you can check out in Montreal:
- Merry Montreal (December 15-31): Taking place in Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal, Merry Montreal is the city’s flagship event during the holiday season. Featuring everything from public art installations, live music, outdoor fire pits, and numerous vendors selling a variety of treats and wares. They also have a fireworks display on New Years Eve!
- Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal (2022 dates tentatively November 19-December 31): This holiday wonderland takes over Quartier des spectacles on Sainte-Catherine Street and is one of the largest Christmas Markets in the city. Find dozens of vendors here, selling everything from local specialties, unique gifts, and gourmet foods.
- Montreal Christmas Village (weekends from November 24-December 18): This quaint market opens up in Atwater Market Square, with 30 stalls that highlight eco-friendly vendors.
- Marché de Noël de Jean-Talon (weekends from November 26-December 18): This market opens up in the Jean-Talon market in Little Italy, another one of Montreal’s iconic markets. There is an emphasis on local gourmet products here, and you’ll find everything from foie gras, cider, and maple products, as well as mulled wine, churros, and raclette.
Admire the Christmas decorations around town
Walking around Montreal during the holiday season is absolutely magical – the city becomes transformed with twinkling lights and festive vibes.
Walking through the city, especially at night, is a feast for the eyes with all of the Christmas decorations that light up the city and it is one of the best Montreal winter activities. I especially loved the lights that adorned Old Montreal and enjoyed strolling through the neighborhood and snapping a bunch of photos there!
You can take a Christmas walking tour of Old Montreal, during which you will see some of the city’s best Christmas decorations. Otherwise, you can just wander through the streets and see what you find!
A few places to find some beautiful Christmas displays in Montreal:
- Place d’Arms and Notre Dame Basilica
- Rue Saint Paul
- Place Jaques Cartier
- Sainte-Catherine West
- Complexe Desjardins
- Promenade Wellington
- Maison Pepin
Go ice skating
One thing to know about me is that I (still) have aspirations to become the next Kristi Yamaguchi. So it may come as no surprise that one of my favorite things to do every winter is to hit up as many outdoor skating rinks as I can.
Montreal has several rinks that pop up around the city. Unfortunately, the timing of my trip didn’t work out with the opening dates of the rinks and I left on the day that they were opening – the nerve of them! But ice skating is one of the top Montreal winter activities and is still a must!
Here are some of the city’s best outdoor rinks to check out:
- Old Port Skating Rink: You can’t go wrong with the views at this rink, Montreal’s most iconic. Skate at the foot of Le Grand Wheel, and take in views of the river and downtown skyline. Skate rentals are available from Patin Patin.
- Parc La Fontaine: Glide on the ice in the middle of one of Montreal’s most beautiful green spaces. You’ll get a winter wonderland vibe here, surrounded by trees and magical string lights. Admission is free, with skate rentals available for an additional fee.
- Parc Sir Wilfrid Laurier: This rink provides a unique skating experience, with a frozen pathway that circuits around this 27 acre park.
Wander through Old Montreal
Dating back to the 1600s, Old Montreal (or Vieux-Montreal) is considered to be one of the best and most well-preserved historical districts in North America. You’ll get a glimpse into the city’s history and see where it all began.
This was definitely my favorite area of Montreal – walking through the charming cobblestones and gazing at the fairytale architecture will transport you back in time, and make you swear you’re in Europe!
These days, the streets of Old Montreal are lined with stylish boutiques, cozy cafes, vibrant restaurants, lively plazas, galleries, museums, and hotels.
Wandering is the best way to explore Old Montreal, and I suggest setting aside at least a few hours to explore. Rue Saint-Paul is the oldest street here (and was the main street in the city for a long time), and the most picturesque. It is about a mile long, so I recommend starting from one and walking to the other and seeing what you find along the way. You’ll ooh and aah and snap tons of photos, guaranteed!
Some of the points of interest in Old Montreal include Place d’ Armes and Notre-Dame Basilica (more on those later), City Hall, Marche Bonsecours, Place Jaques-Cartier, and the Old Port.
Visit Place d’Armes
One of the most notable public squares in the city, Place d’Armes dates back to the 17th century. The centerpiece of Place d’Armes in a statue of Paul de Chomedey, the founder of Montreal, and surrounding it is a collection of historically significant buildings, including Vieux Séminaire (the oldest building in the city) and the Bank of Montréal building (the oldest banking institution in Canada).
You’ll find a variety of other sculptures here, as well as other public art installations – I loved the giant Christmas stars that were scattered across the square during the holiday season (especially beautiful at night!).
Admire the Notre-Dame Basilica
Another significant landmark surrounding Place d’Armes is the Notre-Dame Basilica, a Gothic Revival cathedral that dates back to the 19th century and is the oldest Catholic church in the city.
Many significant events have taken place here during the church’s history, including the funeral of Pierre Trudeau (father of Justin Trudeau and former prime minister of Canada), and the wedding of Celine Dion.
The inside of the cathedral is especially impressive, with richly painted vaulted ceilings (with gold stars to resemble the night sky), ornate architectural details, intricately carved decorations, and stunning stained glass windows. It is truly breathtaking.
There is a fee to enter the inside of the church, but there is also a guided tour included, which will give you insight into the history and design of the church.
Also do not miss Aura, the nightly show that is a spectacle of light and sound. For more information, schedule, and tickets see here.
Explore Mount Royal
A sprawling green space located in the center of the city just west of downtown, Mount Royal is home to some of the best things to do in Montreal in winter.
Montreal actually gets its name from Mount Royal (or Mont Royal), which was named when Jaques Cartier climbed atop it in 1535. It’s also like the Central Park of Montreal – in fact, the same person who designed that iconic NYC park, also designed Mount Royal.
Mount Royal boasts some of the best views of the city, partially due to the fact that there is a law in place that no buildings in the city can be taller than Mount Royal.
Definitely stop at the Mount Royal lookout (Camilien-Houde belvedere) – you’ll find some incredible vistas of downtown and its skyline here, as well as the waterfront – on a super clear day, you can even see all the way out to the United States! I even saw some families doing their Christmas card photo shoots here, so you KNOW it’s going to be an Insta-worthy view.
The 11 bus, which you can take from downtown, drops you right across from the viewpoint so you don’t have to climb up any hills (which is almost impossible because hellooooo ice!)
The Kondiaronk Belvedere also offers some stunning views, but requires walking along a trail and climbing up some stairs, which was NOT happening with the ice – bring some ice grips if you want to head here!
In addition to the views, Mount Royal is home to a slew of the best Montreal winter activities. Winter sports enthusiasts will be in heaven here – you can do everything from cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and more. If you need to rent gear, you can do so at the Beaver Lake Pavilion.
Not in the mood to partake in winter sports, and just want to relax and enjoy the winter wonderland vibes? Stop by Cafe des Amis and take in the views of Beaver Lake while sipping a warm beverage (or a glass of wine, if you’re like me!).
Sample Montreal’s iconic foods
Montreal has a reputation as a foodie paradise – you’ll find no shortage of delectable meals here, whether you are looking for Quebecois specialties, authentic ethnic food, modern fusion, or everything in between. Sampling all the city’s delicious food is truly one of the best Montreal winter activities!
There are a few things that Montreal is known for, however, and you absolutely NEED to try the following:
- Poutine: Basically the national dish of Canada and the perfect way to warm up from the cold! In case you don’t know what it is, poutine is essentially French fries with cheese curds, smothered in a rich gravy (and sometimes comes with various other toppings as well. La Banquise is known to have the best, with some outrageous toppings and a line out the door (and is also open 24 hours); also try Au Pied de Cochon (known for their foie gras poutine) and Patati Patata (which uses skinny fries).
- Bagels: I know, I know, there’s nothing like a NYC bagel, but you NEED to try a Montreal bagel because they’re different – thinner, less doughy, and boiled in honey water. The result is a perfect texture with just a bit of crunch (that isn’t so DENSE), with just a hit of sweetness. Be sure to grab one at either Fairmount Bagel or St. Viateur, which are both open 24 hours (be sure to bring cash though!).
- Smoked Meats: Be sure to grab a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli, one of the most iconic eateries in the city (that has been around since 1920)! The meat is spiced and then smoked over a week, and the result is perfection. Be sure to order one of their cherry colas to wash it down!
- Maple everything: Over 70% of the world’s maple syrup is produced in the Quebec province, so you’re gonna want to sample allll of the maple treats while you’re here. Be sure to try some maple taffy (made with boiled maple syrup poured into snow)!
- Poor man’s pudding (pouding chômeur): I actually didn’t try this in Montreal but rather in Quebec City, but decided to include it here as it is a Quebecois specialty that I LOVED. Originating during the Great Depression, this dessert was originally made out of sugar, flour, cream, and stale bread (these days white cake) baked in maple syrup. I didn’t expect to love it so much, but it was SO. FREAKING. GOOD.
Discover the Underground City
Did you know that Montreal has a network of tunnels and walkways built underneath the city? The Underground City is comprised of over 20 miles of passageways that connect various points of interest in the city, including hotels, shopping centers, metro stations, and offices.
If you’ve been walking through the streets of Montreal and noticed that hardly anyone is out and about, it’s not that they’re all at home – they’re walking underground! Over half a million people walk through the Underground City every single day. It is a fantastic way to get around the city and escape the cold when visiting during winter in Montreal (and the heat during summer) – absolutely brilliant!
You’ll find that there are tons of shops, cafes, and restaurants that are built into the Underground City, so it’s kinda like exploring a giant underground mall!
While it’s nearly impossible to explore the entire network, you can definitely explore for a few hours. I suggest starting at the World Trade Center, where you can also find a piece of the Berlin Wall! Be sure to also grab a free map at one of the metro stations to help you navigate.
To make sure you don’t miss the highlights, you can even take a guided tour!
Wander through the markets
I always love visiting the markets in any given city, as it is a fantastic way to get a sense of the food culture of a city (some of my favorites include La Boqueria in Barcelona and Pike Place in Seattle). I also find the mix of sights and smells to be super inspiring!
Montreal has several food markets throughout the city, selling everything from fresh produce, gourmet cheeses, colorful flowers, local maple syrup, and tons more. Spending an afternoon or two wandering through the stalls and sampling all the offerings of some of the local markets is a must (and a fantastic way to escape the cold of winter in Montreal!).
I also suggest taking this guided tour, during which you will explore one of the top markets in Montreal as well as its surrounding neighborhoods with a local guide, sample some of its top eats, and learn more about the food culture in the city.
Here are some of the markets you should add to your list:
- Jean-Talon Market: One of North America’s largest markets, and one of the oldest in Montreal, Jean-Talon Market showcases a diverse array of local merchants selling everything from produce, flowers, specialty cheeses, meats, spices, pastries, Quebecois products, and ethnic food. They also host culinary demonstrations, workshops, and more.
- Marche Atwater: Housed in a beautiful Art Deco building, Marche Atwater is a local hub for local specialties and hard-to-find gourmet products. In addition to vendors, they also have a section of eateries offering a diverse array of foods. They also host seasonal events, including food and beverage tastings, specialty cocktail hours, and more.
- Marche Bonsecours: Located in one of the most iconic buildings in Old Montreal, Marche Bonsecours once was the city’s largest architectural market for over a century. Today, it is a bustling marketplace that showcases local artisans, and also is home to cafes, restaurants, and more.
Learn something new at a museum
Visiting a museum (or a few) is one of the best things you can do in Montreal in winter, because not only do you learn something new, it is also a respite from the cold!
You’ll find tons of amazing museums in the city, where you can learn everything from fine art, Canadian history, nature, and more.
Here are some of the city’s top museums to add to your list:
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: One of the largest and most visited museums in Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts boasts an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and fashion exhibited in over 80 gallery spaces spread across five pavilions.
- Biodome: Part of the Space for Life complex, the Biodome is one of the city’s most unique museums and is housed in the former Velodome, built for the 1976 Olympics. The Biodome focuses on ecosystems and houses 2500 animals from over 200 species, along with 800 plant species to show how they all interrelate with each other and raise awareness about environmental issues.
- Marguerite Bourgeoys Historic Site: This small museum chronicles 2400 years of the city’s history, and celebrates the men and women who built Montreal. You’ll also find one of the city’s best views from its tower!
- McCord Stewart Museum: A social history museum, the McCord Stewart Museum celebrates the people and communities of Montreal, past and present. It houses over 1.5 million artifacts, including ethological and archaeological objects, historical photographs, paintings, decorative arts, costumes, textiles, and more.
- Pointe-à-Callière: The largest archaeological museum in Canada, Pointe-à-Callière showcases the history of Montreal, from indigenous settlements to present. It is even built on a historically significant location, where the city was founded in 1642.
Visit St. Louis Square
You can’t go wrong with St. Louis Square is a must-visit when visiting Montreal in winter! When I saw photos of the colorful historical homes here, I knew I’d have to visit and snap some photos when visiting Montreal.
And it was totally worth the stop – it truly captures the beauty of winter in Montreal. The fairytale homes look especially charming and magical when covered in a fresh dusting of snow. The snow was falling softly when I was here and I truly felt like I was living inside a snowglobe!
A cool thing about St. Louis Square (aside from the fact that it’s one of the most picturesque spots in Montreal in winter) – it is a place of significance in Montreal’s literary history. Two famous Quebecois poets, Émile Nelligan and Gaston Miron, once lived in the homes surrounding the square.
Discover Montreal’s street art scene
I love cities that have a vibrant street art scene (some of my favorites include Nashville, Austin, Lisbon, and San Francisco). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Montreal had so many murals all over the city, as it was not necessarily something I was expecting (I came for European charm and festive vibes, but got some amazing street art too, so that’s a plus)!
Montreal holds an annual street art festival, which invites famous artists from all around the world to add vibrant murals to the city’s walls. This is part of the reason why the city has such a thriving street art scene.
You’ll find murals all over the city, but Plateau Mont Royal and Latin Quarter, especially Saint Laurent Boulevard, are especially known for their street art. You can check out this dynamic map to discover some gems.
I also suggest taking a mural tour to help you get acquainted with some of the most notable murals in the city, as well as the social and cultural context behind them.
Go for a ride on La Grand Roue
Find stunning views of the city and beyond atop La Grand Roue, Canada’s tallest observation wheel. Located at the Old Port, the wheel offers sweeping vistas of the Montreal skyline, and beyond – you can see 17 miles on a clear day!
Going for a ride on La Grand Roue is one of the most romantic Montreal winter activities, but is also a family friendly one. Or you can even do it solo, like I did (hey, I took myself out on a date!).
The cabins are heated and protect you from the cold and wind. The wheel goes around a few times, so you can really take in all of the views!
I went on La Grand Roue at night and personally loved seeing all the twinkling lights of the city!
To save time in line, I suggest booking your tickets in advance.
Celebrate winter at a festival
There is plenty to love about winter in Montreal – so why not attend a festival that celebrates the beauty and magic of the winter season?
Along with the Christmas Markets and holiday events that take place in December, the city also hosts a number of festivals that take place in January and February. You’ll be guaranteed to have an amazing time if you visit during one of these festivals!
Some events to check out include:
- Montreal en Lumiere (February): Taking place in the Quartier des spectacles, Montreal en Lumiere puts on a winter carnival, with rides, games (including some super Canadian ones), food trucks, and live music, along with interactive art and light installations. It also has a fine dining aspect, with restaurants offering special prix fixe menus and featuring guest chefs.
- Igloofest (January/February): This lively EDM festival takes over the Old Port, featuring live performances from some of the top DJs in the world (with a heated dance floor!), an ice bar, igloos, and more!
- Barbegazi (March): This festival celebrates winter sports and encourages the public to get moving instead of hibernating! Watch competitions, try your hand at an obstacle course, discover alternative sports, and more.
Chill in a cafe
In the winter months, there’s not much that is better than warming up with a cup of coffee in a cute and cozy cafe, and in Montreal you’ll find everything from beautiful historical cafes to hipster third-wave coffee shops.
The city has a vibrant cafe culture, so you’ll find no shortage of amazing cafes to pop into warm yourself up from the cold.
Here are some cafes to add to your list:
- Le Petit Dep: I was initially intrigued by the vibrant teal door of Le Petit Dep while wandering through Old Montreal and had to go in! Not only do they have excellent espresso drinks, they also carry a well-curated selection of specialty food items from local producers.
- Crew Collective & Cafe: Located in the former Royal Bank of Canada building, Crew Collective & Cafe boasts a stunning space in which to enjoy your coffee, made by expert baristas. It also doubles as a coworking space and meeting facility as well.
- Pikolo Espresso Bar: Widely regarded by many to have the best coffee in Montreal, Pikolo serves amazing single-origin coffee in a retro industrial-chic space.
- Cafe Paquebot: This hip cafe is best known for bringing nitro cold brew to the city. You’ll find some unique coffee beverages at Cafe Paquebot, from curry lattes, lavender London fogs, and more.
Hit the nearby slopes
If you are a ski enthusiast looking to hit the slopes when visiting Montreal in winter, then you’re in luck – you’ll find a number of ski spots just outside the city!
The most famous of these is Mont Tremblant, located just an hour and a half away from the city. Known as one of the top ski areas in North America, you’ll find slopes that are perfect for skiers of all levels, as well as a quaint and charming village that will make you feel like you’re inside a snow globe.
You can easily get there by taking a shuttle bus that is offered every weekend.
If you are looking for a ski resort closer to the city center, consider visiting Saint Bruno, located just 9 kilometers from downtown Montreal and perfect for beginner skiers.
Visit a sugar shack
One of the best Montreal winter activities is to visit a cabane à sucre, or a sugar shack. This is a tradition for many families in Montreal and the Quebec region!
This is the perfect opportunity to indulge in some rich, hearty Quebecois foods, and to fill up on allll the maple treats! There is even live music and dancing for a festive time.
While you can get a taste of the tradition when sugar shacks pop up in the city during maple season, take a day trip for a more authentic experience. Some of the best sugar shacks that are within an hour of the city include Sucrere de la Montagne and Labonte de la Pomme, the apple sugar shack.
Relax with a spa day
Soak in a whirlpool tub while gazing at views of the river by spending the day at one of the city’s spas – this is one of the most relaxing Montreal winter activities!
You can also opt to do a traditional Nordic experience, which involves alternating between hot and cold baths in order to eliminate toxins and reduce stress.
There are several spas around the city, but some of the top rated ones include:
- Bota Bota: Housed in a converted ferry boat moored on the St. Lawrence River near Old Montreal, Bota Bota is best known for its circuits, which provides a variety of experiences from warm (saunas, steam baths), cold (cold baths, jumping into the river), and relaxation. It even has a rooftop jacuzzi!
- Scandinave Spa: Located in the heart of Old Montreal, this spa offers a traditional, completely silent Scandinavian spa experience. Phones and digital devices are prohibited here, which allows you to unplug and truly enjoy the R&R.
- Strom Spa: This outdoor spa is located across the river on Nun’s Island, allowing for a peaceful experience outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown Montreal. Find heated whirlpools, steam baths, and waterfalls with stunning views of the river, allowing you to relax and be harmonious with nature.
Have you visited Montreal in winter? What are your favorite things about winter in Montreal?
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