If you find yourself in the Northern Hemisphere as you read this, then you know it’s winter. In an attempt to be a good Canadian and a proud (prior) Montrealer, I’ve rounded up our favourite affordable ways to keep distracted and happy when the air is hurting your face.
So bundle up and get cozy: here’s 10 ways to embrace winter in Montréal!
1. Eat Maple Taffy
Cost: ~$3 CAD (street stalls), $20+ CAD at Cabane a Sucre (includes meal)
Where & when: any Cabane à Sucre (outside city – here’s a list of 5 great ones). In Old Montréal you can find a small wooden stand that sells smoothies in summer & maple taffy in winter. The stand is located on Place Jacques Cartier, between Rue Le Royer East and Rue Notre Dame (before the Montreal City Hall).
In winter, Old Montréal has a wonderful wintery set-up complete with a Cabane à Sucre (sugar shack) which serves maple taffy. If you’re not from Québec, you may have no idea what maple taffy is. Let me tell you, at a few bucks a piece, it’s sugary thrifty heaven on earth.
Maple taffy, eh?
Maple trees have liquid gold trickling through their veins. That gold is called sap, and it’s “tapped” from a tree by nailing a hole and inserting a small metal tube to drain it. Drip by drip sap falls into a metal bucket, which takes days to fill. The sap is then cleaned of debris and presto you have authentically pure, silky maple syrup. And as any Canadian will remind you, that is not to be confused with synthetic “table” version (sorry Aunt Jemima).
Now, making maple taffy goes something like this:
Step 1: Take some hot maple syrup and drizzle it on snow.
Step 2: Take a popsicle stick and twirl it firmly along the trail of syrup.
Step 3: Press on your syrupy clump so it’s one pile of sticky goodness. Voilá, you now have gloriously sweet, chewy maple taffy!
2. Have coffee with a cat
Cost: ~$2-$4 CAD per drink
Where: Cafe Chat L’Heureux
When: Tues-Thurs & Sun 11AM-8PM, Fri-Sat 10AM-10PM (Closed Monday)
What are two things to cozy up with on an icy cold day? Coffee. And cats.
Montréal’s Cafe Chat L’Heureux is as it sounds, a café where kitties (adopted from the SPCA) can roam freely, be patted, and hop on your table as you sip your latte. The idea originates from Japan, and has been a hit in Montréal.
3. Go walking in a winter wonderland
Where: Mont Royal Park
When: 6AM-12AM, seven days a week
If you’re in Montréal when it gets a good dumping of snow, make a beeline for Mont Royal. Right in the downtown area, this tree-filled, enormous slope offers a top notch lookout of the city. On snowy weekends, locals snowshoe, sled, and cross country ski to the top for postcard perfect views.
Other city parks are nearly just as enticing. Just add snow and a willingness to brave the cool temps, and you won’t regret stepping out the door.
4. Explore the epic Notre-Dame Basilica
Cost: $5 CAD entry only, $10 CAD with guided tour
Where: Notre Dame Basilica, 110 Rue Notre-Dame West
When: Mon-Fri 8AM-4:30PM, Sat 8-4PM, Sun 12:30-4PM
Montréal is colourful in its culture, array of people, and majestic architectural sights. Do not miss the delicately crafted Notre-Dame Basilica. Its jewel-toned colours and ornate fixtures will make you feel as though you’re somewhere far away in Europe, in spite of the chilly Canadian air ushering you in.
Keen to explore the city’s other main attractions? The Montreal Attraction Pass is a good bargain if you’re planning on visiting many attractions. Entry includes the Biôdome, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, the Planetarium, and more (take note, it doesn’t include entry to the Basilica). Each of these sites is ~$20+ CAD for entry, while the Attraction Pass is $83 CAD total. Basically, if you’re visiting four attractions or more, the pass is definitely worth it!
5. Meander some markets
Cost: Free. Snacks range from ~$1.50 CAD+
Where & when:
- 2016 Merry Montreal Christmas Market, Place Jacques Cartier (From Dec 1-24 hours are: Thurs-Fri 4PM-9PM, Sat 12PM-9PM, Sun 12PM-5PM)
- Jean Talon Market, 7070 Avenue Henri Julien (Mon-Wed & Sat 7AM-6PM, Thurs-Fri 7AM-8PM, Sun 7AM-5PM)
- Atwater Market, 138 Avenue Atwater (Mon-Wed & Sat 7AM-6PM, Thurs-Fri 7AM-8PM, Sat 7AM-6PM)
Montréal’s abundant markets are a great place to feast the eyes and tickle the tastebuds. From humble Atwater stuffed with local cheese and crisp produce, to the bigger, broader Jean Talon, offering rainbows of macarons to the piniest-smelling Christmas trees. If being indoors is what you’re looking to do when it’s cold, hit up a market for a cozy change of scenery.
6. Take a winter’s walk through Old Montreal
Where: Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal), 303 Rue Notre-Dame East
Back in the 1600s, Montréal’s waterside port was one of Canada’s major fur trading posts. Today its cobblestone streets and old architecture continue to ooze that European je ne sais quois. Wintertime brings with it adorable Christmasy arrangements, like a makeshift Cabane à Sucre and crackling fires surrounded by pine lounge chairs, smack dab in the old city.
7. Go mural hoppin’
Where: Various – the Plateau is arguably the most popular for mural spotting
When: Anytime though at dusk you’ll catch the charming street lamps as natural “spotlights”
More often than not Montréal corners and formerly bare walls will reveal a cheeky mural or two. This is visually apparent throughout the downtown, especially in the Plateau area which is peppered in wall art of all styles and sizes. Simply bundle up, bring a camera and take a stroll!
8. (Window) shop till you drop
Cost: Your own spending limits!
- Rue St Catherine which has several indoor plazas including the Centre Eaton, les Cours Mont-Royal, the Complexe Les Ailes and Place Montréal.
- Rue Sherbrooke is ideal for those seeking high-end shops. Between Guy and Montagne one can find many adorable boutique shops.
- Place Ville Marie has even more fashion shops galore!
- The Plateau is idealfor hipster finds (located Sherbrooke Street downtown to east of Mont Royal), great for offbeat finds and cozy bookstores.
When: Varies – roughly 9AM or 10AM to 6-10PM (malls tend to have longer hours)
Montreal has plenty to offer in the way of shopping, even for those on a budget. With abundant stores and seemingly never-ending department store sales, it’s not hard to bag a bargain here.
9. Explore outdoor winter festival & events
Cost: Varies, most are free
Where: Various – check events for locations
When: Outdoor Flicks (Dec 1 – 23, various showings), 2016 Merry Montreal Christmas Market (Dec 1-24), Various free events including visiting Santa, fireplace seatings and more (Dec 1-24), free Christmas & historic walking tours (various throughout December), New Year’s Eve Party (Dec 31)
As it turns out, winter is a whole lot more bearable when you add outdoor movies with hot chocolate, randomly dispersed fireplaces, and Christmas-themed walking tours. And what could possibly invoke that holiday spirit more than a Christmas Market in Canada’s busiest public square? For more fun, free activities (including meeting Santa himself), pop over here.
10. Warm up with (lots of) poutine
Cost: $5-$12 CAD
Where: Various – the best are from simple diners, charcuteries, poutine specialty shops, and provincial greasy spoon chains. Some suggestions include La Belle Province (everywhere!) or La Banquise (Le Plateau)
When: (Almost) anytime – many poutine shops stay open after bars close to catch staggering, starving poutine-craving partiers
Crispy browned fries. Squeaky cheese curds. Rich aromatic gravy. This folks, is a Canadian work of art, and it’s called the poutine.
Being the inventor of this Canadian culinary icon, Québec is a little poutine cray cray. It’s basically a staple at every restaurant and deli, with some boasting as many as 20+ flavours. My advice? Try them all. They are after all, the cure for chilled bones on a frosty day.
Winter haters needn’t be short of things to smother the cold this time of year. Montréal is teeming with festive activities, most of which are cost-free or just a few dollars. So bundle up, get out of the house and embrace your inner snow bunny!
Are you a winter hater or lover? What are your fav Montreal outdoor activities & sights?