You know you’re in Montreal when you can see your breath as you exhale. It’s that cold! Shoveling snow from the driveway, a forecast of ice rain and winter blizzards are just a few of the realities we face. As a proud Canadian, let me reassure you that it’s not all bad! There are also a lot of things to love about our city. This is especially true during the colder months.
Here is a round up of our favourite, affordable ways to keep happily distracted when the air is biting at our faces.
1. Walk Montreal's best winter trails
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.
Where: Mont Royal Park
When: 6AM to 12AM, seven days a week
If you are looking for a quiet place to take in the winter scenery, you should visit this urban park. It is conveniently located next to major attractions like Montreal’s Botanical Garden. There are walking and snowshoe trails, as well ice skating. The best part is the close view of the Olympic Stadium. It has the tallest inclined tower in the world.
Where: Maisonneuve Park
When: 6AM to 12AM, seven days a week
Another way to admire this Canadian winter wonderland is from a bird’s eye view. You can get to Observatory Place Ville Marie by getting off at McGill or Bonaventure metro stations.
Another great way to explore the city is with a guided tour. Discover different ways of seeing Montreal’s Old Port with its winter walking tour, some of which are even Christmas-themed! Have you heard of the fat bike? Yes, you can go bicycle riding in winter, too! Live that experience here.
2. Visit a “Cabane à Sucre”
I’ll let you in on a secret: Montrealers have a sweet tooth! Maple season is the time of year where we can really indulge ourselves. This happens at the Cabane a Sucre, or sugar shack. You can take a day tour or plan a visit yourself.
Cost: ~$1.50-$3 CAD (street stalls), $20+ CAD at Cabane à Sucre (includes meal)
Where & when: any Cabane à Sucre (these are outside of the city – here is a list of some great ones). In Old Montréal, you can find a small wooden stand that sells smoothies in the summer and maple taffy in the winter. The stand is located on Place Jacques Cartier, between Rue Le Royer East and Rue Notre Dame (before the Montreal City Hall). You can also visit Jean-Talon Market’s maple syrup stand from late February to April.
In winter, Old Montréal has a wonderful wintery set-up. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a Cabane à Sucre that serves sweet, maple taffy. In French, we call it “tire”, pronounced tear. This delectably sticky creation is made by pouring hot maple syrup over fresh snow. It then stiffens and is rolled on a popsicle stick. Prepare for an instant maple-y party in your mouth.
Are you seeking a truly immersive Canadian winter experience? Why not try an ice wine tour which includes a maple taffy tasting? You’ll love it!
3. Visit Montreal’s beautiful Notre Dame Basilica
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, despite the chilly Canadian air ushering you in. Is there a big line up to get inside? Here’s a tip: rally random strangers in the crowd and get in as a group – you’ll save a lot of time!
Cost: $8 CAD per adult, $5 for children, free for those ages 6 and under
Where: Notre Dame Basilica, 110 Rue Notre-Dame West
When: Mon-Fri 8AM-4:30PM, Sat 8-4PM, Sun 12:30-4PM
A new immersive experience taking place at the Basilica is the spectacular 45-minute AURA light show. We've just seen it on our winter visit home here (January 2020) and it's incredible. See showtimes andbook tickets in advance (it fills up!) by visiting their website here.
Keen to explore the city's other main attractions? The Passeport Montreal is a good bargain if you're planning on visiting many attractions. Entry includes the Biodome (closed for renovations until spring 2020), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, the Planetarium, and more. Please note, it doesn't include entry to the Basilica. The attractions pass has a $500 value and will give you access to 28 different places with unlimited public transportation. If you're planning on visiting five attractions or more, the pass is worth it! The easiest way to get yours is to purchase online at GetYourGuide and exchange your voucher in the city. Otherwise, order at a La Vitrine centre or from their website, where it will be mailed to you.
4. Wander Montreal's best markets
Montreal's abundant markets are a great place to feast the eyes and tickle the taste buds. There is the humble Atwater stuffed with local cheese and crisp produce, to the bigger, broader Jean Talon, offering rainbows of macarons to Christmas trees. If being indoors is where you want to be when it's cold, hit up a market for a cozy change of scenery.
Food fiends and those wanting to learn more about local cuisine can partake in one of many food tours that the city has to offer. This can include a visit to Jean Talon market, Mile-Ex district, and plenty of food samples along the way. My personal favourite is Montreal’s Secret Food Tour, which gives you a taste of some of the cultures that make up this city (Italian, French, Jewish, etc.)
What: A winter wonderland at the Old Port and a Christmas market
Where: Places Jacques-Cartier
When: December 19-31 2019 (Thurs and Fri 4-9PM, Sat and Sun 12-9PM)
What: The continent’s largest open-air public market
Where: 7070 Henri-Julien Street
When: Mon-Wed & Sat 7AM-6PM, Thurs-Fri 7AM-8PM, Sun 7AM-5PM
What: A market in one of the city’s most beautiful buildings
Where: 138 Atwater avenue
When: Mon-Wed & Sat 7AM-6PM, Thurs-Fri 7AM-8PM, Sat 7AM-5PM
What: A temporary boutique with everything you need for your Christmas wish list
Where: 156 Mont-Royal avenue
When: November 4 to December 31 2019
Cost: Click here to find out more
What: Handicraft boutique for original Christmas gifts
Where: 6510 de Normanville street
When: November 23 and 24, 2019
Cost: Click here to find out more!
What: Christmas gifts that give twice – helping sick and less fortunate children
Where: Palais des Congres
When: November 28 to December 8, 2019
Cost: See here
5. Explore Montreal's winter activities
Most winter events in Montreal are free with the exception of a few which have minimal entry fees. Below is a list of this year's main events.
What is it: An outdoor family event that celebrates the joys of winter
Where: Parc Jean Drapeau
When: January 19 to February 10, 2019 (Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm)
What: Electronic music and dance party outdoors ages 18+
Where: Montreal’s Old Port at Jacques Cartier pier
When: Jan 16- Feb 8, 2020 (Thursdays 7:30-11:00 pm, Fridays & Saturdays from 7:30 pm to 12:30 am)
Cost: Varies by show (tickets here), starts at $25
What: An epicurean destination by day, live cultural performances and party by night
Where: Quartier des spectacles
When: February 20 to March 1, 2020
Cost: Mostly free (more info here)
What: Get into the holiday spirit by walking in the city’s historic district
Where: 360 St-Jacques street lobby
When: Saturdays, Dec 1, 8, 15, 22 & 29 2019 and on Fridays Dec 21 & 28 2019. English language tours start at 6:15 pm, French tours start at 4:00 pm
Cost: Adults $20, children $13
What (& where): Montreal’s Old Port
When: December 7 to March 8th 2020
Cost: Starting at $24 (info here)
What: Ice skating and sliding fun for the whole family
Where: The Olympic Park’s Esplanade
When: As of mid-January 2020 (check site for updates as this date draws near)
Cost: Mostly free (info here)
What: A fireworks show to ring in the New Year
Where: Old Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier pier
When: December 31, 2019 as of 6 pm
What: An event to celebrate a love for everything chocolate
Where: Marche Bonsecours
When: 3 days in the weekend leading up to Valentine’s Day – check website for updates
6. Have coffee with a cat
What are two things to cozy up with on an icy, cold day? Coffee and cats, of course!
Montréal's Cafe Chat L'Heureux is as it sounds, a happy cat café where kitties (adopted from the SPCA) can roam freely, be patted, and hop onto your table as you sip your latte. Their menu includes both vegetarian and vegan options. The idea of a cat cafe originates from Japan and has been a hit in Montréal. It is not only a place for cat-lovers, but a place these friendly felines call home.
The cafes mission is also to educate people about cats and their wellbeing. Veterinarian approved products are available for purchase. Pets even have their own little deli counter. The cafe regularly holds conferences and workshops for those who want to learn more about cats. It also provides zootherapy for the disabled and the elderly.
Cost: Approximately $3-$7 CAD for a hot beverage
Where: Café Chat L'Heureux on 172 Duluth East
When: Monday: Closed, Tuesday to Thursday : 11 am – 8 pm, Friday, Saturday : 10 am – 10 pm, Sunday : 10 am – 8 pm
7. Explore Old Montreal on foot
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 quoi. You can peruse the streets on your own or take a Christmas walking tour and learn about the city's European holiday traditions and history.
For a suggested itinerary route of Old Montreal’s must-see places, try a self-guided tour. You can download the app GPSMyCity. Better yet? There is no need for data on your phone to use it! Visit their website to customize your tour here. For guided tours, you can see the West side or the East side of the Old Port.
As for the most Instagram-worthy locations, look no further. There’s St-Urban street for its view of the Basilica and Place d’Armes. Walk along St-Paul street (between St-Urban and St-Pierre streets) for some quaint shops. Visit streets des Recollets and Ste-Helene to get photos of old houses and lampposts.
Does all this walking make you hungry? You’re in luck, Montreal is a foodie’s destination! For a weekend brunch, try Le Cartet or Olive and Gourmando. For crepes, which is a staple brunch (breakfast and lunch) item for Montrealers, go to Muru Crepe. It is budget friendly and has an impressive, artistic flair. For lunch, you must try the Japanese pub Kyo. For supper, you have to eat at Le Robin Square or Barrocco. As for dessert, you’ll satisfy your sweet tooth at Maison Christian Faure or Ming Tao Xuan’s tea room.
8. Meander museums & art galleries
Learn more about Montreal’s museums here, many of which are part of Passeport Montreal. One of my favourites is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with its impressive collection of creative works. From September 14th to February 2 2020, there is an exhibit that documents the lives of six mummies. It is unique in that it is based on science and art dating back to Ancient Egypt.
For a larger than life experience, get lost in the stars at Montreal’s Planetarium. Check out viewing schedules for Continuum, Aurorae and other shows here.
Art galleries: Those who are passionate about art in all of its forms are sure to find a masterpiece at one of our art galleries. I recommend Galerie de Bellefeuille for its large collection of Canadian talent as well as international pieces.
9. Discover Montreal's street murals
Montreal’s urban centre is one big canvas for street art. You can discover it with a friendly guide or on your own for free by roaming around the Plateau area. This map will show you around St-Laurent boulevard, St-Urban and St-Dominique streets’ countless graffiti murals.
10. (Window) shop til you drop
Are you looking for a little bit of retail therapy? We suggest you start in the Quartier des Spectacles. That’s where you will find the Complexe Desjardins. It will also give you access to the Underground City, if you want to enjoy Montreal without braving the elements. Other shopping destinations nearby are Promenades Cathedrale, the Eaton Centre, Place Montreal Trust and Place Ville Marie.
For trendy, affordable and eco-friendly fashion, shop at Frank and Oak. Look no further for vintage chic finds at Annex Vintage. For denim, visit Jeans Jeans Jeans. Montreal has something for your feet, too, at l’Intervalle. Rue Sherbrooke is ideal for those seeking high-end shops. Between Guy and Montagne streets, one can find many adorable boutique shops. When searching for the perfect dress, my personal favourite is Boutique 1861.
Montreal has plenty to offer in the way of shopping, even for those on a budget. Many of the city's department stores put on elaborate Christmas window displays, too. Such stores include The Bay, Noel Eternel, Animalerie Paul, Plaza St Hubert and Station 16.
11. Warm up with Montreal's winter staples
There’s a reason Montrealers call their favourite dishes “comfort food”. They aren’t necessarily healthy, but they are served warm and hit the spot like nothing else on a cold winter’s day.
There’s the decadent treat Queue de castor, or beaver tail. There are also smoked meat sandwiches at Schwarts’ Deli. Another classic is poutine, made up of fries, curd cheese and gravy at La Banquise. You must also get your hands on bagels fresh out of the oven. We recommend St-Viateur and Fairmount. For a little taste of Italy, try hole-in-the-wall restaurant Drogheria Fine for gnocchi. It’s the only item on their menu and they are the best! Better yet? They only cost $5. Vegans and vegetarians need not worry, a lot of these options are available at the restaurant LOV (local, organic, vegetarian).
How about warm drinks? For a boozy twist, try a hot toddy! It’s a warm cocktail that’s enjoyed at sub-zero temperatures. For a fun night out, clink glasses at La Distillerie No. 1.
The Thrifty Gist
With the winter season now upon us, what are your plans to embrace the cold weather?
- Explore the city's budget & free sites on foot (bundle up, or use the underground pathways when you can!)
- Bookmark any activities of interest in your calendar – there are many!
- Consider getting a Passeporte Montreal to save money on popular attractions and get free public transit
- Avoid frigid queues with skip-the-line tickets, or join unique local tours with GetYourGuide and Viator Both have instant confirmation and free cancellation, plus real traveler ratings and reviews
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?