Canada has a certain reputation for transforming into a snow globe during the winter months, and it’s certainly warranted. Cities like Montreal see most of their visitors in the temperate summertime, but those in the know make it a point to book a stay once snow starts hitting the ground.
The second-largest city in Canada has become synonymous with really good food, drink and nightlife, a certain joie de vivre that transcends seasons and makes for a year-round vacation destination suitable for the most discerning tastes and palates. Of course, there are also seasonal festivals and world-class museums to keep you busy between bites and sips.
Winter in Montreal isn’t for the faint of heart (we’re talking temperatures that dip down to -22°F), but it’s the perfect excuse to cozy up and indulge in hearty French fare or show off your skills on the ski hill or skating rink. Here’s everything to know about visiting the city in wintertime if you’re up for bracing the chilly months — from unique outdoor festivals to the best spot to find fresh-from-the-oven baguettes and espresso.
How to Get There
Those traveling by air will fly into Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), but there are plenty of other ways to get to Montreal, especially if you’re coming from the United States. The Amtrak Adirondack line travels from Penn Station to Montreal in 10 hours. It’s also worth noting that Montreal is a short 60-minute drive from Burlington, Vermont and just six hours by car from Manhattan.
Where to Stay
Ritz-Carlton Montreal is the hotel of choice for everyone from famous athletes to political personalities. The stunning historical landmark is the second-oldest Ritz-Carlton property in the world, and it’s still renowned for its uncompromising luxury and hospitality to this day. The 1910s-era property is located in the heart of the Golden Square Mile, which makes it easy to commute pretty much anywhere in the city by car or public transit — from the downtown core and the Old Port to the Mile End and Plateau.
Down the street, you’ll find Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth. The last-built railway hotel in Canada connects directly to the central train station, which makes it easy to check in without braving the cold or calling a taxi if you’re arriving by Amtrak. The upscale business hotel offers some of the best views of the downtown core, especially if you book the infamous John Lennon and Yoko Ono corner suite.
If there’s wiggle room in your itinerary, it might be worth checking into Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Québec City. This historic property is located about three hours outside of Montreal, but the century-old Châteauesque architecture and ornate mahogany-hued decor make it one of the best addresses in the province for spending a couple of cozy winter nights.
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What to Do
Montreal is typically a very walkable city, but you might want to consider going underground come wintertime. Thankfully, the downtown core has a comprehensive maze of underground passages to get from point A to point B without braving the cold. If you’re heading outside of downtown, the STM metro system will efficiently get you where you need to go.
There’s never a dull moment in this city, even in the dead of winter. If nightlife and good music are your beat, grab tickets to Igloofest. Dubbed the “coldest music festival in the world,” this outdoor electronic show features top-rated and up-and-coming electronic musicians from around the globe. If late-night gastronomy and performing arts are more your thing, check out Montréal en Lumière. The winter festival of light is one of the biggest in the world, boasting all-night outdoor performances, activities, dining and more colorful experiences.
It’s easy to get to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Québec. Mont-Saint-Bruno is just a half-hour drive from the downtown core and features different trails for every skill level. If you’re set on staying in the city but don’t want to miss out on winter sports, check out the Atrium Le 1000. The full-sized indoor skating rink is accessible directly from the underground city network and offers ice skating rentals and classes.
If you’ve found yourself in the midst of a snowstorm or just want to warm up after a couple of days exploring the outdoors, Montreal has plenty of excellent museums and galleries. Head to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal for a close-up look at both classic and modern art from Canada and beyond. The Montreal Biodome in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood features flora and fauna from five different ecosystems under one roof, so you can experience the tropics in the middle of wintertime.
Where to Eat and Drink
The city of Montreal is a literal tasting board that spans many different cultures, but there are a few standout spots that’ll serve you well on a cold winter’s day. Start at Meunerie Urbaine bakery on Monkland Avenue. There’s usually a queue, but it moves fast and is well worth the wait for fresh, organic baguettes and croissants. If you’re looking for a sit-down experience, make a reservation at Le Pois Penché. The French brasserie is synonymous with decadent brunch in the city (we recommend the moules-frites with a glass of Sancerre).
By lunch, you’ll probably want something hot and steamy, which makes Chinatown the perfect spot to add to your itinerary. Consider slurping a bowl of no-frills but delicious pho at the family-run Pho Bac, or head to one of the many Chinese hot pot restaurants (Happy Lamb Hot Pot or Liuyishou Hotpot on Crescent are two of the most-loved in the city).
Montreal nightlife is not to be missed. Start the night with the internationally renowned (but not at all overrated) Joe Beef, or head to its vegetable-forward sister restaurant Vin Papillon, located right next door, for a modern take on local Québécois cuisine. Continue the night at Pullman — one of the city’s first and most comprehensive wine bars — or sneak your way into the Atwater Cocktail Club. The quasi-speakeasy feels like stepping into a sumptuous sitting room, complete with velvet-backed furniture and a strong cocktail list mixed with house-made syrups and carefully-curated spirits.
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