We’ve reached the point of the season where most of us are dreaming about venturing to warmer climates.
While I certainly can’t count myself out of the popular opinion, there is a place with subzero temperatures that has become one of my favorite winter destinations.
From the outdoor festivals that rival even the liveliest of summer bashes, to some of the most satisfying comfort food, Montréal is the perfect place for a cold weather escape.
Below is my list of recommended activities, sights, and eats should you find yourself in North America’s Paris.
Pictured above is a formerly abandoned church that has been converted into Bourgie Hall, a music performance hall featuring orchestra, piano, and vocal concerts.
The church was purchased by the adjacent Museum of Fine Arts. All 18 of the Tiffany stained glass windows were preserved, and the building is now eco-certified.
Just next door to Bourgie Hall is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux-Arts). The museum offers classic works from reveared Canadian artists as well as more contemporary pieces from international creators such as Andy Warhol and designer, Jean Paul Gaultier.
Another fantastic art museum is the Musée D’Art Contemporain de Montréal (MAM). As the name indicates, more modern art is on display here including films, installations and performance art.
It’s arguably my favorite museum in Montreal and it is situated in the bustling city center, Place des Arts (where you’ll find my favorite installation, 21 Balançoires).
I haven’t had the chance to experience Igloofest yet, but the now world famous winter music event is at the top of my wish list.
The event is held over four weekends in late January and early February, and tickets are just $20! (A far cry from the hundreds you normally pay for electronic music festivals).
You’re encouraged to don your warmest wear, and with the flowing drinks along with hours of dancing don’t be surprised if you start removing layers.
I did mention that Montreal gets cold, but until you experience -14 degree weather, outdoor activities seem almost impossible.
A good option for a freezing cold day is the Biodome.
Not only will you get to experience several different animal habitats, but the largest, and first exhibit upon entry is a trip to a tropical rainforest (complete with humid air).
Aside from the tropics, my favorite animals at the dome have to be the puffins.
These cute little birds look so adorable swimming in their pond, flapping their wings and shimmying through the water.
Another exhibit worth seeing is the butterfly garden, where you’re surrounded by hundreds of free flying butters.
Once you’ve had your fill of animals, stop at the cafe for organic, fair trade, Rainforest Alliance certified coffee.
A refreshing and fairly easy way to see the city is to hike the mountain where the city got its name: Mont-Royal.
If you are traveling alone, do not fret. The hike is a series of staircases leading up to one path.
I’d hate to say it’s impossible to get lost, but you will find it more difficult to do so than staying on course.
Several delightful treasures await you at the top of the mountain
The most obvious is the spectacular view of the city skyline
More surprisingly, you’ll find several chubby squirrels, statues, and several small bodes of water.
When you reach the top of the stairs, on your left (in season, of course) is a speed skating rink open to the public.
Even if you skip climbing the mountain, there are many other public rinks scattered around the city.
The best way to check their fees, hours, hot cocoa availability and seasonal status is to visit Patiner Montreal.
It would not be a proper trip to Montreal without trying the signature Québécois comfort food, poutine.
Several bars, restaurants, and late night food spots have these gravy-laden french fries on the menu, but you’ll find locals flocking to La Banquise.
This 24 hour diner-style restaurant has been serving over 30 different styles of poutine since 1968.
You won’t find a single restaurant in Montreal with this much variety – or this tasty.
Being a New Yorker, I have – let’s just say – a strong opinion of what a good bagel tastes like.
So, it feels almost treasonous to say that hands down, Montreal bagels are superior.
What makes them different? Aside from their smaller size and extra chewiness, there is also a hint of malty sweetness that’s lacking in NY style bagels.
They are served hot (another bonus), and although I’m used to piling up copious amounts of cream cheese, these bagels need no accoutrements.
There is a serious battle between two bagel giants, St-Viateur and Fairmount, and you’ll have to try both (like I did).
The clear winner for me though is the OG bagel shop, Fairmount.
There is no shortage of great coffee shops here. To keep your energy up, visit a few of my picks:
Cafe Myriade is Montreal’s first third wave coffee shop, and still one of the best.
The owners hold national barista champion titles and have literally written the book on how to brew good coffee: The Professional Barista’s Handbook.
Café Humble Lion (the cowardly lion) has more creative selections that they serve to nearby McGill students including – what else – a hot maple syrup latte and the usually frowned upon iced lattes.
In Mile End, you’ll find smooth, syphon brewed coffees, delicious Japanese cuisine, and beautiful decor at Café Falco.
Another sippable libation that is prevalent in Montreal is beer.
Many restaurants double as brewpubs, or at the very least, have an extensive beer selection.
The best brewpub in the city is Benelux.
Fortunately for us, our hotel room was just a few blocks away from the bar, so there were many visits there during our last stay.
They have a great, varied selection of beer, all made in house, and light bites including paninis and something called a Eurodog (not exactly sure what that is?).
My drink of choice is duplicity: either I’m in the mood for the light Lux blonde, or the heavier (but not heavy) black IPA.
If you do visit Montreal in the warmer months, they have a quite large patio area mostly populated by smokers and grad students, but I recommend visiting during the NHL playoffs (like we did).
When you’ve had your fill of drinks and savories, switch to something sweet at Dragon Beard Candy in Chinatown.
This unique candy is made by pulling hardened honey blocks into delicate, hair-like strands.
It’s then wrapped into a little packet, and nuts are sealed inside (a warning to those with nut allergies!).
I love that it’s sweet without being overly so, and light as well as crunchy.
Pouding chômeur has an interesting past. Translated, it means “unemployment pudding”.
It gets its strange name from the time it was created: The Great Depression, and because in tough times, stale bread was used in lieu of cake batter (for the unemployed)
Today, bakeries and restaurants use cake batter instead of bread, and hot maple syrup is generously poured on top before baking, giving it a pudding-like texture
Since there is an influx of syrup at the bottom of the pan, it caramelizes as it bakes, and gives the dessert a crispy, buttery underlayer.
Like most of the food items I listed, pouding chômeur can be found at several different places in the city, but interestingly, the locals vote St. Hubert’s (a city-wide rotisserie chicken joint – that also serves poutine) pudding one of the best.
So, there is my wintertime guide to French Canada’s largest city.
Have you been to Montreal in the winter? If so, what did I miss on my list? Leave a comment below!