Sure, it may be zero degrees Fahrenheit outside, but the cobblestone streets and gabled roofs of old Montréal are best seen with a powdery glaze.
Montréal is truly a winter wonderland. Livelier in January than many warmer cities are in mid-July, the winter chill adds to the atmosphere as frost blurs bistro windows and snowflakes sparkle against glittering skyscrapers.
This fairytale French Canadian hub comes to life like an idyllic Christmas village each winter. Lower in latitude than Paris but with a climate closer to Moscow's, North America's most European city has a Parisian flare for high culture and an amiable Nordic charm.
Montréal is one of the few places in the world where visitors can cross-country ski, ice skate, snowshoe, ride snowmobiles, and go ice fishing all within city limits. Unafraid of winter chills, the Quebecois ski through Mont Royal, skate through Parc La Fontaine, and heat up their frozen limbs by a fireplace in the trendy cafes of the Plateau neighborhood.
Not convinced? Here are eight more reasons why Montréal is best visited in the dark days of winter.
Summer may be Montréal's main festival season, but winter offers plenty of opportunities for fêtes. The winter festival season begins with the New Year's Eve Grand Bal and Fireworks Display at the Old Port. Next up, Igloofest gathers thousands of electronic music fans along the Quays for three weekends of bands and audio-visual displays throughout January. Canada's most famous winter event is Montréal's High Lights Festival in February. One of the largest winter festivals in the world, the annual 11-day celebration draws nearly a million fans to Montréal for a unique program of performing arts, gastronomy, and free outdoor family activities, all culminating in an all-nighter of exquisitely original discoveries.
Montréal is one of North America's top destinations during the summer months, but few venture this far north after Dec. 1. However, try getting a seat at the deli counter at Schwartz's for a smoked meat sandwich during the summer and the line will be around the block. Craving the best poutine in Quebec at the colorful La Banquise along Parc La Fontaine? Good luck getting a table during the city's busy season. The winter is the best time to hit Montréal's famous restaurants and popular landmarks without the hassle of a hefty wait.
Ice Skating & Pick-Up Hockey Games in Parc La Fontaine
Gliding along the serpent-like pond in Parc La Fontaine is guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most hardened of travelers. The meandering outdoor ice path feels more like skating on a frozen stream or small river than a pond and is the most charming of Montréal's numerous winter skating rinks. Parc La Fontaine also has two oblong-shaped outdoor arenas where you're guaranteed to find a pick-up game of hockey.
Nearby Ski Resorts
Montréal makes an ideal base for exploring Quebec's top ski resorts nearby. Just north of the bustling city lies a series of snow-capped peaks. One hour northwest of downtown Montréal is Mont Saint-Sauveur, which boasts 8 lifts, 38 trails, a snow park, alpine roller coaster, and both day and night skiing. Nearby, Mont Olympia is a good choice for beginners with the region's best ski school and 30 trails, over half of which are for novice skiers and boarders. 75 minutes away from downtown is Mont Blanc, the Mont Tremblant region's second largest ski mountain with over 40 trails, late night mountain snowshoeing, snowboard parks, and a host of family-friendly activities. Just under two hours away is Mont Tremblant Resort. With over 600 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain, this massive resort boasts 95 trails, 14 lifts, and some of the best slopes on the East Coast of North America.
Mont-Royal is the spot to live out your inner-city winter dreams in Montréal. The 764-foot mountain is one of the city's largest green spaces and offers opportunities for tobogganing, tubing, skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even horse drawn sleigh riding. Immediately west of downtown Montréal, Mont Royal became a public park in 1876 and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, known for his work on New York City's Central Park. For a picture-perfect view of the Montréal skyline, head to the scenic lookout in front of the Chalet Du Mont Royal.
At first shiver, visiting Montréal in the winter might seem crazy. But, there's something to be said for the joy of dipping into a cozy café after braving a mid-winter snowstorm. The latté tastes better, the soup warms your soul, and you leave with a happy heart ready to brave the worst. For the best cafés in town, head to Plateau Mont-Royal where you'll find artisanal coffees, savory crepes, and the most delicate pastries this side of the Atlantic.
The Underground City
For those averse to winter, the Underground City (or underground pedestrian network as it is now called), encompasses 21 miles of passageways and links various landmarks such as universities, shopping malls, the center for performing arts, and various hotels. You can literally get around a vast swath of downtown Montréal to shop, eat, watch a movie, catch a concert, and visit museums without even wearing a coat in this subterranean universe.
If the weather outside is frightful, Montréal has a collection of world-class museums where you can warm your body and stimulate your brain. The top three are all art-related: The Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Musée d'art contemporain. If you plan on visiting all three (or any of the other 35 museums in town), it's best to buy a Montréal Museums Pass for unlimited access, a magazine, movie ticket, free train ride, and cruise along the Canal Lachine.