Look, we get it. It’s freezing out and you have that all those Netflix shows saved for days just like this. With temperatures now reaching below -30˚ Celsius, it’s easy to find comfort in your apartment with a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate. Maybe it’s that perfect day to read your favourite book or attempt that 1000-piece puzzle of cats you’ve been putting off for so long…
But, this is Montreal!
With dozens of outdoor events – many of them free – offered throughout the coldest months of the year, now is the time to break out that neon one-piece snowsuit you’ve had in your closet since the early ‘90s and enjoy the city to its fullest. After all, we multicultural Montrealers are known as somewhat of a crazy bunch, and no one said living in Canada is for the faint of heart.
For those brave enough to face the cold, we’ve put together a few of our favourite activities that should convince you to get out of the house and get back to doing what you love most: exploring and discovering all there is to enjoy in our cosmopolitan metropolis.
For the Active Type
Often referred to as the lungs of the city, Mount Royal stands proud as the cultural symbol of Montreal. With everything from snow tubing and cross-country skiing to tobogganing and evening snowshoe excursions on offer, it’s impossible not to find something for everyone during an outing to the mountain.
A classic winter experience includes outdoor skating just adjacent to the Beaver Lake Pavillon from December 1 to March 10, the Lafontaine Park skating rink (seasonal), the Natrel skating rink in the Old Port, or even indoors at the Atrium Le 1000 in downtown Montreal if the weather is just too frosty for the little ones. Equipment rental ($) is available at most locations.
Other sporty outdoor events include the annual Fête des Neiges de Montréal family-oriented event – now celebrating its 36th edition – which takes place over four consecutive weekends at the Parc Jean-Drapeau (ends February 10). Activities include workshops, skiing and snowboarding, ice slides and dogsledding. Access to the site is easiest by using public transportation.
Discover the City
Most tourists – and even locals – would agree that Old Montreal is an undisputed highlight of any visit to the city. Join the millions of people who visit the Notre-Dame Basilica every year, or better yet, splurge a little and watch the church light up with the wonderful Aura production (advanced ticket purchase recommended).
While down in the historic area of Montreal, take a photo walk along cobblestone streets, window shop in the art galleries found along Saint Paul, or go sky-high in the La Grande Roue de Montréal for a beautiful panorama of the old city. If you’re traveling with kids, stop by the Montréal Science Centre to catch an IMAX movie or get lost in the Voiles en Voiles winter adventure park facing the south side of the picturesque Marché Bonsecours, where you can buy aboriginal artwork and handmade souvenirs. If all you want is a relaxing day at the spa, spoil yourself with a water circuit package, massage or facial at Bota Bota, a spa located on a stationary boat just steps away from the entrance to the historic Lachine Canal.
There’s no shortage of cultural activities, either. Immerse yourself in Montreal’s gastronomic identity by sampling local produce at the Jean-Talon Market – or join our Winter Beyond the Market Tour to receive an in-depth profiling of a few of the culinary gems and microbreweries the neighbourhood has to offer. Over at the Olympic Village, bundle up to explore the expansive grounds of the Botanical Garden, stare in wonder at the starry exhibitions on display at the Planetarium, or spend a few magical moments at the top of the Olympic Stadium Tower as the streets of Montreal sprawl out right before your eyes.
Shop ‘til you drop along Sainte-Catherine Street or get lost exploring over 30km of passageways in our famous RÉSO, commonly referred to as The Underground City. Once the call for caffeine hits, grab a croissant and an espresso at any one of Montreal’s independent coffee shops – now numbering well into the hundreds. Our favourites include Dispatch Coffee, Saint-Henri and Crew Café. Craving something a little more substantial? Check out this list of restaurants that is sure to warm you up even during the coldest days of the year.
With a full stomach, get lost in the impressive collection at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the largest North American repository of documents relating to French-Canadian and Québécois heritage, or stare in awe at the dinosaurs found inside McGill University’s Redpath Museum. A quick walk of McGill’s campus will bring you back almost 200 years to its foundation in 1821, Canada’s oldest university.
To slow things down even more, spend some time learning about the archeological and historical importance of Montreal at museums such as the Pointe-à-Callière or the Château Ramezay, or understand the city’s social fabric at the McCord Museum or the publicly funded Centre d’histoire de Montréal. If art is more your thing, browse the permanent and temporary exhibits of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, enjoy an interactive experience at the multifunctional Phi Centre, or discover the internationally recognized Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, including the Alexander Calder exhibit (ends February 24).
No one will argue that Montreal has – rightfully – earned its nickname as The Festival City, particularly in recent years. And really, what kind of ambassador would we be if that meant we only celebrated in the warm months?
Quickly becoming one of the most internationally recognized winter festivals in the world, Igloofest (January 17 to February 2) is an outdoor electronic music festival – attracting top talent from across the globe – that takes place over three consecutive weekends and is one of the must-do events of the year.
Foodies can rejoice with the return of Happening Gourmand (January 10 to February 3), the 12th annual dining experience that offers fixed table d’hôte menus from some of Old Montreal’s best and brightest restaurants, as well as the stomach-stuffing La Poutine Week, back for another artery-clogging round during the first week of February.
Other activities include Montréal en Lumière, celebrating its 20th anniversary, which prides itself as the ultimate gourmet destination in the city (February 21 to March 3). This predominantly fine-dining festival also includes Nuit Blanche – an all-nighter of free activities geared to discovering artwork across the city – and embraces new light technology to illuminate the grounds of the Quartier des Spectacles district.
… Remember when we said there was plenty to do this winter in Montreal? So, what are you waiting for!? Get out there and explore all this winter wonderland has to offer.
You can thank us later.