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Taking a trip to Montreal in winter might sound like an expensive way to get hypothermia, and truth be told the weather is almost unbearably frigid. And yet… after that initial shock of icy air, we almost didn’t even notice how cold it was anymore, we were so wrapped up in how much fun we were having.
After the first snowfall, Montreal undergoes a magical transformation, changing from a regular ol’ Canadian city to a winter wonderland of activities. From skiing to sledding to shopping underground (more on that later!), there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Below we’ve put together a list of the best Montreal winter activities that are must-dos before the snow melts!
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Frolic in the Snow on Mount Royal
Ever wondered where the word “Montreal” comes from? It’s named after Mount Royal (mont royal in French), a hill near downtown Montreal. Mount Royal Park is the go-to spot for outdoor activities in the city, no matter the temperature!
During the winter season, you can go cross-country skiing along the hill’s slopes. Or take lessons if you’ve never done it before.
Near the base of Mount Royal is Beaver Lake. In winter weather, the lake freezes over, turning it into the city’s most popular outdoor skating rink. Whether you bring your own skates or rent some, you’re bound to have a blast at this popular weekend attraction.
Experience the BRRRRRRRRN when you visit Montreal during winter! ☃️🎄🏂 From skiing to ice skating to holiday shopping, there are plenty of winter activities in Montreal for the whole family to enjoy!
At night, you can watch some amateur ice hockey games beneath winter lights. Don’t forget to keep warm with some hot chocolate and delicious French beignets!
Our favorite outdoor winter activity, though, was snow tubing. If you’ve never done it before, it’s like sledding but in an inflatable donut. Our girls loved it, especially the younger one. It’s the perfect winter activity that everyone in the family can enjoy.
Browse the Christmas Markets
Christmas time is when Montreal is at its most beautiful. The buildings and trees are covered with lights and decorations. Somehow, that helps make the cold a little more bearable.
Montreal is famous for its Christmas markets, where you can buy a souvenir or gift for a family member. A trip here is a great way to end your trip to Montreal, as it leaves you feeling warm and full of good cheer.
The largest Christmas market is the Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montreal. If you only have time for one Christmas market, I highly recommend you make it this one.
Visit the Notre-Dame Basilica
Adding to the European vibe Montreal has going on is the stunning exterior of the Notre-Dame Basilica.
If you’re an architecture nerd like me, then this cathedral has to be on your list of must-see things in Montreal.
The interior of the cathedral is simply stunning. Considered a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, it’s easy to see why the Notre-Dame Basilica is one of the best parts about visiting Old Montreal.
There is a small fee to enter the cathedral, but it’s well worth it. To learn more about visiting this historical landmark, please click here.
Warm Up in the Underground City
Let me level with you. It gets cold in Montreal — like, really cold! To give you an idea, average temperatures hover around 30 degrees in December, and that’s the high! At night, the temperature easily drops below freezing and can sometimes even reach single digits.
If you’re coming from California like we were, that could be a bit of a shock. Luckily, there’s a handy solution for beating the cold… and it’s right beneath your feet.
Don’t Miss! Cold Weather Tips for Warm Weather Families
Hidden under the streets of Montreal, another city exists. Known as the Underground City, this warren of warm passageways and brightly lit chambers is the main form of transportation for many locals who don’t want to deal with the frigid weather conditions. Think of the City as a giant mall with shops, offices, and restaurants to explore.
We spent a couple of hours walking around and popping our heads into the various shops. It was a fun and (mercifully) warm way to buy some holiday season souvenirs without having to stand out in the freezing wind. It is hands down one of the best ways to get from Point A to Point B in the city.
Explore the Botanical Gardens
Visiting a botanical garden in winter might sound a little strange. I mean, won’t all the plants be hibernating? Well… the truth is a little more complicated.
The Montreal Botanical Garden is considered one of the greatest of its kind in the world. There are some 10,000 plant species spread over its 185 acres. In summer, the grounds are vibrant with the scent of blooming flowers and flowing fountains.
Yes, yes… but we’re visiting in winter! So what’s there to see, then?
During the winter months, the Montreal Botanical Garden undergoes a dramatic transformation. Once the snow begins to fall, the grounds are transformed into lovely winter paths that resemble something you’d see on a holiday card.
Along these beautiful paths are numerous temples and pagodas, adding an air of mystery and tranquility to the austere winter landscape. It’s a great place for a family Instagrammable moment or to send as a greeting card like our family did!
Ski Down Mont Tremblant
I’ve already mentioned some winter sports activities you can enjoy in Montreal, but to fully enjoy everything this lovely season has to offer, you have to get out of the city and head north to Mont Tremblant.
Situated an hour and a half outside of Montreal, Mont Tremblant is a popular ski resort destination for locals and tourists alike. With abundant snow, stunning views, and well-kept trails, I can’t think of a better place to learn how to ski. And… that’s exactly what we did!
If — like us — you didn’t lug your non-existent skis with you on the plane, no problem! You can rent everything you need right there at the resort.
Next, I recommend hiring a private instructor or joining a class. Just a couple hours is all it takes to get you ready to tackle your first run. Take it slow and don’t feel too bad if your ten-year-old daughter beats you to the bottom (Every. Single. Time!)
Watch Maple Syrup Being Made at a Sugar Shack
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Canadian Cuisine”? Odds are, it’s a bottle of maple syrup, perhaps in the shape of a maple leaf, almost definitely being poured over a hot batch of freshly made pancakes. Yum!
And if you’ve ever wondered how this delicious amber-colored condiment is made, now’s your chance to see it done firsthand by professional acériculteurs, the French term for sugar farmers. During the “Sugar Season” from February to April, sugar shacks pop up all around Montreal.
Both sugar shacks take about an hour to reach from Montreal’s downtown. They are open from February to April during the prime maple syrup collecting season.
Watch a Light Show at the Quartier des Spectacles
The Quartier de Spectacles is a magical place. It is known far and wide as Montreal’s cultural hot spot, putting on — dare I say it — spectacular live events throughout the year.
No event, though, is more dazzling than the Nuit Blanche, an entire day and night of lights, music, dancing, and festivities. Taking place during late February, the Nuit Blanche is truly a sight to behold as the entire city is illuminated with lights of every hue, turning it into a life-sized snow globe of epic proportions.
When You Go
How to Get to Montreal from L.A.
Montreal has two major airports for you to fly into. The nearest is Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, which is located in the downtown Montreal area. This is the airport our family flew into when we visited.
The second airport is Montreal Saint-Hubert Longueuil Airport, which lies on the other side of the St. Lawrence River. It’s about a thirty-minute drive from Saint-Hubert to downtown Montreal.
An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia!
If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find new deals. Try out their free 7-day membership to save BIG money on flights. I’m not kidding. They have the best deals out there and we’ve tried them all, or so it seems. There’s no need to buy a membership (you’ll still have access to great deals with their free trial).
How to Get Around Montreal
Getting around Montreal isn’t all that difficult. The city has a solid public transportation system that can take you pretty much anywhere you’d like to go, which is great because driving in the snow — especially if you’re not used to it — is a bad idea.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Le Mount Stephen is a stunning luxury boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown Montreal. Its exterior is fabulous, its interior is luscious, and its accommodations are top-notch. It’s the perfect jumping off point for your Montreal adventure.
Want to be close to Montreal’s fashionable shopping district? You need look no further than the DoubleTree by Hilton Montreal. This classy hotel is located steps away from the largest Montreal Christmas market, Le Grand Marché de Noël, as well as various shops and restaurants. A few blocks away is the Bell Centre, a perfect place to catch a professional hockey game and cheer on Montreal’s home team, the Habs! This hotel is an ideal home base for any family who wants to explore Montreal on foot.
With views of the St. Lawrence River, the Notre Dame Basilica, and the quaint Montreal cobblestone streets, Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel Montreal is one of the best places for families who want to soak up the city’s Old Town vibes. With a cozy pub less than a block away, you’ll never have to worry about where to warm up after a long day of exploring Montreal.
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