How to Plan the Perfect Montreal Winter Vacation — Luxury Hotels, Snowy Adventures, and Incredible Restaurants Included

Bundle up and bring an appetite for all things artisanal.

People at the top of Mont-Royal with downtown Montréal on the background
Photo:

Eduardo Fonseca Arraes/Getty Images

The historic streets of Montreal are especially magical under a blanket of snow. December gives way to atmospheric winter festivals and endless opportunities to indulge in Québécois cuisine (think mountains of poutine, smoked meat, and maple taffy). As you stroll down the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal and sip mulled wine under a dazzling light show, you'll likely feel like you've been transported to a Christmas market in Europe — minus the long flight.

While there's no sugarcoating the weather (temperatures hover around 20 degrees Fahrenheit in January and February), Montrealers have cracked the code to making it bearable: good food, fine wine, and endless events to warm the soul. And with the French Canadian metropolis welcoming new restaurants and innovative cultural experiences, there are even more reasons to plan a Montreal winter getaway.

What to Do

Attend a winter festival.

Nuit Blanche a Montreal

Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

Québec loves a party and hosts around 900 festivals a year, with many of its most epic events taking place in Montreal. The winter season kicks off with Montreal's holiday markets, including the massive Christmas Village at the Atwater Market.

The fun continues into maple syrup season (February to April), when cabanes à sucres (sugar shacks) pop up around the city, serving maple taffy and other sweet delights to celebrate La Belle Province's expertly tapped resource. After all, Québec produces about 80% of the world's maple syrup.

In January, electronic music lovers flock to the city for Igloofest, one of the coldest outdoor music festivals in the world. And in February, Montreal hosts one of the largest winter festivals in the world: Montréal en Lumière, where gastronomic, cultural, and light exhibits intersect all month long. The most popular night is Nuit Blanche, which usually falls on a weekend at the end of February and sees about 200 dynamic art installations lighting up the city until dawn.

To comfortably enjoy all of these outdoor extravaganzas, you'll want to dress like a Montrealer, which means option for layers of merino wool or thermals, a down jacket, hat, gloves, scarf, sunglasses, and waterproof winter boots.

Get active outdoors.

Person cross country skiing in Mont Royal

Marc Bruxelle/Getty Images

It would be a shame to visit Montreal without partaking in Canada's favorite winter pastime: ice skating. The city has no shortage of rinks, but one of the best is Esplanade Tranquille, a year-round public space that opened in the heart of Quartier des Spectacles in winter 2022. Here, you'll find a 16,000-square-foot rink complete with an urban chalet and skate rentals. For other urban winter sports, head to Mount Royal Park, a tree-lined hilltop space where you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, and even fat bike on snowy trails.

Warm up inside with arts and culture.

Christmas decorations at Notre-Dame Basilica, in Montreal

Eric Santin/Getty Images

On particularly blustery days, Montreal's museums, art galleries, and historical buildings offer a perfect reprieve from the windchill. The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal is a must-visit for the French-inspired Gothic Revival architecture alone, but it's also worth attending the award-winning Aura light show, which enhances the basilica's features using light, sound, and video mapping. It's recommended to reserve a time slot in advance online.

Inside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, you'll find an impressive permanent collection and rotating exhibits, with the 2022-2023 winter season including the multimedia "Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music" exhibition (Oct. 16 to Feb. 19, 2023) and "Music Born of the Cold: Inuit Art, Dance, and Song" (Nov. 9 to March 13, 2023), which explores music in Inuit visual art and showcases more than 100 Inuit sculptures, prints, drawings, and installations.

Where to Eat

Sample Montreal's classic dishes.

People shopping at the Jean Talon Market, in Montreal

Courtesy of Tourisme Montréal

Artisanal cheese, wood-fired Montreal bagels, and smoked meat sandwiches are just a few of the delights that attract epicureans to Montreal. Cheese lovers often make a beeline to Jean-Talon Market, one of the largest open-air markets in North America, while Schwartz's Deli is the place to go for smoked meat sandwiches and La Banquise boasts endless varieties of poutine. If you still have an appetite, put your bagel-judging skills to the test at St-Viateur and Fairmount — two establishments that have long battled for the title of best Montreal bagel. They both serve the city's classic crispy golden bagels, which are boiled in honey water before being cooked in a wood-burning oven.

Dine at locally loved restaurants.

Carpaccio at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal

Benedicte Brocard

With Montreal being one of Québec's most culturally diverse cities, it's quickly becoming a hub for international cuisine. In the hip neighborhood of Griffintown, cozy Italian restaurant Nora Gray serves stick-to-your-ribs pasta dishes, while Tiradito (the city's first Nikkei) excels in Japanese-Peruvian fusion. New to the scene is Fleurs et Cadeaux, a sushi bar housed in an old flower and gift shop (don't miss the expertly curated sake list).

You'll want a reservation for hot spots like Toqué, which boasts a delectable seven-course farm-to-table tasting menu (with or without foie gras). Those looking to try the rising star of Montreal's food scene should head to Place Carmin, a bold new French eatery from the creators of beloved Montreal restaurants Bouillon Bilk and Cadet. Meanwhile, Cabaret L'Enfer celebrates the slow food movement with an ever-changing menu focusing on seasonal Québécois ingredients.

Where to Stay

Housed in two historic buildings in the heart of Old Montreal, Hotel William Gray is perfectly located for those wanting to explore nearby landmarks like the Notre-Dame Basilica. To give guests a true Montreal experience, the boutique property teamed up with local businesses such as Café Olimpico, Off the Hook, and Camdi Design, as well as artists like Alan Ganev and Steven Spazuk. With a cool communal library, vinyl collection, and year-round pop-up events, it tends to pull in a creative set.

The city's first luxury hotel, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, has been a grand metropolitan hub ever since it opened across the street from the train station in the 1950s. It still drips with mid-century glamour, though its 950 guest rooms were given a modern update in 2017, thanks to a renovation designed by creative agency Sid Lee. Music lovers can even book the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite, which the honeymooning couple stayed in for a week during their famous bed-in for peace.

Guest room at the Four Seasons Hôtel Montréal

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hôtel Montréal

Since opening in 2019, the Four Seasons Hotel Montreal has become a luxurious destination in Golden Square Mile, a well-heeled central neighborhood filled with Victorian mansions, museums, and designer boutiques. Beyond top-notch service, the property also boasts an in-house restaurant created in partnership with renowned Manhattan-based chef Marcus Samuelsson and Montreal design firm Zébulon Perron. In 2022, the hotel also unveiled its all-new Guerlain Spa at Four Seasons, making it an ideal spot for a cozy wellness-themed getaway just steps away from the snowy trails of Mount Royal Park.

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