Winter is here. But that doesn’t bother the citizens of Montreal one bit.
No city braves frigid temperatures and snow and icy conditions the way that Montreal does. Rather than retreat into hibernation mode, Montrealers throw on toques and parkas and embrace the cold with winter festivals, hearty Quebecois cuisine, cheek-warming tonics, and invigorating outdoor activities. Here’s how to endure the chill à la Montrealais.
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Dancing up a Storm at Igloofest
Why should below freezing temperatures stop anyone from having an outdoor dance party? Just as the glitter from New Year’s parties and resolutions begins to dull, Igloofest takes over the Old Port for nine days and heats things up with electronic sets spun by the hottest local and international DJs. Thousands bundle up and head to Igloo Village to shake off their hats and scarfs on the dance floor under the snow and stars.
Cozying up at Craft Beer Bars
Montrealers have long been spoiled for choice when it comes to finding warm watering holes with quality brews on tap. Like a hot chocolate but better, Dieu du Ciel!’s dark Aphrodisiaque stout is brewed with cocoa and vanilla beans, creating bourbon and toasty malt notes that will chase the winter blues away. Vices & Versa, L’Amère à Boire, Broue Pub Brouhaha, and MaBrasserie lead a long list of local craft breweries to hunker down in when the forecast reads hyperborean degrees.
Packing in the Poutine
When it comes to winter comfort foods, poutine reigns supreme in la belle province. Served with crispy fries, homemade gravy, and requisite squeaky cheese, the carb-heavy medley never fails to grease the arteries and warm the belly. Numerous establishments are dedicated to the dish—including La Banquise, Chez Claudette, Poutineville, and Paul Patates—but it can also be found on the menu at nearly every casse-croûte (greasy spoon). For an elevated take, there’s Au Pied du Cochon’s foie gras poutine and Garde Manger’s lobster-heaped frites. Also, look out for La Poutine Week, an annual fry fest that takes place every February in restaurants across the city.
Lighting up With Montreal en Lumière and Luminothérapie
A little light therapy goes a long way to combat the season’s shorter days and longer nights. Every February, Quartier des Spectacles is illuminated with Montreal en Lumière’s light projects and installations, bright revolving Ferris wheel, flood-lit toboggan run, and the bundled up masses, crowding in for the winter fair. Before that, Luminothérapie illumines the square with light art exhibitions from November to January. Each year artists submit their bright ideas, vying for the chance to enhance the public space with immersive and interactive light-infused experiences.
Skating in Winter Wonderlands
Whether for an improvised game of shinny (pick-up hockey), attempts at the quad, there’s ample ice space in the city for every skill level. Outdoor ice rinks can be found in the parks of every neighborhood, like Plateau’s Parc La Fontaine pond, or the Old Port’s Natrel Rink. If you don’t have your own blades to cut the ice with, most places have them for rent. For those who prefer to keep indoors, Atrium Le 1000 brings the best of both worlds together with its large inside rink and centerpiece skylight.
Going for a Dip in Thermal Spas
A warm bath is one of the best antidotes for the chill that settles into your bones midwinter, and a little massage therapy doesn’t hurt either. Visit Bota Bota, a lakeside boat spa located in the Old Port, for a steamy thermotherapy session to relieve aches and pains and release toxins in the body. In Plateau, St. Jude Spa repurposes a church into an urban oasis, with dry and wet saunas, a Nordic bath, and two rooftop hot tubs, open in the winter thanks to heated decks.
Mulling Over the Selection at Wine Bars
The latest from the team behind Joe Beef, Little Burgundy, and St. Henri’s favorite wine bar, Le Vin Papillion, is Mon Lapin—a snug sanctuary for vintages and natural wines. Over in St. Henri, lips haven’t been too sealed about the secret Club Social P.S.—a hidden bar tucked behind Elena, the much-raved about new pizzeria from Nora Gray alumni. Sake lovers now have Le Blossom Bar and its blooming cherry tree to huddle around, while stalwarts like Pullman and Chez Simone continue to rouge the cheeks of clientele in Mile End.
Partying With the Family at Fête des Neiges
Pack the kids into snowsuits and hop across the river to Parc Jean Drapeau for Fête des Neiges’ outdoor snow festival. Among the many attractions are dog sled rides, a 50-foot-high zipline, ice sculptures, a scenic skating path, giant foosball, and a 10-lane tube slide that includes two super-slides and one fitted for a four-seat tube. Plus, a packed program of games and performances for children is sure to keep les enfants terribles off thin ice and out of snowball fights during the cold weather season.
Cross-Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Sledding on the Mountain
Gather the gang for a guided nighttime snowshoe climb under the stars and city lights and through the snow-covered forest of Mount Royal. In the daytime, make the summit to Beaver Lake where a skating rink, tubing lanes, and ski trails are ready to facilitate the snow sport of your choice, with an onsite pavilion available for snowshoe renting, skate sharpening, and ski cleaning and waxing.
Sweetening up at Sugar Shacks
Before the season melts into spring, head to the sugar bush to tap Canadian maples for their syrupy gold. To enjoy the late winter harvest, Montrealers congregate in a cabane à sucre (aka sugar shack), log cabins with long communal tables made for plate passing and syrup swapping. More than just a breakfast garnish, maple is drizzled into course of the meal, which typically begins with yellow pea soup and is followed with savoury traditional dishes such as tourtière meat pies, baked beans, and plenty of pork. The featured ingredient is the star of dessert too, used generously in super sweet treats like maple pies, taffy, and donuts.