As Quebec’s largest city, Montreal is a fun and vibrant place to visit. While it’s most popular in the summer months, just like most places in Canada, there are actually lots of things to do in Montreal in the winter, making it a great place to visit when it’s covered in snow.
While it can certainly get cold in Montreal, there are just so many great winter festivals to explore and the white snow really adds another beauty to the city. Plus, if you get too cold, there are many things to do indoors as well.
From wandering the streets of Old Montreal to enjoying one of the many winter festivals, this is your travel guide to the best things to do in Montreal in winter.
Enjoy Montreal en Lumière
Montreal en Lumière is the largest and most comprehensive winter festival in the city, taking place during the last week of February. It features an array of beautiful illuminations all over the Quartier Des Spectacles as well as many outdoor activities, concerts, dance and circus performances, wine tastings, art and technology exhibits, and fine dining at some of the best restaurants in Montreal. While things change year to year, the festival once installed a musical skating rink that was over 300 metres in length!
With more than 500,000 people visiting this winter festival each year, it’s easy to see why it has become one of the top things to do in Montreal in winter.
Also Read: Want more winter festivals? Don’t miss Quebec’s Winter Carnival, one of the largest in the world!
Party Outdoors at Igloofest
If you’re into electronic music, you don’t want to miss the spectacular Igloofest, which is held in beautiful Old Montreal in January and February. What started as a relatively small festival in 2007 has turned into a major event with more than 10,000 people coming out to enjoy some world-class artists such as Fatboy Slim, Diplo, Bonobo and Claptone. If you love dressing up, this is also a great festival for that, as many come out adorned in neon ski suits, ice queen attire, fur coats, and more.
Find Warmth at a Nordic Spa
If you’re looking for some relaxation and heat, check out one of the many Nordic Spas in the city. While many spas provide a place to get warm, Nordic Spas utilize a cycle that includes hot, cold, and warm. Known as thermotherapy, it’s a wonderful way to relax, unwind, and even help your body adjust to the cold temperatures of Canada.
If you love Nordic Spas as much as we do, here are some options in Montreal:
Bota Bota Spa: This family-run spa is perhaps the most unique in Montreal. After all, it’s housed on an old refurbished ferry boat in Old Montreal with beautiful views of the city. The spa features everything you need for a Nordic experience, including hot (saunas & steam baths), cold (cold baths, showers, or even a plunge into the river), and relaxation (hanging chairs, hammocks, and bean bags). There’s even a floating sauna on the water and a rooftop Jacuzzi. Prices start at $70.
Strøm Spa Nordique: Located on Nuns’ Island, Strøm Nordic spa s a peaceful haven that’s just a few minutes from downtown Montreal. This big outdoor Nordic spa offers outdoor whirlpools, hot and cold baths, Finnish saunas, Eucalyptus steam baths, thermal waterfalls, indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, massage therapy, evolutionary cuisine, authentic rituals and a well-being pause on the quay overlooking the Lac des Battures.
Scandinave Spa Montréal: If you want pure tranquillity, this traditional, completely silent Scandanavian-style spa experience is located right in the heart of Old Montreal.
Go Ice Skating
If you’re looking for a truly iconic Canadian winter experience, go ice skating in Montreal. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there are lots of opportunities for putting on a pair of skates and hitting the ice, figuratively speaking.
Although there are more than 150 public ice skating rinks in Montreal, here are some of the best options for someone visiting the city:
Esplanade Tranquille in the Quartier des Spectacles: If you’re looking for a gigantic free outdoor ice skating rink, this is it. At twice the size of The Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York, this massive rink features impressive light installations for a bright and colourful festive mood, as well as themed events such as Saturday Night 70s Vibes and Wednesday afternoon classical vibes. For more fun, go between 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm to witness interactive video projections follow skaters as they move across the ice.
Parc La Fontaine: This beautiful outdoor frozen pond is one of the most magical places to go ice skating in Montreal thanks to all the beautiful trees draped with sparkling fairy lights. Located in the city’s Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood, you’ll find ice skating on the rink and on paths that wind throughout the park. If you have skates, it’s totally free to enjoy, but you can also rent skates for a small fee.
Old Port Skating Rink: Another popular spot for skating is at the Old Port, which features a refrigerated rink, warm-up areas, light displays, music, and a wide variety of events. There is a small fee to enter, but there’s a lot going on, including “DJ on Ice” during weekday evenings, Saturday concerts, Family Sundays, and more, all of which are next to the Ferriss Wheel.
Beaver Lake at Mount Royal: Another great option for a free skate is Beaver Lake, which is in one of Montreal’s most iconic locations, overlooking the city from the summit of Mount Royal. Skates are available to rent and if you’re keener to go indoors, there’s an enclosed ice rink nearby if you prefer.
Parc Jean-Drapeau: Home to refrigerated ice trails and unparalleled views of the city’s skyline, Parc Jean-Drapeau is an excellent place to enjoy skating in Montreal. Whether you’re alone, with a friend, or with your entire family, this rink is a great place to go for a skate while admiring the city’s skyscrapers.
Parc Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier: This wooded park features a frozen pathway circuit that weaves throughout the 27-acre park and two traditional hockey rinks for those who prefer a more traditional skate or a hockey game.
Go Snow Tubing
With more and more people embracing the winter in Canada, snow tubing has become a very popular thing to do. While buying your own tube and finding a hill to soar down is something that has been done for generations, businesses have propped up to make it much more accessible and safe. Plus, they often provide an easier way to get back to the top, making it much faster to enjoy many runs.
One of the most popular places to go is Mount Royal Park. Located in the same area as the skating rink at Beaver Lake, this is a great spot to enjoy tubing with the whole family. Admission is only $6 – $10 per day and it’s so convenient for anyone visiting the city.
Another spot is Les Super Glissades, which is located just an hour and a half drive north of Montreal and boasts 17 different tracks you can tube down. Even festivals like Fete des Neiges offer snow tubing now, so whether you’re looking to do it during an event with lots of people, or something a little quieter, there are plenty of options in Montreal.
Similar to tubing but done with a sled, this is another very popular winter activity in Canada. For locals, you typically buy a sled or something similar, find a hill, and ride it down. I remember doing this as a kid, and although it can be dangerous, it’s also a lot of fun. These days, and especially if you’re a visitor, you’ll want to find a more official spot with rentals.
There are dozens of hills that are great for sledding, including the former Alpine ski track in Parc Francesca-Cabrini, the child-friendly hill in Parc Ahuntsic, the long run on Westmount’s Murray Hill, and Parc-nature de la Pointe-aux-Prairies. just to name a few.
Go Cross-Country Skiing in the City
Another great winter activity that doubles as a great way to exercise is cross-country skiing. If this is up your alley, Montreal has a number of options spread out over 200km of maintained trails, including venues that are even equipped with chalets and rental services. Some of the most popular spots include Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is great for beginners, the Botanical Gardens or the Lachine Canal, the gigantic Cap-Saint-Jacques park, and for those with more advanced skills, the trails at Mount Royal Park, which is right in the middle of the city.
Go Snowshoeing in the City
Another activity that doubles for good exercise, but is much easier than cross-country skiing, is snowshoeing. What makes this winter activity so great is that all you need to do is strap a pair of snowshoes to the bottom of your boots and start walking. Everyone knows how to walk!
While all you need is deep snow to fully enjoy snowshoeing, the most popular nature trails are found in places like Parc Angrignon, Parc-nature de l’Île-de-la-Visitation, and the Morgan Arboretum.
Go Fat-Biking in Mount Royal
Another popular activity in Canada now is fat-tire biking, which is basically a normal mountain bike with fatter tires, making it easier to peddle through the snow. This can be a great way to get some exercise, have some fun, and see the city. In fact, make it even easier by taking an ELECTRIC fat-tire biking tour in Mount Royal!
See the Lightshow at the Notre-Dame Basilica
As one of the city’s top attractions, the Notre-Dame often makes the list of the best things to do. However, when it comes to the best things to do in Montreal in winter, the Notre Dame Basilica becomes extra special as it hosts a light and sound show called AURA. Produced with the help of Moment Factory, a well-known local multimedia studio, visitors will get to see the church and its timeless architecture under a mesmerizing mix of coloured light and organ music.
Aside from the light show, there’s a reason the Notre Dame Basilica attracts more than a million visitors each year. Boasting a Neogothic design that is often described as a masterpiece in Gothic Revival architecture and built by the Roman Catholic Sulpicians in 1672, it’s just miraculous to see in person.
Explore Montreal’s BEST Neighbourhood
According to the Montreal locals, Mile End is the coolest neighbourhood to explore, thanks in part to its restaurant rows, swanky hangouts and live entertainment. This trendy neighbourhood is known for its music venues and festivals but is also home to a variety of the best cafes in Montreal, some of the best bakeries, and a wide variety of iconic food, including delicious Montreal bagels. Whether it’s a hot sunny date in the summer or a snowy day in the winter, this neighbourhood is great to visit.
Taking place in the Quartier-des-Spectacles festival grounds in downtown Montreal from the end of November to the end of January, Luminothérapie is a light and sound exhibition that wows the senses. The event brings in new exhibits all the time but you can expect stunning installations of bright lights, sound emissions, and so much more.
Watch an Ice Canoe Race
While canoeing in Canada is much more popular in the summer months, leave it to Canadians to make it a winter activity as well. While the winter version of this sport is for athletes, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun watching this crazy winter spectacle. Taking place in early March, It’s free to watch as the teams race in canoes through the icy waters from the Old Port’s Clock Tower to Parc Jean-Drapeau. This is also a popular event to see during the winter in Quebec City.
Eat Maple Syrup from a Sugar Shack
If you’re looking for a true Canadian snack while in Montreal, you really shouldn’t miss the chance to eat hardened maple syrup at a sugar shack. This is one of our all-time favourite sugary treats as it’s made from pure maple syrup. Since most of the world’s maple syrup comes from Quebec, you really can’t find a better place to enjoy this winter delight. Basically, boiling maple syrup is poured slowly over snow. As it begins to harden, you take a popsicle stick and start to roll it up into your very own popsicle. Then you eat it!
This is something you’ll see at most winter festivals but can also be found at Sugar shacks, such as Sucrerie de la Montagne, which offers a small village vibe and a preference for the traditional techniques, or La Cabane à Sucre Handfield, an estate that dates back to 1850 and offers menu adjustments to accommodate low fat, low sodium, vegetarian and gluten-free diets.
Attend a Wild Fetish Party
If you’re looking for an epic party that’s right out of a movie, check out Cirque de Boudoir, which offers a variety of kinky parties throughout the year. Hosted in a former bathhouse, one of the most popular events is The Carnavalesque Snow Ball, featuring electronic music from the best DJs, live burlesque, gogo dancers, circus performances, a dungeon, and a special midnight countdown. However, there’s a strict, but fun dress code, and some rules you need to follow. No photos allowed.
Visit a Christmas Market
If you happen to be in Montreal during the Christmas season, you may want to check out the Christmas markets. Montreal is full of artisans and craftspeople, which makes for unique shopping during the holiday season. There are way too many to visit in one shot, although feel free to prove us wrong, here are some of the most popular options:
The Great Montréal Christmas Market: Located at Quartier des spectacles from late November to late December, around 30 chalets of local and regional artisans will show off their wares along with a fine selection of gourmet stations that serve up holiday treats.
Montréal Christmas Village: Located at Atwater Place du Marché from late November to mid-December, this charming festive village features thirty-odd booths with many local and regional artisans, free family activities, and more.
Salon des métiers d’art du Québec: Located at Montréal Olympic Stadium in December, the Salon des métiers d’art du Québec is a cultural and holiday favourite that offers visitors a bounty of beautiful finds in an ultramodern new space. This place is bigger than the rest, featuring roughly 300 Québecois, and Canadian and international exhibitors who showcase their unique artistic creations.
Nutcracker Market: Located in the shopping area of Palais de Congres from late November to early December, this is the perfect place to find toys, jewelry, artisan foods, and many other things.
Merry Montreal: Located at Champ-de-Mars in Old Montreal in December, this festival offers traditional holiday activities coupled with public art displays, regional food tastings, and evening street parties, all of which are free to see!
Christmas in the Park: Located in three parks in downtown Montreal (Place Émilie-Gamelin, Parc des Compagnons de Saint-Laurent, and Parc Lahaie) from late November to late December, Christmas in the Park is open every day during the holidays, offering live performances, sleigh rides, old-fashion Christmas tree markets, and lots of food and drinks.
Taste the City with a Montreal Food Tour
As one of the top culinary cities in Canada, Montreal is a great place to treat your tastebuds. While you can do this easily on your own, sometimes it’s nice to go on a Montreal Food Tour, which not only offers delicious delights but also the history or stories of the food and locations you visit.
From Montreal Smoked Meat to local poutine and bagels, there are so many options for mouth-watering bites. If you just want to eat your way through a neighbourhood, a popular option is Mile End or Saint Laurent Boulevard.
One of the top things people often want to try in Montreal is smoked meat. Although we find the place somewhat expensive now, not to mention lacking service, one of the most notable options is Schwartz’s Deli, which has been serving hearty smoked meat sandwiches for more than 90 years. This is where many celebrities have gone, but we’re willing to bet locals have found other quiet locations at this point. Another popular option, with much more seating, is Dunn’s.
There are many foodie tours to choose from, such as:
- Walking Food Tour with Secret Food Tours
- Beyond the Market Food Tour in Montreal
- The Original Mile End Food Tour
Check out the World-Class Art
As one of the most artistic cities in Canada, one of the top things to do in Montreal in winter is to warm up in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This is the largest museum in the city, featuring five pavilions showcasing paintings, sculptures, furniture and fashion. Admission is free to the general public (for the main collection) on the first Sunday of each month.
Drink Craft Beer
Like many cities in Canada, there’s no shortage of craft breweries to enjoy in Montreal. With more than 40 breweries to visit, there’s certainly something for all tastebuds. Plus, for those looking to do their own pub crawl, many of them are within walking distance of each other.
Explore a Festive Jean-Talon Market
Open throughout the year, the Jean-Talon Market is a family-friendly, bustling market located in Little Italy. This open-air market creates the perfect environment, in both winter and summer, for visitors to try different foods from grocers, bakeries, fromageries, and fish markets. It’s actually the largest market in Montreal and the largest open-air market in North America. So whether you’re actually looking for things like fruits and vegetables or just wanting to see the market, make sure you allow enough time. Oh, and in the winter, you’ll also find lots of glittering lights and decorated Christmas Trees.
St Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
As a Canadian National Historic Site, St. Joseph’s Oratory is a sight to behold at all times of the year. This Basilica is Canada’s largest domed church and also the highest building in Montreal, beating the Mount Royal Summit by 30 metres.
The sheer size and grandeur of the outside of the Basilica are coupled with an art decor interior, perfect for anyone interested in history, art, and architecture. As a bonus, the church lies on a hill that offers panoramic views of the city. Make your way to the votive chapel inside the Basilica, which houses over 10,000 candles that will light up a winter’s day.
Explore Old Montreal
As the name suggests, Old Montreal is a historic neighbourhood in Montreal that is always featured as one of the top things to do in Montreal in winter and in summer. Whether you’re just looking for a neighbourhood to explore on foot or looking for some great restaurants and shops, there’s no shortage of sights to see in Old Montreal. Home to many old buildings and cobblestone streets, it becomes a sort of winter wonderland during the snowy months.
The area is also home to many of Montreal’s landmarks such as the Ferris wheel, the Clock Tower, and Vieux-Port de Montreal. Aside from the landmarks you have places to shop, lively bistros, and warm venues to prepare a meal for you.
Want to take a tour? Click here to check reviews for a popular walking tour of East and West Old Montreal.
Ride La Grande Roue de Montreal
Speaking of the Ferris Wheel, that’s another popular thing to do in Montreal in winter, thanks in part to the heated cabins. This is actually Canada’s tallest Ferris wheel, taking you as high as 60 metres above the ground for a 360-degree view of the city. So whether you’re looking for a winter romantic date night or an attraction for the kids, La Grande Roue de Montreal is a great option.
Shop the Underground City
By underground city, we’re not talking about the seedy underbelly but actually, a massive shopping centre that is partially underground. Leave it to Canadians to build a massive mall that links together via sprawling underground tunnels that allow you to shop til you drop without ever going outside in the winter. Whether you’re looking for general stores or high-end, musical performances or decorations, there’s something for everyone.
Drink Some Ice Wine and Cider
While the area around Montreal certainly doesn’t compare to the wineries around Niagara Falls, Kelowna, and Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, they have developed a rather robust ice wine and cider culture. If you have a car, there are a few nearby vineyards and breweries offering events and tastings independently, but you could also opt for a tour, which includes transportation to a selection of producers with tastings, tours of the facilities, and gourmet meals featuring the producer’s unique offerings. Plus, without having to drive, you can really enjoy the alcohol.
Sleep With Wolves
One of the most memorable things we’ve ever done in Quebec was spending the night in a wolf cabin at Parc Omega, which is just over an hour’s drive from Montreal. If you just want to do a day trip, you can still see the wolves, as well as a bunch of other native animals, including a variety of deer that eat carrots out of your hand. It’s a great place for the entire family. Still, nothing beats putting your feet up in bed next to a wood stove while admiring the wolves right in front of your window.
Don’t have a car? Consider this private day tour to Parc Omega from Montreal.
Go Skiing at Mont-Tremblant
Whether you’re into skiing, snowboarding, or even winter hiking, it’s hard to beat Mont-Tremblant National Park, which is less than a two-hour drive from Montreal. It’s the most famous place to ski in Quebec and actually offers the best skiing in Canada east of the Rocky Mountains.
Road Trip to Quebec City
When it comes to magical winter towns, it’s hard to beat Old Quebec in Quebec City. Located three hours away from Montreal, we highly recommend a Quebec road trip to see this beautiful walled city for a minimum of two nights if you can. Plus, if you time it well, you can experience Quebec’s winter carnival, the largest winter festival in North America!
Ring in the new year in Place Jacques-Cartier
Last but not least, if you happen to be in Montreal for the New Year, make your way to Montreal’s Place Jacques-Cartier for one of Canada’s top New Year celebrations, featuring a lineup of local musicians performing outdoors, an excellent vantage point for the lighting displays of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and a firework displays over the Saint-Lawrence River, and of course, a dance party that goes until the wee hours of the morning.
Where to Stay in Montreal
From Hotels to B&Bs, there are lots of accommodation options in Montreal. Here are three great options:
Gingerbread Manor (Budget): This beautiful 19th-century Victorian-style B&B is within walking distance of Mount Royal Park and Old Montreal. Plus, you’ll wake up to a delicious breakfast, such as banana walnut pancakes, apple-cinnamon waffles, and white chocolate orange pancakes. Click here to see reviews and availability.
Auberge du Vieux-Port (Mid-Range): This absolutely stunning hotel features gorgeous bedrooms with brick wall interiors. As if you’ve been transported to Europe, you’ll get stunning views of Montreal from the rooftop patio and loads of amenities such as a spa, restaurant, and fitness centre. Click here to see reviews and availability.
The Ritz-Carlton (Luxury): Located within walking distance to many attractions, those seeking luxury know what to expect from Ritz-Carlton. The hotel, grounds, and rooms are all exquisite and you can expect top-notch amenities such as a pool, spa, restaurants, and more. Click here to see reviews and availability.
Looking for More Things to Do?
As you can see, winter shouldn’t scare you away from Canada. It should inspire you to visit. As long as you dress warm, it really is a beautiful and unique time of year to explore Canada. However, there’s more to this incredible country than Montreal, so for more detailed travel guides, here are some options below: