With winter temperatures plummeting well below zero degrees F, Montreal may not sound like a great location to spend your hard-earned vacation days. But there’s no doubt that a touch of freshly fallen snow produces a certain je ne sais quoi, that takes the beauty of this gorgeous Canadian city to another level.
If you’re looking to spend a short amount of time in the city (perhaps half a day), here’s how to experience many of Montreal’s quintessential landmarks by foot.
Parc Jeanne-Mance/Mount Royal
Rising over 700 feet from the center of the island city, Mount Royal is the perfect place to start your walking tour. The mountain is covered with trails from the George-Étienne Cartier Monument to Mount Royal’s peak, offering numerous spectacular views of the city. However, hiking to the summit in the winter can be quite the workout, so begin with a loop around Parc Jeanne-Mance, located at the base of the mountain. You can get a taste of how Canadians embrace the winter by watching a pick-up hockey game or by joining in the fun yourself and taking a sled down the side of Mount Royal.
Square Saint Louis/Le Plateau (10-min walk southeast)
Le Plateau — famously home to Leonard Cohen and many other musicians and artists — fans out to the east of Parc Jeanne-Mance. You’ll pass spectacular murals (there is an annual street art festival called Muralfest in the summer) and brightly colored houses as you zig-zag your way along Rue de Bullion and Avenue Laval toward Square St. Louis. One of the most photographed places in Montreal, Square St. Louis is surrounded on all sides by beautiful Victorian-style houses, which are more reminiscent of a small European village than a large North American city. In the winter, the square is often quiet and nearly empty, so all you’ll hear is the squeak, squeak, squeak of your boots in the fresh snow.
Quartier des Spectacles/Downtown (15 to 30-min walk southwest)
As you walk west along Rue Prince Arthur and then down Rue Clark, you’ll feel the transition from the quirkiness of Le Plateau to the concrete and glass of downtown Montreal. Soon you’ll arrive at the Quartier des Spectacles, where you’ll find everything from interactive installations to lumberjack festivals all winter long. At this point, you might need to warm up, so pop into Café Parvis for a croissant and coffee (or a pizza and wine, depending on the time of day) while you ready yourself for the rest of the tour.
Vieux-Montreal (15 to 30 min walk south)
Being first settled in the early 1600s, Old Montreal perfectly preserves the city’s rich history, while surrounding it with plenty of new activities and sightseeing opportunities. As you walk down Rue Saint-Denis, you’ll soon spot the Grande Roue ferris wheel peeking out from between 19th-century stone buildings. Take a few minutes to wander around the narrow streets, and you just might catch a horse-drawn carriage meandering along the winding cobblestones. Head toward the ferris wheel in the Vieux Port de Montreal (Old Port), and at its base you’ll find Montreal’s rival to New York City’s Rockefeller Center skating rink. With gorgeous views of downtown Montreal, Jacques Cartier Bridge, Habitat 67, and Parc Jean-Drapeau, Old Port is the perfect locale to finish off your tour.
If the thought of thawing out in thermal baths and steam rooms that overlook the Montreal skyline sounds good to you, check out Bota Bota right next to the Grande Roue. Closing your eyes and relaxing in the open-air thermal spa as the snow falls is a truly unique way to take in the beauty of the Old Port.