One of the easy things about planning a trip to Montreal is that there’s really not a bad time of year to visit. With a climate and geography comparable to that of northern New England, the city fully experiences all four seasons, its ever-changing tableau a source of beauty and inspiration for travelers and local creatives. From vibrant foliage in the fall to a reinvigorating bloom in the spring, you’ll somehow always end up feeling refreshed when you set foot in Quebec’s largest city. And whenever you choose to visit, the city will greet you with its favorite seasonal activities! Here are a few to consider.
There’s no two ways about it — Montreal winters are cold. But the residents of this northeastern city are tough, and they’re not about to let snowfall or lows of 10°F (-12°C) stand in the way of a good time.
In fact, since winters in Québec are so magical, locals embrace the cold, throwing on an extra layer or two in order to enjoy the blustery beauty of their city under a fresh blanket of snow. So, pack that winter jacket, throw on your best tuque, and enjoy Montreal’s most wonderful season.
Bundle up and get outside
Just because it’s the cold season doesn’t mean you can’t get out into nature. While most of the other creatures are off hibernating, you can take advantage of the weather and have the snow-covered woods all to yourself.
Your best option is Mount Royal Park (whose eponymous triple-peaked hill lent its name to the city that now surrounds it), where winter activities abound. If you’re more at home on blades than on foot, lace up your skates and glide across Beaver Lake, or if you really want to get that adrenaline pumping, hop into a snow tube or toboggan and fly down the hill! For those who want a more peaceful excursion, try renting some snowshoes or cross-country skis and setting out across the park’s many hiking trails. The stillness of the woods coupled with the sight of the leafless branches covered in fresh snow will create a memory you won’t soon forget.
Less than a mile northeast, you’ll discover another great spot for outdoor adventure within the city. Parc La Fontaine has served as a community gathering space and a gorgeous respite from the urban sprawl ever since it was established in the 1870s. Though much smaller than Mount Royal Park, it offers many of the same opportunities for adventure, and you can expect it to be slightly less crowded. And, as an extra tip, the best time to ice skate here is after nightfall, when the pond is illuminated by floodlights and you can skate to the tune of the music playing over the park’s speakers.
Explore the urban wonderland
You don’t have to escape into the woods to enjoy a Montreal winter. The city itself, with its abundant foliage and varied contemporary architecture, is gorgeous under snowfall. One of the most scenic explorations is a walking tour of the city’s Old Town. Marvel at the flags, signs, and multicolored awnings decorating the stone buildings and quaint shops, and feel like you’re gallivanting through old Europe as you traipse across its cobblestone streets. And, if the chill starts to bite at your cheeks and fingertips, don’t be afraid to duck into a café for a hot chocolate, or even something a little stronger.
As a bonus, when you reach the Old Port, you can trade in your boots for blades and while away some time skating against the backdrop of the city. When you need to warm up, you can either grab a bite at the little village next to the patinoire, or walk up to one of the city’s greatest attractions: the Observation Wheel. Known as La Grande Roue de Montréal, this ferris wheel is equipped with heated cabins that rise almost 200 feet (60 meters) into the sky, offering wondrous views of the skyline, the mountains, the river, and the Old Town — all dressed in white.
Light up the night
The most magical winter moments often arrive after the sun goes down, when holiday string lights illuminate the city streets and countless cafés beckon you through their doors with promises of cozy parlors and warm drinks. In Montreal, one of the best spots for lighting up the winter sky is the Place des Festivals, which hosts the annual interactive installation known as Luminothérapie. Described as a remedy against the melancholy brought on by the dark days of winter, Luminotherapie aims to merge light and movement, utilizing a different approach each year. For instance, in 2014, the theme was “Prismatic,” and the displays included clear panels with reflective filters that created a multi-colored kingdom of prisms and light rays. This winter, the organizers have created a domino effect, constructing an elaborate playground of luminous dominos that trigger a wide range of lights and sound effects. In short, it’s a winter wonderland that’s sure to bring out your inner child.
If you’d prefer to forget your inner child and lighten yourself up in a more adult fashion, we recommend visiting Bartizen, the bar located at the W Hotel, for a proper Québec gin tasting. Specializing in the wintry juniper spirit, Bartizen offers more than 50 different types, many of which are distilled locally, as well as a prime selection of Québec essential oil “perfumes.” If the bite of straight-up gin is a little strong for your liking, try one of their in-house cocktails. Holiday favorites include the Canopée (made with cedar, lemon, cucumber-lime tonic, and a white spruce and juniper perfume) and the Wendigo (made with seabuckthorn, honey comb, fever tree light tonic, and orange and ginger perfume). If you’re looking to get a jump-start on the weekend, you can also attend their Gin and Tonic Thursdays, where they introduce a new drink every week of the year!
As the city thaws, the snow melts, and the flowers bloom, it’s time to shake off the frost and welcome in the new warmth with open arms. Spring has sprung in Montreal, so here’s how to rejoice in the refreshing light of the year ahead!
Indulge in some post-hibernation cuisine
The best way to wake from a winter slumber is with a hearty meal. Luckily, Montreal is not lacking in that department. Food tours are a popular way to get around the city, with a variety of companies offering to guide you through Montreal’s best neighborhoods and restaurants while sampling the local fare.
Though your options are plentiful, we recommend booking with Local Food Tours, who offer excursions through Old Montreal, Mile End, and the Plateau, and have designed specialized options such as evening tours and bar crawls. Wherever you go, be sure to test out the city’s culinary specialties, such as poutine, Montreal-style bagels, smoked meats, and anything made with real maple syrup. And if you need something to wash it all down, you’ll be happy to know that Montreal loves its wine. You can’t go wrong with any of the wine bars in Old Montreal, Little Italy, or Mile End, though one of our favorites is Modavie in the heart of Old Town. With its exposed brick walls, live jazz, and delicious lamb poutine, the quaint French bistro is the sort of cozy establishment you’d want to end up in after a long day on the town.
Stretch Your Legs
To say those from Montreal like to bike would be an understatement. The city’s residents prefer two-wheeled transportation so heavily that many even push through the winds of winter to ride year-round. That said, the best time of year for cycling is spring, when the ice has melted and the city has blossomed. And with a varied network of paths and trails crisscrossing the city, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Strava-addict roadie or a laid-back pedaler — all bikers will find a way to get to where they’re going.
Unless you’re planning on lugging your own bike to the city, you’ll need to first find one to ride. If you’re going to be covering a lot of miles throughout your stay, you should consider renting with Montreal On Wheels. Not only do they offer an extensive menu of bikes to choose from, but you can also sign up for one of their guided tours, which include a Vista-Architecture Tour and a Food Tour. For those who might just take a casual ride or two, you can always opt for Montreal’s convenient bike-share program, Bixi. Just buy a one-day or one-way pass at the terminal, and get riding!
As for where to go once you’re in the saddle, you can peruse a map of the city’s paths from Montreal On Wheels, and choose anywhere you want to see around the city. That said, there are definitely a few quintessential routes you won’t want to miss. The Lachine Canal, for instance, is one of the best, winding roughly nine miles (14 kilometers) from Lachine to Old Port along a paved path that completely avoids the roads. Another great option is cycling through Parc Jean-Drapeau, which offers more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) of scenic bike paths and can be reached by cycling from Old Port via the Concordia Bridge. Happy riding!
Summer in Montreal is a celebration. Known as the City of Festivals, it erupts in a series of jamborees during its sunny season, with visitors struggling to take 10 steps without stumbling into a crowd of revelers. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but the sentiment rings true. So, whether you want to join in the festivities or escape to somewhere a little quieter, here’s how to spend your summer in the city.
Attend a Festival
The hardest part about taking advantage of Montreal’s summer festivals is simply choosing which ones to go to. With the city hosting close to 100 every year, there are going to be a lot that you simply have to save for another visit. And while you can’t really go wrong with any of them, here are a few to seriously consider when drafting up your itinerary.
When discussing Montreal festivals, you’ll hear the phrase in the world quite often — as in the largest jazz festival in the world, or the largest French music festival in the world. The city on the St. Lawrence takes its celebrations seriously and, consequently, finds itself earning a lot of these sorts of accolades. For instance, comedians often strive to land a spot at Just For Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival. Because many talent scouts and booking agents attend, the event is a huge opportunity for undiscovered stand-ups to strut their stuff and take the next step in their careers. Additionally, while many of Montreal’s festivals undoubtedly use pyrotechnics, the city even hosts a festival solely for fireworks. The Montreal Fireworks Festival is the largest and most prestigious show of its kind, attracting millions of spectators from around the globe to witness its the spectacular displays.
Perhaps the city’s most well-known festival, Osheaga is a massive indie music and visual arts festival that takes place across six different stages in the Parc Jean-Drapeau. Its lineup is always astounding, placing local and emerging acts alongside massive artists like Portugal, the Man; Arctic Monkeys; and St. Vincent. So, whether you want to hear a set from your favorite band or try to discover the next big thing, you’re guaranteed to have one of the best concert experiences of your life at an unbeatable outdoor venue.
Now that we’ve just barely cracked the surface, feel free to check out a more extensive list of Montreal’s festivals and events here!
Escape the Noise
If all of the crowds and festivals are bringing out your inner agoraphobe, it might be time to get outside of the city for a bit. Luckily, there’s a multitude of national parks in close proximity. Only a short drive away, they each offer ample opportunity for outdoor adventure and immersion in the natural world — just the antidote needed to counterbalance the abundant energy within the city limits.
Nautical enthusiasts should venture to Parc National de la Yamaska or Parc National d’Oka, each of which are brimming with relaxing activities such as stand-up paddle-boarding, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, sailing, or pedal-boating. Their lakes are bordered by long stretches of sandy shorelines, so you can also just kick back at the beach if that’s your thing. At Oka, you and your family can also spend the afternoon at the Aquazilla, an inflatable water course anchored just off the beach.
Parc National des Îles-de-Boucherville beckons to aquatic adventurers as well, with its network of channels cutting through the marshland. Additionally, it’s a haven for hikers and bikers who rejoice in the endless exploration provided by the park’s 13 miles (21 kilometers) of trails. Those who wish to lose themselves in a wooded oasis, though, might opt for Parc National du Mont-Saint-Bruno, whose orchard, historic mill, and fresh forest air is ripe for everything from wildlife-watching to apple-picking. And when you’re all done for the day, you can enjoy a pastry and refreshment at the park’s Vieux Moulin tea room.
Montreal wears autumn like a hand-knitted scarf. The trees explode in a patchwork of vermillion and golden yellow while the air grows crisp and refreshing. Few places around the world are as spectacular come fall, so however you choose to spend your time here — even if it’s just a jaunt through the city — you’ll find yourself in awe.
Take A Foliage Walk
One of the simplest and most rewarding ways to experience autumn in Montreal is to just get outside and breathe it in. Many of the previously discussed parks and green spaces — like Mount Royal, Parc La Fontaine, Parc Jean-Drapeau, or any of the national parks on the outskirts of the city — transform into a natural wonderland in the fall. They offer trails and tunnels of reds, oranges, and yellows, and pathways where you can hear the crunch of the fallen leaves underfoot.
But plenty of other spots throughout the city provide equally exciting autumnal experiences as well. There’s the Botanical Garden, for instance, where you can wander through 10 different greenhouses and more than 30 thematic gardens — such as the alpine garden, the Japanese garden, the First Nations garde, and the Courtyard of the Senses — each with its own particular brand of fall colors.
You can even get your autumn fix while staying within the traditional urban sprawl of the city — for example, the Old Port comes alive in the fall, its tree-lined walkways erupting in color while a chilly breeze blows in off the river. All told, no block or neighborhood truly escapes the beauty of a Montreal autumn, so you’ll have to just get out there and marvel at every last inch of it.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Pull out a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s in Montreal and you might get shunned from the city. Like their Vermont neighbors to the south, the Québecois consider maple syrup to be more than just a condiment. It’s a cultural icon, something to be both savored and devoured. And it all starts at the mecca of “La Belle Province” — the cabane à sucre, otherwise known as the sugar shack. Sugar shacks are small cabins out in the country where sap is collected from the surrounding sugar maple trees and boiled down into syrup. Today, many have evolved into commercial establishments where you can gather for delectable, maple-heavy meals and even additional activities, such as tours of the grounds or sleigh rides through the woods. When we say that a trip to Montreal would be incomplete without a visit to one of these locales, we’re only barely exaggerating.
To be sure, the best time to visit is generally in the early spring (known as the “sugaring off” season), when the thaw of winter provides the best period for extracting the sap. That said, many sugar shacks are open in the fall, or even year-round, and the deep red of the sugar maples come autumn only makes the visit that much more magical. Some popular choices include Sucrerie de la Montagne, a rustic mountain cabin where you can take horse-drawn carriage rides and try maple taffy made by pouring syrup over freshly fallen snow; and L’Hermine Cabane À Sucre, whose home-cooked menu lays out dishes like maple baked beans and old-style mashed potatoes, not to mention a variety of microbrewery beers and ciders. Just make sure the hotel you’re staying at has an elliptical — if you do things right, you’re going to have some extra calories to burn off!
Want something a little more evergreen for your itinerary? Check out our museum guide or foodies’ guide to Montreal! When visiting the city, consider staying at a Marriott International — positioned within walking distance of Montreal’s best attractions and neighborhoods.