Montreal: A Winter Wonderland
In the days leading up to my trip to Montreal with my husband, I watched the weather forecast with increasing dread, bracing myself for highs less than 0 – and yet despite the cold, Montreal proved to be the perfect destination for a holiday getaway.
With an apartment near the historic Old Town as our home base, we were within walking distance of museums, restaurants, bars, and the famous park at Mount Royal. We even took a day tour to Quebec City that began and ended just a few minutes’ walk from our apartment. While French is the first language of many residents, most were also English speakers, so it was very easy to get around.
Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts was one of our first stops. The museum’s extensive permanent collection is free and does not require a ticket. One of its buildings is devoted exclusively to Quebec and Canadian art, ranging from contemporary Inuit sculpture to 18th-century painting and silverware.
Around the corner, a shopping mall houses the Barbie Expo. This collection includes over 1000 dolls dressed in traditional costumes from around the world. There are also dresses by well-known designers such as Christian Dior and Vera Wang, dresses reflecting popular brands such as Coca Cola, and beloved movie characters.
Other museums include the Biodome, located in Olympic Village. A botanic garden and planetarium are nearby, and a combined ticket can be purchased for all three attractions or any combination of two.
We also visited the Pointe-a-Calliere museum complex, part of which is built directly on top of the foundations of a 17th-century fort. A temporary exhibit there detailed the illustrious history of the Montreal Canadiens and other local and national hockey teams.
Even more impressive than the museums, the Notre Dame Basilica is an architectural gem not to be missed. Spectacular stained-glass windows, a masterfully carved altar and an organ with 7,000 pipes are just some of its crowning features.
When it comes to food, Montreal has numerous specialties – in particular, it’s known for smoked meat, bagels and poutine. The most recognizable location for smoked meat sandwiches is Schwartz’s Deli, but a local recommended skipping the line and heading to the Main Deli Steakhouse right across the street. We enjoyed a signature sandwich of tender, flavorful smoked meat piled on rye bread with mustard.
Fairmount Bagel is one of the city’s top bagel shops, and we stopped by its original location after ascending Mount Royal. From the chateau at the top, we were rewarded with an awe-inspiring view of Montreal, from McGill University almost directly below to the St. Lawrence River in the distance.
Open 24 hours a day, Fairmount Bagel has no tables – just a counter, with busy bakers visible in the background. We tried the plain, cumin, and garlic varieties. All three had a crispy exterior but a soft, delightfully doughy middle. The bakery also offers crunchy sweet bagels and a selection of toppings.
There is plenty to do in Montreal, but Quebec City, a three-hour drive away, is worth a trip. During our brief time there, we went to the famous Montmorency Falls, nearly 300 feet high and only partially frozen. A cable car brings visitors to the top of the falls, and in the summer, it’s possible to ride a zipline across the water.
In the city, we went to the 31st floor of the Marie-Guyart Building for a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, with interactive displays describing the history of notable buildings. Before leaving, we had time to explore the charming Old Town with its variety of art galleries.
The Chateau Frontenac, Quebec’s most recognizable building, also welcomes tourists to visit its art gallery and an exhibit detailing its history. In the lobby, a variety of thematically decorated Christmas trees created a festive mood.
Montreal’s gorgeous architecture makes it an exciting city to explore on foot, and a day pass for public transportation is only $10, making it easy to travel throughout the city. Although we decided against outdoor activities, sports like cross country skiing and ice skating are just a few additional options for winter visitors.
Overall, we decided we will plan our next trip to Montreal for July or August – but it’s an incredible city that we look forward to visiting again!
If you go:
1380 Sherbrooke Street, Montreal H3G 1J5
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday with extended hours on Wednesday for the Major Exhibition only
1455 Peel Street, Montreal H3A 1T5
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
4777 Avenue Pierre-De Coubertin, Montreal H1V 1B3
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
110 Notre-Dame Street West, Montreal H2Y 1T2
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
3864 Boul. Saint-Laurent, Montreal H2W 1Y2
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday