Montreal is a winter wonderland, the festival capital of Canada and the birthplace of poutine. What makes Montreal so charming is the seamless combination of North American modernism and French-Canadian culture. Not only a feast for the eyes but also the tastebuds, this chilly city is also known for it’s eclectic cuisine. And if you can bare the cold, winters in Montreal are a never-ending party, hosting some of the best outdoor festivals in the country.
Montreal is a compact city perfect for weekend visits, but with so much to do, see and eat, you may need some pointers. We’ve rounded up the best parts of the city to make your next Montreal visit smooth sailing.
Getting downtown from the airport
Montreal is not a huge city, which makes getting around pretty stress-free. To get downtown from the airport, visitors have the option of taking the The 747 bus line, a 24/7 service that takes about an hour to get into the city. A flat rate of $40 will get you a taxi ride, or there is the option of ordering an Uber. But be warned, the service is not completely legal in Montreal and drivers may ask passengers to sit up front with them.
Start your morning with a bagel, and a hike up Mount Royal
Who really has the best bagels: New York or Montreal? The only way to find out is by visiting some (or all) of Montreal’s finest bagel shops. While St-Viateur and Fairmount are among the most legendary, Real Bagel has earned a spot on our list for having perfectly crisp and doughy bagels, and unique speciality flavours like spicy all-dressed and Oreo.
Once you’ve fuelled up, find one of the many marked walking paths leading to Mount Royal, and get your hike on. This volcanic summit offers a perfect view of the city and the St. Lawrence River. The hike to the top takes about 45 minutes, so it’s best to bring some water, and maybe another bagel.
Explore Canada’s art scene
Montreal has no shortage of culture, with a thriving local music and art scene, and top-notch museums. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a great starting point for both classic and contemporary pieces. Next, continue your art crawl by heading north on Saint-Catherine’s and check out The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, featuring a special exhibit on the late Leonard Cohen, a true Quebec icon. For a truly local experience, Art Souterrain is the place to be. The three-week festival showcases the best of Montreal’s underground art scene, scattered across the city.
Travel back in time in Old Montreal
Though Old Montreal has become somewhat of a tourist trap, you can’t deny it’s charm, making it a must-see neighbourhood during your visit. Once the cute shops and cafes have opened for the day, the narrow streets become cozy, cheerful, and quite busy. But don’t waste your money getting lunch at one of the cheesy old town pubs, instead hit up Lola Rosa on William street for Mexican-inspired vegetarian comfort food. But if you’re aching for straight-up poutine, head to La Banquise, or LOV for a vegan update to this beloved dish.
Relax and recharge at an outdoor spa
While the weather outside may be frightful, the services at Bota Bota are so delightful. Located right on the river, this water therapy spa offers ultimate relaxation in a picture perfect setting. Guests have access to the pools, sauna, steam room, and “nap areas”, both indoors and outside on the deck. And if you’re feeling extra sore after that hike, opt for a hot stone massage to finish off your visit.
Feel like a Québécois hipster with dinner and drinks in Mile End
There is something about Montreal that is inherently cool, and it’s not just the six months of snowfall. Being both a university city and the home to a large population of creatives, Montreal is a breeding ground for trendy bars and restaurants, most of which you can find within the north-west neighbourhood known as Mile End. For a romantic dinner, book a table at Petite Maison for a decadent but delicately prepared meal. Or for something more cozy, start at Magpie Pizzeria for some of Montreal’s best wood-fire pizza, then head to the Ping Pong Club for craft beer, foosball, and Janga.
Party it up at one of Montreal’s notorious winter festivals
Nobody does winter festivals quite like Montreal. And no matter how cold it may be, thousands of people visit Montreal each year to see what all the fuss is about. Igloofest has been bringing international music artists to Montreal for over 10 years. EDM lovers can enjoy three weekends of non-stop dancing fun at one spectacular outdoor venue. But if dancing isn’t your jam, there tons of more relaxed festivals to keep you entertained all night. Montreal En Lumiere is a free outdoor event that welcomes over 1 million guests every year. Featuring music, carnival rides, street art, and even zip-lining, there’s something for every mood.
By the end of the night you’re sure to be well-fed, thoroughly entertained and excited to wake up the next day and do it all over again.