How to Spend 2 Days in Montreal in Winter

Montreal in Winter

Montreal in Winter

Where can you find a little slice of Europe in Canada? Look no further than Montreal. Canada’s 2nd largest city is equal parts French heart and Canadian charm. It’s full of interesting neighbourhoods, fabulous food, and vibrant culture. While many people visit in the summer, winters in  Montreal can be just as magical, if a bit cold.

Winter in Montreal starts in November and can extend through to April. It can be frigid so you should definitely come prepared to spend some time outdoors in temperatures down to -25C. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a packing list for Montreal in winter that will have you staying warm and keeping up with the fashionable Québécoise.

Despite the winter temperatures you’ll find hundreds of tourists out enjoying all that Montreal has to offer in the snowy season.

Though, I must admit that one of the best things about Montreal for me is that so much of the city core is connected by their underground city. The pedestrian network right under the heart of the city links metro stations to office buildings and shopping plazas for over 33 kilometres, so even if you loathe the cold outdoors, you can still plan a fun winter weekend getaway.

2 Day Montreal Itinerary

The most common two day trip to Montreal would be over a weekend so I’ve spread your 48 hours in Montreal over three calendar days.

Pre-Day One

Arrive in Montreal in the afternoon and check into your accommodations. After getting settled away, head to Joe Beef for dinner. It’s a relaxed restaurant & bar serving steaks & seafood in a compact, old-school setting. They specialize in ambitious but unfussy French cooking and are quite popular so I suggest making a reservation before you get in town.

After dinner, make your way to Quartier des Spectacles, Montreal’s premiere entertainment district to check out Luminothérapie. For the past 10 years, it has been Quebec’s biggest competition for temporary public installations with an original and captivating interactive experience in the Quartier des Spectacles, with a major installation in Place des Festivals accompanied by an architectural projection.

Finish your first evening in Montreal with some drinks and live music at the confusingly named Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill (it’s actually located in the basement floor of the Rue Mackay building. It’s a cozy little bar where the cold drinks and smooth jazz will warm you right up.

Day One

Start your day early with a morning stroll through Old Montreal, taking in the old world Europoean feel of the buildings. Fuel up at NELLi Cafe in the atrium of the Hotel Nelligan. Get a grab ‘n go coffee and breakfast sandwich or take a seat and relax. Coffee lovers will not want to miss their Québec-exclusive, RS1 third-wave coffee blend.

Be sure to pop into Notre Dame Basilica, the iconic Gothic revival church in the heart of Old Montreal. Its opulent, richly colorful interior is a sight to behold, especially the vaulted ceilings which are painted deep blue and scattered with stars to resemble the night sky. It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo here.

Fun fact: in 1994, Celine Dion married René Angelil here in a lavish ceremony that was broadcast on Canadian television.

After your stroll, spend the rest of your morning indulging yourself at Bota Bota, a family-run Nordic spa located on a refurbished river ferry boat, famous for their water circuit. There are three steps to the ritual: start off with hot (dry sauna or steam bath), move to cold (quick dip in a cold bath or shower), and finally you relax (hammocks, beanbags, sun loungers). Repeat this 30 minutes circuit 3 or 4 times and you’ll leave the riverfront spa feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

Schwartz's Deli

For today’s lunch you’ll discover a Montreal icon. You’ll likely have to line up to get into Schwartz’s Deli, but that’s been part of its charm ever since it opened in 1928. Your toes might get cold, but it’s worth it. While the Jewish deli serves steaks and turkey, what you’re really here for is their Montreal smoked meat sandwich (beef brisket). Order it “medium-fat” for the perfect bite. The 6-inch high sandwich comes with a dill pickle and hand-cut fries. Pair it with a cherry Coke for the perfect lunch.

After lunch you’ll hop on a bus (or take an Uber) and head 6km northeast to Montreal’s Olympic Park. Here you can take a tour of the spaceship looking Olympic Stadium, ride to the top of the Montreal Tower* for spectacular 360° views of the city, or visit the Biodome – an indoor walk through five ecosystems. You will go from the lush Tropical Rainforest to the penguins in the Sub-Polar Regions, with stops in the Laurentian Maple Forest and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The animals are free to come and go and you’ll sometimes see them in some surprising spots! My favourite is the tropical rainforest which is lush and warm even in the depths of a Montréal winter. Plan to spend about 2 hours exploring here.

*Note the tower is closed for renovations until winter 2023.

You can’t visit Quebec without having poutine at least once! It’s a rule. La Banquise is famous for having authentic poutine along with 30 different varieties of the Canadian classic. If you’ve made it this far into planning a weekend in Montreal without knowing what poutine is, let me correct that. A classic poutine is french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. It looks atrocious but tastes delicious. La Banquise is a perfect casual dinner before your evening activities.

If the Montreal Canadiens are in town, do what you can to get yourself tickets to see the Habs at the Bell Center. Even if you’re not a big hockey fan, catching a live game is an experience unto itself. Before long, you’ll find yourself caught up in the excitement of cheering on the home team. If you can’t get tickets, find a nearby sports bar and cheer from there. See how many friends you can make before the 3rd period.

Aside from hockey, there’s always plenty of live entertainment happening in Montreal. Maybe you’re up for an EDM show at New City Gas.  Maybe you prefer the theatre. Or you could head back to the port to experience La Grande Roue de Montreal, the tallest observation wheel in Canada, at night. The gondolas are heated in the winter so you’ll be comfortable no matter the weather.

Day Two

Make your first stop this morning to St-Viateur Bagel Shop and pick up a dozen or two fresh bagels to take home with you. There’s no better souvenir than one you can eat! You’ll soon find out why so many people think that Montreal style bagels are superior to New York bagels.

Spend your last morning in Montreal at Mount Royal Park getting some fresh air and putting a rosy glow on your cheeks. There’s an almost endless list of winter activities you can partake in here. You can go skating at the Beaver Lake rink, go on a guided snowshoe excursion through the park, or my favourite, snow tubing. Get in touch with your inner kid and rediscover the thrill of sliding down a snowy hill on an air-filled doughnut. Rentals are available for all activities.

After a morning of outdoor fun, you’ve got time for one last lunch in Montreal. After poutine and bagels, choose a light option with a beautiful salad from Mandy’s. Go for photogenic mixes of veg, dressing, meat (if you like) and toppers like crispy noodles or tempura onions. Salads here aren’t cheap but are exceedingly well-crafted.

This final suggestion is going to sound a bit niche but hear me out. You need to swing by Les Cours Mont-Royal (1455 Peel street, between Ste-Catherine and de Maisonneuve) and check out the Barbie Expo. It’s the largest permanent exhibition of Barbie dolls in the world, and it’s free! There are over 1,000 dolls on display, including some of the most exclusive and unique Barbies ever made. If you’ve ever played with Barbies as a young girl or if you just love to see the fashion, this is a great way to spend a half hour.

That’s it, weekend over. Time flies when you’re having a wonderful winter weekend. Time to collect your bags from your hotel and head to the airport to catch your flight home. I hope you had an amazing weekend in Montreal!

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