Every winter, Montreal tops our list for the best place to find winter value. This year was no exception, but there is more to draw travelers than hotel discounts. From Swedish baths to famous restaurants and the annual Montreal en Lumiere festival, Dena Roché shares her top 10 finds for weathering the cold in Montreal.
Most people who travel to cold climates do so to ski, but traveling to a wintery destination can offer pleasures off the slopes for adventurous souls. Montreal is a vibrant city no matter what the season, and for winter travelers it offers a bevy of activities to entertain any number of interests. Here’s a look at the top 10 things to do in Montreal in winter.
Just like in New York City, bagels are an institution in Montreal. Head to the Jewish quarter of the city and sample the tradition at Fairmont Bagels. In 1919 this family-owned bakery defined the Montreal bagel; rolled by hand, boiled in a bath of honey water and baked in a wood-fired oven. The result is a unique bagel that is a simple delight when eaten straight out of the oven. Since 1957 St. Viateur has rivaled Fairmont for bagel supremacy in the city. While both shops offer many varieties, the sesame is the original and most say the best.
Stay in an Igloo
Born in Finland, the Snow Village ice resort concept opened its first North American property this year in Montreal’s Parc Jean Drapeau. For intrepid, hot-blooded travelers, it offers 15 rooms, 10 suites and six igloos to bed down for the night (prices range from $195-295 per person). All accommodations are unique. For those who can’t imagine sleeping in a hotel made of ice, the Snow Village offers a restaurant, bar and the chance to tour the rooms. Each year the Snow Village will highlight a different city carved in ice. This year, it’s a very cold version of the Big Apple.
Dance the Night Away
Did you know that Montreal is one of the top spots in the world for tango? The dance is wildly popular with locals. If you want to learn how to dance this sexy Latin street dance head to Tanguera, the oldest tango school in Montreal, for group lessons Thursday or Friday night ($25), or book a private lesson for one or two people ($80).
See Quebec Art
The Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art is a recent latest addition to The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The Pavilion blends old and new, incorporating the former Erskine and American Church into the design. The old church now houses the Bourgie Concert Hall, while the new addition features four levels of Canadian art including works by the Group of Seven, Kent Monkman and Jean-Paul Riopelle. Admission to the pavilion is complimentary.
Montreal en Lumiere
The Montreal en Lumiere, an 11-day winter festival is one of the largest celebrations of winter in the world drawing nearly one million participants and featuring performing arts, gastronomy and free outdoor family activities. Performances, culinary and wine events, and art are featured throughout the city during the festival, culminating in Nuit Blanche, an all-night, city-wide party. It seems the entire city comes out on Nuit Blanche to take part in over 180 mostly free activities throughout Montreal (all linked by a free shuttle). With art, music, film, performances and outdoor family activities centered downtown there is something that is bound to keep everyone up all night. The festival is happening now through March 3, 2013.
Hit the Slopes in the City
The crown jewel in Montreal’s extensive park system is Mount Royal. Just minutes from downtown you can enjoy this 500-acre paradise designed by Central Park’s landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, by cross-country ski, snowshoe or hiking. Within the park are family-friendly activities like ice skating and tubing.
Skate in an Office Building
If skating outside seems like too frigid a prospect, head downtown to Atrium Le1000 for Montreal’s best indoor ice skating arena, housed in the tallest building in Montreal. Open skate periods are available daily. General admission is $7, Children under 12 $5 and students $6. Skate rental is available for $6.50. The rink is located at the Bonaventure metro station.
Eat, Eat, Eat
No matter the season, Montreal is foodie nirvana. Montreal is second only to New York in restaurants per capita in North America and offers the opportunity to sample the world without leaving the city through its diverse ethnic eats. Try a bite of the Portuguese culture at FBar and sample dishes like cod with red beans and smoked paprika oyster mushrooms in a foie gras broth. Italians are one of the largest groups in Montreal and they’re well represented by 70-year-old Chef Emma of Restaurant Emma. Serving Roman Italian dishes in Old Town, Emma’s effervescent personality and culinary prowess has made her restaurant a haunt for stars like Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Steven Spielberg. On a recent visit to the restaurant a parade of patrons were in and out of the kitchen. My favorite was the gentleman who serenaded Emma with opera in honor of her standing-ovation worthy food! It goes without saying that fantastic French gastronomy can be found throughout the city.
While art is sometimes considered a sub-culture, in Montreal it’s subterranean. Located throughout the metro system are 140 permanent pieces of contemporary art making the subway station the longest art gallery in the world. As you criss-cross the city take the time to view the distinctive art in each station and in the pedestrian tunnels that connect downtown Montreal underground
Take the chill off at the Scandinave Les Bains in Old Montreal by experiencing the traditional Scandinavian bathing ritual of warm soak, cold soak and time to relax. Or head to the urban outpost of the famous Spa Eastman for a custom massage, Ayruvedic treatment or a moisturizing winter facial. It’s the perfect season to try Infa Therapy in the spa’s private infrared sauna.
Planning Your Stay: If the ice hotel isn’t in your plans, stay downtown where there are 10 hotels with direct access to the Metro and Pedestrian underground network. Built for the 1967 World Fair Expo the four diamond, the Marriott Chateau Champlain, is a historic option that has hosted the likes of Fidel Castro and George Clooney. Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile is one block from the Peel metro station in the financial district, home to the trendy Le Bar that attracts locals and visitors from all over the city.
For more Montreal travel ideas, check out:
- Travel Deals: Find the Best Winter Savings in Cold Climates
- Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide: Montreal, Quebec
- The Canada Travel Archives
By Dena Roché for PeterGreenberg.com. Dena Roché, aka, The Fitglobetrotter, covers luxury, wellness and spa travel worldwide. Her work has appeared in Spa Magazine, Robb Report, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, and Bridal Guide. Follow her travels and travel tips on Twitter @fitglobetrotter