Montreal's winter temperature often dips well below zero. But from ice-skating and husky-sledding to Canada's cosiest and friendliest bars, this snowy wonderland has plenty to keep the heart pumping
Coming from England, where a faint sprinkle of snow triggers a national shut down, the idea of spending winter in a city with temperatures of -14 is enough to send a shiver down the spine. But it turns out that, despite the bitter cold, Montreal provides enough excitement to keep the adrenalin pumping and the blood flowing.
As a student living there for a year, I discovered a city that thrives in all seasons. As the snow piles up in December and fair-weather tourists disappear, the city really comes into its own. In fact, this snowy metropolis flourishes more with every flurry.
Al fresco activities
Outdoor ice-skating at the Old Port (Old Montreal, Champ-de-Mars Metro) is a fun and healthy way to bring colour to your cheeks. Open from mid-December until March, the rink attracts a vibrant crowd with themed music nights, from pop Saturdays to crooner Tuesdays. Admission is $5 and skate rental is $7.
Nothing beats husky sledding for an authentic Canadian day out. A couple of hours out of the city centre and into Saint-Nicolas, Chenil La Poursuite provides adventures lasting one short hour to two full days. After a quick lesson in the language of dogs (a loud sharp “hoi!” means ‘go left’, for example) you’re ready to jump on a sled and let the huskies tear you across snowy plains and woods. Back at the kennels, the puppies are so adorable it’s hard to believe they’ll grow up to be such powerful and playful animals.
If you’re not exhausted already, Igloo Fest (Old Montreal, Champ-de-Mars Metro) is an annual electronic music event held in January at the Old Port that’ll keep the blood flowing all night long.
Great food is a sure way to increase bodily insulation and Montreal is full of fine and hearty cuisine. You can’t come here without trying a curiously delicious Quebecois dish called poutine, which is loosely based on chips, gravy sauce and cheese curd. One of the best proprietors of this crude delicacy is Patati Patata (4177 St. Laurent), where a standard poutine will only set you back $4.
Alternatively, if you’re a fan of French cartoon based décor, try Frites Alors (1710 St Denis), where Tintin characters are depicted on the walls. The bright and light-hearted atmosphere attracts homeward bound clubbers thanks to its late-night opening hours. Most opt to stave off a hangover with a plate of poutine.
For a decadent dessert, Juliette Et Chocolat (1615 Saint-Denis) is a mecca for chocolate worshippers where the confectionary appears in all forms, from dark to white and from brownie to milkshake. You can’t beat grandma’s hot chocolate here for a thick and delicious treat.
If anything can make a sane person roll around in freezing snow, it’s a healthy dose of heart-warming alcohol. Parallel roads St Denis and St Laurent teem with chic clubs and bars attracting students and young professionals looking for a big night out. Diese Onze (4115 St-Denis) is a friendly laid back basement jazz bar with a sophisticated cocktail selection and efficient table service. This is the perfect place to find great live music in an intimate setting.
For a more raucous experience, Brutopia (1219 Crescent St) is a popular party pub and brewery, selling eight of its own in-house beers. Happy hour is until 8pm except on Mondays - when it goes on all night. Get chatting to the locals and you’ll know you’ve made a good impression if they call you “mon petit chou” (‘my little cabbage’), which, believe it or not, is a common term of endearment.
Snuggling up to sleep
Old Montreal is the traditional and tourist side where you are likely to find up-market accommodation like the Hotel Gault (449 Rue Sainte-Hélène) with its modern minimalist design rooms and restaurant.
For those on a budget or looking to be closer to the fashionable shopping streets and bars, you can’t go wrong with the ideally located Holiday Inn Express (155 René Lévesque Blvd. East) which is comfortable, clean and only a stone’s throw from China Town and the city centre.