Montreal is one of my favorite cities. To me it is the perfect blend of Europe and America. The landscape is obviously Northern American, the city lies on an island at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. You can find everything Northern American there, like the same retail and coffee chains. Everybody understands English. On the other hand, the language of the street is French. There are many independent cafes and restaurants serving rather European comfort food. At least in contrast to U.S. Americans people seem a little more relaxed and flirtier (this might be the Canadian mentality though). That is all why I spent New Year’s in Montreal with a friend. As before we stayed in my favorite hostel, M Montreal, for five nights and also celebrated New Year’s Eve in their pub. The only downside to our stay was that it was freezing cold with temperatures of – 15 °C during the day. I perfected my onion look and didn’t feel that cold most of the time. Montreal in winter is just as beautiful as in the other seasons and there are so many things one can do. I have collected a few:
There is nothing greater than to explore a city on foot in my opinion. Also, Montreal is very walkable. I dressed as warm as possible and so we managed to take longer walks, for example from the Village (where we stayed) to the Old Town or to the big La Fontaine Park. The latter is in the famous part of Montreal called Le Plateau. It is also worth just walking around there and looking at the beautiful houses with its little towers and often colorful roofs. I esp. enjoy watching the squirrels in parks, but be careful as the ground in all parks is covered by a thick layer of ice.
In the city center we used the underground tunnels for a bit once we felt cold. Those connect many of the bigger buildings and sometimes even contain little cafes and shops.
I think the outdoor ice skating rink in the Old Port is the most beautiful. I personally love ice skating even though I am not brilliant at it. I simply enjoy skating in rounds, listening to fun music, and watch all the people around me. What I really like besides the skating fun is that Canadians wait until their outdoor rinks freeze naturally.
Notre-Dame de Montréal
Just like the ice skating rink, Notre-Dame de Montréal is also in Old Montreal. This Roman-Catholic church was built in the Gothic Revival style and is utterly beautiful. It reminds me a lot of all the great cathedrals in Europe. Although if you live in Europe and visit Montreal, you might not be that impressed by this rather young church. In any case, there is always a line. Five evenings a week, from Tuesday to Saturday, there is a light and sound show which is supposed to be wonderful.
Here you have got two choices: Brave people might hike up the mountain that gave the city its name. I once even walked up accidentally (yep, still not using the h word for my own activities) because I didn’t realize that there is a bus up to the peak. In winter I would absolutely recommend the bus because most paths are icy and slippery. We took the bus this time and then walked the last bit to the observation platform. From there you can see all of Montreal and on clear days even mountains in the background. I find it breathtaking and I think this is the one thing every visitor should go to in Montreal. It is also useful to know that 1) you can buy tickets on the bus, but you need coins, 2) up on the mountain there is a lovely building with public restrooms and a cafe.
Visit a museum
Montreal has a great selection of museums. I like art museums and recommend the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC). The first shows an interesting selection of art through the centuries, the second features various exhibitions. On Wednesday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. you can enter the MAC for half the price.
There are comes a point where the cold reaches through all the million layers of clothing and you just have to go inside. You can find independent cafes almost everywhere. They offer great coffee and French bakery goods like croissants. I prefer the atmosphere to that in chain stores, although Tim Hortons has some nice stores and great pastries.
I guess this is similar to the previous idea. The Jean-Talon Market is a food market where you can buy fresh produce as well as eat in one of the many small stalls. I enjoy walking around there and this is also where I stock up on my maple sirup and maple sirup butter. There also is a really good cookbook store, which sells new and used books in French and English.
And there are so many other things to do in Montreal, like shopping, going to the theater or cinema (if you know a little French). I would also recommend a visit to the Biodome, an indoor zoo that covers all major climate zones, but it is closed right now for renovations.