A Holly Jolly Guide to Montreal During the Holidays
Montreal shimmers through the holiday season, when the city fills with ice sculptures, swanky decor, and interactive art installations. It’s that creative culture which sets the city apart for local tour guide Catherine Moreau. “I’ve always been passionate about the arts,” Moreau says. “It’s the reason I chose to move to Montreal.”
Leading tours, meanwhile, has offered her an immersion into the city’s diverse cultures and enduring traditions, from Portuguese neighborhoods to Italian cafés with an old-world feel. “To me, Montreal is multiple villages in a big city,” she says. “Here you can find a unique mix of cultures … even as time goes by a lot of the good things don’t change.” Enter: her tips for spending a good ol’ fashioned holiday season in this French Canadian city.
What makes Montreal great for the holidays
“Inviting, festive, and magical” is how Moreau describes the Quebecois city’s holiday spirit. Decorators go all-out starting in the early weeks of December—a Santa Claus sleigh presides over Place Royal, and a constellation of big, bright stars decks Place d’Armes. Elaborate light displays illuminate narrow streets on the riverfront, while three major Christmas markets draw bundled-up families for shopping and seasonal fun. And when the weather gets chilly, you can always warm up in the sprawling Underground City that links shopping, hotels, and the Montreal metro.
Don’t-miss cozy corners.
Find some of Montreal’s best holiday bites at open-air stalls in the Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district, including deep-fried “beaver tail” pastries and maple taffy made by pouring hot syrup over shaved ice or snow. That’s not the only frozen culinary adventure available, though—the seasonal cocktail joint Hiverside serves steaming drinks in a bar carved entirely from ice. Perfect for groups, all 13 eateries at the food hall Time Out Market Montréal offer holiday-only treats including gingerbread lattes, wintry chicken stew, and duck ragu.
The must-stop spots for festive souvenirs.
“There are three main Christmas markets during the holiday season, and they all offer great events with activities for the whole family,” says Moreau. Year-round gourmet shopping destination Jean-Talon Market hosts the Jean-Talon Christmas Market, featuring artisanal foods, crafts, and a Christmas elf house. Ethical and eco-friendly products star at Montreal Christmas Village by Atwater Market, with 54 exhibitors selling jewelry, clothing, and decorations. However, the biggest of all is The Great Christmas Market, where more than 30 pop-up chalets host local artisans, musicians, and family-friendly activities.
Where to get a good night’s sleep.
Many Montreal hotels deck the halls to welcome winter, but the city’s most iconic tree might be the one on display at the Ritz Carlton in the Golden Square Mile neighborhood—it’s adorned with glitzy ornaments by jewelers Tiffany & Co. To maximize the festive atmosphere, however, Moreau recommends staying at the Hotel William Gray in Old Montreal, which puts you within walking distance from the Montreal Observation Wheel, Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, and picturesque cobblestone streets.
Montreal’s most festive attractions and activities.
Winter brings ice skaters to rinks around the city, and Moreau calls out the ones at Beaver Lake and La Fontaine Park as two of her favorites. Music, a hot chocolate shack, and holiday decor make the Old Port Ice Skating Rink the most cheery of all; meanwhile, the adjoining Montreal Observation Wheel offers panoramic views of the frozen river. Christmas-themed walking tours of Old Montreal take in the city’s most dramatic light displays, too, and include a shopping stop at the historical, silver-domed Bonsecours Market.