Winter Activities in Montreal for the Brave of Heart
You’ve known the expression “winter wonderland” your whole life, but you won’t have truly understood it until you find yourself in Montreal, anytime between the months of December and March. Okay, April. Resplendent sunshine glinting off the snow banks up to your waist… Nat King Cole wafting from the loudspeakers on St. Lawrence Boulevard… fat snowflakes so pretty they nearly make you forget the crisp cold (read: forbidding frost)… all that’s missing is the one-horse open sleigh. Or is it? As the Norwegians say of winter: there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. So this winter, bundle up and embrace the season.
One of the cosiest ways to see the city in winter is by taking a horse-drawn sleigh (known locally as “calèche”) ride through Old Montreal, which you can do by picking up a ride either across from Notre-Dame Basilica, or from one block down towards the Old Port, on De La Commune. Snuggle up to your loved one(s) under the fur blanket, and chill out to the mesmerizing clippety-clop. (Around $100 for 40 minutes.)
The Old Port transforms into quite the playground in the winter months, and one of the star attractions is the Ice Fishing Village, featuring heated, decked out shelters on the frozen-hard Clock Tower Basin, right on the St. Lawrence. It turns out our beloved river is home to 40-odd species of fish, including perch, pike and walleye, which are delicious. Open from January to April, weather depending. (From $26 per adult.)
The city is dotted with stellar outdoor skating rinks, all free. One of the most popular is in the Old Port, steps away from the ice fishing, which comes with a view of Old Montreal on one side and the St. Lawrence on the other. Also topping the list of enchanting atmospheres are the rinks at Beaver Lake on Mount Royal, Parc La Fontaine on the Plateau and Parc St-Viateur in Outremont, a small but pretty-as-can-be spot for romantic winter appreciation.
In Montreal between mid-January and mid-February? You’re just in time for Igloofest, the HQ of the now world-famous wintry outdoor dance fest put on by the geniuses behind Osheaga and Picnik Électonik. Right in the heart of the Old Port, in an open-air space decked out in cool cold-weather décor, this festival brings word-class DJs to animate four massive weekend parties in a row.
Get the full-on explorer experience with to kind folks at Fitz & Follwell, bike tour operators by summer, snowshoe guides by winter. Their popular winter tour comes complete with equipment (apart from the warm clothes, those are your responsibility) and will take you onto Mount Royal, with stops at all the most majestic viewpoints – and an extra comforting stop for hot chocolate. (Tours start at $25 per person.)
Come equipped, and you can cross-country ski for free in all parks in the city, and for a small cost ($8 per day) in nearby National Parks like Parc national du Mont St-Bruno, Parc national d’Oka and Parc national du Mont Orford. In town, accessible by metro, you’ll find great trails in Parc Maisonneuve (a stone’s throw from the Olympic Stadium), Parc La Fontaine on the Plateau and of course, on Mount Royal.
One of the city’s most famous winter festivals is the Montreal High Lights Festival, which involves all sorts of outdoor activities. In addition to the fun on the free outdoor site in Quartier des Spectacles (from mid-February to early March), there’s the Nuit Blanche, which sees Montreal art galleries, museums and cultural spaces open for free, all night. They may be indoor spaces, but you’ll be out trekking from one to the other – so bring a thermos!
Came empty-handed? Head to Dollarama and get yourself a magic carpet. Then, join the hordes of happy sliders on the north-eastern face of Mount Royal, corner Mont-Royal and Avenue du Parc, or up the hill by Beaver Lake. Other fun ones include Parc Beaubien in Outremont, which boasts a double hill (a big one followed by a small one – try to get enough speed to do both!), and Parc Jean-Drapeau, where the hills abound.