Wanna winter in Montreal? You better learn how to bundle up! (Photo: Getty Images)
Montreal is one of the coldest cities in North America, with an average January temperature of just 16 F. If you plan to visit the city at any point in winter, you need to be prepared for even chillier weather. Nighttime lows often fall below zero, and thermometers in the city have dipped to minus 34 F in the past. On the other hand, Montreal’s brutal winters have shaped its culture and even its cityscape.
This means that seeing Montreal in winter is not just possible — it’s essential to fully understanding the city! Don’t let a little (OK, a lot of) cold get in the way of Canada’s most enthralling urban winter adventure.
Dress Like a Montrealer
When you imagine visiting a city as cold as Montreal in the winter, your first instinct might be to buy the warmest winter jacket available. This train of thought isn’t completely wrong (after all, there’s a coat brand called “Canada Goose” for a reason), but if you want to fit in among Montreal’s hip, winter-savvy crowd, take a page from their look book.
Pair a medium-heavy jacket (often down feather–filled) with several thinner and more stylish layers, including (but not limited to) merino wool thermals and socks, casual flannel button-downs and cotton henleys, cardigans or hoodies, and of course, a good beanie and pair of gloves.
This way, you’ll be warm enough to stay outside as long as necessary but won’t suffocate in the boiling heat of Montreal’s proverbial inner sanctum. Plus, you’ll look cool — but not cold!
Visit La Ville Souterraine
The bad news? A good portion of the 20 miles of tunnels and passageways that make up Montreal’s so-called “Underground City” (“La Ville Souterraine” in French) are actually above ground. The good news? With more than 120 access points and 24/7 heat, the network provides a priceless respite from brutal winter, regardless of how inaccurate its name might be.
Use the Underground City to navigate your way not only through the Montreal Metro (more than a dozen stations are connected subterraneously), but to travel between city landmarks like McGill University and Place-Des-Arts without feeling the chill of the winter air.
RÉSO (as the Underground City is officially known) is also technically Montreal’s busiest shopping mall, featuring dozens of brand-name shops to offer its half-million daily visitors retail therapy from the cold.
Appreciate the Great Indoors
Of course, shopping in the Underground City isn’t the only way to avoid braving the elements during your winter trip in Montreal. A great number of the city’s attractions are partially or totally indoors, including the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal Science Center, Théâtre Saint-Denis and the Notre-Dame Basilica.
In addition, visiting Montreal in winter doesn’t preclude you from enjoying the vibrant food and beverages — more on “beverages” in a minute — scene. Lunch in the trendy cafés of Mile End, enjoy a farm-to-table dinner near the Old Port at Le Club Chasse et Peche, or simply wander into the first acceptable-looking poutine place you see — freezing travelers can’t always be picky.
To be sure, eating poutine, Canada’s iconic dish of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds, tastes better in frozen Montreal than perhaps anywhere else in the country at any other time, but it’s not the only way to quickly warm your body.
You could, for instance, have a glass of hot Caribou — no, not the animal, or anything related to it, at least not these days.
Famous throughout Quebec and available both bottled and freshly made, Caribou blends red wine, whisky and maple syrup (although some variations exist) and is almost always served hot in winter.
You might not find Caribou on official Montreal bar menus (it’s more typical of Quebec City), but most any bartender will be happy to whip you up a glass. (TIP: Show him this recipe if he claims not to know how to make it!)