Montreal shimmers throughout the holiday season when the city fills with ice sculptures, swanky decor, and interactive art installations. It’s that creative culture that 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.”
Being a tour guide has immersed her into Montreal’s holiday traditions and diverse cultures—which range 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 insider tips for things to do in Montreal at Christmas.
“Inviting, festive, and magical” is how Moreau describes Christmas in Montreal. Holiday decorations and Christmas lights go all-out from the start 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 kids and adults alike for family-friendly holiday 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.
For food lovers, one of the best things to do in Montreal at Christmas is sampling holiday bites at open-air stalls in the Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district. Top treats include 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, mulled wine, wintry chicken stew, and duck ragu.
“There are three main Christmas markets in Montreal during the holiday season, and they all offer great holiday activities for the whole family,” says Moreau. Year-round gourmet shopping destination Jean-Talon Market hosts the Jean-Talon Christmas Market, one of the top things to do in Montreal at Christmas. It features artisanal foods, crafts, and a Christmas elf house.
Ethical and eco-friendly products star at Atwater Market 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 holiday activities.
Many Montreal hotels deck the halls to welcome winter, but the city’s most iconic Christmas 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 and should be at the top of your list of things to do in Montreal at Christmas.
To maximize the festive atmosphere, however, Moreau recommends staying at the Hotel William Gray in Old Montreal, which is within walking distance of top attractions such as La Grande Roue de Montreal Ferris wheel (Montreal Observation Wheel), Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, Les Grands Ballets Candadiens, Pointe à Callière, and picturesque cobblestone streets.
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 favorite things to do in Montreal at Christmas. Music, a hot chocolate shack, and holiday decor make the Old Port Ice Skating Rink the most cheery of all; meanwhile, the adjoining La Grande Roue de Montreal Ferris wheel offers a great view of the city and frozen river. Christmas-themed walking tours of Old Montreal take in the city’s most dramatic light displays and Christmas trees, too, and include a shopping stop at the historical, silver-domed Bonsecours Market.