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A Holly Jolly Guide To Montreal During the Holidays

Spend the holidays in Montreal for a spot of French-Canadian flair.

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Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

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.

What makes Montreal great for the holidays

Catherine Moreau (left) is a guide on this Montreal tour.
Catherine Moreau (left) guides holiday-themed tours in MontrealFoto: Guidatour

Have a very merry Christmas in Montreal.

“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.

Where to try Montreal’s top holiday sips and snacks

Try some maple taffy in the Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district.
Try some maple taffy in the Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district.Foto: Michael L Brown / Shutterstock

Feast on festive treats.

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.

Where to go Christmas shopping in Montreal

Buy artisanal foods and crafts at a local Christmas market.
Purchase artisanal foods and crafts at a local Christmas market.Foto: Benoit Daoust / Shutterstock

The must-stop spots for festive souvenirs.

“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.

Where to stay in Montreal this Christmas

The Ritz Carlton is known for its glamourous decorations and holiday displays.
The Ritz Carlton is known for its glamourous decorations and displays.Foto: EQRoy / Shutterstock

Cozy spots to get your head down.

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.

Top holiday activities in Montreal

Enjoy a day of ice-skating at Beaver Lake or La Fontaine Park.
Ice skating at Beaver Lake or La Fontaine Park is a great way to enjoy Christmas in the parks.Foto: Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock

Experience 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 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.

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