Despite subfreezing temperatures this time of year, Montreal’s white-hot cultural scene remains a draw in every season.
STAY: Quirky boutique hotels have become hot properties in Montreal in the past few years. One of the newest is downtown’s 23-room Hôtel Chez Swann. The contemporary rooms have glassed-in showers where you must draw a red velvet curtain for privacy. More traditional accommodations are at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal. The hotel dates to 1912 but just reopened after an extensive four-year renovation that modernized its 129 rooms, some of which feature welcomed fireplaces.
EAT: The staff at Europea, a pricey eatery in downtown Montreal, strives to make your meal an experience by serving top-notch food in creative ways — like a “book” that opens to reveal a smoked-salmon appetizer. This dinner-as-theater style has made chef Jérôme Ferrer’s modernized French cuisine wildly popular in a city that takes dining out seriously. Such theatrics are not on the menu at Au Pied de Cochon, but decadence surely is. The eatery in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood has a cultish following for locally sourced dishes with a rich twist. Here, the Quebecois dish of poutine — french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy — is served with foie gras. For weekend brunch, a nearly sacred meal in Montreal, Bistrot La Fabrique serves up heavenly fare such as brisket on brioche.
SHOP: Locals and tourists looking to escape the cold head to La Ville Souterraine, or the Underground City, for shopping and walking. There are 120 access points to the 20 miles of connected tunnels, including downtown’s five-floor Eaton Centre mall. For Quebecois foodstuffs, the best place to go is Marché des saveurs du Québec, part of the sprawling aboveground Jean-Talon Market, which carries local cheeses, maple syrup, ice cider and other specialties.
DO: Quartier des Spectacles — a neighborhood that houses more than 80 cultural venues including a newly opened symphony hall — is the hub for most of Montreal’s many festivals. In its center is a crowd-friendly, two-block-long open space that features a 235-jet fountain and a constantly changing LED light display. Those lights shine bright during Montreal en Lumiere, an 11-day celebration of winter held each February that offers art exhibitions, food and wine tastings indoors, concerts and a 350-foot luge course. The festival culminates in the 24-hour Nuit Blanche on March 2, where buses transport festivalgoers to dozens of events all over town, all night long. In cold and warm weather, Old Montreal is the city’s main attraction. Inhabited since 1642, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the city’s original port; narrow, cobblestone streets; neoclassical buildings that house restaurants, shops and hotels; and the 184-year-old Notre-Dame Basilica, whose stunning interior may best its Parisian namesake. Similarly striking are the views from the 770-foot Mount Royal, from which the city takes its name. Worth summiting in warm weather, the mountain’s peak is surrounded by a 470-acre park featuring hiking and biking trails.