How to thrive during Montreal winter

Colorful apartments in Montreal, snow, winter
© Eva Blue - Tourisme Montréal

Whether you’re a digital nomad or a curious traveler, there’s endless activities to bring warmth into the arctic chill of a Montreal winter.

As a California transplant who spent their previous life “putting on a jean jacket after 5 pm” between November and April, my first exposure to Quebecois cloud cover was, to put it lightly, a shock.

But locals have thrived through the frigid season for generations, and I quickly learned that whether you’re in Montreal for a two week stay or to jumpstart your life, swan diving into snowfall is the best way to transform monotonous gray into a winter wonderland.

Ville de Montréal dans la neige
Murale à Montréal

Get Warm Fast

Arrived and not sure what basics you need to thrive in the cold? We recommend these affordable spots to get you started.

  • La Poubelle Du SkiWanting to get outside but not wanting to purchase gear for a lifetime? La Poubelle Du Ski has rentals available for those who might want to ski, snowboard and get into the snow without breaking the bank. Plus, it’s all returnable at the end of your stay.
  • Renaissance Thrift StoresHoping to get some gear on a discount? Renaissance thrift stores are located across the city, with a daily inventory of new items at affordable prices. A discount spot for your daily layers, as well as sourcing that exceptional fit you plan to debut at your night out with your new friends.

Jump Into Winter Activities

Got your gear and ready to get outside? Montreal is overflowing with options for those looking to sweat it out.

Ice Skating at Esplanade Tranquille

There are more ice skating rinks than one can count across Montreal, but for my money, Esplanade Tranquille–just a short stroll from the hostel–is the belle of the ball.

Open from November to March, this rink has magnificent lights, skates for rent, and a rotation of DJs to turn your skating into an all-night dance party.

Patinoire, lumière, patineurs
© Ludovic Jacome - Tourisme Montréal
People cross-country skiing in front of the Olympic Stadium.
© Eva Blue – Tourisme Montréal

Cross Country Skiing in Montreal

After you picked up some gear, head out into the over 200km of cross-country trails across the city.

Parc du Mont-Royal provides the best inclines and scenic views (with proximity to the hostel), Jardin Botanique offers bucolic views and bird-watching, while Parc Maisonneuve includes over 12 km of woods to explore. Trails can be reached by Metro with some light walking.

Snowshoeing to Raise the Spirit

The accessible younger sibling to cross country skiing, snowshoeing is an all ages and backgrounds activity that will literally put you in the local’s shoes.

Most parks include snowshoe paths along with cross country ski paths, and you can often rent gear on location.

One afternoon traversing the Parc du Mont Royal and you’ll return to the hostel asking where you can tap a tree for maple syrup.

Enfant qui glisse sur la neige
© Eva Blue - Tourisme Montréal

Sweat Out All the Small Stuff

Staying fit while traveling can be a doozy–especially when the Celsius reading inspires instant hibernation (hello seasonal affective disorder!). We’ve got tips:

  • We Run Montreal – The We Run Crew meets 3 nights a week at the Little Burgundy Rec Center, running 5k and 10k routes with the joy of born-again believers. Hate running? Their enthusiasm will win you over. Think you’re a novice? They don’t care! All backgrounds and skill levels are welcome.
  • Igloofest – Does dancing in a thrall of sweating bodies entice you? From January 18th to February 10th at the Old Port, the festival hosts drinks, games and world-class DJs. Costumes are encouraged. Grab a crew of hostel friends (even the hippy guy who only plays Bob Marley covers) and head out for the most unforgettable winter dancing of your life.

Turn Grey Into Hygge

The Dutch word hygge is about creating a coziness enriched by a warm atmosphere. Hygge has many definitions, so here are a few hygge favorites in Montreal.

Mano Figa Coffee

Nestled in the side streets of Griffintown, this Italian café brews the finest dark roast espresso beans in the city (aka acid reflux friendly).

Beloved by locals and coffee aficionados alike, head here in your thickest sweater, a dog-eared book and sip an espresso perfetto. Hungry?

Mano Cornuto, their sister eatery, is just through the side door.

Deux tasses de café
Une personne dans une librairie

Maktaba Bookshop

Meaning both “library” and “bookshop” in Arabic, Maktaba is a concept bookshop in the Old Port that also sells vinyl, clothing, and hosts cultural events and screenings.

Books are categorized into themes such as “Indigenous Futures” and “Femme & Queer Writers,” with an open floor space inviting shoppers to enjoy their books (and culture) by the window. 

We’ve only covered un petit peu of what Montreal has to offer, and beyond the cable-knit sweaters and late-night discos, we know it’s most important to keep up simple routines in the coldest months.

Eat a nutritious breakfast at the Saintlo bistro, take walks along the Lachine canal, and embrace introspection under the canopy of trees on the Montreal mountain trails.

There are countless ways to explore Montreal (and Quebec) on a budget! Who knows, like me, you might just fall in love with a local and start a brand new life here.