Planning my first trip to Canada started with Google. There were many places I wanted to visit, and somehow Montreal seemed an obvious choice for a festive holiday season adventure. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada and the second largest French-speaking city in the world. After Paris, of course. Plus, it is considered to be “the cultural capital of Canada”, UNESCO City of Design, a city that somehow unites New World and European charm with a cosmopolitan flair.
Both, Quebec and Montreal have a lot to offer: from diverse culture, popular events and festivals, regional gastronomy, shopping to a very festive holiday season and atmosphere, especially in the historic city center.
Preparing for the trip, I tried not to have high expectations, decided on a few places I wanted to visit and left some time for surprises and spontaneity. After many hours of research, driving to Montreal seemed to be a better option. Six hours of the scenic road can’t be that bad. Plus, there is Canadian countryside along the way: small towns and picturesque landscape… Even big snowstorms across the region couldn’t stop me at this point. Pushing the date of my departure by one day, I was on my way to a festive winter wonderland Montreal.
I arrive to Montreal after the first big snowstorm of the season, so the city welcomes me with snowy streets, bundled up people and an overall feeling of “North Pole” coldness. However, this feeling completely disappears once I start talking: whether asking for directions, suggestions on a great place to visit, dine in or just looking for a mailbox. To my surprise, many people switch effortlessly from French to English, or may be, I am just fortunate. And warming up and trying local cuisine in many cafes and restaurants along the way definitely helps a lot
A very festive atmosphere of the city makes even blazing winds and piles of snow a part of the festive wonderland experience and charm
For the next week while I am busy exploring the city, Montreal is busy with cleaning up and snow plowing
Snowplows and trucks are a common sight everywhere, even in the historic city center
Also, I am very surprised how many people still manage to ride their bikes in this kind of weather
and this is a common sight all over the city
even in Belvedere 🙂
Montreal is considered to be “the cultural capital of Canada”, and offers unique experience during a festive holiday season
Historic city center of Montreal, known as Old Montreal or Ville-Marie, has many art galleries, artisan boutiques, cafes and restaurants
And many charming festive displays to window shop along the way
and quite a few main points of interest
Notre-Dame Basilica has a magnificent sound and light show “And let there be light” in the evening, which highlights architectural and cultural legacy of the Cathedral and it’s important part in the history of the city
Festively decorated Sainte-Catherine Street stretches for about 11 kilometers across Montreal
with it’s multitude of theaters, galleries, shopping centers, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and interesting sights along the way
Luminothérapie in the Quartiers des Spectacles is a high-tech public art exhibition in two parts:
a field of light and music and an animated projection series on the facades of the buildings
Just a few steps from here located Place Des Arts, the largest multi-venue performing arts center in Montreal, where you can find events and shows to your liking, from ballet, opera, theater, musicals, humor to other genres
Since I was in Montreal during a holiday season, I decided to go for something very festive, The Nutcracker by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’s
All buildings of the The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts are interconnected, which is very convenient, especially in December. Besides the permanent collection, it had a temporary exhibition “Splendore a Venezia” featuring art and music from the Renaissance to baroque in the Serenissima, and even an exhibition of festively decorated Christmas trees
The “Underground City”, is an interconnected complex with many buildings, shopping centers, cafes, restaurants, museums, etc., which stretches for about 32 km. Don’t be surprised if some locals don’t know what the “Underground City” is. I even heard something like “it is too big of a word for it” )
and it is a great way to explore Montreal, especially on cold and snowy days
And if you do go outside, you might even see this: locals politely queuing and waiting for their turn to get on a bus )
Montreal during a holiday season is a very unique experience
with many festive decorations on main streets
and festive displays in the historic city center
and shopping centers as if “outdecorating” each other )
Even a few residential neighborhoods, like Quartier Latin, are festively decorated
Saint-Denis Street happens to be the heart and soul of Quartier Latin with its eclectic mix of cafes, restaurants, bars, shops, bookstores and theaters. And no wonder why, because of its large student population this is one of the youngest and trendiest places in Montreal
Also, I came across a few interesting places like these… Is this a store, boutique, cafe or all of the above?
Quebec region is known for its poutine, a traditional dish made of potatoes, cheese and gravy, also known as “disco fries” in some parts of the US. I didn’t really like it, and when a local asked me, as if expecting me to “rave about it”, I am not usually the one to shy away from my honest experiences and opinions. Apparently, I haven’t tried “the real poutine”. So I headed to Poutineville just to see and experience how it should be, and what a difference! Here you can choose among different types of potatoes, cheeses, add-on fixings to your liking, even vegetarian options available, so you can definitely custom-make Poutine of your dreams. And I think it is way more delicious than it looks, at least in this picture )
And, of course, an important part of the festive Montreal experience is exploring many dessert places across the city and dessert in all of its variety
There are quite a few day trips available from Montreal, offering all kinds if festive activities and programs
And when it comes to magical and cheerful festive atmosphere, Quebec certainly knows how to do it… cuteness overload )
After spending a week in the city, I already know my way around major streets, subway and a very charming Quartier Latin. I even find a few of my favorite places and almost become a “regular” in some of them. Blazing winds and piles of snow become a part of the regular winter scenery and after some time I start ignoring them altogether. Only my boots can’t handle Canadian weather, so they stay in Montreal as a sign of just another traveler.
After traveling for a while, I already know what places leave me grateful for giving an amazing one-time travel experience, while I cannot wait to come back to others for at least another adventure. Driving away from Montreal, I feel it exceeds my travel expectations and leaves me wanting to see more of it in the future. The only question is when? Montreal has many different events and festivals for all tastes and styles, and any avid traveler just needs to pick event to their liking.
Have you been to festive winter wonderland Montreal and Quebec?
Enjoy your travels,
All opinions and experiences are, as always, my own.
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