Montreal and Quebec City are two vibrant and lively cities in the heart of the Quebec province of Canada that are worth visiting. Both cities have a lot to offer, from museums to shopping to outdoor attractions, and are easy to navigate and explore. Here is my ultimate guide on how to survive winter in Montreal and Quebec City, with some tips and tricks for how to have fun while staying warm!
Despite being a native Floridian, I’m pretty familiar with being cold; I’ve gone skiing in North Carolina, walked on a glacier in Alaska, and traveled to the UK last winter. That being said, traveling to Canada this December was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. This was the first time I’ve ever experienced temperature in the negatives. The low of the whole trip (with windchill) was a brisk -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
So yeah, it was pretty cold.
Freezing cold temperatures and icy snow didn’t stop my family and I from having a good time though, and it shouldn’t stop you either! There are plenty of ways to enjoy Montreal and Quebec City in winter without freezing to death, and I want to share them with you.
Montreal has a variety of indoor attractions and events that will keep you away from the cold. In fact, the city has a pretty extensive underground subway system that also features walking paths that make it possible to travel pretty far without even stepping outside!
A few places that are easily accessible via the underground are Complexe Desjardins and Atrium le 1000. Complexe Desjardins is a indoor shopping mall full of stores and restaurants, making it the perfect way to escape the cold for the afternoon. Atrium le 1000 is an indoor ice skating rink that allows you to experience one of Canada’s most popular sports without dealing with wind or snow.
If you’re interested in history then there is plenty for you to see in Montreal. The city has tons of historic buildings that are absolutely beautiful and can be toured from the inside.
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is by far the most famous and breathtaking historic site in the city. Tours of the cathedral are short and jam packed with information about the history of the city. The architecture and artistry of the building make it well worth the visit, even if you aren’t religious.
Notre-Dame is located in Old Montreal, a historic section of town with cobblestone streets, lively plazas, and welcoming shops and restaurants. Be sure to walk down to the old port area and view the ferris wheel alongside the water!
Also located in Old Montreal is the Montreal Science Centre. This interactive museum is full of activities for children and adults alike, and is a fun way to escape the frigid temperatures. When I visited the Science Centre I saw exhibits on indigenous identity, tactics to fight climate change, human evolution, optical illusions, and so much more! In addition to all of the exhibits, the Science Centre has an IMAX theater that shows various 3D films throughout the day.
If you want a break from the same routine, try rock climbing at the Allez Up climbing gym in Montreal. Not only is this gym INSANELY welcoming (I was introduced to three potential top roping partners as soon as I walked in the door!), it also features walls that I rarely see at climbing gyms, like their speed climbing wall.
Allez Up is a great place to warm up during the colder months, and if you happen to be in Montreal during the summer they open up the exterior of the building for rope climbing and on Wednesdays have cookouts with live music!
Another great place to check out in Montreal is the Cafe Chat L’Heureux. Chat L’Heureux is the happiest place in the city because it’s a cat cafe. That’s right, a cat cafe. You can warm up with a hot coffee or tea while adorable cats roam around and play. What more can you ask for?!
The last place in Montreal that is a MUST SEE is Mont Royal: a beautiful park featuring the city’s namesake mountain. The summer months bring color and life to the park, but it is just as beautiful in the winter with the snow-covered hills and barren trees. Skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and snow tubing are popular activities during the winter and are great ways to embrace the natural beauty of the park.
If you visit Mont Royal be sure to walk up the mountain to the viewpoint overlooking the city. This was the final activity of my trip, and it was amazing to gaze down at the city after exploring it during the week. I definitely consider Mont Royal the highlight of the trip.
Next is Quebec City! This bustling city always has something going on and is a top tourist destination. There is something to be said about discovering hidden gems away from the public eye, but you can have just as much fun by embracing the tourist traps. Here are some places I found that are right in the midst of things as well as slightly away from the crowds, so you can choose which is more appealing.
If shopping is your thing, then Rue Saint-Jean and Rue Sous-le-Fort are two spots you have to explore. Both streets are full of quirky local shops and restaurants as well as higher end shops. During the winter Rue Sous-le-Fort is decorated for the holidays, making it the perfect spot for cute pictures.
Here’s my insider tip: If you walk all the way down Rue Saint-Jean you’ll eventually end up at Chateau Frontenac, a gorgeous hotel on a hill overlooking the Flueve Saint-Laurent, or Saint-Laurent river. From there you can take a funicular (lift) from Chateau Frontenac directly to Rue Sous-le-Fort.
If you’re up for an adventure, try tobogganing before riding the lift down to Rue Sous-le-Fort! It was far too cold for my family to even consider trying it, but I highly encourage you to check it out.
Vieux-Levis is a town across the river that offers a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Quebec City. This small town is full of art galleries, museums, and quiet shops and restaurants. The best vegan brunch I’ve ever had was in Vieux-Levis, but you’ll hear more about that in my vegan food guide to Montreal and Quebec City 😉
Taking the ferry across the frozen Saint-Laurent river was an adventure in itself, but another reason to visit Vieux-Levis is for the incredible view of Quebec City. We asked a local to point us in the direction of the scenic overlook, and in my opinion seeing the city across the water was well worth the long walk in the cold.
Another spot near Quebec City that isn’t as crowded due to the cold weather is Montmorency Falls. The giant waterfall is definitely worth the visit anytime of the year, but I thought that seeing water spew out of the partially frozen waterfall was such a unique experience. The Montmorency waterfall is located right next to a gorgeous park that is worth exploring if the weather permits.
What to Wear
Now that you know where to go in Montreal and Quebec City during the winter you need to know how to dress properly to survive the cold. My advice on what to wear while vacationing in Canada comes down to one thing: layering!
Layering is your best friend when dealing with freezing temperatures, and when I say layering I really mean it. LAYER up girl, you won’t regret it. Always have a base layer under everything. TJ Maxx and Marshalls are great places to look for cheap fleece lined leggings to wear underneath your jeans.
Three things absolutely saved me during this trip and I know I’ll never travel in winter without them: hats, scarves, and tech-enabled gloves. Wind chill was what made even the sunniest of days feel frigid, so having a scarf that you can pull up over your mouth and nose makes a world of a difference!
And if you’re anything like me you’ll want to take loads of pictures during your trip, so try finding a pair of gloves that are touchscreen compatible. The gloves I had weren’t necessarily the warmest but I was able to keep them on when I wanted to use my phone, which meant I was able to stay outside longer than the rest of my family members who scurried back inside after taking a single photo with their hands exposed!
Those are all my tips and tricks for surviving winter in Montreal and Quebec City!
Want to know where to eat during your trip? Check out my blog post here! And as always, let me know in the comments what your thoughts are and if you have any favorite spots in Montreal or Quebec City that are worth checking out.
Was this helpful? Have feedback for me? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me, John Miller, or my family and are used with permission. Header photo by Dennis Alfonso.