Alongside major sights like the towering Notre-Dame Basilica and 18th-century buildings set on cobblestone streets, you’ll also find plenty of festive wintertime events, from outdoor dance parties to riverside ice skating. Here’s where to scope out Old Montreal’s youthful spirit.
Where to Eat
Montreal has no shortage of charming cafes serving artisan espresso and French pastries, but Tommy café, housed in the stately British Empire Building, might be the grandest of the bunch. The spacious, lavish cafe serves coffee, tea and viennoiserie, plus light bites and a cocktail option or two, for the brunch set. For a more traditional espresso, Mile End’s beloved Italian coffee shop Café Olimpico recently opened its second location in Hotel William Gray in the Old Port. Coffee drinks and Italian pastries are on offer, and it’s open until midnight for a late-night pick-me-up.
Veggie lovers will feel at home at LOV (short for love, organic, vegetarian). The new vegan restaurant boasts specials like veg-friendly poutine and a smoked beet sandwich, in a modern, minimalist space complete with whimsical chairs hanging from the ceiling. Cosy Olive & Gourmando‘s pastries and sandwiches are always a hearty favourite, too. Its sweet and savoury breakfast and lunch options, from gourmet grilled cheese to big bowls of chia seed pudding, are popular with visitors, nearby office workers and families alike.
Dinner options include Flyjin, a trendy Japanese restaurant known for its inventive izakaya-inspired cuisine, plus $1 oysters nights on Wednesdays. Stay late and Flyjin transforms into a swanky nightclub with DJs. Or sneak away to The Coldroom, a speakeasy cocktail bar opened by an ex-Flyjin bartender. Located under Place Jacques Cartier, the upscale lounge serves creative drinks, including a warming seasonal punch, in a snug underground space converted from a former industrial coldroom.
Where to Shop
Warm up with some retail therapy at shops like Le Magasin Général du Vieux-Montréal, known for its vintage-style fashion, housewares and knick-knacks. It also houses a bistro open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a creative take on local fashion, Harricana par Mariouche recycles fur and garments into new one-of-a-kind creations, from fur-lined aviator hats to scarves and leather gloves. On shop-lined rue Saint-Paul, Espace Pepin features a spread of curated housewares, accessories including leather bags by local artist Lysanne Pepin and creative Montreal-centric gifts housed in an industrial-chic space.
What to See
Montreal is a festival city, with music, film, dance and cultural festivals taking place year-round, and Igloofest, when DJs and electronic dance music acts play to thousands of bundled-up concertgoers on the Jacques Cartier pier, is one of the city’s biggest winter events. The fest spans two stages and four weekends starting January 12. Tickets start at $15.
Just across the river from the Old Port, the family-friendly Fete des Neiges runs on weekends from January 4 to February 5 at Parc Jean-Drapeau. It’s packed with outdoor activities, including ziplines, tubing and a dog sledding tour. There’s also music and performances, a ferris wheel and ice sculptures.
An equally beloved wintertime activity, the Old Port’s ice skating rink lights up at night with music playing over loudspeakers, and offers views of Old Montreal and the Saint-Lawrence River. Special theme nights include “Comfort on Ice” Wednesday nights, with outdoor fireplaces, hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows — a toasty way to close out a trip to Old Montreal.
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