Montréal may not be the capital of the French-speaking province of Québec. But it is the province’s largest city and its economic and cultural hub. As a result, Montréal is the most visited city in Québec.
It isn’t hard to see why. Montréal offers many people their first taste of Québec and its unique French Canadian culture. But for all its historical significance and European charm, Montréal is every inch a modern and vibrant city. With galleries, museums, theaters, endless bars, and a vibrant arts scene, Montreal has a unique energy and joie de vie unlike any other North American city.
Of course, as a Canadian city on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, Montréal gets its fair share of weather. But if you’re wondering when the best time to plan a visit to Montréal is, you may be surprised to find that the notorious Canadian winter may in fact be your best bet.
The truth is, Montréal has something to offer no matter what time of year it is. And the four distinct seasons the city experiences allow it to show a different side of itself to visitors at different times of the year.
Winter in Montréal means snow. And lots of it. Ordinarily, the snow starts to fall early in December, peaking in January and February and tailing off in March. January is usually the coldest month, with an average daily low of -14° Celsius, or roughly 7°F. Anyone planning a visit to the snowbound city is advised to wrap up warm.
Montréalers don’t let a little bit of cold weather stop them from enjoying their city, and you shouldn’t either. When the snow begins to pile up on the slopes of Mount Royal, locals know it’s time to gear up for winter.
A not-to-be-missed highlight is the Fete des Neiges, Montréal’s legendary winter festival. The Parc Jean-Drapeau transforms into a winter wonderland that focuses on outdoor activities. Tube sliding lanes and an outdoor skating trail, plus an assault course and a snow castle building contest, keep families too busy to notice the cold. Outdoor stages provide musical entertainment, and there are all sorts of local delicacies to try.
The Fete runs for four weekends, usually spanning January and February. It’s a great way to beat the winter blues and spend some time outside. To avoid carrying bulky clothes everywhere you go, track down a luggage storage service in Montreal where you can leave any unnecessary bags and enjoy yourself fully.
To really enjoy the winter in style, consider staying a night or two at the legendary Hotel De Glace, Montréal’s ice hotel. Constructed every year entirely out of ice, this hotel appears like something out of a fairytale. Totally unique, it offers igloo-style rooms, galleries of ice sculptures, and an ice bar where you can quite literally chill out.
Spring in Montréal sees the snow and ice begin to melt as temperatures start to rise. However, it can still be chilly, especially at night. For those who like to avoid the crowds, this can be one of the best times to visit the city.
The nights are still cold when Nuit Blanche, one of Montréal’s biggest cultural festivals, transforms the entire city into one big stage. Montreal buzzes all night with both indoor and outdoor events, including art exhibits, musical shows, theater performances, poetry readings, and dance parties.
Spring also brings the beginning of the snow crab season. If you’re a seafood lover, you can’t miss the opportunity to sample this Québecois delicacy. Head to Lucille’s Oyster Dive or Le Bremner and tuck into piles of gargantuan crab legs fresh from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Did you know that Québec produces around 70% of the entire world’s maple syrup supply? Every Montréaler knows that the appearance of sugar shacks is a sure sign of spring. Nothing says Québec like maple taffy, made by pouring hot maple syrup over crushed snow to form a sweet chewy treat.
Head to Complètement Sucres at Morgan Park to try this old-fashioned delicacy. A portion of the money raised at the sugar shack goes to local charities, too.
As spring turns to summer and snow and ice are left behind, Montrealers can’t wait to get outside. For a new adventure, try surfing on the St. Lawrence River that winds through the heart of the city. If you’ve never surfed before, you can take a course to learn the basics before heading out on the water.
June 24 is St. Jean Baptiste Day, a holiday to celebrate a province that often feels like its own country. The Fete Nationale nods towards Québec’s separatist element, but all are welcome at this summer event. A parade, dozens of neighborhood parties, and the Grand Spectacle, a music festival featuring local and internationally renowned artists, all celebrate this Québecois holiday.
Montrealers treasure their French heritage, and evidence of French culture can be found throughout the city in its architecture, language, music, and festivals. But long before Nouvelle France was founded, the land that is now Québec was the home of native First Nations. And this history is celebrated at Montréal’s annual Pow Wow.
Get a deeper insight into the lives of the first inhabitants of this land, and see how native culture still survives in this most French-Canadian of cities.
The weather starts to cool off in fall, but that’s no reason not to get outside. In fact, fall in Montréal is a great time to witness natural spectacles you won’t see anywhere else.
One such event is the annual migration of snow geese from the Arctic. Hundreds of thousands of these large birds stop for a while in and around Montréal before heading further south for the winter. Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, a few hours outside of Montréal, is one of the best places to witness this phenomenon.
Montréal is also a great place to witness the glory of Québec’s fall colors. As the leaves change, the city and its surrounding countryside become a riot of vibrant yellows, reds, greens, and browns. Leaf peepers come from miles around to witness this seasonal change and take photos against a stunning backdrop of multicolored trees.
Montréal’s fall foliage tends to peak around October. If you’re lucky enough to be in the city then, you’re guaranteed some spectacular photos.
When to go to Montréal
There’s no easy answer to the question of when you should visit Montréal. It really depends on what you’re into. Winter sports fans love the abundant snow of the coldest time of the year, whereas nature lovers might be better off visiting in the fall. Spring offers plenty of interesting festivals, while summer hosts a major celebration of all things Québecois.
Whatever time you choose to visit, you won’t be missing out. No matter what the season, Montréal has something to offer every visitor.