Having grown up in Los Angeles, and being one of those people whose parents rarely understood the need to leave California, I could count on one hand the number of times I had witnessed snow falling. That is, until I moved to DC, where I heard it “rarely snowed,” and in my first winter, we got about 48 inches of snow.
There’s no better introduction to snow than one of those rare, city-shut-down, break out your skis blizzards. And since I haven’t seen snow quite like that first East Coast winter, getting to Montreal just before a blizzard gave me that magical winter wonderland that I had been craving for the last nine years.
My travel partner, hailing from Montana by way of Spokane, was less entertained – but nevertheless, entertained me by trekking through Vieux Montreal amidst a white out.
From DC, Montreal is the perfect weekend getaway: a two-hour flight, and you’re in an actual city with a European feel and a great bar scene. There wasn’t enough time for us to eat all the food I wanted to eat — and the next time I go, I’ll probably want to spend a few extra days, if only to squeeze in a few more restaurants and coffee shops!
In the meantime, here are my top 6 weekend essentials from good old Montreal:
1. Vieux Montreal on Foot
Whenever I’m in a place with an “old city,” the historic center is the first thing I want to see, and preferably, on foot! The Lonely Planet guide for Montreal has a great overview of all the sites to see in Vieux Montreal, and you can hit them all pretty quickly — with a few stops for coffee, maple crunch ice cream, and local shopping along the way.
2. Ice Skating in Parc Mont Royal
It took me a minute to get over my fear of falling, but few things are more enchanting to me than ice skating on a sunny winter day. Not super into the thought of ice skating? Walk the many, many trails and find your way to the overlook of the city!
3. Eat Poutine.
La Banquise is the place to go for poutine — and I’ve been told the experience is heightened after several cocktails. There’s usually a line out the door at all hours, but it’s worth it. Order a classique, and a variation of your choice. Our favorite was La Sud-Ouest, which added bacon, red onions, guacamole, onion rings & Chipotle sauce to the classic French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
4. Marche Jean-Talon
This year-round market near Little Italy is a pocket of incredibly beautiful and tasty produce, which felt like a bit of an anachronism on the blizzardy, February weekend we visited. Wander the produce stalls and pick up a fresh crepe or pastry from one of the many local snack stalls!
5. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Coming from Washington, DC, I’m always a little skeptical of visiting museums elsewhere — but the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts boasted an incredible, diverse collection and great views of the city.
6. Bota Bota Spa
This spa was actually one of my favorite experiences on our trip — the Nordic spa circuits have you heat up in a sauna or steam room, then dunk quickly in a pool of cold water, and finally, relax in a warm room or hot jacuzzi. The cold pools vary in levels of frigidity, with the coldest option being the St. Lawrence River. We jumped in twice, and I would do that a million times over again. The silent rooms with bean bags and hanging chairs are the perfect place to soak up the sun and experience the euphoric effects of going between extreme temperatures.