The island city of Montreal lies at the confluence of two rivers, the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa, in southwestern Quebec, less than fifty miles from the U.S. border.
For its unique architectural character, its French heritage, and its flourishing arts scene, encompassing everything from indie rock to haute cuisine.
It’s a reasonable drive from Vermont, upstate New York, or southeastern Ontario, and it’s served by an international airport named for the former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. From New York, a direct flight takes less than an hour and a half.
Choose your timing wisely — winter in Quebec is no joke, though bargains abound and the city looks especially pretty in fresh snow. Spring and fall are magical, if brief, and in summer Montreal gets downright hedonistic.
Admittedly, it takes a certain streak of contrarianism to visit Montreal in January. Even the cab drivers, who you have to imagine have seen things worse than icy roads, have a world-weary look in their eyes as they talk about the weather, heaters blasting full-gust, bulky coats zipped up, as if the warmth were a thing to be hoarded, greedily, in anticipation of the moment when someone insists on opening that passenger door again. So yes, winter is cold in Montreal; there’s not much getting around that.
But off-season travel deals reward the intrepid, with some of the city’s best hotels offering steep discounts. In the Old City, Le Petit Hotel, Auberge du Vieux Port, the Place d’Armes and Hotel Nelligan, a group of family-owned boutique hotels that radiate a distinctive Québécois charm, land in the $100 – $200 range at this time of year. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re also all part of the Tablet Plus program. With off-season occupancy relatively low, members are fairly likely to get a room upgrade in addition to the usual perks. And their Old City neighborhood looks especially good in the winter light — those stone façades all the more picturesque with icicles hanging from their eaves, holiday lights strung between them and over the narrow streets.
The many warm, French-inflected restaurants are particularly inviting, too, with a little snow piled on the sidewalks outside their entrances, and the cold weather calls for indulging in some of the rich foods that Quebec does best — frisée with duck confit, lardons and poached egg at L’Express, a foie gras–topped piglet risotto at Club Chasse et Pêche, truffles and toast at Au Pied de Cochon. Deep, thoughtfully compiled selections of wine and beer — largely French and Québécois, respectively — are the norm.
For all the warm restaurants and cozy hotels to settle into, there’s just as much to do outdoors. Skip the famous underground walkways and head to Mont Royal park. It’s an almost disconcertingly cheery tableau of outdoorsy French-Canadians sledding and skiing and jogging across fields of snow, high above the city.
Back across town at the Old Port, a popular outdoor rink draws crowds of ice skaters late into the evening. When conditions are right, the adjacent canal is cleared of snow, transforming it into a long, gently curving skating lane. For those willing to brave the cold, it’s a singular winter scene — the dark, wind-whipped Saint Lawrence River on one side, and on the other, the warmly lit skyline of the city, just off in the distance.