But when I visit, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I have jet lag. It’s phantom jet lag brought on by 19th-century architecture and street names like Rue St Denis and Rue Saint Sulpice. I’m in Canada, but this quasi-European, culturally French city makes me feel intercontinental.
Traveler magazine Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows wrote of his hometown: “…it’s the closest you’ll get to being in Europe without going there,” so it’s no wonder Montreal feels fairy-tale perfect during the Christmas season.
I know what I love about Montreal (dinner at Garde-Manger where the menu is scribbled on a chalkboard, the decades-old Jean-Talon Market in Montreal’s Petite-Italie, and those yummy Montreal-style St-Viateur bagels), but I was on a mission to find out makes the city so special during the holidays.
And who’s better equipped to give me the inside scoop than a truly tuned-in local like Hugo Legrand, the president of Les Clefs d’Or Canada (the Hotel Concierge Society of Canada) and chief concierge at the Sofitel?
Here’s Hugo Legrand’s recipe for a festive (and active) day in Montreal:
- Do some holiday shopping along Ste-Catherine Street (pick up a Bûche de Noël at a Premiere Moisson pastry shop along the way), then make your way to La Maison Ogilvy’s to see their famous window display, the Enchanted Village.
- Stop in for lunch or afternoon tea at Cafe Birks, then head to the unique Place des Festivals to see the Luminotherapie. (Check out Brasserie T! or the F Bar if you are looking for a quick bite while you enjoy the lights.)
- When dusk comes, go through the underground city to McGill College Avenue and see the giant Christmas tree at Place Ville-Marie. Or head to the Old Port skating rink to have a skate and take in the beautiful view of the city’s skyline.
- Walk the cobblestone streets (or take a carriage ride) in Old Montreal and feel the magic of Christmas. Make sure to go by the Notre-Dame Basilica (a must for Christmas Eve mass) and pop into the Noel Eternel boutique for a souvenir ornament.
Hugo’s Favorite Holiday Events:
- The Old Montreal Extravaganza offers a month of continual events, including a Christmas village and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
- The Christmas tree exhibition and Christmas caroling at the Musee Des Beaux Arts.
“Hotel rates are very reasonable in December, which make it a perfect time to visit,” Legrand says. But think about staying through the new year, because Montreal knows how to celebrate this holiday in style. You can also find some of the best skiing on the East Coast and several unique outdoor activities such as dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing just a short drive from the city.
- National Geographic’s Ultimate City Guide: Montreal
- Walking Tour of Downtown Montreal and the Golden Square Mile
- A Taste of Montreal App from the Editors of Traveler