Montreal is a one-hour flight from New York City, where I live, and in the same time zone. It can’t get much easier for a traveler.

Where the magic happens: St-Viateur Bagel. (Photograph by Julia Manzerova, Flickr)

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:

- Start your day out right by indulging in a world-class breakfast or brunch at Le Renoir in the heart of the city’s Golden Square Mile.

Get lost in the magic at the Luminotherapie. (Photograph by Caribb, Flickr)

– 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.

– Cap off the day and warm up with some comfort food of seasonal Quebec fare at Baxo or opt for Restaurant Europea for an “award-winning local gastronomic experience in a warm and cozy atmosphere.”

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.

Fireworks at the Old Montreal Extravaganza. (Photograph by Old Montreal Extravaganza)

– The Salon des Metiers d’Arts (Canada’s largest craft show) and The Nutcracker Market at the Palais des congrès are great places to pick up unique, hand-crafted gifts.

– The Christmas tree exhibition and Christmas caroling at the Musee Des Beaux Arts.

– The Fantaisie des Fêtes at the Atruim Le 1000 indoor skating rink.

– “The Nutcracker” (“Casse-Noisette”) at Place des Arts, a holiday tradition.

Bonus Tip: 

“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.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her travels on Twitter @anniefitz.

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Comments

  1. Eleanor
    Long Island NY
    July 28, 2013, 9:53 am

    Going to Montreal in Dec. Worried about snow, etc. Do you think I will be able to explore city, or too cold?

  2. Lejla
    Washington DC
    December 24, 2012, 11:53 am
  3. A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer)
    Montreal
    December 19, 2012, 6:11 pm

    Montreal is lovely at any time of the year, that much is true – but there’s something special in the atmosphere in the cold months of winter that really does make it the best time to visit.

  4. kevin leonescu
    arad
    December 12, 2012, 11:43 pm

    i have no enough money to get there

  5. Gina E
    Chico, Ca
    December 11, 2012, 4:00 pm

    Montreal seems like a wonderful place to visit and seems to have so much to offer. I will say that the Yukon is also another Canadian wonder to explore. An excerpt from Jay Fullers novel, Shadows in Winter, gives a detailed vision of the Yukon. You can read the excerpt From Empirical Magazines blog here: http://empiricalmag.blogspot.com/2012/12/december-excerpt-shadows-in-winter-by-f.html

    Also in the blog you can apply for a FREE three month subscription to the magazine.

  6. Fairfield Limos
    http://www.shadyslimo.com/ct/fairfield-limo-service
    December 11, 2012, 3:28 pm

    Yes please! Going to take a drive up there. I heard it was beautiful but your post just solidified my travel!

    Thanks!