I get a fair amount of email from people about travel to Montréal, and it generally falls into two categories: where to eat, and what to pack in winter.
My idea of the most interesting places to eat changes every year, but I feel like I can give some evergreen advice about packing for a Montréal trip in winter. Here are a few thoughts.
It’s as variable in Montréal as it is anywhere in the northeast and the upper midwest. It’s not always freezing cold; sometimes, it’s downright warm for the season. Over the next six days (12/12-18), the afternoon highs will range from -7°C to 7°C (20°F to 45°F). That’s a spread, even before you get to the elements of winter: rain, freezing rain, snow, wind.
Normal temperatures: high -3°C (26°F) and low -11°C (12°F). The reality over 7 years of Christmas holidays in Montréal: I’ve experienced a temperature range from -15°F to 45°F and heavy snow to rain to dry, sunny weather.
You could grab your biggest suitcase and fill it with everything from your closet, but here’s a sanity-based packing list:
- warm gloves or mittens, quality scarf, cap. Cities are windy, even when gusts aren’t in the forecast.
- winter coat: rather than a heavy, long winter coat, I prefer a short, warm leather jacket and a hoodie sweatshirt to wear underneath. Most of the time, I need both, but for warm days, I can remove a layer.
- long underwear: your lower extremities will thank you for this.
- socks: heavy winter socks, especially if you get cold feet like I often do.
- shoes: I wear a pair of winter boots. I used to take other shoes for dining out and such, but aside from a pair of tennis shoes for the gym, I now rely solely on that pair of black winter boots. (Most Montréal restaurants are casual and believe me, they understand winter isn’t a time for niceties.) Ideally, your shoes will be waterproof; melting snow can leave huge pools of standing water, especially on the cobblestones of Old Montréal. It’s no fun being soaked to the skin.
- travel-size umbrella.
- sunglasses: Montréal is often sunny and one does like to look cool.
Montréal has an Underground City, and when it’s too cold to walk the 1.6 miles from my auberge to Café Myriade for the best coffee in the city, I still walk, but I make most of the trek indoors and underground. Layers are especially handy then, as you move from warm to cold and back.
The rest of my packing list? Well, it’s largely the stuff of personal taste, but here goes:
- gym clothes: tennis shoes, socks, shirts, sweats
- Airport Express: to translate and extend internet
- power strip: portions of the auberge where I stay date to the 18th century; the late 20th century renovation didn’t include enough electrical outlets. Most hotels everywhere have this problem. (In case you don’t know, all of North America follows the same electrical standard. No adaptors needed.)
- money: Since I go to Canada once a year or more often, I keep a stash of Canadian currency. The last thing I want to do after getting off the airplane at Trudeau, is to hunt down an ATM. I want to jump in a cab and get to my hotel! Cab fare from the airport to the Old City is $38 + tip at this writing, and I already have the cash for it in my pocket.
- small speakers: a Bose or Jawbone travel speaker doesn’t sound stunning, but it’s nice to play music in one’s room.
- iOS dock cables: enough for a small army of iDevices.
- passport: this is mandatory.
- phone data plan: I’ve stopped doing this because the plans are ridiculously expensive and you often have to keep the plan in place for 2 months because phone companies are slow about billing each other. Now, I forgo ubiquitous access and rely on wifi only.
Trudeau airport opened a brand new terminal for flights to and from the US in 2009. It’s a vast improvement, and entry to and exit from Canada is now more speedy and streamlined. When you return to the US, you go through preclearance at Trudeau, so you’re officially on US territory once you’re through, and you won’t face additional clearance when you get back home.
Getting from Airport to Downtown
This is an easy answer: take a cab. There is 747 Express bus service from the airport to downtown Montréal for the budget price of C$8, and if you’re comfortable with the tradeoff of a longer trip for less money, this is a workable option. There is a proposal for light rail service from Trudeau airport to downtown, but that’s a few years and a billion dollars away.