Winter is a challenging time of the year no matter where you live. Whether in Florida where you need a light jacket when it’s below 70 degrees, or in Quebec City where you need to wear your entire wardrobe to keep warm. It’s all relative, right?
During my recent trip to Montreal and Quebec City, it felt like I was in the arctic tundra, with temperatures reaching as low as -35 degrees including the wind chill. How on Earth do you survive, and most importantly enjoy a destination with such frigid temperatures? Below are my survival tips to best enjoy Canada in the cold. ❄
Wear an obscene amount of layers
As a Boston native who is accustomed to sub-zero winters, I was always told to “wear a lot of layers” and “bundle up”. I did not always heed that advice, but I’d at least wear a jacket, hat, gloves, and warm socks to get me through the coldest winter days. In Montreal and Quebec City, where it was between -10 and -25 degrees for the duration of my stay, it was impossible to get by with just a couple of layers. In fact, the cold seeped through my gloves, socks, and jackets within seconds of walking outside. Frostbite could form in a matter of minutes if proper precautions were not taken.
Therefore, I had no choice but to wear copious amounts of layers in order to survive the cold for more than 10-15 minutes at a time:
- Warm winter hat that tightly covers the ears
- Scarf wrapped around face and neck
- Two pairs of gloves
- Long-sleeve shirt
- Two athletic sweatshirts
- Warm sweater
- Halfzip sweater
- Fleece jacket
- Spandex pants underneath jeans
- Two pairs of socks
- Snow boots
It may seem like an exaggeration to wear so many layers, but I assure you—I have never experienced any place this cold in my life. By wearing the items above, I was able to survive the freezing cold for long enough to capture the magic of Quebec City and Montreal in the winter time!
Plan your day around cafés
Quebec City and Montreal are known for their pastries, breads, crêpes, and coffee…so there are plenty of reasons right there to check out as many cafés as possible! When the cold hinders you from staying outside for more than 15 minutes at a time, it’s important to plan ahead before stepping outside.
By strategically planning your day around both the cafés and tourist sites you wish to see, you will maximize your sightseeing in the freezing cold, while consuming as many croissants as possible. My personal favorite was La Maison Smith in Quebec City.
This café has been around since 1653, nearly 40 years after Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City. La Maison Smith truly has some of the most delicious chocolate croissants and baguettes I’ve ever had (right up there with the Alsace region of France!).
By planning your walking path around the cafés and tourist sites you wish to visit, you will effectively maximize your time, survive the cold, and become a croissant connoisseur!
Stay at a hotel in the heart of the city
Though you’ll have to pay more to stay in the best location, it’s totally worth it to not miss out on the winter wonderland of Quebec City and Montreal! When we’re talking about wind chills below -20 degrees, it’s simply not feasible to rely on public transport to arrive in the heart of the city.
In Quebec City, I stayed at the Fairmont Frontenac, which majestically overlooks Old Quebec and the St. Laurence River. The Frontenac is truly in the middle of all the action, and serves as the picture-perfect postcard of the city.
In Montreal, I was fortunate to stay at the Sofitel Montréal, which is in the heart of the bustling Golden Mile district of the city.
As a traveler seeking a cultural journey, the Sofitel is ideally located nearby the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, McGill University, Mount Royal Park, and the Golden Square Mile.
I highly recommend checking out these hotels during your visits to Quebec City and Montreal!
During the extremely cold Canadian winters, when you can realistically only stay outside for 10-15 minutes at a time, it pays to be in the best locations. Fortunately, as wintertime is the off-season for Canadian tourism, you can expect to get the best rates for hotels or Airbnbs.
Surviving the north
Next time you decide to make the trek up north, be sure to heed this advice and plan accordingly! Shortly before my trip, I found out that I’d be in Canada during the so-called “bomb cyclone”, which lent itself to some of the coldest days on record. Though I looked like an abominable snowman with all my layers, I stayed “warm” and was able to fully appreciate the magical allure of Quebec City and Montreal. If you are an American that wishes to experience Europe’s Old World charm during the wintertime, look no further than our northern neighbor.
(Looking to head somewhere warm this winter? Check out the exotic city of Miami!)
To follow my journey through Europe and around the world, feel free to connect with me on Instagram: @Global.Viewpoint!
Happy Travels! -Jon
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Great advice for any newcomers to the greater North ! 😉 Being French Canadian, we know how cold it can get! We also live with these extreme cold temperatures for months on-end, we are used to it. So we don’t necessarily need layers, just really good coats. But for visitors staying for a few days, it’s quite the wake-up call and layering is the way to-go, especially on a budget! Although it can be very nice with the snow, I’d recommend visiting our humble province during spring time (april-may), just before the high season of tourists begins. Weather is so much better and temperatures are way more tolerable. ☺️ My favorite time of year is fall (sept-oct), the leaves turn to such beautiful colors and the temperatures are still warm enough for a light coat/poncho.
Hi Gabby! Thank you so much for your wonderful advice! I’d love to visit Canada at some point this fall, so I’ll definitely heed this advice before I do 🙂 Hope you have a terrific weekend!
Wow, you are brave to go there during winter! I don’t think I can handle it!! Did you feel that it was “warm” when you got back to Boston?
Yes!! Boston now practically feels like Florida! 😄
Wow!! Well done. I’m not sure as I will plan a trip there someday in the winter, but you have done a great job sharing some good information. Merci!
Merci beaucoup! Hope you have a wonderful trip there (whenever that may be)!