December in Montreal is a time when the city dons its holiday best, and the streets come alive with the spirit of the holiday season. Last December, our family had a magical (and freezing!) weekend adventure in Montreal. We visited a number of Christmas markets throughout the city and enjoyed many of the kid-friendly activities that this beautiful city has to offer. If you’re hoping to visit European Christmas markets but can’t make it to Europe this December, a weekend visit to the Montreal Christmas markets can get you in the Christmas spirit. Here’s our THM Digital Business Manager, Megan Condello’s, Montreal Christmas Market weekend getaway for you!
We live in Rochester, New York, which is only about a five-hour drive to Montreal, so we road-tripped. Living that close to Montreal makes for an easy weekend family trip. The reason this trip even happened was so that we could stop in Champlain, NY, for our NEXUS interviews (more on that below).
YUL is Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Just about all major airlines fly into YUL. It is about a 20-minute drive from the airport to the city center or a 40-minute train ride.
Hyatt Centric Montreal is a Category 3 Hyatt in a great location in the center of Old Montreal. It was only 12,000 points per night on a December weekend. We transferred the points from my husband’s Chase Ink Business Cash to cover the 36,000 points for our three nights. It had opened only a few months prior to our stay, so everything was very fresh and clean. We had a standard two-queen room for our family of 5 and brought our travel cot with a sleeping bag for one of the girls to sleep on each night.
This hotel location is right near the village center, making most of the big tourist sites walkable. And for the sites that weren’t within walking distance, the metro was super easy to navigate.
There is a very nice on-site restaurant, Cartier Arms. We ate dinner here for two nights and breakfast on our first morning. While it definitely catered to an after-work/happy hour crowd, the staff was more than welcoming to our kids.
Now, for the fun reasons, we decided to visit Montreal, the Christmas markets! Montreal really gives that European feeling. It is a French-speaking destination, which also helps with the European feel. And although French is the city’s official language, we found that almost everyone speaks English as well.
There are a ton of Christmas markets spread all throughout the city, and all the ones we visited were free to enter. We spent time in four different Christmas markets, though there are so many, and you could easily fill a few days of a December trip with only visiting Christmas markets in Montreal.
Each market is unique in its own way. One Montreal Christmas market had the Canadian National Park Service with games about animals, another had a log sawing demonstration where we all were given a turn to saw, most had a visit from Santa who passed out candy canes to all the kids, and every single Montreal Christmas market had some kid entertainment like singers or magicians.
At these Montreal Christmas markets, there is no shortage of food and treats! Some of our favorites were poutine, hot chocolate, mulled wine, beaver tails (fried dough topped with Nutella or cinnamon sugar), and maple taffy – this is made by boiling maple sap and pouring it over fresh snow. Our kids especially loved the maple taffy and beaver tails!
One final tip…it was so, so cold. I wish we had packed our snow pants and boots for everyone. We had hats, coats, gloves, fleece-lined leggings, but that still wasn’t enough for the bitter cold.
This was a big hit with our three girls. The Barbie Expo is a unique exhibition in Montreal featuring a rather large collection of Barbie dolls dressed in various couture outfits and accessories. It is located inside a shopping mall, and admission is free! Surprisingly, we learned that it’s someone’s personal collection that they want to share with other Barbie lovers.
Place Jacques-Cartier is a historic square located in the heart of Old Montreal. It’s a vibrant hub filled with street performers, cafes, and charming architecture. Visitors can enjoy a lively atmosphere, shop for souvenirs, and savor delicious food in this iconic public space.
Montreal City Hall, also known as Hôtel de Ville. It is a grand municipal building in Old Montreal. It serves as the seat of the city’s government.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is a huge basilica situated in the historic district of Old Montreal. It is renowned for its Gothic Revival architecture and beautiful stained glass windows. There is an entrance fee, but we were willing to pay so that we could warm up for a bit.
There are a number of other kid-friendly sites in Montreal that we didn’t get to visit on this Christmas market trip. On previous visits to Montreal in summer and fall, we have spent time at the Montreal Science Centre, Montreal Biodome, the 1976 Summer Olympic Park, Montreal Botanical Garden, Old Port of Montreal, Musee des Enfants (Children’s Museum), and all are great for families.
Having our NEXUS interviews is what sparked the idea for this entire trip. NEXUS is like a fast pass for the U.S.-Canadian border, and it also gives you TSA Precheck+Global Entry at U.S. airports and special line-skipping privileges at Canadian airports. Just as you have to do with TSA Precheck and Global Entry, after you are conditionally approved, there is an in-person interview portion. The main difference is that with NEXUS, you have to go to a border crossing office location. Niagara Falls (which is only an hour from us) didn’t have any appointments, so I grabbed ones at the next closest, the Champlain, NY, location. I was able to get all five of our interviews on the same date at that location, so that was a big win.
Many credit cards offer a credit towards signing up for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or NEXUS. You can use these credits for anyone. They do not have to be used by the credit card holder. These benefits allow you to move quicker through TSA or Customs at US airports. Since we live in Upstate NY, near the Canadian border, and plan to fly out of Toronto quite a bit, we went with NEXUS.
Both the United Explorer Card and IHG credit cards offer a credit for NEXUS. We used the credit from each of those cards to cover my and my husband’s $50 NEXUS fee. The best part about NEXUS is that kids are free! Global entry is $100/person, no matter their age. So, getting NEXUS was a huge savings for our family with three kids. We paid $100 total vs. $500!
We were able to combine getting NEXUS for our family with a Montreal Christmas Market weekend getaway and credit card points and miles made it possible. If European Christmas Markets seem a bit far to go, consider the Montreal Christmas Markets. And bring along the whole family; we had a blast!
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