I’ve wanted to visit Montreal for years now, so I made the trip at the end of May. I felt right at home as I wandered through Le Plateau-Mont-Royal which boasts trendy shops and eateries, and a Brooklyn-like vibe. There’s so much to do in this French-Canadian city, but I recommend starting with what I’m highlighting in this blog post, especially if you’re experiencing “La Métropole du Québec” as a first-timer. Here are six things to do in Montreal.
1. Explore Old Montreal.
Yes, it’s the most touristy area and the most crowded, but the architecture is grand and the old-town feel is remarkably European. (You might even imagine that you’re in Paris.) Spend an afternoon wandering and browsing the area’s quaint cobblestone streets and galleries. Old Montreal is the perfect neighborhood to not have any agenda. In fact, I recommend seeing where your feet take you, and let the city be your guide. All I can say is, prepare to fall in love with the streetscape, and don’t forget your camera.
The Montreal Museum of Archeology and History is located in Old Montreal, so save an hour or two for this national historic site, which is also the birthplace of Montreal. I saw the stunning Of Horses and Men – The Emile Hermes Collection, Paris – a showcase of more than 250 items from Hermes. The brilliant collection tells the story of the horse and the animal’s relationship to people. This beautiful exhibit is on view through October 16, 2016 only. For more info on this exhibition as well as the museum’s permanent collection, visit the website.
And, if you need a beverage or a nosh while taking in Old Montreal, you’ll find an array of bars and bistros to satisfy, so no worries there. Now, let’s move on to the edibles.
2. Eat and drink as much as possible.
I wasn’t prepared at all for Montreal’s culinary endeavors. All I can say, is WOW! The food and drink scene is diverse, and I ate as much as my stomach allowed.
Many of the kitchens are open, so you can watch the chefs at work and see how each dish is crafted. The passion and creativity coming from these Montreal restaurants is palpable – obviously, dining is a serious business here.
My favorite meals included phenomenal hand-rolled bagels at the famed St. Viateur; a perfect brunch at Bistrot La Fabrique, a casual spot with a creative menu; Chez Victoire‘s four-course indulgent fixed price dinner; delightful Italian fare at the industrial yet stylish Le Serpent; and my favorite dining experience of the weekend –– Lili. Co, where I feasted for nearly three hours, trying different wines with each course. Lili. Co stands out as one of my favorite meals I’ve ever had while traveling, but I could go on about the food for another 1,000 words. 🙂
I also want to mention the coffee culture of Montreal. Like New York, caffeinated beverages are essential to the lifestyle. The city is brimming with internet cafes and all types of coffee houses. Even as a rare coffee drinker, I wanted to partake, so I opted for my usual decaf cappuccino, and it was delish.
For a casual experience, you can’t beat the Le Réservoir for a brew or glass of wine. All beers are crafted on the premises, and even I, a wine drinker, tried one of the lighter brews and thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather was warm and sunny so this bar was open air. I felt as if I was outside, even though I sat inside. The upstairs provides awesome outdoor seating too.
3. Browse Marché-Jean Talon.
While we’re on the subject of food, you cannot miss this amazing farmer’s market. Not only can you eat a meal while walking around (I had some tasty sausage on a skewer), but many of the stands put out samples of fruits and veggies, so you can graze and taste produce while you shop. Some of the foods are local (if in season), and others are shipped in. No matter, stop by Marche-Jean Talon for a look at how Montrealers food shop and spend a weekend day.
4. Shop boutiques.
More on shopping…. which, by the way, was as impressive as the food scene. Interiors must be a big business in Montreal, as I stumbled upon myriad furniture stores like Style Labo, where I wanted to max out my credit cards and refurnish my apartment. In all seriousness, I need to make another trip back to Montreal just to shop.
You could peruse Boulevard Saint-Laurent (a main drag known for restaurants, bars and stores) all day, but unique shops are scattered throughout the city. One of my fave stores has a retro theme and owner Karine Gauthier was kind enough to take a photo with me. Kitsch’n Swell sells vintage goods, many in the 1950s style. This boutique is one that you can spend hours in yet not see everything since there’s so much to look at.
Prices, in general, are lower than those you’d find in NYC, but the variety of indie boutiques in Montreal is just as impressive.
5. Park hop.
Montreal reminds me of Savannah, GA, in that the small, pocket-type parks or squares fill the city. I relaxed in a few, strolled through some, and took photos in others. Green spaces, no matter how small, add to the urban fabric of any town, and the parks of Montreal are vital to life here. Locals were reading, talking, resting, walking dogs, and more in the city parks. Take for instance, Square Saint Louis in Le Plateau. This park and the surrounding neighborhood was incredibly charming. I decided that I’d want to live here if I lived in Montreal.
Montreal’s version of Central Park is Parc Du Mont-Royal (how appropriate), also designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted. Besides the beauty of the park itself, there’s a spectacular overlook where you can view the city, and it’s terrific for photos. I took a lot here. 🙂
6. Walk –– EVERYWHERE.
One of the reasons I adore Montreal, is, like New York, the city is completely walkable. I covered miles on foot and roamed from one end to the next. And, the city is extremely safe too. I explored from a.m. until well into the evening (after midnight), and never felt uneasy. I stumbled through neighborhood after neighborhood, discovering street art, live music, and even an outdoor chess game!
From Le Plateau to Chinatown to Old Montreal to Little Burgundy and Little Italy, I kept walking and walking! And one morning, by car, I was fortunate to tour the city with a local. Thom Seivewright showed me his town. What a treat to see Montreal through the eyes of someone who had grown up there, has traveled the world, but still choses to live in Montreal. As you can see below, we became fast friends. I felt like I had known Thom for years instead of a few short hours.
Can’t walk anymore? The metro in Montreal is ultra clean as compared to the NYC subway (I wasn’t surprised), so when your feet have had enough walking for one day, hopping on public transit is a viable and smart choice.
Where I stayed.
I stayed at the conveniently located Hotel 10, and would most definitely choose this hotel again. The rooms were simple and modern, and the bed was heavenly. Like everyone I met, the staff were helpful and accommodating. The hotel has an amazing terrace too, so each night, I sipped a glass of wine outdoors before venturing out for the evening.
I recommend taking some Canadian dollars with you. Currently, one Canadian dollar equals 0.77 USD (be sure to check the exchange rate at the time of travel.) You can use US dollars at some if not most places in Montreal, but the exchange rate isn’t so hot, and you’ll more than likely end up losing money.
From New York City, the drive takes about six hours, unless you run into major traffic. The drive is a gorgeous one too, as you pass through Upstate New York and the Adirondacks before entering Canada.
Nonstop flights are quick at about 90 minutes or less on Air Canada, Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines. Prices start around $200 and depart from JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia Airports. You don’t need a car to get around Montreal, but you will need comfortable shoes.
Special thanks to Montreal Tourism for their assistance with the itinerary and tour of Montreal.
Also, I want to mention the people of Montreal. Everyone I met was lovely. They were polite and helpful, and appreciated my sad attempt to read and speak French, and when I couldn’t, they communicated in English. The people of Montreal made the weekend unforgettable!
Montreal, until we meet again!