Many people think of Montréal as the little Europe of Canada. And there is some truth to it in the architecture, language (however different from Parisian French), and especially in the city’s music scene. But alas it is still Canada, and that’s a good thing – it is easier to travel to, there’s no need to exchange money, and your health insurance works like a charm. Depending on where you live, you could even drive, though that traffic is a bit of a discomfort, to say the least.
I’ve had the pleasure to visit the city a few times recently and will be undoubtedly going back again soon so here are some ideas on how to see Montréal as a casual tourist, a fan of great flavours, and fantastic sounds.
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From bagels to experimental cuisine:
Where to eat & drink
Montréal is well known for its food scene and there is plenty to choose from. Big cities, much like the one I live in, can be overwhelming when deciding on where to eat so my methodology is to first ask for friend recommendations, then check the blogs I trust, all to only create a starting or “just-in-case” list because once I get there I will ask the locals for their favourites.
If you are staying near Old Montréal and looking for a nice view Hotel Nelligan* has a lovely rooftop, Terrasse Nelligan, with a view on the water. Nearby directly on Sain-Paul Street is Pub Wolf & Workman, a casual fun spot with a hearty delicious menu and backyard patio decorated with greenery and twinkly lights. For a late-night and some dancing, there is Santos, where you can also grab some Spanish tapas but this spot is mostly known for its party atmosphere.
Heading further inland are many other interesting neighbourhoods with fun and exciting spots to try. In Marconi-Alexandra is a new-ish restaurant called Taverne Atlantic that we came across completely accidentally and this humble front entrance called my name. Upon entry, you will be pleasantly surprised by its openness and vintage-inspired decor. The back bar, that stretches along the entire room, is rumoured to have been in storage for decades just waiting for a perfect spot like this. The drink menu is a wealth of natural wines, local beers, and craft cocktails while the food selection is a mix of classy pub food and a variety of fresh salads. Make sure to check out their upper terrace. A short walk along Rue Beaubien East will take you to Isle de Garde, an independently owned brewery and restaurant serving up in-house-made beers, fun clean wines, and delicious foods.
For a one-stop destination, there is the very cool Fugazzi Pizza for dinner (Centre St.) and Milkyway Cocktail Bar right above for all the late-night fun. If you have the time, venture off the beaten path to the newly opened Chez José Café for hearty meals and delicious cocktails or drive out to Tiradito on Rue de Bleury for experimental open-kitchen Peruvian cuisine and craft cocktails. And of course, an absolute must-stop when in Montréal is the St-Viateur Bagel, these folks have been making bagels since the 50s and are basically the spot to get a Montréal bagel, in fact, get a dozen and store them at home in a freezer until the bagel craving kicks in.
From explorative walks to live music events:
What to see & do
Montréal is a nice city to walk around, just pick a neighbourhood and explore, diving into small side streets to take in the architecture and spiral staircases. Step out of Old Montréal and take a stroll along the waterfront, grabbing souvenirs from local vendors and seeing the city from a new angle from the top of La Grande Roue de Montréal Ferris wheel. First Fridays are also back in the Olympic Park, come and enjoy various food truck vendors, restaurant pop-ups, and music parties.
Cirque Éloize circus has multiple events in the city, La Guide are showcasing Inuit and First Nations artists while MUMAQ is looking at craftsmanship over time. You can also learn about the environment and sustainable ways to live in the Biosphère or immerse yourself in alternate realities at the PHI Centre. That’s just a few examples of what’s on, make sure to check mtl.org for up-to-date announcements. Over the summer months, all the way through to October 12th visitors can enjoy PassportMTL, which allows you to see 5 attractions of your choice at the cost of $95 (+tax).
Bonus: A bit more about Montréal with some other ideas can also be found in Canada by rail: the best of Ottawa, Montréal, & Québec City story.
This time of the year there are also many music festivals: International Jazz Festival takes place from June 30 to July 9, the infamous Osheaga is on from July 29 to 31, Mutek has moved to August 23 through 28 (electronic and experimental), while Piknic Electronic stretches over multiple weekends throughout the warmer months until October 2nd.
Casual simplicity and mixed luxury:
Where to stay
Note: You will notice I share the hotel booking link and a booking.com link because depending on which site or membership you use you might have a better deal with one over the other. Personally, I’ve been using booking.com* for many years and often get lower rates there.
Humaniti Hotel Montréal, Marriot Bonvoy’s Autograph Collection
Located near the city’s cultural district Quartier des Spectacles and a short walk away from the Old Town Humaniti* is a lovely modern hotel that you can make a home for a day or five. The hotel decor is gracefully minimal with bright splashes of colour seen in art and various interior decor (like the yellow accent chairs) contrasted by the black and white. The rooms are spacious the windows are floor-to-ceiling and there is plenty of storage for a long-term stay.
On the ground floor is a wonderful bakery, Boulangerie Ange. This corner of the hotel gets particularly busy during lunch, filled with energetic office crowds and hotel guests alike. I left the room to have lunch here a few times, indulging in the fresh-baked baguette sandwiches, savoury tarts, and creamy desserts. The hotel is also home to H3 Restaurant which overlooks the courtyard with the maple tree art installation. The restaurant services breakfast, lunch, and dinner while the H3 Lounge on the same floor opens for evening cocktail hours.
The most exciting part of this hotel, however, is the rooftop pool and lounge. During my last visit, the pool was not quite fully open but in the summer months it turns into a tropical paradise with plants, cabanas, and cold cocktails served on the terrace. The pool is a part of the Humaniti Spa and gym.
Hôtel Birks Montréal
Five-star hotel situated in Montréal’s Downtown, a 10-minute walk to Old Town. This is a luxury hotel, boasting old-world wealth with a modern touch. On site is a modern French brasserie, Restaurant Henri, and Valmont Spa.
Le Petit Hotel Montréal
A smaller boutique hotel set in the heart of Old Montreal a stitch away from the waterfront. The hotel is a 19th-century historic building that embraces its history through special design and works with local makers on custom-designed furniture.
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In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens and Fuji XF 23MM F2 R WR lens