If you want a trendy vacation spot close to home and on a budget, Montreal is the way to go. I recently visited for a weekend and remembered why this is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada with some of the most beautiful people. The sun was shining when we arrived at Trudeau airport and took a 30 minute taxi into the city ($40 flat rate) to arrive at our home for the weekend near St. Laurent Blvd. I was happy to be immersed again in French-Canadiana culture, full of hip boutiques, must-visit restaurants and an effortless style only the French can pull off. We had no particular agenda other than indulging in some food to check off my list (cue crepes and poutine) and lots of walking. Here are my favourite places to play, stay, eat, and chill in the city.
Old Montreal: With its cobblestoned streets and café culture, the European charm of Old Montreal makes this area easily one of my favourites. It was a beautiful day for strolling the streets and popping in and out of shops. This historic city was bustling with people; patios were full and street benches occupied. We started the day off with brunch at the Jardin Nelson. I heard the fresh orange and apple juices were to die for. I tried both the egg and bacon crepe and cranberry orange ricotta pancakes (a little too much like dessert for me).
We visited boutiques (I was happy to finally touch the wears of one of Montreal’s finest designers, Denis Gagnon), admired art in many galleries, and stepped inside the Notre Dame Basilica to admire its detail. When our feet got sore, we walked along the pier past jewellery and henna tattoo stalls and retreated to the grassy area. We watched as people zip lined above us (this attraction conflicted with the historic neighbourhood in my mind, along with the neighbouring fun house SOS Labrinthe), roller bladed and cycled by, or enjoyed the sun from a pedal boat.
Rue St. Denis: A stroll through this lively street brings you past shops and restaurants, bars, theatres, and tattoo shops. It’s the street of laid-back patio lounging, and a more ingrained French culture – a great spot to really practice the language. We stopped at Randolph’s, the busy board game café, for some sangria and friendly competition.
Saint Catherine Street: Saint Catherine Street is where all the shopping happens. Home to the underground Eaton Centre mall and the famous Simons, St Catherine is the commercial center of the city. There were some entertaining buskers along the way, and tons of street culture to absorb. Just enjoy the walk.
Little Italy and the Jean-Talon Market: Just five minutes away from each other is the Jean-Talon Market, home to an incredible assortment of fresh fruit stalls as well as flowers and other goods, and a small strip of Little Italy, with restaurants and a cozy park nearby. Grab a gelato and head to a bench!
Crescent Street: This street is the pub heart of the city. Stop here for a night of fun as locals flock to the outdoor terraces to enjoy a drink in the summertime. At the top of the street, you’ll find the Musee Des Beaux-Arts de Montreal.
Search Montreal hotels close to your desired point of interest with our hotel tool. Here, it’s all about the location. The Hyatt Regency Montreal (close to the the Place-des-Arts, Musee d’Art Contemporain, and a short walk to the shopping of Rue Ste Catherine), Intercontinental Montreal (set between Old Montreal and downtown) and Hotel Nelligan (in Old Montreal) are some of my recommendations.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Montreal, a great, affordable option downtown, close to Chinatown and Old Montreal.
There are tons of amazing restaurants located all over the city. Just take a walk along St Catherine, Little Italy or Chinatown to find something you like. For vegetarians (or not), the Mexican-inspired Lola Rosa restaurant near McGill University has fabulous food and dessert. I tried the burrito and brownie. But best of all, every table has a drawer full of notes, for strangers to write to others about the food, the city, or the people they were eating with. I didn’t get a chance to try a bagel, but apparently Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel rival for the best ones. For smoked meat: hands down, Schwartz, opened in 1928 and a Montreal icon.
For dessert, Juliette et Chocolat is a must-visit for chocolate-lovers. With six locations, this brightly-lit sugary spot satisfies sweet tooths throughout the city. I tried the chocolate-banana-strawberry crepe and the banana caramel waffle (on different days, though twice in one day wouldn’t be below me). The brownies, ice cream sandwiches, and macarons also looked tempting.
And most importantly, you can’t visit Montreal without having a poutine. The 24-hour La Banquise is jam-packed with people waiting for take-out or to be seated to order a variety of inventive poutines. People line the sidewalk and sit on the curb. I opted for La Classique and wasn’t disappointed. If you need to work off all this food, you can always hike up Mont Royal!
To relax with some nostalgic board games, Randolph’s on Rue St Denis is a cool place to chill. For drinks, the Distillerie cocktail bar is a must-visit. With an impressive menu of concoctions and a very limited snack menu featuring delicious chili lime popcorn and nostalgic goldfish, this place allows you to bring your own food – and that might be a good idea. Drinks are served in mason jars and are categorized by Powerful, Fresh, Tropical, Delicate, Fruity, and Tart. If you like a snack with your cocktail, SuWu is a trendy spot with interesting, upscale snacks and a cozy but lively atmosphere. For something even more upbeat, head to Crescent St for dancing and some great patios. Santé!
My Montreal getaway was a nice reminder that sometimes small trips can be just as fun as larger ones and can be an easy fix to satisfy your wanderlust. What are you favourite spots?