It’s no secret that Montreal is one of my favorite cities in the world. I always say while New York may be the best city in the world, Montreal may be my favorite (although, can you believe I have yet been to Amsterdam). Montreal is a magical gem in French Canada. Known as Habs, from the word “habitant” (hence the name of their beloved hockey team), the people are passionate, fun loving and friendly. Plan to spend your days strolling, wandering and simply exploring all the goodness the city has to offer. Pay particular attention to the street art as Montreal is regarded as having some of the best street art in the world! Note – I had originally written this city guide as a guest post for another website that has since changed, hence the “formal” sound of my voice at times.
Where to Stay: The Old Port makes a picturesque setting to situated yourself. Hotel Nelligan is a favorite destination as is Auberge du Vieux-Port. Larger chains are of course plentiful downtown as well as a plethora of smaller offbeat hotels scattered throughout the city. These days you’ll be more likely to Air bnb and I would suggest the Mile end neighborhood or Griffintown.
Getting Around: Walking is the best way to navigate the city. There are so many cool little neighborhoods to explore and in relatively small circumference, especially if you’re comfortable walking for an hour. Spending a day on a Bixi bike is also pleasant. It’s a bike sharing system with over 400 stations. You can almost always find and park the bike anywhere in the city. Simply pay by the hour or for the day. The Metro is extremely clean and easy should it be raining or cold.
5 Must Do’s of Montreal:
- The Mountain – Literally a “walk in the park” – a gentle and graded trail takes you to the top for fantastic views of the city and surrounding rivers. I wouldn’t wear heels, but you don’t need special hiking boots either, just good comfortable walking shoes. On Sundays in the summer take in the “Tam-Tams” at the base of Cartier monument -an all day drum circle jam that’s been going strong for 50 years! Even if it’s not “your thing” just walk by for a bit of entertainment and a cast of interesting characters.
- Old Port & Waterfront – Home of entertaining street performers, after all this is the birthplace of Cirque de Soleil. Plenty of tourist friendly restaurants, patios and kitschy souvenir shops line the cobblestone streets. Even a seasoned traveler will appreciate the architecture of this glorious city. You’ll think you’re in the middle of Europe!
- Mile End Neighborhood – Artsy boutiques, vintage clothing stores and cafes galore, complete with record stores, bookstores and the best bagels and breweries. We used to live at Parc and Bernard right across from HELM Brewery and Nouveau Palais, the hip joint serving classic comforts.
- Shopping – If you’re into big named stores that can be found in most cities you’ll enjoy St. Catherine St. downtown, but if smaller boutiques are more your style, St. Denis & St. Laurent offer an entire day’s worth. Eva B is the best most ridiculous used store ever with literally heaping piles of clothes, shoes and costumes. There’s even a cafe since you’ll need a break from all that rummaging!
- Markets: Atwater (Griffintown) and Jean Talon (Little Italy) – hundreds of stalls selling farmer market produce, cheese, meat, breads, baked goods.
5 Must Eats – Save the diet for another time. You can eat really well in Montreal. They are proud of their rich cuisine, as they should be.
- Smoked meat Sandwich – Most people know of Schwartz’s and for good reason. It is simply the best! Grab some seasoning while you’re there. I put it on everything from eggs to pizza! I’m almost out so if you’re coming to Innsbruck please bring me some. I’m not joking.
- Joe Beef – Two words: Lobster Spaghetti. Ok 4 words Fred and Dave!
- Au Pied du Cochon – Authentic Quebecois. Seriously, you can get a roasted pig’s head here! Not your thing? The duck in a can is another favorite. Yes, I’m a vegetarian that eats seafood occasionally. I still love this place for ambiance, the sides, salad, delicious bread, wine and the owner Martin is a character! Reservations are a must.
- Montreal Bagels: Located in the Mile End neighborhood, St. Viateur Bagel is our fave and Fairmont Bagel is close by. Plan to go to both so you can compare and see which one you like best. Grab a bag of bagels, a container of Liberte cream cheese, grab a seat on a bench and do as the locals do – which is hang out, talk and people watch. p.s. In Montreal you don’t cut your bagel in half and use a knife to spread the cream cheese. You pull the warm bagel out of the bag, rip it with your hands and dip it right in the container. We started calling it “rip and dip”.
- Poutine: This decadent snack is a favorite late night. French fires covered in gravy and cheese curds will help ward away any potential grogginess the next day.
5 places to Drink: If you’re looking to party, Crescent St. downtown is always pumping. Rows of bars and restaurants draw in weekend revelers and hockey fans. Expect to see a few bachelor/bachelorette parties.
If a wine bar is more your scene check out Pullman on Parc close to downtown or Le Vin Papillon in Griffintown (Lionel-Groulx Metro stop).
Montreal is blessed with many neighborhood craft breweries: Dieu du Ciel is my favorite neighborhood bar. It’s packed, lively and loud, go early. Vices et Versa and Le Cheval Blanc are also local favorites.
If you’re into alternative, punk, metal or simply appreciate something different, Foufounes Electrique is the place to be. Even my Mom and sister appreciated the scene.
When to go: October is the best for fall lovers such as myself. The markets are bountiful with the harvest, the mountain is on fire with color and the air is crisp, but summer is festival season. June and July see Mondial de la Biere (awesome beer festival, free to get in just pay for beer tickets), the World famous Jazz Fest since 1981 boasts famous acts and the International Fireworks Competition shows elaborate nightly explosions. There is truly something going on every weekend! If you don’t mind the winter visit during the holidays as the snow and lights are magical. It’s the next best thing to European holiday markets or brave it in February and pair it with a trip to Quebec City (the most European city in North America), just a few hours north for Winter Carnival.