Montreal is a (relatively) old and beautiful North American city. Its charm mostly lies in conserving a part of the old colonial town that was established by its first European settlers, as well as its French heritage that they are so proudly clinging onto in an otherwise English-dominated country. It is very interesting to see that they make all the effort to make their French heritage very evident, e.g. in Montreal it’s “Le café Starbucks” as opposed to Starbucks Coffee as in the rest of the world. However, at the same time people in the city are completely bi-lingual and any non-French speaking tourist will not have any trouble at all.
On the other side, it is also very evident that Montreal is a modern North American city, especially the downtown area is very much like any American city. There are plenty of skyscrapers, office buildings and people rushing from one appointment to another one. Another downside of Montreal is that it is very cold there. I was there for the 1 May weekend and one day it was nice, but the other two it was freezing.
Sightseeing in Montreal
From a tourist perspective, Montreal is not very big and two days are enough to see most of the touristy sites. I started my exploration with a view of the city from the Mont Royal, which also gave the city its name. The nice views are from the terrace in front of Chalet du Mont-Royal.To get there you can take a path with stairs leading up from Rue Peel. The way up is about 20 min and the stairs are very well maintained. Since the climate is cold it will nicely warm you to climb up. Just below the Mont Royal is one of the most famous universities – McGill University. It is well worth taking a walk through the university before or after the hill.There is not much to see in the downtown area with the exception of the Square Dorchester and Place du Canada, which are one big square really. Both are very nice parks and they are surrounded by some impressive buildings and the cathedral.
Another interesting feature in downtown Montreal are the underground shopping complexes. Since the weather is so harsh most of the year they built a whole labyrinth of underground passages and malls connecting most of the business buildings in the area. Worth exploring and good if you’re up for some shopping.
Nevertheless the nicest part of town is the Vieux-Montreal (old city). There are plenty of lovely streets that are worth exploring and getting lost strolling around. I’d recommend just walking around Rue Notre-Damme, Rue Saint Sulpice, Rue Saint-Paul, Place d’Youville, etc.
On the stroll through the old city, you’ll pass by the cathedral, which I didn’t visit as they were charging an entrance fee and I don’t think they should be allowed to:Place Jacques-Cartier with the Hôtel de ville:And the Marche de Bonsecours:
Another area worth having a quick look, especially in the evening, is Chinatown. It’s next to the old town and the two main roads crossing it are Rue de la Gauchetière and Rue Clark. From there you can continue through the UQAM campus on Rue Sainte-Catherine, the famous gay street, and all the way up towards the Plateau on Rue Saint-Denis. Back in 1976 Montreal hosted the summer Olympic games and in the east of the city one can visit the iconic Olympic stadium. Apparently it is (usually) possible to go up into the leaning tower, but when I was there it was closed for reparation. Next to the stadium there is also the botanical garden that is worth a walk through and was free (not sure why)
Going for a run in Montreal
If you’re a runner then there are some nice running paths that, in addition to the work-out, give you a bit of a sightseeing experience of Montreal along the river and the canals. From the centre, I started by going to the river first and turning towards the East, running along the Vieux-Port (old port) and enjoying the view of the old town from the riverside.
At the Pont Jacques-Cartier, I turned around and ran West passed the old city again and then along the canal. There are nicely arranged walking and cycling paths and so there were plenty of other people jogging, walking their dogs or cycling. A really lovely run.
Food in Montreal
Montreal offers some really great culinary experiences for foodies like me. I really liked the presence of some traditional French cuisine, which is nicely combined with some modern local interpretations. There are also plenty of other world cuisines available in Montreal. Many places fill-up quite quickly, especially on the weekend, so it’s worth booking in advance. Let me point out some of the best experiences:
LOV Restaurant: Modern decor and clean food. They offer completely vegan and very health options. I had a salad with tempeh and it was delicious. Great for a light lunch.
Le Cartet Resto: A good and very popular weekend brunch café, so come early.
Bouillon Bilk: Innovative contemporary French cuisine. Gorgeous presentation of food and clean taste. The restaurant seems to be extremely popular, so they cramp the tables so close together that you have the feeling you’re sitting at a communal table.
Maison Christian Faure: Delicious French patisserie and café. Their brunch menu is very simple but it includes a piece of their amazing viennoiserie (the almond and chocolate croissant was heavenly). They also have a great selection of typical patisserie products for your afternoon craving.
Damas Restaurant: Absolutely fabulous Syrian restaurant offers typical Middle Eastern dishes, but with their own slightly different interpretation. The decoration is lovely and great for a romantic date or a night out with friends. Damas was definitely my Montreal favourite.
Hotel W Montreal
The W hotel is always very charming anywhere in the world and so is the one in Montreal. It is also very well located, just on the edge of the old city. It’s easy to walk from there, the old city is only 5 min away. From the upper floors there’s also a very nice view of Victoria Square.
Day trip to Quebec City
Quebec City is about 3h drive from Montreal on a relatively good road (well I expected better in Canada). It is possible to do it on a day-trip or stay there overnight. Quebec City is, however, a very small but also very lovely town. The old town is on a hill overlooking the St Lawrence river, so the whole area in the upper town and just below it is really nice. The main iconic building is the Château Frontenac impressively overlooking the river.
Inside the Château is the Fairmont hotel, which has a very nice bar on the ground floor. I do recommend going there for drinks and snacks or lunch. It is not cheap, but well worth the money. The rest of Quebec City is easily explored over a couple of hours just by wandering around the medieval streets.A word of caution on Quebec City. Even if it was the 1st of May, the weather was extremely cold and there were piles of snow still lying on the side of the streets.