A Guide to Montreal

…..For Liv and I, Montreal is a short five-hour drive away, but once there it feels like we have traveled to a city in France. The Old Port is lined with cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes giving the modern city an old, European charm that makes it a must-see destination in Canada. The nightlife is always alive and bustling whether you want to go to a club, bar or Irish pub, and the restaurants are unbelievably diverse and amazing. Montreal residents know their food and take pride in their city being a culinary destination. Ask anyone who has better bagels New York or Montreal, and they will send you to St. Viateur to try their signature dense, doughy bagels for yourself. No one is more proud of Montreal than its locals and the pride they have for their city shows.

…..Whether you visit in the winter or summer, there are plenty of things to do in Montreal. The first time I visited was in March, and it was exciting to experience everything the snow-covered city had to offer from snowshoeing to cross-country skiing. Liv and I went together this past August for their annual summer music festival Osheaga (check Liv’s survival guide), and it seemed like a completely different place. Areas that had been closed down in March were filled with people enjoying the summer and warm weather making it a completely new city to explore.

Where to Stay

…..Airbnb reigns supreme in Montreal. Both times I have gone, staying in an Airbnb has been extremely affordable and the options are endless. Especially if you are going with a big group, this online rentals website is the way to go. Whether you want a sleek penthouse, a cozy loft or just a two bedroom apartment, Montreal Airbnbs go above and beyond in expectations.

…..If you don’t love the idea of Airbnb, the city has so many hotels spread out between all of the neighborhoods you really can’t go wrong.

Where we recommend:

  • W Hotel ($$$)
  • Hotel Gault ($$$)
  • Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth ($$$)
  • Loews Hotel Vogue ($$)
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Montreal ($$)
  • Hotel le Dauphin Montreal Centre-Ville ($)
  • Hotel Monville ($)

What to Do

Explore Old Montreal

…..This can be done no matter the season, but Old Montreal really shines in the summer. All of the restaurant terraces are out full of happy tourists, the Ferris wheel is spinning, pedal boats fill the lake, adventure seekers are flying overhead on the zip line or high ropes course, foodies are exploring the food truck park and vendors are out selling handmade goods. It’s like a playground for all ages. In the winter, wandering down the cobblestone streets is a little more lonely, but the charm of the European style streets is still there. Here are some of our favorite things to visit while we’re in the area

  • Montreal Zipline
  • Montreal Ferris Wheel
  • Voiles en Voiles High Ropes Course
  • Notre Dame Basilica
  • Montreal Town Hall
  • Bonsecours Market
  • Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology

Explore Mt. Royal

…..Mt. Royal is Montreal’s small mountain right at the end of Rue Peel street. People come here all year long to get some fresh air and escape the busyness of the city. In the winter, Mt. Royal Park offers snow tubing, sledding and snowshoeing tours. You can also rent cross-country skis and try your hand at one of the many trails locals love. Make your way up the Mt. Royal staircase and you’ll find yourself on an observation deck with panoramic views of the city. If you take one of the loop trails on top of the mountain you will also stumble upon the Mt. Royal Cross, a monument that was first built from wood in 1643 and erected in steel in 1924.

Experience Montreal’s Food Scene

…..Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood resembles what Brooklyn is for New York. A place filled with artists, foodies and hipsters, this area that sits right next to Little Italy is home to many of the city’s most popular restaurants right now. To get a taste of everything going on here, Local Montréal Food Tours offers a walking tour of Mile End mixed in with six food stops along the way. Your guide will tell you about the neighborhood’s history and how it became what it is today while you try homemade chocolates, falafel, gnocchi, the famous St. Viateur bagel and more.

…..When you’re done with the food tour, take the metro or walk a mile and a half over to Montreal’s famous farmer’s market, Jean Talon Marché. Continue your food-filled day by picking up some local veggies, cheeses and meats for a late day snack or buy ingredients for a home cooked dinner.

Relax at Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau

…..The first time I visited Montreal, I was in a large group and we decided to have a girls night. While there were many options for us, we decided on trying the Nordic Water Circuit at Bota Bota. This ferry turned “floating spa” is a eucalyptus infused oasis that will have you feeling more relaxed than you have ever been before. The treatments can be expensive, but if you just want a spa day the water circuit costs around 50 CAD, and you will be able to explore their many hot tubs, cold baths, pools, relaxation rooms, saunas and steam room. Follow the spa’s recommended order of each step in the circuit to have the full, toxin-releasing, Nordic experience.

Explore Olympic Park

…..Despite the 1976 summer Olympics not being a financial success for Montreal, the park has become a booming tourist destination. With so many different attractions to visit, this is can be an all-day activity for the whole family.

  • The Olympic Stadium: Take a guided tour through Olympic Stadium to learn about the history of the 1976 games or take a look at the events schedule when you are visiting and see if you can catch a game
  • The Montreal Tower: Located right behind Olympic Stadium and home to the Since 1976 exhibit, this attraction is the tallest inclined tower in the world. A two-minute ride on a glass-encased funicular will bring you up to the observatory that has stunning 365-degree views of the whole city
  • The Esplanade: This venue holds outdoor activities all year long that appeal to all ages including food truck festivals, musical entertainment and fiestas.
  • Biodôme: Home to four different simulated environments,  a trip to the Biodôme will exceed all of your expectations. Each lush environment is filled with native plants and animal species that make you feel like you have truly traveled to that destination. You will start your adventure in the tropical rainforest, head to the sub-polar regions, then to the Laurentian Maple Forest and finally the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Make sure to keep an eye out for the penguins at the end of the exhibits!
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium: This attraction houses two theaters that showcase diverse viewpoints on astronomy, one focuses on the scientific interpretation of the Universe, while the second takes a more artistic and poetic approach.
  • Botanical Garden: Home to ten exhibition greenhouses, 20 themed gardens, an arboretum and three cultural gardens, this attraction, opened in 1931, is not once to miss. Its beauty and size are unparalleled.
  • Insectarium: This attraction is home to more than 250,000 live and naturalized species. It highlights them and the important role they play in nature through showcases and vivariums.

Check out Airbnb experiences

…..You may not know that along with finding a place to stay, Airbnb allows locals to create experiences for tourists. Search Montreal experiences on the website, and you will find endless opportunities with at least one guaranteed to pique your interest. Try going rafting in the Lachine rapids or an intro to rock climbing course in Jean-Drapeau Park. If you’re not an adventure seeker sign up for a ravioli making workshop or morning sunrise yoga. Many locals also offer walking tours of the city and bar tours that will bring you to their favorite spots along with the most popular Montreal attractions.

Where to Eat

Breakfast/Brunch

  • L’Avenue: Arguably one of Montreal’s most beloved brunch venues, Liv and I wondered while standing in line on the sidewalk if our breakfast was going to be overrated. The juice is freshly squeezed. The water is infused with watermelon. The omelets are the size of your head. Everything here goes above and beyond. If you’re an eggs benedict fan like us, this restaurant is a must-do. You will be dreaming about these bites for the rest of your life. Everything here is out-of-this-world delicious and perfectly plated for the Instagram story we know you are going to post.
  • Ginkgo Cafe: If you drooled over the waffle with chocolate in this guide’s featured pic, satisfy your cravings for it at Ginkgo cafe. Located right outside of Gay Village and a five-minute walk from the Old Port, this cafe will make your brunch dreams come true. Come for the food and stay for the bottomless mimosas.
  • Tommy: After touring Notre Dame, stop into this trendy cafe for a cappuccino or espresso and a delicious pastry to refuel for the rest of your day in Old Montreal.
  • Foiegwa: An acclaimed Montreal diner with new twists on your old favorites. Try their duck confit omelet or chicken and waffles for the rich brunch you know you want then finish it off with a St. Henri Julep milkshake!
  • St. Viateur Bagel: At this famous Montreal bagel shop you cannot go wrong. Try it the traditional way by ordering a sesame bagel and dipping it in cream cheese or order one of their many other offerings. You will not be disappointed by these dense delights.

Lunch

  • Campo: A quick lunch in downtown calls for a stop at this Portuguese chicken shop. Try their famous chicken sandwich or opt for my favorite the pork bifana. Anything topped with their Campo sauce is sure to have you coming back every time you’re in the area.
  • La Banquise: Perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner since it is opened 24 hours a day, Banquise will fulfill your Montreal poutine dreams. Their house cut french fries, squeaky cheese curds and rich gravy will make you wonder if you want to stray from the classic, but do it and you will not be disappointed. Try our favorite La Scooby topped with beef, bacon, peppers, onions and a creamy garlic sauce.
  • The Green Panther: This vegetarian/vegan restaurant has never made vegetables look and taste so good. Their famous falafel is some of the best in the city, and they offer vegan poutine with homemade vegan cheese curds.
  • Drogheria Fine: You may not think gnocchi is an acceptable lunch on the go, but think again. This neighborhood shop sells gnocchi smothered in their homemade red sauce out of their window for 5 CAD that will have you coming back for more every time you walk by.
  • Mandy’s salads: This chain salad restaurant uses fresh and diverse ingredients to create some of the best salads Liv and I have ever had. If you’re in a rush don’t worry, they have convenient containers that will let you take lunch or dinner on the go. Build your own or choose from one of their classics!

Dinner

  • Ichigo Ichie: If you’ve never had Tonkatsu ramen, Ichigo Ichie is the perfect place to start. Their bone broth hits the perfect combination of rich, salty and fatty to create one of the best bowls of ramen you’ll ever have. You can customize your meal by choosing between chicken, pork or tofu and a variety of different veggies and offerings like spicy miso paste.
  • Jatoba: This swanky Asian fusion restaurant will have your mouth watering all night with their expansive menu and creative house cocktails. Our advice is to go with a group of friends and order multiple dishes to share. We love the spicy chicken gyoza, duck confit fried rice, black cod, chicken and edamame. The level of service at this restaurant is unbeatable with waiter filling up your water and cleaning crumbs off of your table to make your experience here memorable and exceptional.
  • Escondite: One of our favorite Mexican spots in Montreal. This fun spot offers a variety of tasty tacos like al pastor and baja and serves other favorites like housemade guac, nachos and quesadillas.
  • Ibericos: I would be lying if I said I’m not a sucker for Spanish-style tapas. There is nothing I dream about more than a charcuterie plate filled with Jamón Iberico and an aged Manchego. Ibericos’ oxtail croquettes were some of the best I have ever had and their toast with pork spread and honey on it will have you trying to figure out how to make it later. Pro tip: Walk to Banquise after your dinner here for second dinner!
  • Foxy: This sleek, modern downtown restaurant has an inspired menu with variety for all of your friends with even the toughest food accommodations. Start your meal with their cashew hummus and charred cauliflower then fill up on their housemade ricotta cavatelli or 60-day aged ribsteak.

At Night

…..Montreal has multiple bars on every corner of every street making it hard to narrow down just a few, but if we had to, these are our absolute favorite places to hang out into the early hours of the morning listed in order from college hangout to young professional vibe.

  • Apartment 200: This club is filled almost every night of the week and always has great music.
  • Suwu: Come to this bar turned into club Thursday-Saturday nights, order their signature raspberry kush cocktail and dance the night away.
  • Madhatter: If you want to hang out and drink a few beers or pitcher cocktails with your friends Madhatter is the place to go. This bar has five dollar food, big Jenga and pool tables to keep you entertained all night long.
  • Candibar: A bar inspired by the candies we all know and love, come here to start your night with a sweet drink topped with a sweet treat, or if you’re feeling brave, order their off-the-menu jungle juice bowl with a few friends.
  • Mayfair: This club gets packed starting Thursday nights and into the weekend so get here early and order a few drinks if you want to secure your spot for the night. With an atmosphere somewhere between haunted mansion meets dark, celebrity hangout, this is not one to miss.
  • Kampai Garden: A great place to start the night with your group of friends, this indoor beer garden offers affordable pitchers of unique drinks that you will love so much you may stay until the morning.
  • La Voute: This 1920s bank vault turned Montreal hotspot is the place to be on Friday or Saturday night. Their dancers and DJ sets will you keep you in awe and dancing along with them until the night ends.
  • Le Lab: A Montreal classic. The cocktails here are inspired and artistic. If you don’t want to go broke, come here for happy hour and get their normally 15 dollar drinks for only ten.

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