A couple of weekends ago Geoff and I took a short trip to Montreal, and since we got so many great tips on where to go, I thought I would pass them along! I am in no way a Montreal expert but the Toronto-Montreal corridor is one that is well travelled among my group of friends. It’s silly, really: Montreal isn’t too far away (about a six hour drive or about four and a half hours on the train, or a quick one hour flight), and it’s such a fun place to visit, but Geoff & I hadn’t been since 2006. After spending time with Montrealers in Kingston, we decided that we needed to fix that. We took the train and stayed in an AirBnB apartment on Boulevard St-Laurent in the heart of the Plateau neighbourhood (we had a perfect view of the cross at the top of Mont Royal from our front window).
When I was growing up, Montreal was thought of as a permissive party city because one could legally drink at 18, rather than 19. It definitely has a relaxed joie de vivre, and its citizens take great pleasure in food and wine and coffee. There is a festival happening every weekend in summer, and with tree-covered Mount Royal in the centre of the city and rivers all around, it feels as though nature isn’t too far away. Old Montreal, by the Basilica of Notre-Dame, is beautiful and historic, and having spent so many years in French immersion programs at school, I find it a treat to be surrounded by French speakers (although if you want to visit and don’t speak French, it’s no problem; nearly everyone speaks English, which is good because my French has definitely gotten rusty). It has Europe in its heart still, I think. And like anyone raised on a diet of CanLit I couldn’t help thinking of writers such as Mordechai Richler, Gabrielle Roy, Mavis Gallant, and Leonard Cohen of course, particularly while walking along St-Urbain.
We bought three day unlimited Métro passes; getting around via bus and subway was very easy, particularly since we didn’t have to worry about incurring data charges as we do when we leave the country. Google Maps and the Moovit app on our phones came in very handy.
A couple of other places worth checking for tips: our friend Ali has two great Instagram accounts that we cribbed from: his personal account, and mtlcafecrawl; another friend, Francis, has a wonderful personal account as well. Tamera has a Pinterest board for Montreal that is also useful and pretty, and Mina does as well.
Three photos above taken at Ibiki; Les Etoffes on the left and Ikibi on the right
We didn’t do much shopping, but there were a couple of shops on St-Laurent that we really liked: Ibiki, Les Etoffes, and Boutique Unicorn. All quite minimal in design and beautifully styled. We also enjoyed a visit to Librarie Drawn and Quarterly, the storefront of the publisher, and loved having the grocery store La Vieille Europe a few blocks away from where we were staying (the most beautiful tins of olive oil I have ever seen & a huge array of cheeses). The Mile End neighbourhood (sorry, the article in that link has an annoying title) is full of vintage shops, record shops, and is good for a stroll.
Places to visit (these are all fairly major, obvious points)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: The permanent collection is wonderful!
Canadian Centre for Architecture: Hosts different exhibitions, and houses a significant archive. Free on Thursday nights.
The Westmount Conservatory and Greenhouse: A highlight from this trip, but I’ll save it for its own post.
Old Montreal/Vieux-Montreal: We walked through and didn’t make many stops, but this area has a number of specialized museums, squares, the Old Port, as well as lots of tourist shops and restaurants that are probably overpriced. Much of it is closed to traffic and is it is all very pretty. Also, we didn’t visit any spas, but both Scandinave and Bota Bota came highly recommended and they are both in this area.
Jean-Talon Market: We wanted to buy all the produce! We settled for ice pops and candy (that I hope I will one day find again because it was so delicious).
Parc du Mont-Royal: Climb to the top, past the people doing crossfit exercises on the stairs making you feel very lazy and embarrassed of being so breathless, and enjoy stunning views of the city (see picture at the top of this post). On Sundays all the hills at the base are covered in people having picnics (and Tam Tams) but it rained the Sunday we were there, and was the World Cup final besides! Ghost town.
Places to visit that came highly recommended but that we didn’t make it to: Espace pour la vie (in particular the Biodome); the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (we went in 2006? If that counts for anything); Habitat 67 and the Parc Olympique (also visited in 2006); Casa del Popolo, which I have seen listed on tour calendars since I started looking at tour dates; the Oratory, which is apparently quite a sight during golden hour. We also missed out on any smaller art galleries and film centres and the like, but if you know of any, be sure to let me know for next time!
Food, coffee, cocktails
In 2006 we didn’t do much research and ended up eating in mediocre places and even an Indian restaurant that has a location here in Toronto. It was a shame because Montreal is such a great city for food. This time things went very differently, luckily! Most of the places we ate are mid-range in price. We didn’t splash out on any one meal but we didn’t feel we needed to.
Dépanneur Le Pick-Up
This place isn’t fancy but it’s a local favourite. We had sandwiches here because we weren’t that hungry and didn’t want to spend too much money on dinner that night. A little greasy but really hit the spot. I had the Vendantanator (eggplant, mozzarella, roasted red peppers) and Geoff had grilled halloumi.
Cute spot, great coffee.
Kitsuné exterior; our breakfasts at Arts Café
This ended up being one of my favourite places! We went at an awkward hour after spending the afternoon at the museum, so they weren't quite set up for dinner. We shared a pizza and a salad and enjoyed the relaxed vibe while sitting in the huge window in the front. Café Parvis is covered in plants, and was once a fur warehouse, I believe, and the walls have a wonderful patina. I know, who cares about the walls, right? But very photogenic. They also have an outdoor seating area set up on the sidewalk that is really cute.
Once again, on Friday evening we weren’t very hungry and didn’t feel like doing much for dinner, so we stopped for take-out at this place that is popular with locals. We were staying in a part of Montreal that was filled with Portuguese restaurants, and we noticed that the barbeque chicken joints smelled more like the ones in Lisbon than the ones in Toronto do. Just a smokier smell in the air, hard to explain. We decided to do a taste test—well, Geoff did, since I haven’t eaten chicken in years. I had fries and salad and while it wasn’t the healthiest dinner, it was all I wanted that night. By all accounts the chicken was delicious! And we got a ton of food & Sumol for about $15 total.
This place came highly recommended and it was delightful. Very British slant (I had kedgeree). We had anticipated a long wait but it wasn’t so bad. My mouth is watering as I revisit the menu. Our friend Ali posted our breakfasts on Instagram here.
We stopped in at Café Sardine before breakfast at Lawrence and had some of their homemade beignets. It turns into an izakaya place in the evening.
Old school pizzeria that has been around for a long time. We had dinner with friends who brought in their own wine, which felt very festive.
Seems to me that Montreal isn’t as much of an ice cream town as Toronto is, but we had to try the rose/raspberry/lychee soft serve here. It was definitely worth waiting in line for half an hour!
La Buvette chez Simone
We went here for afternoon patio drinks with friends, and it was lovely. Really good nibbles as well.
Another really great breakfast. Apparently they have amazing cocktails as well.
Other coffee shops: Café Odessa, Pikolo Espresso Bar, Café Olympico, Caffè Italia. Geoff got into the habit of ordering un café allongé, rather than an Americano.
Buvette chez Simone
Places we didn’t try, but that are on the list for next time:
Dinette Triple Crown: I was so sad that this one didn’t work out for us (the timing was bad) because it seems so fun: they pack you a basket and you take it for a picnic in the park. You can drink alcohol in public if you are having a picnic. Their speciality seems to be fried chicken but they also have mac & cheese and some vegetarian sides.
Joe Beef: Lots of meat and an oyster bar too.
Au Pied du Cochon: Another famous meat-heavy place.
Aux Vivres: Alternately, healthy vegan food!
Maison Publique: One of the most highly recommended places, but we just never made it.
Big in Japan: For ramen, and for drinking.
Cardinal Tea Room: This beautiful spot is above The Sparrow. We wanted to stay for some tea but we were so full from breakfast we couldn’t do it!
Hotel Herman: If you want to get fancy.
Damas: Syrian food.
ChuChai: Buddhist vegetarian.
Glacier Bilboquet: Ice cream.
Le Sainte-Élisabeth: I have admired the patio via Instagram quite often!
Juliette et Chocolate: Chocolate bar! There were a few locations but we never made it in.
Khyber Pass: Afghani, bring your own wine available.
Le Place d’Armes hotel in Old Montreal (I would love to stay there one day); the Canadian Centre for Architecture
Pikolo Espresso Bar
Bagels! I love a Montreal bagel so much! Dense and sweet and so delicious.
Solair chairs at the Museum of Fine Arts
The restaurant on the right is Korean; I don’t know much about it but I loved the sign.
Thank you, Montreal! And thanks to our friends who kindly helped us with recommendations.