Beyond Somerville: A Weekend in Montreal

As you’ve probably guessed from a few of my recent posts, I love skiing and snowboarding. But the unpredictable winter last year left little time to hit the slopes, so my husband Mike and I decided to venture further north this season in the hopes of hitting the winter jackpot. Our search for a suitable mountain lead us to Mont Tremblant in Canada and since Montreal was on the way (and we’d never been), we decided to make a longer trip out of it and stop there for a few days. I’m so glad we did because we found a lovely city that I hope to return to and explore even more! Here’s my guide on where to stay and eat, and what to do in Montreal.

Montreal Statue

Where to Stay

We stayed at Le Westin, which sits between Old Montreal and the business district in downtown. After getting a recommendation for Le Westin from a friend and finding a good deal on Hotels.com, we booked our trip. The location was perfect–the hotel was across the street from the Metro and an entrance to the Underground City (more on that below) and we could walk a lot of places. Le Westin itself was really nice. We had a very comfortable room and enjoyed the glass-bottomed pool, hot tub and fitness facilities. The hotel also offered free wireless Internet that actually worked, a huge plus!

Where to Eat and Drink

When we decided to head to Montreal, I polled Twitter and Facebook for recommendations on where to eat and got some great suggestions. We also found a few places on our own that we loved. We ate really well during the weekend we spent in Montreal and you will absolutely not go hungry in this city.

Aux Vivres: If Life Alive and Veggie Galaxy, two of my favorite Cambridge vegetarian restaurants, had a baby, it would be Aux Vivres. This small, bustling vegan restaurant was the perfect place to tuck into a fresh, healthy lunch. I got the Dragon Bowl, which was absolutely divine, while Mike devoured the sizable gyro.

Montreal Cafe Neve

Cafe Neve: I had it on good authority that Cafe Neve would be a great place to get coffee (thanks to David Simon of Black Magic Coffee for the recommendation) and it was. We were so pleased by the cute atmosphere, delicious cappucinos and tasty granola bar snack that we enjoyed there.

Cafe Veritas: We popped into this little eatery near our hotel for breakfast one morning and were happy to find some healthy, tasty meals to start the day. I opted for the porridge with bananas and walnuts and Mike got a breakfast sandwich on a bagel (which turned out to be a little small) and a muffin. Nothing fancy, but a decent spot for a quick bite.

Commensal: This cafeteria-style eatery came recommended by many, but we were unimpressed by the lunch we had there. In fact, Commensal was the only disappointing meal of our stay in Montreal (one miss isn’t bad!). I’d skip this place in favor of one of the many other excellent restaurants in the city. (Updated 12/16/14: Commensal has closed.)

Montreal ChuChai

ChuChai: I’d heard terrific things about ChuChai, an all-vegetarian Thai restaurant that specializes in mimicking real meat in its dishes, and I was eager to try it. We happened to walk by in the afternoon, so we ducked in to try to get a reservation and scored one for that evening at 6, a bit early, but it was all they had. When we were actually there though many tables sat empty around us through the meal and I feel like just walking in at 7 or so would’ve been the smarter option. As far as the food goes, it was tasty, but not out-of-this-world special. Definitely a great place to bring a crowd with mixed dining preferences or needs.

Fonduementale: We’d never been to a fondue restaurant before, so when a friend recommended Fonduementale, we decided to try it. We were able to get a reservation (make one if you go, this place is tiny) and were pleased when we arrived to find an adorable, cozy dining room. The staff was very helpful in deciding what to order and we absolutely loved the fondue (the cheese, the broth and the chocolate). It was not a light meal, but it was truly divine. Perfect for a chilly winter evening. (Updated 12/16/14: Fonduementale has closed.)

Montreal Le Cartet

Le Cartet: This was a restaurant we found on our own when searching for breakfast options near our hotel. And it was so good that we went back twice! With a plethora of delicious breakfast options (granola, yogurt and fruit to big brunch platters), there is truly something for everyone. The service was prompt and friendly, the place itself was gorgeous and I wish it was closer because I’d be back there all the time! Try to go on the early side on weekend mornings, as it can fill up quickly.

Pikolo Esperesso

Le Pavillon Nanpic: It was very cold (below zero) and dark the first night we arrived in Montreal and we were hungry, so we didn’t want to roam too far from the hotel. I noticed that Chinatown was nearby, so we headed in that direction to look for dinner. We stumbled upon Le Pavillon Nanpic and it turned out to be one of the best meals we ate during the entire trip! All of the food was excellent (it reminded me a lot of Chinese food I’ve had in London, which I loved) and the welcoming atmosphere was the perfect introduction to Montreal.

Pikolo Espresso: We ducked in here to warm up with a coffee and loved what we found. Though crowded, the incredible coffee made this place a must-visit spot. The baristas were really nice and we savored every drop of our cappuccino and Gibraltar. (Thanks again to David Simon of Black Magic Coffee for the recommendation!)

What To Do

Biodome: We spent a chilly late morning/early afternoon exploring Montreal’s Biodome, which is exactly what it sounds like. This unique attraction boasts several rooms with full-on ecosystems in them, complete with flora and fauna from the tropical rainforest, the Laurentian maple forest, the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and the Labrador Coast and sub-Antarctic islands. We saw so many cool animals, like a capybara (pictured below), sloth, Canada Lynx, penguins of several varieties and so much more. We loved it! (Thanks to Scott Williams for the recommendation.)

Montreal Capybara

Latin Quarter: We walked around here and the surrounding neighborhoods one afternoon and really enjoyed the funky vibe. We did some browsing in small shops and took lots of photos of the many murals dotting the city.

Le Plateau-Mont Royal: We loved the Le Plateau-Mont Royal area of Montreal. We found a ton of cute boutique shops, great restaurants and coffee shops (many mentioned above are located here) and cute streets to wander down. This was our favorite part of town.

Montreal Mural

Old Montreal: We spent a good amount of time walking around Old Montreal one morning and loved what we found. The port was beautiful in the crisp winter sunshine and I have to say that I think I liked the Notre Dame in Montreal more than the one in Paris (less touristy in the surrounding area).

Underground City: We were wandering around somewhat early on a Saturday morning wondering where everyone was (granted, it was below zero) when we found our way to the Underground City. There we encountered hoards of people, some in T-shirts! You can walk all over certain parts of Montreal under the streets, a huge plus on frigid winter days. With restaurants, shops and more underground, this is definitely a sight to see.

Pro Tips

  • Montreal is a primarily French-speaking city, but most everyone we encountered also spoke English. The people we met were so friendly and helpful.
  • We bought an unlimited weekend pass on the Metro and we used the heck out of it. Get yourself one and harness the power of the clean, quick subway system in Montreal.
  • Walk from place to place in the Underground City. It was really cold in Montreal when we went and it was nice to duck indoors every so often to warm up. Plus it’s just really neat.
  • I snagged some walking tour maps from Boston Urban Safari, which gave us great ideas for where to head in the city to walk around.
  • While it was quite chilly during our trip, I’m glad we saw the city in the winter. It didn’t stop us from walking around outside a lot and it felt like a really authentic time/way to see Montreal. Though I do think we’d love to come back in the summer to see a whole other side of things!

Have you been to Montreal? What did you do there? What’s your favorite restaurant in the city? 

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