Whenever I visit Montreal, I feel like I’ve flown across an ocean (without the jet lag). While it’s only about five hours away by car, Montreal is like having a bit of Europe in North America. I recently returned from a lovely long weekend in the city and after trying lots of new restaurants and activities, I was inspired to add to my previous recommendations. So here’s an updated rundown of where to stay, where to eat and what to do in our neighbor to the north.
Where to Stay
The last time we went to Montreal we stayed between the old city and business district at Le Westin. While we really enjoyed the hotel, we decided to try the InterContinental on this trip. Located next door to Le Westin, the InterContinental offered free breakfast, quiet rooms with fridges and a nice fitness facility. The pool even accommodated some lap swimming and a small terrace on the 10th floor allowed you venture outside without going all the way downstairs. It’s close to the Metro, connected to the Underground City and we had great customer service.
Where to Eat and Drink
Barbounya: This small plates restaurant was a great first dinner in the city. We sampled oysters from Quebec, a delectable quinoa salad and the most incredible artichoke dish with tender fava beans. The wine was wonderful and the service was prompt and friendly.
Beauty’s: A friend in Montreal recommended Beauty’s, a tiny diner that’s been in business since 1942, for breakfast. We popped in on a rainy Sunday morning and found the owner, now in his 90s, still working! The banana pancakes were fluffy and the Super Beauty’s 2 (two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausages, two pancakes, a bagel and potatoes) was more than enough to fuel a long day of sightseeing. The best part? The neighborhood crowd–everyone seemed to know each other.
Bilbouquet: Another friend recommendation, we trekked up to Bilbouquet one night for ice cream and found the long walk was well worth it. There’s a good reason for the line snaking out of this scoop shop well after 9 p.m.–the ice cream was absolutely delicious.
Il Focolaio: This casual pizzeria offers indoor and outdoor seating, a mile-long menu and the friendliest service around. We not only got some tasty salads and pies, but a kindly gentleman with a big heart offered some terrific life advice about changing the world only after changing yourself.
La Panthere Vert: This small vegetarian restaurant has three locations in Montreal, making it a great place to pop in for a quick lunch. We enjoyed pitas stuffed with crispy falafel and tempeh and topped with refreshing dressing.
Le Cartet: The only place we returned to from our previous Montreal trip was Le Cartet–and we went back twice. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves excellent breakfast, brunch and lunch to locals and visitors alike. The service is attentive, the food is fresh and flavorful and the atmosphere is perfect for when you’re just starting your day. If this place was in the Boston area, I’d eat there weekly (at least).
Le Filet: Another small plates restaurant, Le Filet is the perfect place to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or just enjoy a beautiful evening out. Our dinner got off to a rocky start with some poor service, but was redeemed once things got sorted out. The food was very good (think lobster and fresh peas on tender spaghetti and oysters with miso gratin) and the atmosphere festive.
Lola Rosa: A vegetarian restaurant with an eclectic menu, dinner at Lola Rosa was a hit. From the great drinks and loaded nachos to the pile of poutine (with both sweet potato and regular fries), our meal was excellent. We had great service and enjoyed the casual, bustling atmosphere.
Maison Christian Faure: This tiny French bakery and restaurant is easy to miss, but it’s worth strolling the streets of the Old City to stop in. We had the best macarons and pain au chocolat since our honeymoon in Paris.
St. Viateur Bagel & Cafe Mont-Royal: We had a lovely little breakfast at St. Viateur Bagel & Cafe Mont-Royal with a streetside view of passersby. Bagels are a must-try food item in Montreal, as they are very different from U.S. versions. These were incredibly delicious.
Zenya: This tucked away sushi place doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it’s a gorgeous restaurant with fresh rolls and great lunch specials. It’s the perfect place to tuck into a meal away from the craziness of downtown Montreal.
What To Do
Atwater Market: This indoor/outdoor market sells tons of fresh produce, cheese, charcuterie, bread, sweets and more. We had fun making a big picnic out of all of the goodies we found, which we enjoyed on the banks of the nearby Lachine Canal.
Bike Rentals: Montreal has an efficient, clean and speedy rail system, but some neighborhoods are more easily accessed above ground, so we rented bikes on the Bixi system (Montreal’s version of Hubway). They were a great way to travel and see the sights.
Climb Mont Royal: Montreal has a big, beautiful park right at its center. The main attraction is Mont Royal, which you can climb via a long, sloping cart path or via steeper stairs and trails. However you get to the top, the trek is worth it for the stunning views of the city and St. Lawrence River. On Sundays, it’s worth heading to the George-Etienne Cartier Monument in the park to take in the Tam-Tams, a giant drum circle with dancers, vendors and lots of onlookers.
Festivals: Montreal hosts tons of festivals, so it’s worth checking ahead of time to see what’ll be in town when you go. We ended up meeting up with a college friend in the city for a comedy festival and getting to witness the final night of an international fireworks competition.
Lachine Canal: As mentioned above, the Lachine Canal provided a pretty backdrop for a picnic. We also rode the aforementioned bikes along its banks and rented a kayak to traverse its waters. It was a great place to spend the day doing various activities.
Old Montreal: No visit to Montreal is complete without a swing through the Old City. Tiny streets lined with even tinier shops and restaurants have a completely different feel than anywhere else in Montreal. It’s the more touristy neighborhood, but still a must-see stop. Once you make your way through the old part of the city, you’ll come upon the Old Port. Biking or strolling along the green space next to the St. Lawrence River is the perfect way to spend a beautiful day. The area was packed when we went, but it’s big enough that there’s room for all.
Shopping: If you’re looking to do some shopping in Montreal, head to the Rue St. Catherine. Packed with stores of all kinds, it’s sort of a cross between an indoor and outdoor mall, but beware that there are lots of taxes on clothes that we don’t pay here. Other shopping districts in Montreal include Le Plateau-Mont Royal, Rue St. Denis and Saint Laurent Boulevard.
Walking (and Running): One of the best ways to see a city is just by walking (or running) around it. It’s nice to take the Metro to a destination and then go exploring once you arrive. Montreal is full of great neighborhoods all worth a stop, so pick a place that appeals to you and just stroll around.