My ultimate tips for a break in Canada`s second largest city - with some recos of locals.
„Canada is all about nature!“ I have heard this at least 1,000 times in my life. Of course it is - but Canadian cities are cool, too! Here`s what I can tell you about Montreal, the country`s second largest metropolis and also the second largest French-speaking city in the world! But NO WORRIES, you are totally fine with English, you just have to know that „ARRÊT“ on the signboards means „STOP“ ;-)! Et voilà.
As most larger Canadian cities, Montreal is a true melting pot. You will meet people from all over the world who made this place their home – and many of them are pretty good-looking, by the way. I would even say that you find Canada`s most elegant people here (sorry, Toronto and Vancouver, love you too!). Montreal may not have the big sites and attractions, it is rather the „ambiance“ that makes this city so attractive and worth to visit. And it is, of course, a great starting point for a tour through Quebec, „La Belle Province“. Don`t miss to go up North and visit Quebec City, the lovely Charlevoix region and Tadoussac, the mecca for whale watching (here these gorgeous animals are singing in French ;-)). - But back to Montreal. Why is this city so lively? Well, there is a huge French (and maybe Latin) influence, Montrealers just love life!. And 90,000 of them (4 million in total) live downtown – so no empty streets after the offices close down. This city LIVES! Decades ago, when Canada still used to be a pretty conservative country, Montreal was already called „Sin City“ – doesn`t that say it all? And it is home to many creative individuals and companies – just keep in mind that the stunning world-famous CIRQUE DU SOLEIL was born here!
Its name derives from the hill called Mont Royal – the first attraction you should not miss. Climb hundreds of stairs for two reasons: 1) a wonderful exercise for your legs and butt and 2) a vista second to none! You will see locals walking, running, cycling, holding hands and kissing – even if a couple consists of two guys or two girls. Hey, we are in one of North America`s most popular cities for gays and lesbians, who cares?! In summer, the top of the hill (with a giant cross illuminated at night) is a playground – a bit less in winter but summer and fall are the best times to visit Montreal in any case (despite the 32 km „Underground City“, the largest in the world).
The city`s heart beats very loud on Rue Ste. Catherine right downtown. From stores selling kitsch to high-end boutiques, cafés and restaurants – here you find it all. Go to the Club Monaco shop – not that much for the clothing sold there but rather for a well hidden gem: Café Myriade in the basement. Cool ambiance, dapper staff, a fantastic espresso and ... a lemonade consisting of ginger, lemon and honey ... c`est si bon! Visit „Les Cours Mont-Royal“, a (high-end) shopping centre (tip: sip a coffee or have a snack at the Atrium Lounge) and „Les Ailes de Montréal“, a stunning new complex and must-see for archilovers. Have a look at the (free) Barbie exhibition (not Madonna but the famous puppet in all variations, along with her boyfriend Ken). Another great place for lunch (or a wonderful espresso) is Café Parvis on Rue Mayor, just parallel to Ste. Catherine (a bit hidden and currently in the middle of construction sites...).
If you walk this boulevard towards East, you will pass by the entertainment district and reach the MAC, „Le Musée d`Art Contemporain“ – a must-see for culture lovers! Modern art at its finest. And have a a look at the gay village just a few hundred meters further down the street– should you be gay or lesbian, dive into it and enjoy fun from breakfast until dawn (if you love to dance the night away). And if not – just go there and enjoy with people who love life.
One of Montreal`s big attractions is the old town, of course – in particular for US Americans who cannot imagine there are buildings older than 50 years. This hood is easy to reach from downtown (by the way, Montreal is very walkable and pretty safe!). See the basilica Notre Dame (yes, „Sin City“ has some churches...) and stroll through Rue St. Paul. Apart from cheaper stuff you will find some of the city`s finest art galleries and boutiques here – no Zara, H & M and Co. but mostly Canadian design! And pop into „Olive and Gourmando“, a hot spot for coffee and snacks -but be aware you won`t be alone – this cool place is packed!
From there it is just a short walk to Pointe-à-Callière, a spectacular interactive archaeology and history complex, national historic site and Montreal`s birthplace at the same time! By the way, this city will turn 375 in 2017 – pretty old for North American standards. Learn about the arrival of the First Nations, the founding of the city and the French and Britsh (yes, the Brits were here as well!) regimes. A real must for your visit, honestly.
I recommend a stroll on Boulevard St. Laurent – hip, upbeat, full of culture and fun. And again – none of the big international brands is here. Watch out for cool Canadian designers instead and enjoy fancy art on the walls. The boulevard takes you right into Mile End, a great microcosm within the city. Cool backyards, wild gardens and the typical houses with the typical twisting staircases on the outside. And the best (hand-rolled) bagels I have ever tasted at the St. Viateur bagel shop - fresh from the oven!
Go for a bike ride. Montreal is a biker-friendly city! If you are lazy, take an e-bike. Drive from the city all the way along the Lachine Canal ... you will see beautiful houses and enjoy a fresh breath of air. And possibly lose the few kilos you may have gained with all the great food in the city (including the bagels!).
Reach new heights. This summer, the Sommet Ville Marie will open its doors. It promises to offer the best view of the city. Located on the 46th floor of a skyscraper downtown, with 360 degree views. Educating, entertaining and offering gastro delights.
Where to sleep?
I have stayed at the Renaissance right downtown. A very hip and funky place! A DJ was playing when I arrived – how cool is that? All kinds of colours in the lobby. Books, paintings and chillout furniture. A trendy bar and restaurant with a lovely breakfast buffet. And the good-looking staff wear trousers with suspenders, love it! Free WLAN worked well and the gym is ok – and I liked the black bathrobes in the room, finally nothing white. Be different!
Tips from locals:
Born in Canada of Croatian and Austrian immigrants and living in Montréal for the last 28 years now and loving it. I could write books about it but here are my personal highlights in brief ;-):
From April to November there is a bike rental service called Bixi. The bikepaths are easily identified and the Bixi locations can be found throughout the city. With a credit card you simply follow the directions and off you go! There is the Portuguese neighbourhood just East of The Main, which is St Laurent Boulevard and the colourful duplexes with tilework and gardens in front. In Le Plateau, East of St Denis you will find triplexes and fiveplexes with twisting staircases and stained glass windows. Stop at one of the many artisanal gourmet shops and pick up something for a picnic. You can take a rest at the beautiful Lafontaine park that is a heaven for all. There is a lovely pond and fountain in the middle and the bikepath leads you directly to it. If you are lucky there might be some free entertainment at Theatre Verdure located beside the pond to listen to some music before you head off again. Walk or bike and get some fresh air as well as some exercise and discover this great city and it's joie de vivre that has kept me enthralled for 28 years now.
I would also like to mention all the free festivals we have here as well, Just for Laughs, Francofolies and the internationally renowned Festival International de Jazz just to name a a few. Life is good in Montreal!
Concierge at the Renaissance Hotel
Very popular: Le Melk on Rue Stanley – colorful cool ambiance!
Decorated in the London style oft he 60s, the Taverne Square Dominion on Rue Metcalfe offers an English menu („Is that really good? ;-)“) and excellent cocktails.
Into Japanese food? Then Kazu on Rue Sainte-Cathérine Ouest is THE PLACE to go. Very small and no reservations, so expect a long waiting queue.
Looking for Canadian designers? Visit the boutique Off the Hook on Sainte Cathérine West, lots of great local stuff!
One of my latest discoveries is la Maison Cloakroom on Rue de la Montagne – handmade high-end clothing and even a cool barber shop.
Wanna be different? Have a look at Three Monkeys on Rue Peel. Independent boutique showcasing creativity „à la Montréalaise“. (Level http://www.threemonkeys.ca)
Photo: Cool shopping in Montreal
Tips from locals - Where to eat
Commercial Director at the Montreal-based receptive tour operator Misa Tours, recommends the following places:
Chez Lavigne, located in the St-Henri Distrikt (Montreal`s poorest neighbourhood for a long time which recently has become a hot spot) Chez Lavigne is specialized on creative cuisine..
Le H4C, likewise in St-Henri.A bit expensive but nice ambiance and excellent local products. www.leH4C.com
Lola Rosa, with two outlets – the one on Du Parc offers vegetarian cuisine and a great selection of local beers.
Pastaga on St-Laurent Boulevard (North of the Mile End neighbourhood), - no pasta as the name may suggest but a solid cuisine with local, mostly organic products and a very interesting wine menu!
Kitchen Galerie, close to the Jean-Talon Market. A real evergreen! www.kitchengalerie.com
La Tannerie, in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Brand new. 4 popular chefs got together, doesn`t that say it all? And you can bring your own wine – cheers!
You will find more images in my photo gallery:
Tourism Montreal has an excellent website and app – just visit