Montreal is a city filled with energy. It was the first metropolis in the Great White North, and its blend of French and English cultures has been cause for a storied, if sometimes tense, history. Many refer to Montreal as a slice of Europe in Canada, and while its cobblestone streets and reputation for late-night dining might say so, there’s more to it than that. Montreal is an eclectically Canadian city, a foodie’s wonderland with a thriving art scene.
Summertime brings a loaded calendar of festivals (like Just For Laughs, The Montreal Jazz Fest and Osheaga, to name a few), while snowy winters bring frequent visitors taking a day off from the nearby ski slopes of Mont Tremblant. But the crisp air, warm afternoon and pinkish evening skies make Fall a prime time to visit. And, of course, it’s also when the city’s first love – hockey – comes back to town for its annual charade.
Top of the Morning in Mile End
It’s easy to see most of Montreal’s most treasured neighborhoods in one day, and the best way to do that is by starting north and working your way south as you go. Kick off your day in the hip Mile End neighbourhood, where you’ll find the tastiest cup of coffee in the city at Cafe Olimpico on Saint-Viatueur. Cafe Olimpico is a Montreal institution; since the ’70s it has been a meeting spot for the many Italian families in the area. Today, its crowded interior and old-school ways still charm visitors. When a soccer match is on, the cafe is packed, and it’s also unapologetically cash-only. Sipping your smoothy, creamy coffee on the outside bench as people stroll by is the perfect way to get ease yourself into the day, and the city.
If you get a waft of fresh baked goodness, follow it one block west to find Montreal’s most famous bagels at St. Viateur Bagel. Buy an entire bag (you can get a dozen for $10) or just enough for breakfast, and tear the soft, fresh bagels apart and slather in cream cheese. They have all of the fixings on sale for you to enjoy classic Jewish lox bagel too.
You can meander around Saint-Viateur and surrounding streets for hours, stumble upon a few shops and boutiques; we love S W Welch Bookseller, a used bookstore housing everything from classic French literature to comic books and biographies on American presidents. When you’re ready to move on, find the nearest Bixi bike stand. You can buy a day pass for a nifty $5, which gives you unlimited 30 minute bike rides. We recommend downloading the app to help you find the nearest bike stand. Best part of all? Montreal happens to be one of the most bike-friendly cities out there, with clearly marked lanes for bikers, even on main roads.
Afternoon Fun in Le Plateau
Colorful walk-up homes on tree-line streets and the signature scents of smoked meat, and Portuguese chicken set the vibrant atmosphere in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood. Here, you’ll find a little bit of everything — French, Portuguese and Jewish are just a few of the influences that make this area so unique. As you make your way around, keep your eye out for incredible murals splashed on the walls. Art lovers should check out trendy Station 16 gallery.
For lunch, the classic French bistro L’Express on Rue St Denis is a no-brainer. The black and white tiles on the entrance are the first giveaway that you’ll be spending your afternoon in a Parisian satellite office. White tablecloths, mirrored walls and a menu with hearty French classics like magret de canard and steak frites makes this hard to beat for a drawn-out, relaxed lunch.
After lunch, make your way west towards the city’s beating heart, Mont Royal. Venture down the charming Rue Duluth to reach the sweeping path to the top, enjoying the different views of the city as you head towards the top of the mountain. There are a couple hundred stairs to conquer to get to the summit, but the view makes it all worthwhile.
At Night in the Old Port
If you’re lucky enough to be in the city when the Montreal Canadiens hockey team – aka The Habs – are playing at the Bell Centre, then going to the hockey game is an absolute must. Book tickets well in advance as games are nearly always sold out on the day. If you want to fit in a local and wear your red and white Habs gear, there are shops aplenty on St Catherine Street in which to buy your T-shirts and jerseys.
Whether you’re catching the game or not, spending your evening in the Old Port is definitely on the agenda. The romantic air in this 300-year-old neighborhood captivates locals and tourists alike; getting lost on the cobblestone streets and soaking up the architecture as you go is half the fun. Take your time and enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail the hip new Hotel William Gray, or equally trendy Philémon Bar. For dinner, tuck into hearty French Canadian classics like lobster poutine at Chuck Hughes’ Garde Manger, or test out his smaller, under-the-radar cozy restaurant Le Bremner. If the mood for dancing strikes, make your way to Santos and hang onto that perfect Montreal day just a little bit longer.
Where to stay in Mont Tremblant
Photo credits: Lyonel Kaufmann; Nicolas Mirguet