My last stop on my 2.5 month trip through Canada was Montreal. This bustling French Canadian city in Quebec immediately stole my heart.
Montreal is vibrant, young and hip. The French colonial architecture, multicultural citizens, array of languages, abundance of bicycles and parks give it a really European feel. Out of all the cities I visited in Canada, this is the one place I could see myself living. Montreal is super livable, but also a great tourist destination. This city is so alive and there is so much to do! From tourist classics like Old Montreal to eating your weight in poutine, these are the top things to do in Montreal:
Climb the Mont Royal
Montreal gets its name from the Mont Royal (the Royal Mountain). This hill in the middle of the city is a favorite spot for locals, year round. In the summer the slopes are filled with people lounging in the sun, enjoying a pick nick. Local musicians have drum circles and jam sessions around the Cartier monument. There’s also vendors selling artisan goods and food trucks here. In the winter, the main pathway on the mountain is used for sledding and cross-country skiing instead of hiking. But the best things about Mont Royal are the viewpoints. There are several all around the top of the mountain that offer different, but equally stunning, views of the city. Worth the climb!
Explore the Mile and Mile End
Montreal is young, vibrant and hip and no other neighborhood shows that off as much as The Mile and Mile End. The Mile runs along the Boulevard St. Laurent, from Sherbrook to Mont Royal Avenue. The whole street is lined with cute shops, cafés and eateries. But the best things about the Mile is hidden in the side streets: murals. Every year street artist paint the most amazing murals in the neighborhood around the Mile during the Montreal Mural Festival. Walking around, trying to spot all the pieces is like a fun treasure hunt. Like the one above of Montreal music icon Leonard Cohen. There are not one, but two murals in the city dedicated to the musician, who grew up in Mile End.
At the end of the Mile, lies Mile End. Mile End is a historic Jewish neighborhood. There are still a large Jewish presence, but now also includes a healthy dose of hipsters. Among the synagogues and kosher supermarkets now lie vintage boutiques and cool coffee places. Mile End is the coolest part of Montreal. It’s also a great place to spot those cute typical Montreal houses with outdoor wrought iron staircases. Maybe not very practical in the winter, but very pretty and still architecture style gives the whole neighborhood a European feel.
Visit Saint Helen and Notre Dame Island
In the middle of the Saint Lawrence River lie the small islands of Saint Helen and Notre Dame. Notre Dame island was built for the World Expo of 1967, which also took place on Saint Helen island. On Notre Dame island they later built an amusement park, perfect if you’re looking to blow off some steam during your trip to Montreal. Saint Helen is still used a lot for festivals and expositions, especially during the summer, such as Picnic Electronik. Another remnant of the 67 Expo is the Biosphere. This visually stunning museum is dedicated to educating the public about the environment.
You can easily reach the island by metro, but I recommend crossing the Jacques Cartier bridge as well. The bridge was designed by Gustav Eiffel (yes, the one from the Eiffel Tower) and is really beautiful. It’s especially pretty lit up at night.
Stroll through Old Montreal
Although Montreal is definitely a modern city, it is also an old one. A small settlement and trading post on the bank of the Saint Lawrence River in 1642 eventually grew into a bustling metropolis. During the 17th century, Montreal became a rich city and cultural center. A lot of buildings from the that time are still standing in Old Montreal, giving this part of the city a “European” look and making it a major tourist attraction. Although it’s a little touristic overall for my taste, with lots of souvenir shops, it is undeniably beautiful. Check out all the highlights, such as: The Notre Dame Cathedral, the Bank of Montreal head office and the New York Life building. If you need a rest and a coffee, visit Crew Collective, located in a beautifully restored former bank.
My favorite part of Old Montreal is the Old Port. There are some beautiful buildings here, especially the Clock Tower. You also have a nice view of Saint Helen Island from the port.
Eat all the food
Montreal is a great place to try iconic Canadian food. It’s the birthplace of poutine, Canada’s national dish. Everyone has their favorite poutine place, but most people agree that La Banquise serves the best in town (and probably the world). I wasn’t blown away by the combination of fries, (vegetarian) gravy and cheese curds, but it does make for fantastic drunk food and La Banquise is open 24-hours a day.
Montreal also has its own specific dishes that are worth a try. The bagels at St. Viateur in Mile End are a must. The line for this historic bagel shop can get long, but they’re worth the wait. Montreal bagels are slimmer than the New York style bagel and reminded me of the ones I ate in Krakow. Another classic is the smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz Deli. I didn’t try this one (since I’m vegetarian), but they look and smell delicious.
Montreal has several indoor and open-air (farmers) markets. One of the biggest and oldest is Jean Talon. This is the perfect place to try some of the delicious local produce and products, eat your fill of street food and shop for edible souvenirs for your friends and family.
Of course Montreal is an international city with a large variety of international food. One place I recommend in particular is the Green Panther. Their falafel is some of the best I’ve ever had, and they have lots of other delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes as well. And all the locations are committed to sustainable and environmentally friendly dining.
Montreal has so much to offer! What are your favorite places in Montreal? Let me know in the comments.
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