Table of Contents
Things to do in Montreal – Understand
Montreal is the commercial center of Quebec – a quite special area in North America. Québécois people hold on to the French language and the French view of life much more than you would expect. This is a rare sight for the North American continent that is usually driven by American can-do commercialism. Montreal feels very European (think of a little Paris) with a ‘savoir vivre’ world view. The city’s noise level is generally down, the food excellent, cars play a minor role in the city and the locals tend to be friendly but snobby. You are just 50 miles from the US border but it feels more like 3,000 miles away.
Montreal sets its priorities on art and design before function and plans things more than other cities. The result is a compact (for the most part), highly urban, safe, clean and beautiful city. It is a pleasant modern destination with minimal crime to visit year round though winter can be shockingly cold (-40 Fahrenheit including the wind chill aren’t unusual).
While French is THE language almost everyone is bilingual and speaks fluent English so if you come here to improve your French it might be a real challenge since people will reply in fluent English right away.
Also keep in mind that Québécois people are big on closing up shop for any reason – business hours for several of the places mentioned below can be erratic (and change daily), especially around holidays. Call ahead if you can to make sure places are open.
My favorite Things to do in Montreal – Sights
This city center museum is small but a gem of a Contemporary Art Museum. It features a changing exhibition by mostly local artists. The many video exhibits were excellent and inspiring. Expect to spend 90 minutes in the museum at least.
Admission is CAD 14. Wednesday afternoons are free.
Mount Montreal hovers over the city and offers perfect views over the city proper. Given the wind chill and Arctic temperatures I wasn’t able to climb the hill (it’s about an hour hike to the top) but add this to your itinerary on a clear spring day.
Did I mention that Montreal thinks of itself as a small version of Paris? Well it has a proper Notre Dame cathedral in the old town. Its stunning inside out and almost as big as the Paris original. Don’t miss.
This waterfront area is the gem of Montreal old town. Cobble Stone streets – bars and restaurants, an ice rink and beautiful views make this area a must see. There isn’t much to do winter besides the museums but I can see summers can be beautiful.
I have never been to a museum where admission is free for anyone under 30 – well at the Fine Arts Museum in Montreal you can get in for free if you pass that test! The museum is a confusing bunch of buildings and exhibitions though. It ranges from the early millennium until modern art with exhibitions from all over the world. The buildings are all connected by an underground tunnel but it is hard to figure out where to go next. There is no theme or rhythm to most exhibitions. If you have above average orientation skills and above average interest in art go here otherwise skip.
ChinaTown in Montreal is so small that it fits into two city blocks. It’s still a great place to visit for cheap, delicious food, Taiwanese desserts, Asian bakeries and a warming portion of Pho.
If someone builds such big underground malls you start realizing that the cold winter weather is not exactly a freak of nature but a part of Montreal lifestyle for quite some time now. Come here to shop. warm up, grab a bite at the food court. It’s chain land though – don’t expect much.
This museum in the old town comes highly rated for its display of Montreal history. I did not have a chance to make it inside but maybe you will?!
My favorite Things to do in Montreal – Eat and Drink – Downtown Montreal
This is an awesome little, hipsterish coffee shop. Great rustic design, great coffee and friendly staff. It’s also very close to Downtown (and many hotels). The pastries are delicious too – awesome scones for that little morning breakfast. There is an upstairs area for a more quite study. The only downside there is no WiFi and opening your laptop will earn you some nasty looks here.
Just a few doors up the street is Salon de thé – a bubble tea place like no other. In its own right it serves all kind of tea and coffee not just bubble tea. It comes as a clear, warm version in a heavy glass here. It has the atmosphere of a library though with no noise at all and super fast WiFi – if you need to get work done and can live without coffee come here.
This downtown eatery is more a restaurant not a coffee shop. It features excellent pizza and salads besides good coffee. It can get crowded and surprisingly loud (for Montreal though).
This place must serve the most delicious sandwiches in Montreal but it was continuously closed when I was in town – first for the holidays, then for a longer vacation. If you go – comment below and provide your own expertise.
This excellent looking coffee shop in old town also closed on me several times – so no insider scoop from me – go there and try!
The best rated eatery in China Town with a Pho that people rave about. I found it just ok but liked their rice/ vermicelli bowls much more. Its always crowded but cheap and delicious.
Probably the cheapest patisserie you will ever set foot in. It’s not french baking though but Asian delicacies including all kinds of cake and mochi. Try the ‘Chinese donut’ which is actually 3 donuts (no fillings!) and pay a grand total of CAD 1.50 for it. Incredible!
While the ‘Latin Quarter’ area isn’t my favorite this location of the mini chain Distillerie stands out. A small, cozy environment with bartenders who love to mix drinks in huge glasses. You certainly get your money’s worth in alcohol here. The drinks are innovative and fun to guess. Get a seat at the bar and see them work the magic.
This is a great coffee in the same Latin Quarter neighborhood – given the strong competition in town it probably gets much less business than it would get anywhere else.
Yes – just like Chipotle – you can build your own Burritos, Burrito bowls or Tacos. It looks like you walked into an early stage Chipotle in Boulder. The meat is fantastic here while the veggies may need some help. Given the current exchange rate of 1.45 it’s a very cheap affair as well.
My favorite Things to do in Montreal – Eat and Drink – Montreal Plateau
The name says it all this area is up from downtown and features lots of residential areas with a strong neighborhood feel.
This bakery chain in Montreal is the French bakery you have been looking for since you arrived in Montreal (the city has much fewer bakeries than what you would expect). You wont be disappoint by the extraordinary creations. My favorite was the bread stick with blue cheese and nuts. Awesome!
This coffee shop became my all time favorite in town. Not just because it was the only place that was open on a snowy January 1st morning or because it has the fastest Internet ever (200Mbit!) or delicious bagels – not it also makes fantastic coffee, has friendly staff, a cool location and it’s cheap as hell. Don’t miss.
Reservoir is a brewery that serves up their own product in the bar. Now despite popular belief I’m not a beer expert but I really liked the somewhat lighter but tasty beers that I tried there.
Laika is a coffee shop that also wants to be a wine bar and tapas place. If you think that is a bit too much I agree but they have pulled it off as best as possible. Watch some retro videos on the big screen and sit a the fireplace. Not a bad way to spend a snowy day.
This one is very hard to find – just look for a black door – well there are plenty on this side of the road. Once found it’s a cool stylish place for a drink or two.
These are apparently some of the best and cheapest burgers in town. I wish I could have tried but no such luck – it was closed while I was in town (believe me I checked several times).
This is the place to try a typical Poutine – not that I liked that too much. I loved the half chicken portion though. It’s enough to fill you for a whole day – tastes wonderfully fresh and comes out under CAD $11.
If you are looking for some excellent Turkish/ Middle Eastern food this is your place. Most of the dishes are vegetarian though and have a modern spin to it. I loved the tabouleh and vegetarian lasagna. Good sized portions for CAD 11 lunch menu make this a must stop.
The list of excellent coffee shops is sheer endless in Montreal – this is another example – more hipsterish than its peers and also slightly more expensive. It scores for it’s tasteful location though.
Easily the best bakery product I had in months. The place is unassuming from the outside but it gives you a glimpse of French baking art at it’s best. The croissant with Swiss cheese was out of this world good.
This is the home of the famous Montreal Fairmount Bagel – it’s though to enter because the customer area doubles as a warehouse for the delicious bagels. These bagels are thinner and lighter than what you may be used to. They have more of a ‘charred’ taste to it though.
This triumvirate of cheap and delicious Indian food rules the Villeray Saint-Michel Parc neighborhood. I went to Bombay Mahal only. I ordered the Chicken Thali which comes with an eggplant curry, a chicken curry and a chicken tandoori plus naan and rice. I think I got the wrong dish. It was just ok – the place is famous for it’s butter chicken and this looked great on other peoples plate.
How was your Montreal experience? What did you like the most? Tell us about it!
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]s.com.
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