Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada’s Cosmopolitan Hub
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Old Montreal: Stroll Through History in the Picturesque Old Port
No trip to Montreal is complete without a visit to Old Montreal. This historic neighborhood, with origins dating back to the 1600s, transports visitors back in time with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and buildings from the 17th-19th centuries. Meandering the quaint streets feels akin to walking through a European village plucked out of the past.
A stroll through Old Montreal reveals gorgeous churches, lively marketplaces, quirky shops, cozy cafes, fine dining, and world-class museums. History buffs will delight in seeing preserved architecture spanning 300 years of history. Foodies will enjoy the neighborhood's acclaimed restaurants, bakeries, and markets overflowing with fresh produce, cheese, and maple treats. Shoppers can pick up local fashions, crafts, and souvenirs. And families will appreciate kid-friendly activities like riding in a horse-drawn carriage or munching on maple taffy.
At the heart of Old Montreal lies the charming Old Port. Once functioning as Montreal's hub for shipping and trade, today this revitalized waterfront area draws visitors to its parks, shops, restaurants, museums, event spaces, and boat cruises. Tourists flock to the Observation Wheel for panoramic views and the Montreal Science Centre to spark children's imaginations. History comes alive at Pointe-à-Callière Museum built atop an archaeology site. And couples stroll hand-in-hand along the scenic riverwalk.
Beyond the Old Port, highlights of Old Montreal include wandering the 17th-century streets, admiring the stunning architecture of Notre-Dame Basilica, sipping espresso at cozy cafes, browsing boutiques selling Canadian designs, and learning about Montreal's history at the Centre d’Histoire de Montréal.
Foodies seize the chance to indulge in Montreal's famous poutine, bagels, and smoked meats. For fine dining, Europa and Toqué! reign as two of the city's best restaurants. And no visit is complete without stopping at Olive et Gourmando for melt-in-your-mouth pastries and breads.
What else is in this post?
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Old Montreal: Stroll Through History in the Picturesque Old Port
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Mount Royal Park: Breathe in Nature and City Views Atop This Urban Oasis
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Museum of Fine Arts: Behold Stunning Art and Architecture at Canada's Oldest Museum
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Underground City: Stay Warm Underground During Montreal's Frigid Winters
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Jean-Talon Market: Shop and Nosh at this Bustling Open-Air Market
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Mile End: Explore Montreal's Funky, Creative Neighborhood
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Crescent Street: Party the Night Away in Downtown's Thriving Entertainment District
- Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Day Trip to Quebec City: Take a Quick Train Ride to Quebec's Historic Capital
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Mount Royal Park: Breathe in Nature and City Views Atop This Urban Oasis
Rising above downtown Montreal, the lush green expanse of Mount Royal Park provides a natural oasis amidst the bustling city. This urban escape beckons locals and visitors alike to savor fresh air, scenic outlooks, leisurely strolls, and outdoor activities just steps from the urban hustle and bustle.
A network of wooded trails lace across the mountain, offering hikers and joggers places to exercise and breathe in the peaceful atmosphere. Follow the main path to the Chalet Lookout for a sweeping panorama of downtown Montreal, the St. Lawrence River, and the countryside beyond. The view from the Kondiaronk Belvedere gazebo is equally impressive.
Pack a picnic lunch or snack and relax on the grassy lawns dotting the mountainside. Many families enjoy spreading out blankets, flying kites, and soaking up sunshine and tranquility. During winter months, sledding down the slopes becomes a favorite pastime. Year-round, the park provides a dose of nature and escape from urban life.
At the park's summit, the Croix du Mont-Royal overlooks the city. This towering, illuminated cross has watched over Montreal since 1924. Beyond the cross, various lookout points and the Camilien-Houde belvedere deliver nonstop views.
For some visitors, simply meandering through the park offers enough enjoyment. Others come to exercise on the wooded trails or scenic roadway winding around the mountain. Outdoor activities abound, from hiking and biking to picnicking and bird watching. Wintertime draws cross-country skiers and tobogganers.
On Sundays from June to October, Mount Royal Park becomes car-free, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to safely enjoy the roadway. Various facilities provide conveniences within the park, including food vendors, bike and skate rentals, public washrooms, and drinking fountains.
The park's Beaver Lake transforms into a skating rink come winter. Smith House acts as an interpretation center explaining the park's history and ecology. And guided activities like bird watching walks connect visitors to nature.
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Museum of Fine Arts: Behold Stunning Art and Architecture at Canada's Oldest Museum
Founded in 1860, Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal) stands as Canada's oldest museum and one of its premier art institutions. Within its ornately embellished Beaux-Arts exterior designed by architects Edward and William Maxwell lies a trove of over 43,000 artifacts spanning antiquity to today. The museum's collections tell the story of human creativity across continents and millennia through mediums of painting, sculpture, decorative arts, graphic arts, photography, and more.
Wandering the grand, light-filled galleries feels akin to time traveling through humanity's creative evolution. The museum's antiquities collection transports visitors to the ancient world with Egyptian mummies, Greek amphorae, Roman glassware, and other artifacts of civilizations past. European masterworks allow art aficionados to admire original paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, and other luminaries.
Beyond the permanent collections, special exhibitions shine a spotlight on intriguing themes or artists. Recent shows covered the largest Monet exhibit ever displayed in Canada, postwar Japanese photography, fashion in paintings, and Inuit art. Thematic exhibits have covered topics ranging from the impact of music on artists to the depiction of animals in art throughout history.
Many visitors cite the ornate museum building itself as a work of art. Designed by Edward and William Sutherland Maxwell, the Museum of Fine Arts combines architectural elements of an Italian Renaissance palace with French and English influences. Standing before its grand edifice, one admires the rhythmic rows of arches, stately columns, and carvings of figural busts and garlands. The museum underwent significant expansions in the early 1910s and then again in the 1990s, seamlessly integrating the Beaux-Arts style.
Inside, the museum’s spectacular entrance hall features dual marble staircases ascending to the grand Great Hall bathed in natural light from a massive semi-circular window. Intricate plasterwork embellishes the 50-foot ceiling painted in deep blue evoking a night sky. Statues, murals, marble, gold accents, and other fine details astonish at every turn. The Bourgie Concert Hall impresses with its sleek modernist design juxtaposed against the interior’s historicism.
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Underground City: Stay Warm Underground During Montreal's Frigid Winters
When the snow starts falling and temperatures plummet below zero, Montrealers head underground to stay warm. Far beneath the city streets lies a 32 kilometer (20 mile) subterranean web known as the Underground City (Ville Souterraine or RÉSO in French). This vast indoor city within a city links shopping malls, metro stations, hotels, offices, universities, performance venues, and more through climate-controlled walkways and tunnels.
Venturing into the Underground City feels akin to entering an ant colony as people dutifully march through intertwining passageways. Over 500,000 Montrealers take refuge here daily during the winter months. The Underground City offers respite from the harsh outdoor elements while also facilitating transport and commerce. Visitors can explore most of downtown Montreal without stepping foot outdoors.
Often, tourists happen upon the Underground City by accident while riding Montreal’s excellent metro system. Metro stations like McGill, Eaton Centre, Place des Arts, Champs de Mars, and Gare Centrale connect directly to the underground corridors. Following the labyrinthine passageways leads to massive shopping complexes like the Eaton Centre, Place Ville Marie, and Place des Arts. Hundreds of stores, restaurants and services cater to subterraneanshoppers.
Major downtown hotels also link to the Underground City, allowing guests to reach attractions, dining, and shopping while avoiding icy sidewalks and frigid temperatures. Notable hotels with underground access include Le Centre Sheraton, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, and Le Saint-Sulpice. Various office towers and universities connect workers and students to the metro lines and malls as well.
Pieces of the Underground City date back to the 1960s, but expansion continued over subsequent decades. Today RÉSO spans over 12 miles, covering 4 square kilometers beneath downtown. The indoor city keeps expanding as developers build new downtown properties with underground links.
While staying warm is the main appeal during Montreal’s harsh winters, the Underground City offers surprising sights. Public art installations enliven the underground walkways, including over 100 artworks as part of the Underground City Culture Circuit. Musicians and other performers entertain passersby in metro stations. And specialty shops like olive oil stores and tea rooms join the chain retailers.
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Jean-Talon Market: Shop and Nosh at this Bustling Open-Air Market
No Montreal experience feels complete without exploring the sights, smells, and tastes of Jean-Talon Market. This bustling open-air food market stands as one of the largest in North America, offering a sensory feast for travelers.
Founded in 1933, the market brings together hundreds of local farmers, butchers, bakers, cheese makers, and other food purveyors. They hawk Quebec's finest meats, produce, baked goods, and specialty items that reflect Montreal's distinct culinary identity.
Aimlessly wandering the market's aisles feels akin to exploring a living, breathing organism. Vendors passionately hawk their wares in French and English, hoping to entice the endless stream of shoppers. Displays burst with colorful fruits and vegetables, barrels overflow with bright flowers, and counters gleam with fresh-cut meats and fish. The delicious scents of smoked salmon, warm spice, and fresh bread waft through the air.
Beyond the market stalls, restaurants and specialty grocers allow visitors to sample Quebec's culinary bounty. Grab a steaming bowl of pea soup, a stack of crepes, or a pizza bubbling with local cheese. Try Quebec's famous poutine, best enjoyed with a cold beer or cider. Or nibble on maple sugar candy, butter tarts, or a sinfully good pastry.
While Jean-Talon provides sustenance, it also acts as a gathering place. Locals flock here to people watch, converse with vendors, and soak up the area's lively ambiance. Buskers play acoustic sets, children weave through the crowds, and friends chatter over cups of café au lait.
The market offers a portal into Montreal's food culture and local agriculture. Friendly farmers explain their organic or traditional cultivation methods, happy to share their passion for food production. Shoppers gain access to the freshest, most flavorful produce and other goods - seafood just off the boats, ripe berries in season, handmade cheeses, and farm-fresh eggs.
Beyond locally sourced goods, Jean-Talon provides global flavors reflecting Montreal's diversity. Discover spices, tropical fruits, and snacks from around the world. Or sample enticing prepared foods - spicy jerk chicken, steaming pho, savory empanadas, or Lebanese flatbreads baked to order.
The visual feast continues beyond edibles. Flower vendors display immense bouquets to brighten home decor.Jewelry makers tempt with handcrafted pendants and rings. Local artisans and designers offer up clothing, leather goods, soaps, and crafts.
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Mile End: Explore Montreal's Funky, Creative Neighborhood
Nestled north of downtown Montreal, the Mile End neighborhood captivates visitors with its funky bohemian vibe, thriving arts scene, multicultural flair, indie shops, and wealth of culinary options. As Montreal's creative hub, Mile End offers a glimpse into the city's hipper side.
Young creatives and students flock to Mile End to soak up the artistic energy pulsing through the neighborhood's galleries, music venues, café-bars, and street art. Walking the vibrant streets, one passes indie boutiques, vintage shops, artisan bakeries, lively bars, and cozy cafes doubling as informal community centers. The neighborhood reverberates with an infectious energy and creativity.
Artists certainly feel at home in Mile End. Singer-songwriter Arcade Fire and grizzly bear brought global attention to the area's music scene. Street art murals splash color across building facades, like the iconic love-themed mural filling an entire alleyway. Cutting-edge galleries like Darling Foundry showcase provocative works using experimental mediums and technology. Live music venues draw crowds with indie rock, jazz, hip hop and other acts.
Beyond visual and musical arts, Mile End also nurtures writing and film. Authors like Mordecai Richler, Michel Tremblay, and Rawi Hage found inspiration here. The neighborhood houses pioneering animation studios that created films like The Triplets of Belleville. Annual festivals like Mural celebrate street art and galleries hold regular exhibition openings.
Culturally, Mile End stands as one of Montreal's most diverse districts. In the late 1800s, Eastern European Jewish immigrants settled here, leaving a lasting culinary legacy including beloved delis and bagel shops. Today, the area continues welcoming new waves of immigrants - notably from Portugal, Italy, Greece, Vietnam and North Africa. The blend of cultures contributes to Mile End's vibrant, inclusive character where people passionately maintain traditions while embracing innovation.
This multicultural spirit infuses itself into Mile End's food scene. Portuguese rotisseries dish up perfumed chicken and rice. French bakeries proffer picture-perfect pastries. Jewish delis slice Montreal-style smoked meat. Greek and Lebanese restaurants offer minty lamb wraps and shareable meze spreads. Cutting-edge eateries fuse local ingredients into wildly creative Quebec cuisine. Foodies tour Mile End to graze on its global flavors.
Beyond the arts and cuisine, Mile End simply charms through its neighborhood flavor. Independent shops sell vintage clothing, handmade crafts, used books, vinyl records and other finds. Leafy parks provide pockets of greenery for relaxing or people watching. A stroll down any street reveals charming row houses, funky facades, street art surprises, and cozy cafes filled with chatting locals.
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Crescent Street: Party the Night Away in Downtown's Thriving Entertainment District
When night falls in Montreal, locals and visitors alike flock to Crescent Street to revel in its pulsing nightlife scene. Located in downtown just north of major attractions like Old Montreal and Place des Arts, Crescent Street transforms into the city's premiere nightlife destination once the sun goes down. Neon lights flash, music pulses through club doorways, and sidewalks fill with thirsty partiers chatting and laughing as they bounce between venues.
Crescent Street offers blocks of concentrated nightlife spanning lounges, dive bars, Irish pubs, dance clubs, comedy joints, and concert halls. The lively street stays packed from early evening into the wee hours as different venues appeal to various crowds. Head to Irish pubs like McKibbin's and Hurley's to knock back pints of Guinness while taking in live music. Dance the night away at hot clubs like Tokyo Bar and Le Rouge Bar. Laugh out loud at comedy shows at The Comedy Nest or the Comedy Works. Or listen to live rock, blues, jazz and more at historic venues like Upstairs Jazz Bar and Club Soda.
When hunger hits, Crescent Street's restaurants sate night owls with late night bites. Grab steaming lattes and pastries at hip coffee shops to fuel all-night clubbing. Chow down on poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, and other Canadian comfort foods perfect for soaking up beers. Try international cuisine at Asian fusion hotspots or 24-hour Middle Eastern eateries.
Crescent Street delivers a lively taste of Montreal's acclaimed nightlife within a condensed strip. The bars, clubs, and concert halls stand shoulder-to-shoulder, allowing revelers to easily walk off buzzes while deciding on the next stop. Locals affectionately call the street "Party Row" for its raucous vibe, reminiscent of New Orleans' Bourbon Street or LA's Sunset Strip.
Yet while offering nonstop nighttime entertainment, Crescent Street also embraces Montreal's characteristic liveliness and friendliness. The bars buzz with friendly chatter as opposed to drunken debauchery. Patrons wait patiently in queues outside hot venues. Bouncers keep the peace without aggression. Visitors can feel at ease joining the festivities versus intimidated.
Beyond the nighttime adult playground, Crescent Street also offers daytime attractions. Shop for fashionable clothing and accessories at the street's many boutiques. Drop by antique shops and art galleries showcasing local talents. Savor an espresso on a patio and do some people watching. Come evening, these storefronts will be pulsing with music and dancing patrons.
Bonjour Montreal! A Local Shares the Best Spots to Eat, Play, and Relax in Canada's Cosmopolitan Hub - Day Trip to Quebec City: Take a Quick Train Ride to Quebec's Historic Capital
Perched atop steep cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River, Quebec City enchants visitors with its preserved 17th-18th century architecture, towering castle-like Château Frontenac hotel, and historic charm evoking the New France era. As the capital of Canada’s Québec province, the city offers a picturesque fortified old town, excellent museums, French-infused cuisine, and North America’s most European vibe outside the continent.
Luckily for travelers based in Montreal, Quebec City lies just a 2.5 hour train ride away, making an easy day trip. Catch a comfortable, scenic train from Montreal’s Gare Centrale rail station in the morning, then arrive refreshed and ready to explore Quebec City without needing an overnight stay.
Wandering the cobblestone streets and squares of the fortified Upper Town (Haute-Ville) district transports visitors back centuries to when Quebec City acted as the capital of New France. Meander along the only remaining fortified city walls in North America north of Mexico, peeking at cannon openings facing the river. The Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral and Seminary of Quebec perch atop the witness to city’s storied past.
Quebec City’s star sight, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, impresses visitors with its castle-like grandeur and hilltop location looming over the St. Lawrence. Even travelers on the tightest budgets enjoy gazing at this landmark hotel, snapping photos of its impressive turrets and green copper roof, and imagining itself as a guest sweeping down its grand staircase.
Wandering down from Upper Town into the Lower Town (Basse-Ville) area reveals a livelier vibe with art galleries, boutiques, sidewalk musicians, and restaurants spilling onto terraces. Rue Petit-Champlain charms with its pedestrian cobblestones and colorful facades.
Foody travelers relish sampling Quebec’s French-influenced cuisine, from flaky croissants and custardy tarts to hearty pea soup and tender duck confit. Local specialties utilize maple syrup, regional fruits, wild game, and cheeses. Sample maple ice wine, French onion soup, or a steaming bowl of poutine (fries topped with gravy and cheese curds).
Save time for some of Quebec City’s excellent museums to dive into the region’s heritage and culture. At the Museum of Civilization, multimedia exhibits like “This is Our Story” showcase the lives of ordinary Quebeckers through the centuries. The Museum of French America spotlights Francophone culture in North America. Learn about Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec City, at the Musée de la Civilisation.