Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal’s Hidden Gems
Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Old Port Charm Awaits Along the Waterfront
Tucked along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, Montreal's Old Port exudes old-world charm and vibrancy. Cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and lively crowds define this popular stretch of waterfront. During my recent visit to Montreal, I made it a point to spend ample time exploring and soaking up the atmosphere here.
Wandering the pedestrian-only streets, I was transported back in time. Horse-drawn carriages clopped by while street performers dazzled passerby. Buskers played acoustic tunes and talented artists sold their wares. The aroma of baked goods and coffee wafted through the air as I passed charming cafes and bakeries. Couples strolled hand-in-hand while families rode bikes along the riverwalk.
At the Old Port's center sits the grand Old Montreal Clock Tower, a focal point and gathering place. After enjoying a crepe from a nearby food truck, I sat beside the tower and watched ships glide along the St. Lawrence. Transported back to the port's heyday as a trading hub in the 1800s, I visualized steamships and traders conducting business.
Today, many of Old Montreal's historic buildings house boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. I popped into a number of stores selling everything from local fashions to souvenirs. My favorite finds were the galleries showcasing stunning photographs and paintings from Quebecois artists.
When hunger struck, I stopped for lunch at one of the area's many cafes. Sipping coffee and watching the river traffic kept me entertained for over an hour. The vibe here feels laidback, convivial, and authentically local.
As the afternoon sunshine warmed the cobblestones, I continued exploring the port area. At the striking Clock Tower Beach, sunbathers relaxed on manmade sand while kids built sandcastles. Couples reclined on bright, woven lawn chairs while music drifted from a live saxophonist.
Further west, cyclists and joggers traversed the riverside bike path. As one of Montreal's most scenic areas, Old Port offers plenty of active outdoor options. Kayakers paddled along the waterway while pleasure boats headed out for sunset river cruises.
What else is in this post?
- Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Old Port Charm Awaits Along the Waterfront
- Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Taste Montreal's Diverse Cuisine in The Plateau
- Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Wander The Miles of Underground City Pathways
- Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Discover Montreal's Vibrant Arts Scene
- Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Experience The Botanical Gardens & Biodome
- Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Relax in Parc du Mont-Royal's Urban Forest
Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Taste Montreal's Diverse Cuisine in The Plateau
No visit to Montreal is complete without a food tour of The Plateau. This vibrant, eclectic neighborhood offers a delicious taste of Quebec's mixed cultural heritage through its phenomenal restaurants and eateries. As one of the best places to sample Montreal’s renowned cuisine, The Plateau captivates foodies who flock here seeking culinary adventures.
During my stay, I dedicated an entire day to eating my way around The Plateau. My first stop was the Atwater Market, an iconic landmark where vendors have hawked fresh produce and artisanal fare since 1933. The intoxicating aromas and colorful displays lured me to sample an array of cheeses, charcuterie, maple products, and baked goods. Sipping locally-roasted coffee, I watched chefs select peak-of-season fruits and vegetables for their menus.
Several blocks away on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, sometimes called “The Main,” I popped into a few of Montreal’s beloved delis. At Schwartz’s, I joined the crowd feasting on Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches piled high on rye. The rich, peppery meat paired perfectly with tangy mustard. At Wilensky’s Light Lunch, I devoured a toasted sesame bagel loaded with salami and melted cheese. These Jewish eateries reflected the immigrant influencers shaping Montreal cuisine.
Eager for more global flavors, I headed to Park Avenue for tacos at Plaza Cachito, mentioned by friends as a local favorite. Their Baja fish tacos, bursting with fresh lime and cilantro, felt like a taste of Mexico. Seeking something sweet, I finished with churros, the ideal afternoon treat.
Dinner was at one of The Plateau’s trendiest new restaurants, Le Red Tiger. Reviews touted its pan-Asian small plates and lively ambiance. Edamame with Sichuan peppercorns started my meal with a sizzling bang. Spicy Thai basil beef skewers instantly became an obsession. For the main event, massaman curry with duck confit awakened my taste buds. Coconut rice soaked up the last drops of the savory-sweet sauce. To cap this incredible eating extravaganza, I staggered next door for homemade gelato in unexpected flavors like avocado lime.
The Plateau’s diverse culinary offerings stem from its fascinating social history. For decades, immigrants from far-flung locales have resided alongside artists and students seeking affordable rent. When these cultures blended, so did their cuisines, establishing restaurants fusing global influences with Quebec traditions. Strolling the neighborhood’s side streets, I gazed at street art murals reflecting The Plateau’s multicultural spirit. The creativity expressed in both the food and art here attests to Montreal’s inclusive embrace of diversity.
Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Wander The Miles of Underground City Pathways
Far beneath the hustle and bustle of Montreal's streets lies another world entirely: the Underground City. This vast subterranean network features over 20 miles of interconnected tunnels and walkways linking shopping centers, metro stations, hotels, offices, and more. For travellers and locals alike, the pathless maze presents a fascinating opportunity to spend hours exploring Montreal from an unexpected underground perspective.
Venturing into this hidden realm, I felt like an intrepid urban explorer about to uncover buried secrets. My adventure began by descending into the metro system, which provides entry points into the Underground City's labyrinth. Exiting at station McGill, I followed walkway signs guiding me towards shop-lined corridors. What struck me first was the absence of natural light. Yet rather than instilling a sense of gloom, the cavernous corridors felt surprisingly inviting and energetic.
As I wandered deeper into the network, the tunnels kept branching into different concourses stretching for city blocks underground. I passed busy food courts, glass-walled offices, and shopping galleries with skylights far above. With over 120 exterior access points, I never knew where I might surface next. Poking my head outside, I would briefly reorient myself before delving back into the subterranean maze.
When fatigue set in after hours of walking, I would duck into a cafe or lounge for an espresso. Savoring the comfort of a cozy banquette, I watched people rush past, focused on reaching their next destination. Underground City attracts over 500,000 local workers and visitors daily, yet maintains a peaceful ambiance.
Chatting with other wanderers, I gained insight into how integral these walkways are for Montreal life during the long winter. Locals use them daily to commute, run errands, and meet friends no matter the weather. As a visitor, I appreciated the shelters' practical benefits but more so cherished the unconventional adventure.
Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Discover Montreal's Vibrant Arts Scene
Art infuses the very fabric of Montreal. This cosmopolitan city fuels creativity through its dual English and French culture, prestige as a university hub, and openness to influences from around the globe. Exploring Montreal’s museums, galleries, festivals, and street art offers a vivid glimpse into its thriving arts scene.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts provides an excellent orientation to the city’s art world. Spanning multiple pavilions, the museum houses over 43,000 works ranging from antiquities to contemporary pieces. Don’t miss the Inuit art gallery spotighting carvings, textiles, and prints. The museum also curates special exhibitions by local and international artists.
Smaller galleries bring you closer to Montreal’s art scene. Head to bohemian Mile End to browse independent galleries like Parisian Laundry and Division. Exhibitions here showcase emerging photographers, painters, sculptors and conceptual artists. Many galleries host opening receptions where you can mingle with creators and collectors while enjoying wine and hor d’oeuvres.
Public art flourishes across Montreal, exemplified by over 100 eye-catching murals in the Plateau neighborhood alone. Stroll along Saint Laurent Boulevard and surrounding streets to spot urban art covering building facades. Colorful creatures, surreal portraits, and abstract shapes transform ordinary walls into vivid canvases. Don’t miss the Astronaut mural by hometown hero Marc-Olivier Lamothe.
Montreal celebrates art annually through world-renowned events like the Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs comedy festival. Catch free outdoor concerts featuring stars like Pink Martini or Snarky Puppy. Comedy fans can attend stand-up routines by Trevor Noah, Hannah Gadsby and other humor heavyweights.
The Museum of Contemporary Art showcases modern innovations through events like exhibit previews with resident DJs. For a completely immersive experience, check out Phi Centre. This multimedia space hosts thematic exhibitions with interactive components across multiple floors.
Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Experience The Botanical Gardens & Biodome
Unfurling across nearly 200 acres, Montreal’s Botanical Garden ranks among the world’s largest and most diverse. This flourishing oasis in the heart of the city transports visitors into an ecologically rich wonderland. Meandering along winding pathways, I discovered meticulously cultivated gardens emulating exotic locales from around the globe.
My senses came alive inside the 10 enormous themed gardens like the Chinese Garden with graceful waterfalls and pagodas. I felt transported walking through Islamic-inspired gardens with elaborate mosaics and fountains. The lush First Nations Garden honors indigenous cultures through traditional plants and herbal remedies.
Yet beyond admiring the beauty, the Botanical Garden also educates visitors about conservation. I gained deeper appreciation for endangered ecosystems while exploring the threatened Floridian palm swamp and ancient coniferous boreal forest. Signage along the trails shares ways we can protect fragile habitats.
Beyond flowers and plants, the Botanical Garden also houses whimsical animal sculptures. Herds of larger-than-life mammoths and mastodons add a touch of humor and imagination to the landscape. Kids especially delight in spotting these prehistoric creatures camouflaged amidst the vegetation.
For an even more immersive ecological experience, continue your nature exploration at the adjoining Biodome. Through a series of recreated habitats, this facility vividly showcases regional wildlife and vegetation. Walking from biome to biome felt like teleporting from one continent’s climate to another.
The lush Tropical Rainforest teems with exotic birds, lizards and over 750 plant species. Lit with simulated rainfall, mists and sunlight, this biome bubbles with vitality. Nearby, the ethereal Gulf of St. Lawrence habitat evokes the mysterious northern oceans. Shimmering jellyfish drift through illuminated waters as playful penguins dart about rocky shores lined with tidal pools.
The most jarring shift occurs when entering the Sub-Polar Region's frigid setting. Surrounded by barren tundra and icy walls, I suddenly understood the ruggedness needed to endure such harsh climates. Seeing puffins, fur seals, polar bears and even whales in this recreated habitat allowed me to appreciate nature’s incredible adaptability.
Beyond Poutine and Mount Royal: A Local Shares Montreal's Hidden Gems - Relax in Parc du Mont-Royal's Urban Forest
Rising above Montreal's skyline, Parc du Mont-Royal stands as both a natural oasis and cultural touchstone. Designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, this sprawling urban park provides a leafy escape from the city's hustle and bustle. Meandering along the park's winding trails and shaded lookouts, I gained refreshing new perspectives on Montreal's neighborhoods and landmarks spread out picturesquely below.
Olmsted carefully sculpted Parc du Mont-Royal's layout to balance recreation, relaxation, and restoration. Throughout the park, forested areas intermix with open, grassy slopes. Granite outcroppings add texture while small lakes and ponds invite serene reflection. As I hiked the park's nearly 20 miles of trails, I shifted continuously between forest seclusion and panoramic vistas. The skillful design flows fluidly, enticing visitors to venture deeper into the park.
Many trailheads begin near Mont-Royal Metro, including the popular Plateau Lookout trail. As I climbed higher, the skyscrapers receded, replaced by maple and oak trees. Emerging from the forest onto the lookout, a breathtaking 360-degree panorama unfolded. The mighty St. Lawrence River glinted in the distance as tiny ant-like pedestrians bustled along Sherbrooke Street. After snapping obligatory photos of downtown's skyline, I stretched out on a sunny rock, absorbing the tranquility.
Further up the mountain, Kondiaronk Lookout offers an altitudinal change of scenery. Gazing east, islands dotted the broad river while bridges stretched across the waterway. Toward the north, the dome of St. Joseph's Oratory gleamed, Montreal's iconic landmark. Seeing the sights miniaturized from this height shifted my perspective on the city I thought I knew.
Beyond scenic outlooks, the park also provides welcome solitude. The pet-friendly trails allow leashed dogs, adding liveliness. Yet it's easy to find secluded benches and quiet groves perfect for reading or journaling. Pack a picnic or stop at one of the park's restaurants to refuel after burning calories on the trails.
Parc du Mont-Royal merits multiple visits to experience its seasonal highlights. In autumn, blazing foliage rings the mountaintop in a fiery crown. Crisp winter days create a snow globe scene with cross-country skiers swishing past. When spring blossoms emerge, the park becomes utterly idyllic. Come summertime, practicing yoga on Beaver Lake's peaceful shores is sheer bliss.