Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada’s Cosmopolitan Heart
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Stroll Along the Charming Streets of Old Montreal
No trip to Montreal is complete without spending time wandering the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal. This historic neighborhood, with origins dating back to the 1600s, transports visitors back in time with its old-world architecture, charming boutiques, and mouthwatering restaurants.
A stroll through Old Montreal reveals a neighborhood brimming with character and culture. Meandering the narrow lanes lined with stone buildings, wrought-iron balconies, and ivy creeping up weathered facades makes you feel as if you've been transported to Europe. Yet Old Montreal remains distinctly Canadian with stops like the Notre-Dame Basilica, the striking neo-Gothic Catholic church that is one of the city's most iconic landmarks.
Wandering aimlessly is part of the Old Montreal experience, but don't miss must-see spots like the Old Port lined with riverfront promenades, Place Jacques Cartier filled with street performers and terraced cafes, and the bustling Old Market selling everything from fresh produce to souvenirs. Pop into boutiques selling local fashions and homewares, pause for a sweet treat at an artisanal chocolate shop, and of course, sample Montreal's famous poutine and maple syrup treats.
The best way to soak up the charm and romance of Old Montreal is to simply let yourself get lost in its winding lanes. With no set agenda, you're free to discover hidden courtyards bursting with flowers, stumble upon street musicians filling the air with melodies, and pause to admire historic sites like the Custom House and the Centaur Theatre. Wandering aimlessly allows you to uncover the neighborhood's secrets and find your own special spots to savor.
While meandering, don't forget to glance up and take in the architectural details that give Old Montreal its character. Ornate exterior staircases climb up old stone buildings. Intricate ironwork balconies with curling detail dot the facades. Gargoyles peer down from rooftops. And copper rooftops have patinaed to a soft green over time.
As the sun begins to set, the streets take on a magical glow from the flicker of gas lamps lining the lanes. Sidewalk cafes become enlivened by the chatter and laughter of diners. And the aroma ofFrench fare being cooked up in bistros fills the air. Stick around as Old Montreal transforms into a lively nightspot with pulsing clubs, cozy pubs, and concerts in the square.
What else is in this post?
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Stroll Along the Charming Streets of Old Montreal
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Indulge in Montreal's Famous Poutine and Maple Syrup Treats
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Wander Through Mont Royal Park for Gorgeous City Views
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Enjoy the Quirky Public Art Scene in the Mile End Neighborhood
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Experience the Electric Nightlife in Downtown Montreal
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Take in a Show at Place des Arts for Theater, Music and Dance
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Learn About Montreal's History at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum
- Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Shop for Local Goods at the Jean-Talon and Atwater Public Markets
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Indulge in Montreal's Famous Poutine and Maple Syrup Treats
No visit to Montreal is complete without indulging in two of the city's quintessential culinary offerings: poutine and maple syrup. Poutine, the official national dish of Canada, originated right in Quebec. This carb-loaded comfort food starts with a base of french fries, gets smothered in rich gravy, and is then topped with fresh cheese curds that ooze upon contact. The combination of crispy fries, velvety gravy, and squeaky cheese creates a salty, savory treat that's become beloved far beyond Canada.
In Montreal, poutine aficionados make the pilgrimage to La Banquise which is open 24 hours and offers over 30 varieties of poutine. Their classic poutine delivers the definitive experience with hand-cut fries, flavorful gravy made from veal stock, and cheese curds imported directly from local farms. Those feeling adventurous can sample unique creations like the Kamikaze with smoked meat, pepperoni, and hot peppers or the T-Rex with chicken, bacon, and guacamole. No matter your preference, La Banquise serves up piping hot, driveway glacé poutine that embodies Montreal's signature snack.
Montreal also prides itself as the world capital for maple syrup production. The province of Quebec produces over 70% of the world's maple syrup, which gets made by boiling down sap collected from sugar maple trees each spring. Tasting real, authentic maple syrup is a revelation after experiencing the fake syrup fillers that most are familiar with. Your tastebuds will delight in the complex flavors of maple - rich, earthy, slightly smoky, and with a pleasant hint of sweetness.
At Au Pied de Cochon in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, the creative culinary wizard Martin Picard infuses maple into decadent dishes like duck legs confit in maple syrup and foie gras topped with maple butter. His sugar shack themed cabane à sucre serves a tasting menu devoted to showcasing maple's versatility. From maple taffy poured straight onto snowbanks to maple infused cocktails, this is the best place to experience maple as more than just syrup on pancakes.
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Wander Through Mont Royal Park for Gorgeous City Views
No trip to Montreal is complete without heading up to Mont Royal Park for sweeping panoramas of the city and surrounding countryside. This expansive urban greenspace sits atop the namesake Mont Royal and provides a natural oasis right in the heart of downtown. Meandering through the park’s extensive trail network rewards you with stunning outlooks from various vantage points.
One of the most popular lookout spots is the Kondiaronk Belvedere overlooking the chateauesque Grand Seminary of Montreal. From this viewpoint, the mighty St. Lawrence River unfolds before you with the skyline of Montreal as its backdrop. Gaze out and spot landmarks like Olympic Stadium, Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, and Mont Royal Cross. Look straight down and see carriages trotting through the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal. The panorama encapsulates Montreal’s dual identity as both a modern metropolis and historic city.
Further uphill in the park is the Chalet du Mont Royal which provides a birds-eye perspective of downtown Montreal. Standing on the sweeping terrace here, iconic sites like Place-des-Arts and Place Ville-Marie materialize before you. The greenery of Mont Royal Park descends gently towards the sparkling glass skyscrapers and old stone churches dotting the cityscape. From this lofty vantage point, Montreal appears orderly and tranquil despite its hustling energy at street level.
For a complete 360-degree view, head to the very top of Mont Royal where an immense cross has stood since 1924. Climb the hundreds of steps leading up to the base of the monumental illuminated cross. At the summit, the whole of Montreal unfolds below and the Saint Lawrence River valley stretches into the distance. Rotate and take in views of leafy neighborhoods like Mile End, the trendy Plateau, and posh Westmount. On clear days, gaze even further out and spot the distant peaks of the Adirondack Mountains across the U.S. border.
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Enjoy the Quirky Public Art Scene in the Mile End Neighborhood
The Mile End neighborhood has emerged as Montreal’s hipster capital and the epicenter of the city’s indie music and arts scene. As an artsy, eclectic enclave, Mile End is also home to an abundance of quirky public art installations that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. Exploring this outdoor gallery gives you a true taste of Mile End’s creative spirit.
One distinctly Montreal form of public art is the neighborhood mural. Stroll along St-Laurent Boulevard and Bernard Avenue to spot massive wall paintings adorning the sides of buildings. Intricate, colorful murals liven up the urban landscape with scenes of famous Montrealers like Leonard Cohen or abstract images like the Space Invader mosaics. Stop to appreciate the sheer artistry of these giant illustrations and to read about the stories behind them.
Mile End is also home to unusual sculptures that encourage interaction like the musical swings at Jeanne-Mance Park. Here people gather to take turns on the swings that create notes as you sway back and forth. Nearby, whimsical creations include giant aluminum dandelions and a bronze sculpture of iconic Canadian author Mordecai Richler sitting on a park bench.
Unexpected art installations pop up on sidewalks and in public squares to surprise and amuse visitors. On Bernard Avenue look down to find poetry snippets etched into the pavement. In triangle-shaped Parc de l’Espoir, kids delight in climbing an enormous orange crab sculpture emerging from the grass. Interactive, participatory art gets Mile Enders and travelers involved in the creative process.
To dive deeper into Mile End’s art scene, join a guided street art tour. Knowledgeable guides decode the influences, meanings and techniques behind the neighborhood’s most famous murals. You’ll gain insight into how Mile End’s artistic heritage and culture is expressed through boundary-pushing public paintings. Tours take you down side streets and alleyways you may otherwise miss to uncover hidden gems and talent.
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Experience the Electric Nightlife in Downtown Montreal
Downtown Montreal comes alive when the sun goes down, with an energetic nightlife scene that offers something for everyone. From pulses of electric dance music to cozy jazz clubs to riotous comedy shows, Montreal serves up an intoxicating mix of nighttime entertainment. Visitors consistently rave about the quality, diversity, and pure joie de vivre of after-dark adventures in the city center.
For those seeking a sexy South Beach vibe, Crescent Street is where it's at. This pedestrian-only party strip is lined with terrace bars, pubs, and nightclubs pumping out dance tunes. Le Cœur a la Crémaillère, a multi-level nightclub, hosts international DJs and high-energy theme parties well into the early morning hours. Or grab a spot on the stylish terrace at Suite 701 and feel the infectious energy of dancing crowds spilling into the street. Market fresh cocktails, attractive clientele, and a chic ambiance fuels the party.
If comedy tickles your fancy, be sure to catch a show at Comedy Nest, Montreal's premiere venue for stand-up. Top comics from Canada and beyond take the stage and dish out jokes in English or French. The intimate, casual vibe makes audience interaction all part of the act, so come ready to laugh hard. Improv is also big, with troupes at Theatre Ste-Catherine riffing off audience suggestions for evenings filled with quirky characters and sidesplitting sketches.
For live music, Corona Theatre brings in indie rockers while Club Soda offers an eclectic lineup spanning electronica, jazz, and blues. If you prefer something more avant garde, check out who's performing at the SAT for experimental sounds in a former chapel. Or for old school ambiance, Le Swimming heads back to the 1920s with peeling paint, retro tunes, cheap beer, and free pool. The no-fuss vibe is as alluring as the world-class jazz performers who grace the stage.
Many visitors insist no trip to Montreal is complete without hitting up a jazz club. Diehard fans flock to Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, where past luminaries like Oscar Peterson got their start. Today it still hosts top talents for intimate sets in a warmly lit basement lounge. Patrons happily chat with artists between sets, soaking up the laid-back camaraderie.
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Take in a Show at Place des Arts for Theater, Music and Dance
With performance halls dedicated to music, theater, and dance, Place des Arts is Montreal's mecca for the performing arts. This sprawling complex in the Quartier des Spectacles hosts world-class productions in striking, purpose-built venues. Architecture buffs delight in the mix of modernist buildings and historic concert halls. For culture lovers, it's a must to take in a show in one of the Place des Arts theaters during your Montreal visit.
Place des Arts is home to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and Opera de Montreal, so classical music and dance aficionados will find plenty to enjoy. Catching the symphony perform masterworks in the Maison symphonique de Montréal concert hall is a transcendent experience. The acoustics and intimacy make you feel immersed in the soaring melodies. Meanwhile, the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theatre provides a grand setting for magnificent story ballets and productions from the world's best companies.
For Broadway musicals, comedies, and dramas, the Théâtre Maisonneuve delivers top-notch theatre with its adaptable layout and excellent sightlines. Rent, Les Miserables, and War Horse are just a few of the smash hit shows that have passed through. Theatre buffs also won't want to miss the French language productions at Salle Jean-Duceppe featuring beloved Québécois actors.
While Place des Arts shines for classical and conventional performances, it also brings in major pop, rock, and world music acts to Montreal. Legendary musicians like Sting, Lady Gaga, and Paul McCartney light up the Bell Centre arena for epic concerts in front of 20,000 roaring fans. Even if you aren't familiar with the band or artist playing, the electric energy and excitement of the crowds make arena shows thrilling.
For comedy, cabaret, and modern circus, check the schedule at the intimate Ludger-Duvernay Theatre. Its 750 seats wrapped around the stage make you feel close to all the action. Since many shows sell out far in advance, planning ahead is key to snag tickets to Place des Arts' most popular events. On pleasant evenings, you can also simply stroll through Place des Arts to take in the unique architecture and public art installations spicing up the plazas.
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Learn About Montreal's History at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum
History buffs find endless fascination at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, built right on the spot where Montreal was founded. This expansive museum immerses you in the storied history of the city through exhibits spanning from indigenous times to the modern era. Archaeological remains onsite provide a tangible connection to the past.
Built atop an actual archaeological site, Pointe-à-Callière showcases unearthed foundations, fortifications, and other ruins dating back to the first settlers. Descending into the underground archaeological crypt, you’ll come face-to-face with the remains of the original Place Royale from the mid-1600s. Interactive exhibits allow you to view and engage with the artifacts in situ, bringing Montreal’s formative years to life.
The museum’s permanent collection artfully blends original artifacts with multimedia displays to recount defining moments in Montreal’s history. Learn how early indigenous peoples gathered at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers for centuries before European settlers arrived. See the growth of the lively fur trade that transformed Montreal into a bustling hub built on commerce. Understand the impact of world events like new colonial rule and the American Revolution on shaping Montreal’s economy, infrastructure and culture.
Pointe-à-Callière excels at creating an immersive experience that propels you back through different eras. In the “Old Montreal, The Great Adventure” exhibit, projections make you feel like you’re walking the cobblestone streets amid horse-drawn carriages. Costumed guides provide added depth on daily life for past inhabitants. Of course, a journey through Montreal’s history would not be complete without focusing on its evolution into a cosmopolitan cultural center. Exhibits celebrate the city’s vibrant arts, food, and communities with engaging displays.
While the permanent collection offers a comprehensive overview, Pointe-à-Callière also produces timely temporary exhibits tied to current events and anniversaries. To mark the 375th and 400th anniversaries of Montreal’s founding, massive exhibits like “Montreal Collective Memories” and “A People’s History” employed cutting-edge technology to showcase defining moments. Special programs around the exhibits like historical reenactments, city walking tours, and food tastings expand the experience beyond the museum walls.
Bonjour Montréal! How to Have the Perfect Long Weekend in Canada's Cosmopolitan Heart - Shop for Local Goods at the Jean-Talon and Atwater Public Markets
No Montreal trip is complete without a visit to one of the city's bustling public markets to shop for local goods and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. The Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy and Atwater Market along the Lachine Canal are the top spots to sample Quebec's bounty while mingling with locals.
At Jean-Talon Market, the intoxicating aromas of briny olives, ripe cheeses, and fresh-baked bread draw you in. Then a visual feast unfolds with stands overflowing with produce in a rainbow of colors - from ruby red tomatoes to emerald herbs to sunny peaches. Flower vendors add beauty with buckets of tulips, lilies, and wildflowers. Beyond the fresh fare, stalls sell Quebecois specialties like maple syrup, ice cider, and poutine mixes.
The market hums with families doing weekly shopping, chefs sourcing ingredients, and tourists snapping photos and sampling free bites. Strike up a conversation with a local farmer or artisan and you may get the inside scoop on the best crop or product that day. Don't be shy - interact with vendors just as the locals do.
Besides shopping, Jean-Talon provides the quintessential market experience. Pull up a counter seat at one of the little restaurants surrounding the perimeter and tuck into a steaming bowl of pea soup or a flaky spinach pie. At the smaller but equally vibrant Atwater Market, nab Montreal-style bagels and coffee from St-Viateur Bagel and people watch from a cafe terrace.
Beyond edibles, both markets offer Quebecois crafts, fashions, and souvenirs. At Jean-Talon, La Puce Market houses antiques dealers, while clothing boutiques surround the perimeter. Hunt for the perfect bottle of maple syrup to bring home or pick up hand-knit mittens and hats for winter. Atwater contains a section called Les Artisans for local art, pottery, jewelry and more.