Montreal, Quebec

I live in Quebec which is (according to countless travel articles) one of the coolest places on earth (and I mean that literally in winter).  People are continually asking me what are the “must-do’s” when they visit Quebec and so I am making it my mission to start compiling that list so that when you visit you fall in love too!  This also means that I am going have to make it a priority to start exploring my adopted home, because you can’t give advice if you have not done it yourself, right?  As I make new discoveries I will keep updating my Quebec pieces.  

While Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017, Montreal is celebrating its 375th!  Founded in 1642 Montreal is Canada’s fifth oldest city so the architecture in the older parts of the city are heavily European influenced.  Of course French is the official language but many people speak English as well so for people intimidated by the language barrier Montreal is a good way to ease into Quebec.  I am in love with the French language so I hope you take time while here to soak it up. Plus as my French-Canadian hubby says we were all one battle away from speaking French instead of English in North America.  Any effort you put into French will be much appreciated so brush up on your basics such as “Bonjour”, “Merci”, and “Au Revoir”.

Old Montreal  

There is much to see and explore and I only started scratching the surface but here is what I have discovered so far:

    • Basilica Notre Dame: Walking into this church which was finished in 1829 feels very much like walking into a church in Europe and it is very bit as impressive so definitely don’t overlook it.  Plus it regularly hosts events that are super fun.  The fall of 2017 is the lightshow Aura and while I have not been yet, it is getting great reviews.  So in addition taking the tour of the church, make sure you check to see if there might be any featured events going on. 
      • Cost:General admission for adults is $6, ages 7 – 17 $4, 6 and under is free and includes a 20 minute tour.  Costs may vary for special events so check out the website for more informationNotre Dame Basilica Montreal
    • Walking the streets: It feels like getting lost in a city in Europe.  So just walk the neighborhood and enjoy the old buildings and architecture.  In high season there are a lot of people so at times it can be a bit like swimming upstream but if you come in some of the slower times this is a perfect way to spend the day.  While you are at it check out the cool Cite de Memoire which tells the story of the evolution of the city through projections on various buildings throughout Old Montreal.  Make sure you download the app and the projections start at dusk each night and run through 11:00 pm.  
      • Cost: And the best part…it’s free!  Old Montreal (2)
    • Shops and Art Galleries: There are definitely lots of tourist shops which I appreciate for my finding my token magnet souvenir.  But after you have seen one you have seen them all so after picking up your preferred trinket the local shops are much more interesting.  Old Montreal has plenty of art galleries and local shops/boutiques. So while wandering the beautiful streets window shopping is also pretty fun and definitely duck into the places that catch your eye for exploring a bit more.
      • Cost: Free (unless of course you buy something that you just can’t live without)Old Montreal

Sip & Graze: Finding a good restaurant in Montreal is easy!  I spend a lot of time googling for best places to eat, but for the most part walking down the street and randomly picking a restaurant is far more fun and interesting since you never know what jewel you might discover.  There are so many to choose from and I don’t think I have ever been disappointed in Montreal.  Full disclosure: I am not a foodie but I do love yummy meals surrounded by fantastic ambiance with a glass of wine in hand.  I do tend to find my favorites and go back over and over so here are a list of a few suggestions:

  • Vallier Bistro:  We have eaten brunch here several times and just love it.  It’s exactly like walking into a Parisian cafe in Canada and since Paris is my happiest of happy places I am immediately content when I walk in.  Plus, If you also love bubbly with your brunch like me they have you covered.  
    • Style: Casual
    • Reservations Required: No
  • Olive et Gourmando:  On Rue St Paul, one of the prettiest streets in Old Montreal this treasure almost always has a wait, but if you go post lunch hour it should not be very long.  The food is always fresh and fantastic and great to pair with a glass of wine.  A must is the Salty & Savory Ricotta dish which changes to take advantage of the seasons.  
    • Style: Casual
    • Reservations Required: NoOlive et Gourmando
  • Chez L’épicerie: French restaurant and wine bar that is oozing with ambiance, yummy food, and a great wine list!  
    • Style: Upscale Casual
    • Reservations Required: Suggested for dinner, but if they have space you can just walk in

Rooftop bars: In the summer a rooftop bar is a must!  Canadians are serious about maximizing the summer months and they do it well.  There are several to choose from and all have great city views.  Here are a few that we have stopped in at:

  • Terrasse Nelligan: we ate a late light lunch here with white wine and a cheese and charcuterie board.  With a view of Habitat 67 on one side and the steeples of Basilica Notre-Dame on the others was a beautiful and relaxing experience.Terrace Nelligan Montreal
  • Terrace Place D’Armes: we have only had drinks on the rooftop but it was a perfect place to enjoy the cityscape and have a glass of wine to recharge for more exploringTerrace Place d'Armes

Other Neighborhoods to Explore

I love just walking in a city and finding the hidden treasures and Montreal is no exception.  Since the definition of hidden treasure is a bit different for everyone I really recommend picking some of the neighborhoods that sound most appealing to you and setting out on foot or bike.  Montreal is undergoing a “refresh” so it seems like there are orange construction cones everywhere but that should not deter you from exploring the evolving fresh face of the city.  There are some great neighborhoods where the old is getting a fresh start and beautiful new buildings are being integrated to create a personality for each neighborhood.  

Mile End: Is an artistic neighborhood that you must walk to make sure you discover the many hidden treasures including beautiful graffiti, designers’ workshops, boutiques, and cafes.  Often described as the heart of the indy music scene in Montreal there are many venues to listen to some live music.  

  • Places to visit:  
    • Eat a bagel! Two of the most famous Montreal bagel bakeries are located here ( Fairmount and St. Viateur Bagels).  The delicious Montreal bagels are very different from NYC bagels or really any other bagel I have tasted and it is definitely a treat to eat one coming piping hot out of the oven.
    • Drink a beer! Dieu du Ciel is one of the more famous microbrews in Montreal and the line that can accumulate to get in testifies to this.  But it’s definitely worth the wait!

The Village: Formerly “The Gay Village” it is now just “The Village” but it has kept all of its uniqueness and character.  It is the kind of place that before you know it you have spent hours.  There are public pianos on the streets that anyone can play and there is almost always someone playing.  For photographers there is a colorful photo-op everywhere you look.  And you never know what exhibit might pop up; when wandering the neighborhood just a few weeks ago (fall 2017) a brand new outdoor photography exhibit literally debuted in front of us.  So we were among the first people to enjoy it…stroke of luck!    

The Village Montreal


Montreal is full of local producer markets that are definitely fun to visit because not only are they beautiful and colorful with all the produce and flowers you never know what treat you are going to discover for dinner that night (especially if you are staying in a B&B).    There are several markets and I am sure any of them are worth popping into, but the most well-known markets are (and not so coincidentally those I have visited to date):

  • Atwater Market in the Little Burgundy neighborhood opened in 1933 and has become one of the go-to places in the city for foodies but you can also find other treasures and local products.  I love to go at Christmas where the outdoor Christmas market is chock full of decorations and trees to choose from.  
  • Jean Talon Market is located in Little Italy and also opened in 1933.  An open air market in the summer, when winter arrives walls are put up around the market so it can stay open year round.  Look for events at the market such as culinary demos and workshops.

You also might want to check out

  • Jardins Botanique – It’s always fun to check out botanical gardens, but in addition there is usually something cool going on at the one in Montreal.  In the fall of 2017 there was the Chinese Lantern Display that I went to and it was simply fantastic.  So definitely worth checking out the schedule of events.   Plus they have an Insectarium where you can learn all about the creepy crawlers and if you so desire your fav (already dead) insect and taste away.  In fact if you visit one of the markets ahead of time maybe you can bring your preferred dip of choice and chomp away.  I have not visited the Insectarium and will probably keep finding ways to put something else higher on my “to do” list but for those that really want to try something a little different…well here you go!Jardins Botanique
  • Montreal Jazzfest – This is a 2 week summertime event at the end of June/beginning of July.  Usually we are on our annual adventure bike trip but this year our schedule was a bit hectic so we ended up being in Quebec and able to attend.  People come from all over the world to attend this 2 week festival and I discovered why! This is a can’t miss if you are a music/jazz lover.  Much of the festival is free but there are some paid concerts so if you are planning on coming up for this and have you heart set on a specific concert make sure you figure out if you need to order tickets.
  • Montreal at Christmas – There is snow.  There are old buildings.  There are lots of white lights.  It’s as beautiful as it sounds.  There are also often Christmas shows so if you are lucky enough to be up here for the holidays you definitely want to spend some time in Old Montreal.

Fun Facts & Cool Tidbits

  • Montreal became a “Go-to” destination for Americans who just wanted a beer during prohibition after WWI.
  • Montreal is actually an island in the Saint Lawrence River; I say that because you would be surprised how many people don’t know that (I didn’t either!) so it seems appropriate to drop that tidbit of info out there.

Tips & Tricks

You know all those things you wish you knew before you arrived or just some details that would have made things go more smoothly?  I always have those in a city and wonder why no one told me.  So here are a few on Montreal.  If you have anymore send them to me and I will add to the list.

  • Driving – can be a bit tricky so if you have a car here are some tips:
    • In Montreal you cannot turn right on red.  But it’s just in Montreal so once you are off the island you can right-on-red in the rest of Quebec
    • Montreal is a booming city and hence full of construction which makes driving a bit confusing so I really recommend finding a parking garage and walking or biking as much as possible.  If you are a pro at parallel parking (which I am not) you can look for available street parking but watch the posted signs carefully there are a lot of restrictions.  I prefer just finding a parking garage for simplicity sake.
    • A flashing green stoplight means that turning has the right of way.  Just like a green arrow.
    • For those of you coming from the States don’t forget that Canada uses the kilometer (km) as opposed to the mile.
  • Getting around
    • Bixi Bikes – Montreal is a very bike friendly city with lots of bike paths and drivers that are used sharing the roads.  So if you are comfortable riding in the city bring your bike helmet with you and rent one of the city bikes; there are hubs all over the city that make it easy to pick-up and drop off a bike.  Montreal has plenty of hills so in addition to being lots of fun you can definitely earn that next drink or meal.
    • Public Transportation – I will admit that I don’t know much about Montreal public transportation (well really anything) but as a lifelong Montrealer my hubby proclaims they have excellent public transportation including buses and metro.
    • Taxi & Uber – Although highly controversial, Montreal does still have Uber

Still On My To-Do List

I have not done these yet but they are high on my list to try out so while I cannot recommend just yet I think it would be awesome if you wanted to check any of them out.  Let me know what you think of them!


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