Here is my list of Top 10 Can't Miss Montreal!
To be honest, I could have just hopped from cafe to restaurant to bar my whole trip. Quebec is a culinary wonder, and Montreal is the meeting point of traditional French Canadian cuisine and modern creativity from the cadre of international chefs who call the city home. In my opinion, the pièce de résistance of Montreal's food scene is smoked meats (locals usually say it in plural, but I've heard "smoked meat" as well). Wikipedia describes it as "a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavors over a week, and is then hot smoked to cook through, and finally steamed to completion."
I don't know the details of the recipe, but I can vouch for the necessity of including smoked meats on your edible tour of the city. The pleasures of the taste buds never end- find my list of the most important culinary experiences in Quebec, here.
|Smoked meats sandwich from Main Deli, Montreal|
For the best smoked meats in the city, you'll find online that Schwartz's is the place to be, but the Main Deli, just across the street, is just as good, less crowded, and has the most incredible, garlicky coleslaw (and I don't even like regular coleslaw!), and has my favorite poutine in the city.
2. Wander around Vieux Montreal
Old Montreal (vieux means old) is a handful of shop-lined streets clustered around the viuex-port on the St. Lawrence River. This is the most European part of Montreal, with cobblestone streets, 17th-19th century buildings such as Marché Bonsecours and the Notre Dame Basilica, and delicate classic French restaurants. Around the port, there is an ice skating rink in the winter, and in the summer you can rent bikes, skates, and even Segways! The paths are popular among runners and dog walkers. Don't miss the beautiful Montreal Clock Tower.
In the summer, Place Jacques-Cartier overflows with tourists enjoying restaurants' outdoor terraces and enthusiastic street performers. In the winter, the area is quiet and rather empty, but the tableau of four-foot long icicles glittering in the yellow street lamps, snow crunching underfoot, and antique window panes glazed with ice is unforgettably lovely.
|St Lawrence River, Montreal, January 2016|
|Montreal Clock Tower|
|Ice skating at Vieux-Port|
|Auberge Saint Paul|
Montreal can mean charm, beauty, classic French refinement, but it can also mean wild, rambunctious fun. The city's nightlife is extremely diverse, there's something for everyone!
You can find great energy somewhere nearly every night of the week- use this list as a starting point- there's something for everyone in Montreal!
4. Enjoy Downtown
Downtown Montreal is where the French and English meet, it is tall buildings, headquarters of international companies, "Cafe Starbucks Coffee," glamorous people, and a mix of expensive 5-star restaurants and fast food chains. You can't miss poking your head into Taverne Square Dominon, a restaurant/bar that maintains the same rich elegance as when it first opened in 1927. The menu is quite pricey, but it's worth stopping in for a ($9-13) cocktail- I recommend the Rye & Ginger!
5. See McGill's Old World Grandeur
McGill University is one of Canada's elite universities, with the most rigorous admissions process in the country. It is an English-language university located a 10 minute walk from Downtown in the direction of Mount Royal. Founded in 1821, the oldest remaining building is the central Arts Building, built in 1843. The main campus is compact, you can tour the whole thing in less than 20 minutes, and it is absolutely stunning. The 19th century neo-gothic architecture is perfectly suited for an icy winter, and in the warmer months, the wide green lawns are filled with students throwing frisbees, reading, and picnicking. A stroll through campus is definitely worth your while.
6. Mile End
This is the coolest neighborhood in Montreal. According to me...but I have a strong argument.
Mile End is 10 of the most artsy, hipster (and non-hipster) friendly blocks in North America. There are little hand drawn maps of Mile End that many business hand out to customers, placing businesses into categories such as lunetterie (glasses shop), designers Quebecois (Quebec designers), magasin de chaussures (sneakers shop), and magasin de curiosite (shop of curiosities). Vintage shopping is particularly fun here, with at least 8 stores that sell high end and low end vintage clothing and furniture.
- St. Viateur Bagel
- Cafe Olimpico
- Annex Vintage
- Dieu du Ciel beer pub
|Cheese sampler at Dieu du Ciel|
|Cafe Olimpico, Mile End|
A big hill in the center of Montreal, for which the city is named. Mount Royal Park is a popular place for outdoor activities. You'll see women jogging behind baby carriages, families taking walks, and dogs playing. In the winter, people cross-country ski, snowshoe, and sled here. The autumn foliage is beautiful, and it is a great green escape from the concrete, steel, and glass of Downtown.
8. Elaborate cathedrals
Some of Montreal's prettiest architecture come in the form of the dozens of cathedrals all over the city. In colonial times, only Roman Catholics were allowed to settle in New France, making Quebec unique among Canadian provinces with 84% of the population claiming Catholic heritage (2001 census). Some of the most stunning churches are...
|Notre-Dame Basilica, Old Montreal|
|Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, Downtown Montreal|
|Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, Old Montreal|
|Church of Saint-Pierre-Apotre, The (Gay) Village, Montreal|
There are also over 100,000 Orthodox Christians living in Quebec, worshiping at the Byzantine style St George Antiochian Orthodox Church and the 109-years-old St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Cathedral, among others. With even more Muslims than Orthodox Christians (108,000 in 2001, but that number has shot up in the past 5 years due to asylees and refugees), there are a few mosques, but none of particular architectural significance.
Taste testing your way through several of the city's best markets is the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning. Gaze at mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables and display cases with dozens of varieties of cheese. Sample different types of maple syrup (yes, there are different types!), and grab lunch at one of the small restaurants where you can watch shoppers as you eat. While you won't have the adventure of seeing the shocking cuts of raw meat or unknown fruits of markets in less developed parts of the world, the markets of Montreal are clean and organized, and provide a very pleasant (window) shopping experience. You might even see some unusual local products, like bee pollen! I recommend Marche Atwater and Marche Jean-Talon.
10. Practice Your French
Québécois is the mother tongue of 22% of Canadians (7.3 million people), about 80% of Quebec's population are native francophones, and 95% of the population speak French as their first or second language.
Once outside of Montreal (or when you get pretty deep into the residential neighborhoods of the east side), there are plenty of people who don't speak much English, but within the city people are generally bilingual. Many shop assistants, bartenders, and waiters will address you in French first, and if you respond in English, they usually switch over with you- but not always!
If you speak French and want to practice, this is the perfect place to do it. Just remember, Quebec French is quite different from French in France. If you don't speak French, you'll be fine, and probably pick up a few phrases- qui lait cru!
Go forth to Montreal with this list as a guide, but don't be afraid to stroll away from the "highlights" and find your own top 10!