Picture yourself walking along skyscraper-lined streets with trendy cafes, stylish markets, and an occasional souvenir shop. The cultural landscape is chic and hip, with a strong emphasis on its British ancestry. Throw in the fact that the area is one of the hottest food destinations in the country, and that is the setting for Old Montreal, Canada.
Montreal offers a glimpse into Canada’s rich past and French heritage through its diverse European charms and beauty. Montreal is a place you will want to get lost in and take the cobblestone side streets to find your way back. In the second-largest French-speaking city, you can glimpse world-famous attractions, historic venues (including an Olympic site), and dine in some of the country’s tastiest restaurants.
I visited Montreal in the fall of 2019 before boarding a Holland America Canada & New England familiarization/hosted cruise. My friend and I arrived in Montreal of the evening and had a day to explore the city before boarding the cruise ship. I would suggest another two days to really get to know this awesome destination.
Keep in mind not everyone in Montreal speaks English, but you should still be able to navigate around and community just fine.
Begin your visit to downtown Montreal by strolling St. Paul’s Street. Here, you will find boutiques, cafes, and even pop-up shops that are only around for a short amount of time. Sherbrooke and Sainte-Catherine Streets are two of Montreal’s most upscale shopping areas, with both malls and designer stores. Montreal’s diverse French, Chinese, Italian, and Caribbean influences are displayed in the goods for sale. The American dollar is accepted in several places around Montreal, and the rest take credit cards or Canadian dollars.
The Château Ramezay Gardens (Governor’s Garden) is a favorite Old Montreal attraction and the oldest museum in the city. It offers gorgeous flowers and trees, ornamental gardens, and history. Château Ramezay was built in 1705 as the governor’s residence and is encircled by a photogenic stone wall. Costumed interpreters help share the gardens’ important past. You will be in an oasis of beauty in the heart of the bustling city when you visit this peaceful setting.
Come to Montreal in June or July. You can participate in one of the country’s most significant events, the
The Montreal International Jazz Festival is a 10-day event, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest jazz festival. It features nearly 500 concerts with an international group of talented musicians, many of which are free to see.
Walk, walk, walk, or take the bus or a taxi in Montreal—this is one of the most accessible cities to enjoy by foot and by merely following a map or app. Uber is not recommended because satellites cannot find you between the abundance of high-rises. You could also take the Metro, with 68 easy to use, and get to stations around the city.
Flying into Montreal (Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport –YUL) is one way to get there. Still, you can also visit the city on a Canadian/New England cruise that either starts or finishes here. Consider adding on a few extra days to see Montreal at your leisure. Your cruise line may offer deeply discounted hotels during pre and post-cruise nights.
A Cultural Windfall
The more well-known places to visit in Montreal are those with a cultural designation, UNESCO World Heritage titles, and historical events. Old Montreal’s Place Jacques Cartier is lined with kiosks (shops), vast pots of blooming plants, and plenty of noteworthy tourist attractions. At the Old Port of Montreal, ride the photogenic Montreal Observation Wheel (the tallest in Canada) or try out a biplane. You are bound to see rollerbladers, Segway enthusiasts, and cyclists taking advantage of the waterfront area.
Next, check out Rue Saint-Paul (St. Paul Street), Montreal’s oldest and most charming street, literally oozing with charm. Bonsecours Market is a 150-year-old bazaar with everything you could wish for under one domed roof.
Montreal’s impressive Biodôme (fresh off a major renovation) has an indoor nature museum, insectarium, gardens, greenhouses and is home to 4500 animals and 500 plants. It is simply outstanding! The Montreal Botanical Garden is recognized amongst the world’s best exhibits due to its extensive collections. Steps away are Olympic Park, the site of the 1976 Summer Olympics (think Bruce Jenner, Leon and Michael Spinks, Greg Louganis).
Visit the Gothic Revival style Notre Dame Basilica for amazing photos of a lavish cathedral from 1888. Unlike most cathedrals, Notre Dame’s stained glass windows depict Montreal’s history, not Biblical scenes. Guided tours are available for a small fee and last around twenty minutes. Found in Old Montreal, North America’s most European neighborhood that dates back to 1642, you will see plenty of exciting things here. One of the most recognizable is the Clock Tower, a landmark along the St. Lawrence River. Climb to the top for magnificent city views and enjoy the fresh air.
Mount Royal Park, designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted, is perfect for enjoying fresh-air activities or lake activities. You could also take a day trip from Montreal to explore Quebec City, the provincial capital of Canada found three hours away.
Montreal’s Fine Food Scene
As mentioned previously, Montreal is one of Canada’s tastiest and most Epicurean cities. It offers dozens upon dozens of microbreweries, local pubs, independent restaurants, and fine-dining, 5200 establishments to be exact. Some of the best eats in Canada are within walking distance of downtown Montreal.
For a tasty coffee and pastry pairing, try ALOHA Coffee Bar, serving only 100% pure Kona Coffee. Aloha Coffee also dishes up masterful Acai, Poke, and Pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls. Some visitors may be more loyal to Tim Hortons, a Canadian powerhouse that sells countless cups of coffee and Tim Bites (what we call donut holes).
Try Olive & Gourmando, an adorable French cafe, for a cozy setting packed with big flavors and exciting menu items, such as Roasted Veggie Frittata, housemade soups, and granolas. Go early as this is a hotspot in Montreal, and lines form quickly.
Indulge in one of the best crepes of your life or a decadent fondue pot at Crêperie Chez Suzette in Place-d’Armes. You can’t come to Montreal, or Canada, period, without trying Poutine (French fries, gravy, and melted cheese). At Bier Markt (found in various locations of Montreal), diners find delicious poutine dishes, such as Bacon Poutine with smoked bacon, crème fraîche, and green onions. Bier Markt proudly offers locally-sourced food and made-from-scratch dishes, live music, and a killer beer and wine selection.
If you are celebrating a special holiday or want one of the most memorable dining experiences of your life, make your reservation at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the Casino de Montréal. It is located at the stunning sight of the 1967 World’s Fair.
A Provocative Montreal Nightlife
Montreal touts Canada’s party capital; there is as much to do at night as there is of the day. Its nightlife boasts an enthusiastic crowd of hipsters and trendy socialites who love the cutting edge bar and club scene found here, on point with some of the swankiest cities in the world. With dive bars, lounges, dance clubs, guest DJs, and after-hours establishments, you will find plenty of places to dance, drink, socialize, and enjoy toe-tapping music in Montreal.
One of the city’s top spots is Candi Bar, with festive vibes, a pink and purple Mega Bloks bar, and spinning disco balls. And yes, all drinks do come with some sort of candy, as the name implies.
Excellent Lodging Choices
A great hotel option for location, price, and comfort is the Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel. Le Centre has an attractive lobby, friendly staff, and comfortable rooms, all within walking distance of downtown Montreal.
Also in downtown Montreal is The Queen Elizabeth, a Fairmont Hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to provide luxury accommodations along the train routes across Canada. Today, the hotel chain offers world-class accommodations and is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded the song “Give Peace a Chance” (room 1742) during their anti-war Bed-In back in 1969. Marché Artisans (the hotel’s gourmet market and pantry) features seven tasty counters for pizza, fresh seafood, sweets, pastries, and more.
Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth adjoins Montreal’s Underground City, a series of connected offices, stores, convention halls, hotels, schools, and art venues run 20 miles beneath the City Centre. They do not run underground but are internally connected. Nearly half a million people travel through the area per day.
Montreal has many trendy boutique hotels or dependable hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, and Loews. Most have an affordable price tag, and amenities are comparable to US standards.
Montreal, A City Worth Exploring
From world-class museums and attractions to charming cobblestone streets waltzing through European-inspired landscapes, Montreal, Canada, is well worth the time spent to get there. Pack your most comfortable walking shoes and hit the pavement as you explore a fascinating city bursting with culture and diversity.
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See how you can cruise to this unique destination in this post: New England to Canada with Holland America.
Check out Prince Edward Island, too, a port of call on the New England/Canada cruise.