Two weekends ago I got to visit a city that had been on my wish list for several years – Montreal. Maybe it was the allure of a foreign city with Parisian influences combined with its irresistible proximity (only a 5 hour drive), but by Memorial Day weekend I was committed to indulging my wanderlust. And luckily I could do so on a budget! Montreal is a bilingual city though French is dominant. If you’re not fluent in French (or don’t speak a word of it like me), have no fear, Montrealers will patiently transition to English. Read on to find out where to stay, what to do, and, most importantly, what to eat.
Where to stay
Since I planned my trip literally just a few days before arriving (I’m spontaneous like that), I looked to Airbnb for deals and stumbled upon the room below that seemed too good to be true for under $100 a night. Sure enough, when I arrived the room looked as clean and charmingly chic as it did in the photo. Plus, it was just a few subway stops from Old Montreal and it’s nice to feel like one of the locals. Prefer a hotel? No problem, check out these listings.
What to see & do
Montreal is a very walkable city with reliable public transit; in order to see everything on your bucket list, you’ll definitely want to buy a metro pass and of course, wear comfortable shoes. Want to get around with Uber instead? Get a free ride up to $20 with my promo code: dianet126.
I was lucky that I happened to be visiting the weekend of Museum Day when dozens of museums were free of charge (score!). Admittedly, I didn’t get to see everything but that’s why I’m mentally planning a winter trip (who else wants to see ice sculptures and the underground city?).
Between the swaths of urban streets, you can find over a dozen parks to relax and enjoy nature. The Old Port has the gorgeous Parc Lineaire de la Commune (photos below), which is near several really good food trucks, the Montreal Science Centre, and the historic sites downtown. Other must-see parks are Mount Royal which overlooks the entire city, and the exquisite Botanical Garden.
If you drive in to Montreal, one of the first landmarks you’ll see is the Biosphère, a large geodesic dome that houses an environmental museum. Montreal is a very environmentally conscious city so it’s no surprise that there’s a museum dedicated to climate change and sustainable development. I also got my dose of fashion when I visited because the Outfits from a New Era exhibition was going on, which showcased sustainable outfits repurposed from industrial and technological waste. Take a look at some of the outfits I snapped (I love museums that allow you to take photos).
Aside from the fashion exhibit, one of my favorite parts about visiting the Biosphere was going up to the rooftop to see a view of the city.
And now for the fashion:
Other museums to add to your list are Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal. Here you can discover contemporary photography, mixed media, and paintings from artists in Canada and Europe. If you prefer history, be sure to check out the Château Ramezay historic home with its beautiful garden, just a few blocks from the subway station. Hungry yet? There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from just in Old Montreal alone. Read below for some of my faves.
Where to eat
Let’s start with poutine since it is native to Quebec. In case you don’t know, poutine is a dish consisting of fries, gravy, and cheese – basically, the epitome of hearty comfort food. Once you try it, regular American fries will seem bland by comparison and you’ll wonder how you ever got by without the addition of gravy and cheese. Moving along. I found my favorite poutine from Dic Ann’s food truck, where they use shredded cheese over cheese curds (much, much preferred) and spicy meat sauce. I’m craving it as I type this.
Poutine for brunch ?? bc why not? Carbing before hitting the museums for #museumday. #Montreal A photo posted by Style Context by Diane Taha ? (@stylecontext) on
There are several food trucks near the Old Port and another favorite is this cookies truck called Felix and Norton. Who can pass up cookies and milk?
A photo posted by Style Context by Diane Taha ? (@stylecontext) on
Time for lunch! If you’ve been walking around all day and need a quick carb with protein fix, you should try the famous Schwartz’s, Montreal’s version of Katz’s Delicatessen in NYC. Yes, it’s a tourist hotspot and we had to wait in line for 30 minutes, but it was worth the wait. So freakin’ good.
Speaking of good, this macaron from Juliette & Chocolat was epic. You’ll want to get the chocolate milkshake as well.
The first meal I had in Montreal was at Orange Julep, a personal recommendation from a TD Ameritrade teller. I’m not sure if this is the In-n-Out or Shake Shack of Montreal but it seems to be pretty well loved in the area. The retro style establishment has all the fast food you could ask for – hamburgers, hot dogs, poutine, and their famous orange milkshakes that perfectly complement the greasy food.
Now on to brunch, if you love carbs (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), you NEED to try this decadent French toast from Le Vieux Velo in Little Italy.
And finally, something healthy and vegetarian-friendly from La Récolte Espace Local. This “Mexican” inspired dish uses carrots and cumin to create “guacamole” (hey, I admire what chefs do to compensate for lack of avocados), and even though it doesn’t taste like guacamole it was surprisingly good and blended well with the rest of the dish. The kasha was especially good, too.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about Montreal street style. Like their French counterparts in Paris, Montrealers dress with a simple, effortless edge combined with a New England utilitarian sensibility that is most likely influenced by the cooler climate. You won’t find people overdressed or with a full face of makeup at brunch like you will in NYC, but they always look put together and natural.
Side note: even if you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll want to pack a jacket. Montreal can get ridiculously windy and chilly. I visited in late May and wished I had packed a pair of gloves or a hat for the first couple days.
Have you ever visited Montreal? Let me know what you would recommend doing in the comments.
P.S.: Planning a trip soon? Visit my beauty guide to packing.