For the last few years, I’ve been making an effort to take more international trips. This year, I could only get away for a long weekend. I needed a nearby destination that had an international vibe, so decided on Montreal. I had been wanting to visit the French-speaking Canadian city after hearing friends rave about it.
It seemed like the perfect mash-up of Chicago, New York and Paris, and getting there from Washington, D.C. — where I live — was relatively quick and painless. Choosing Montreal was a no-brainer.
Free; open during the day
Multiple friends recommended I hike to the top of Mont Royal. There are several paths that wind their way up to the top of the mountain, which overlooks Montreal. The park was filled with people biking, running and ambling along in no particular hurry. It turned out to be a pretty leisurely hike, but you can make it as strenuous or casual as you’d like.
The views at the top were outstanding. Situated at the crest of a large plaza is the Mont Royal Chalet, which features a grand hall, a quaint gift shop and, most importantly, public restrooms. Soon after we arrived at the summit, we were treated to an impromptu jazz performance by a six-piece ensemble. We enjoyed the afternoon, eating ice cream and taking in live music as we lazily hung out in a secluded grassy area behind the chalet.
- If you’re interested in the history of Mont Royal, look at the calendar of events on its website for guided walking tour times.
The host of our Airbnb in Little Italy mapped out her go-to recommendations for some charming vintage and consignment shops. Paired with some of my own research and suggestions from friends, we decided to spend an afternoon checking out the shops in Mile End.
Mile End is a neighborhood known for its arts and culture since the ’80s and showcases a lot of art galleries, boutiques and consignment stores.
5145 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
The owner, Jennifer Glasgow, has her own clothing line, which you can find in the store. The shop carries handcrafted goods from more than 60 designers from Montreal and Greater Quebec.
56 Saint-Viateur Street Ouest
This shop carries ’90s-style clothes, as well as a huge selection of pins and patches. We both purchased a few choice items from this shop.
5141 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
This vintage and consignment shop had a great, curated selection of men and women’s clothing. The staff was exceedingly kind and beyond helpful. I managed to find a great T-shirt and necklace here.
7070 Henri Julien Ave.
In the heart of Little Italy sits the Jean Talon public market. It was one of the best open-air markets I’ve been to. Established in 1933, it is one of the oldest markets in Montreal. From bookstores to fruit stands to an olive oil shop, there are plenty of stores to peruse.
After an afternoon of air travel, we were craving a quiet night in, so we scoured the market for food. We picked up meats, cheeses, pickles, bread and several types of beer. Despite being tired, we ended up spending several hours exploring the market and sampling food, including foie gras crème brûlée. (I’m going to suggest passing on that one.)
On our last day, we made sure to stop by the chocolate shop to pick up some gifts for family (and ourselves).
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is sampling different versions of the same dish, especially if the city is well known for a particular food or specialty. On this trip, it was Montreal-style bagels. (I’m a huge fan of New York-style bagels, so this was a must.) Battle of the bagels was on. Conveniently, both bagel bakeries are located in Mile End, so we had a chance to eat while thrifting. The two well-known bagel shops are often in competition for the title of Montreal’s best bagel.
263 Rue St. Viateur O
St. Viateur has been around since the late 1950s. The founder, Myer Lewkowicz, was born in Poland and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. When he arrived in Canada in 1953, he didn’t know anything about making bagels, although he quickly learned the trade.
74 Avenue Fairmount O
Isadore Shlafman opened the Montreal Bagel Bakery in 1919, and it’s often referred to as the city’s first bagel bakery. It was originally located on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, but Shlafman moved it to Fairmount Street in 1949. It is still family-owned.
Although, I loved the Montreal-style bagels, New York-style bagels still have my heart.
Tip: Do not ask for a toasted bagel. Ever.
5550 Boulevard Saint Laurent
After a long day of walking around Mile End, we passed an eccentric corner bar. The floor-to-ceiling windows were wide open and groups of young people were enjoying the afternoon, beers in hand. (Isn’t it great, when you happen upon random places instead of looking up recommendations?) We decided to stop in on the way back to our Airbnb for a couple of cocktails and my first poutine experience. I was skeptical of the Quebec specialty — French fries, cheese curd and brown gravy — but ended up loving it. Don’t leave Montreal without trying it. I loved it so much I ended up ordering it again at the airport before we left.
222 Avenue Laurier Ouest
My boyfriend and I are equally obsessed with delicious things. In advance of our trips, we make it a point to research the food scene of our destination city. Typically, we like to make reservations at one or two places and then play the rest by ear. I found this brunch place on an Eater list of best brunch spots in Montreal. Inside, the restaurant was minimal and airy with some quirky décor. We were seated outside on the patio, and it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I had breakfast sandwich, and my boyfriend ordered the fresh herb omelette. They were simple ingredients, but the execution was on point.
68 Avenue Fairmount O
After trying the bagels at Fairmount, we saw several people eating gnocchi out of take-out boxes. We couldn’t resist. This takeout window offers a sizable container of gnocchi for only $5.
5183 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Boucle et Papier is a small shop that carries a variety of paper goods, cards and other gifts. I’m always on the lookout for small gifts and mementos to buy for friends when I’m on vacation.
5478 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
This shop is a combination of an art gallery, antique store, paper boutique and curiosity shop. The owner kept several flat-file drawers on site, filled with hundreds of artist prints, postcards and small trinkets. The sign in the window is what lured me in: “Yes true there is something to be said about invisible worlds.”
Skip a few restaurant meals and pick up snacks at the Jean Talon Market. Our spread below was surprisingly cheap — and filling.
If I’m going to splurge on one thing during vacation, it’s a good meal. My boyfriend chose Hoogan et Beaufort. This restaurant features contemporary Quebecois cuisine. It’s always fun to get dressed up and venture out for a fancy dinner. We ordered warm oysters to start, a pasta course of fresh cheese Agnolotti and finally, a rib steak with maitake, fingerling potatoes and asparagus. Everything was phenomenal.
Getting to Montreal on Porter Airlines was one of the best flying experiences I’ve ever had. Their airport lounge is set up like a laid-back living room with modules of four seats. They offer complimentary tea, soda, espresso and bottled water. Plus, they have the best snack mix.
Lyft isn’t available in Montreal, so for ride-sharing services, Uber is your best bet.
I recommend walking as much as possible to soak up the local flavor.
Graphic designer and calligrapher
Canadian Etienne Savaria has lived in Montreal for seven years.
“My family comes from Montreal, and when I was a kid at school, the teacher asked us where we would dream to live when we would be older,” Savaria said. “Everybody else would say: Paris, London, New York or Rome. I said Montreal, for family and [its] passion for hockey.”