Montreal
Local Perspective: Montreal

Montreal is a city of dichotomies. Locals speak French and English; winters are freezing and summers humid; the city’s architecture is both contemporary and historic; and its vibe balances French sophistication with North American grittiness. Often called Canada’s cultural capital, Montreal is a city of festivals, parks, fine dining and live music. Its various boroughs reflect the city’s diversity, creativity and contagious joie de vivre.

Eat

Photo: Mickael Bandassak, courtesy of Lawrence Restaurant
Photo: Mickael Bandassak, courtesy of Lawrence Restaurant

Montreal’s culinary options are endless. From haute cuisine to outdoor markets, treasured Jewish delis to local eateries, it can be hard to know where to start.

For travellers who need their coffee first, the funky Mile End neighborhood has an impressive selection of independent cafés. (1) Le Dépanneur Café is a neighborhood favorite, with eccentric, living-room style décor and live piano music. For a sit-down brunch, (2) Lawrence has a popular menu in a contemporary, British-inspired room with an unpretentious vibe. But for those wanting to avoid Lawrence’s consistent lineup, (3) Larrys, the more casual offshoot, is another fine place to start the day. Go in the morning for the a la carte brunch menu and return in the evening for the exceptional wine selection.

(1) 206 Rue Bernard W.
(2) 5201 Blvd. St. Laurent
(3) 9 Fairmount Ave. E.

Marché Atwater produce – Photo: Yuri Long
Marché Atwater produce – Photo: Yuri Long

For lunch, venture to Little Burgundy’s charming (1) Le Vin Papillon. While it doesn’t take reservations, lucky diners can land a spot on the beautiful back-alley terrace. The creative menu is vegetable-focused but accented with French cheeses, cured meats and seafood. The nearby farmers market, (2) Marché Atwater, is another culinary experience worth the trip. Sitting on the edge of the Lachine Canal, it is known for its fresh produce and the famed patisseries at Premiere Moisson.

Back in Mile End, taste-test the city’s famous bagel options. (3) St-Viateur Bagel and (4) Fairmount Bagel, located a few blocks apart, both make dense, sweet, Montreal-style bagels. Each establishment has its own share of loyal customers.

(1) 2519 Rue Notre-Dame W.
(2) 138 Atwater Ave.
(3) 263 Rue Saint Viateur W.
(4) 74 Avenue Fairmount W.

Photo: Hans Laurendeau of Shoot Studio, courtesy of Toqué! restaurant
Photo: Hans Laurendeau of Shoot Studio, courtesy of Toqué! restaurant

Montreal is a top destination for fine-dining. Visit the heart of the Quartier internationale for (1) Toqué!, a popular Quebecois restaurant, or Old Montreal’s (2) Garde Manger for the lobster poutine, a decadent twist on the province’s famed dish.

(1) 900 Jean Paul Riopelle Pl.
(2) 408 St Francois Xavier St.

Explore

Museum of Fine Arts – Photo: Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock
Museum of Fine Arts – Photo: Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock

Montreal is a haven for art-lovers. The (1) Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a good place to start, with multidisciplinary exhibitions that combine the fine arts with film, fashion and design. Montreal’s streets themselves are brimming with art; the charming Plateau neighbourhood (the “Greenwich Village” of Montreal) features stunning murals that stand out behind its many café terraces. Start your walking tour on the pedestrian-only stretch of Rue Prince Arthur.

(1) 1380 Sherbrooke St. W.

View from Mount Royal park – Photo: Chris Seddon/Shutterstock
View from Mount Royal park – Photo: Chris Seddon/Shutterstock

Complementing Montreal’s street culture are its many urban parks. A favorite ritual for locals and visitors alike is the weekly Sunday festival, informally named Tam-Tams, in Mount Royal Park. Its onomatopoeic name is for the sound of the central drum circle, which congregates around the George-Etienne Cartier Monument. Dancers and picnickers gather to take in the music or witness the larpers and slackliners at play. For a break from the commotion, venture up Mount Royal to take in the downtown skyline.

In the evenings, many of Montreal’s favorite restaurants and cafes transform into live music venues. (1) Casa Del Popolo, a vegetarian bistro on the popular St. Laurent Boulevard, becomes an atmospheric bar; its showroom hosts underground and local musicians on the brink of notoriety (Arcade Fire often played here in their early days). Across the street, (2) Divan Orange offers slightly more experimental sounds. Depending on the night, you may encounter electronic, bluegrass, hip hop or indie tunes.

(1) 4873 St Laurent Blvd.
(2) 4234 St Laurent Blvd.

Photo: Drowster, as seen in City Limitless: Montreal
Discover the Sutton Mid-Volume duffle and more from the Studio Collection
Photo: Drowster, as seen in City Limitless: Montreal Discover the Sutton Mid-Volume duffle and more from the Studio Collection

In terms of getting around, the underground Montreal Metro is one of North America’s largest rapid transit networks, and a great way to navigate the city. The compact and lively neighborhoods can easily be explored by foot, or by utilizing the BIXI bike-share system.

Relax

For an upscale European-style experience, check into (1) Hotel Le St-James in Old Montreal. Once a Merchants’ Bank, the hotel features a luxury spa in the former vault.

For lodgings right on the St. Lawrence river, book a room at (2) Auberge du Vieux-Port. Built in renovated century-old warehouses, the hotel is within walking distance of Old Montreal and (3) Place Des Arts, the largest arts center in the city.

(1) 355 St Jacques St.
(2) 97 de la Commune St E.
(3) 175 Saint-Catherine St.

Written by Brittany McGillivray

Headline image by Alex Jodoin

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