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Montreal Destination Guide - View from Mont Royal

Montreal: A Destination Guide

Introduction

The city of Montreal has long been known for its European influences – reminders of its time under both French and British can be seen in its historic buildings. But the city has come a long way from its colonial days to become quite the modern bustling city bursting with historic charm. While no longer a French colony, you can still find plenty of French flair in both the language and food. This Canadian city was once known as “Sin City” to Americans back during the prohibition days due to its unparalleled nightlife. While no one is crossing the border to sneak a sip of gin, you can still find plenty of great watering holes throughout the city – among other things. Join us as we explore the different nooks and crannies of this ever-changing dynamic metropolis.

Know Before You Go 

  • Currency: The Canadian Dollar (CAD) is the currency used in Canada.
  • Airport: The main airport (domestic and international) is Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL).
  • Language: You’ll find both English and French spoken in Montreal – most signs will have both languages.
  • To/From the Airport:
    • Taxi: A taxi (which you should have no trouble picking up) should cost about 40 CAD from the airport to downtown (flat fare).
    • Uber: Ubers are currently not allowed to pick up passengers from the airport, however, you can take one to the airport. An UberX cost us about 30 CAD
    • Public Transportation: The 747 Express is a bus you can take from the airport to Downtown Montreal and runs 24 hours a day. It costs $10 CAD and takes about 45 minutes to get to the city. Your bus pass will also be good for unlimited transit for 24 hours on public transportation (metro and buses). There are 4 vending machines located in the International Arrivals area (cash, debit and credit – Visa and Mastercard – accepted), or you can pay onboard, but only coins are accepted.
  • Getting Around:
    • Public Transportation: If you’re looking to get around by bus or metro, it’s run by Société de transport de Montreal (STM). Rides cost $3.25 CAD each way, though become cheaper if you buy round trip tickets or passes valid for the day or week.
    • Uber: Montreal is a fairly smallish and walkable city. Since I was traveling in a group of 4, an Uber was the easiest and most cost effective way for us to get around – trips cost no more than $10 CAD in an UberX
  • Tipping: As is typical in North America, 15-20% gratuity is common for good service
  • Credit Cards vs Cash: Credit Card is accepted widely, though it would be handy to have a small amount of cash on you – especially if visiting Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.
  • ATMs: The major banks in Canada include Bank of Montreal (BMO), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), so you should have no trouble finding these banks’ ATMs in the city.
  • Neighborhoods – If you’re looking for cute and quaint, head to Old Montreal. For a fun night scene, you’ll find yourself at home in the Plateau area.
  • Must-Try Food: You can’t visit Canada without having some poutine!

The Details

See & Do

  • Parc du Mont Royal – You’d never guess, but the mountain at the center of the park sits on top of what used to be a complex volcano. Don’t expect any eruptions these day, but if you make your way up the main peak, you’ll find a pretty gorgeous view of the city. Tip: to get to the lookout point, you’ll want to follow signs to Chalet du Mont-Royal.
  • Square Saint-Louis – Nestled in the Mile End neighborhood, you’ll find plenty of picture-perfect Victorian homes in this part of town. And we aren’t kidding about picture-perfect: the most photographed homes are the three off tree-lined Square Saint-Louis, which you’ll find on plenty of postcards.
  • Underground City – If you have a few Canadian brands you shop at often, so if you’re in Montreal, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to hunt down some stores (it’s about 25% cheaper in Canada thanks to the exchange rate!) . In Downtown Montreal, you’ll find plenty of shops (of the local and international variety) plus a network of underground tunnels that connect most of the buildings. This is great in the winter when temperatures can be freezing – if you manage to figure out how the tunnels work, of course
L-R: Parc du Mont Royal, View of Montreal from Parc du Mont Royal, Victorian Houses in the Mile End neighborhood, Square Saint-Louis
  • Old Montreal – The oldest area in the city (as the name suggests), you’ll find a few buildings that date back to the city’s days as a French colony. Some notable buildings in the area include Montreal City Hall and Saint-Sulpice Seminary (the oldest building in Montreal).
    • Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal – Right in the heart of Old Montreal, off the famed Place d’Armes, sits the gorgeous Notre Dame Basilica. Built in 1829, perhaps you’ve heard of this church before because Celine Dion said her “I Dos” here in 1994. Celine fan or not, there’s no denying that the Gothic Revival architecture is stunning. Entrance to the church will cost you 5 CAD, cash only. Opening hours vary by day, but plan on arriving by 3pm since visiting hours end generally around 4pm.
    • Bonsecours Market – This two-story market (recognizable by the iconic dome that sits atop the building) is a great spot to pop into for some shopping and a quick bite. Before its life as a retail and restaurant space, it had once been a hotel, event banquet, and municipal office space, housing Parliament for one session in 1849.
    • Old Port – The waterfront area is a popular spot in the warmer months, but in the off-season, you can walk by the St. Lawrence river and pop into the  Montréal Science Centre, or go see the Montreal Clock Tower.
L-R: Montreal City Hall, Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal, Inside the Notre-Dame Basilica, Old Port
  • Montreal Biodome – Built in the 1970s for the olympics, the building now houses a replica of four ecosystems existing in the Americas – a tropical rainforest replica of a South American rainforest, a Laurentian forest replica of the North American wilderness, the Saint Lawrence Marine eco system modeled after the Gulf of St. Lawrnence, and a polar area, split into the Arctic and Antarctic. Okay, since this is an indoor exhibit, we feasibly could have made this given the weather, but we ran out of time.
  • Montreal Botanical Garden – The 190 acre space boasts 4 main areas with different themed gardens (plus 10 exhibition greenhouses) – the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the First Nations Garden, and the Alpine Garden. Different areas of the Garden have different rates, but visit their website for specifics.

Drink

  • Le LAB Comptoir a Cocktails – Stirring up quite possibly some of the prettiest cocktails you’ll ever see, they also serve up homemade syrup. Happy Hour runs from 5-7 PM, Monday-Friday.
    1351 Rue Rachel E, Montréal, QC H2J 2K2
    http://www.barelab.com
  • Dieu du Ciel! – A must-stop for craft beer lovers. This brew-pub offers a wide array of in-house beers that is popular among locals and visitors alike. With an every-changing beer menu, we recommend trying a flight to get a true taste of different beers. The kitchen also serves up some good eats to snack on while sipping on brews.
    29 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal, QC H2T 2N2
    http://dieuduciel.com/
  • La Buvette chez Simone – A fantastic spot in the Mile End area to end a day of exploring with a glass of wine and tapas. The constantly rotating wine list means the selection never gets boring. The place gets busy after work and after dinner hours, so make sure to come a little early to avoid the crowds.
    4869 Park Ave, Montreal, QC H2V 4E7
    http://buvettechezsimone.com/

Eat

  • Schwartz’s – The must-stop deli in town, and with good reason. The line out the door looks intimidating, but it moves fairly quickly – we only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. The Smoked Meat is their specialty, so we recommend ordering it if you pop by. Oh – and if this is your first trip to Canada, you might want to order a side of poutine too. Cash only.
    3895 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2W 1X9
    http://www.schwartzsdeli.com/
  • Barroco – After a long day of exploring, enjoy a delightful dinner at one of Montreal’s local spots. We liked Barroco in Old Montreal – a darling, quaint spot in a charming neighborhood. If you like fresh pasta, the Tagliatelle Vesuvio is a dish not to be missed, while carnivores should be sure to try the 12-hour braised Beef Shortribs. Reservations can be made online or by calling the restaurant directly.
    312 Rue Saint-Paul O, Montréal, QC H2Y 2A3
    http://www.barroco.ca/
  • Le Cartet  – If you’re in the market for brunch, there is no shortage of inviting restaurants to try – especially in the Old Montreal area. Pop into Le Cartet, which houses a boutique of specialty foods and snacks and serves up a mean brunch menu. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the blueberry bread is definitely worth trying. A warning for picky eaters: menu items cannot be modified.
    106 Rue McGill, Montréal, QC H2Y 2E5, Canada
    http://www.lecartet.com/
L-R: Tagliatelle Vesuvio at Barroco, Smoked Meat sandwich at Schwartz’s, Poutine at Schwartz’s, Blueberry bread at Le Cartet

Stay

  • Hotel St. Paul – Located on the edge of Old Montreal, this Design Hotel (and new member to the Starwood Design Hotel portfolio) is a great property to stay at if you tend to frequent Old Montreal. See our review of this hotel here. Rates run $130-$250 USD.
    355 Rue McGill, Montréal, QC H2Y 2E8
    www.hotelstpaul.com/
  • The Ritz-Carlton – If you need to be in the downtown area, this will be a much better property for proximity to convenient shops and food options. Plus, it’s a quick 2 blocks away from the Station Peel Metro stop. Rates run from $350-$450 USD.
    1228 Sherbrooke West, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1H6, Canada
    http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/canada/montreal
  • Place d’Armes Hotel & Suites – Located just steps from its namesake,  this boutique hotel is modern, though you can see touches of its history in the original brick walls throughout the property. The property boasts 133 well-appointed rooms, plus a rooftop patio, and a rainspa. Rates run from $200-350 USD.
    55 St Jacques St, Montreal, QC H2Y 1K9
    http://hotelplacedarmes.com/
L-R: Photos from the Hotel St. Paul in Old Montreal
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