Bonjour! My Christmas gift this year from Andrew was a flight to Montreal, QC. We booked the trip for the first weekend in March for a little getaway and had an amazing time there, despite it still being very chilly.
When to Visit
March is usually considered “shoulder season” in most travel locations, but in Canada, it’s definitely still winter in March. However, as a result there were no crowds, and we never had to wait for a table at a restaurant. It was also beautiful when we were there, no snow or rain, just (chilly) sunshine. I’d love to go back during the summertime, though, to really enjoy all the outdoor activities in the area, especially along the St. Lawrence River.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Le Petit Hotel in Old Port, and absolutely loved it. It’s a boutique hotel, in the middle of all the old buildings and a two minute walk from the river. They also have a 24 hour cafe in the lobby, which was especially lovely when we would come home after dinner and drinks wanting a cup of hot chocolate.
The room was pretty standard, though we did splurge for a King size one, so we would have a big bed. Each room also had Le Labo toiletries, which Andrew especially took a liking to.
We ended up getting a deal as well, since it was the off-season, and we booked three nights for the cost of two.
What to Do
We did most of our sightseeing when we arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The Notre-Dame Basilica is about 2 blocks from Le Petit Hotel, and admission is $8 CAD. I love old things, and the church is beautiful and ornate. They also give 20 minute guided tours, but that wasn’t really Andrew’s thing. Instead, we headed down the street to the next landmark, Chateau Ramezay.
Chateau Ramezay is the former governor’s residence, and houses a ton of historic artifacts from the area. Growing up alongside Lake Ontario, we learned a lot about the Iroquois and the early settlers, but had pretty limited information on colonies to the north. It was actually fascinating to see all of those works of art, maps, and items like lacrosse sticks.
While we were there, there was also a bread-making class going on, but we were exhausted and had a dinner reservation coming up, so we skipped it. The museum is two stories, and took us about an hour to get through. The lower level is set up like an actual home, with a kitchen, bedroom, dining room, etc., and there’s even this tiny little passageway between rooms that I was terrified to walk through, thinking I was going to have some kind of haunted encounter. The admission at this place is $11CAD.
The other big ~touristy~ thing we wanted to do was hike Mont Royal. Montreal is centered around this “mountain,” aka hill, that seemingly sticks up in the middle of the landscape. It was around 20 degrees, so we called an Uber to drive us to the top. From the drop-off location, it’s about a five minute walk to the overlook and lodge.
The view is beautiful — you see the buildings in the city, surrounded by the St. Lawrence, and some other small mountains in the distance. We were lucky to have a clear and sunny day, and could see forever.
There’s also a lodge up there with a fire and a cafe, where we got some chocolat chaud and regrouped before heading down the trails. From there, it’s about a 20 minute walk into the downtown area, where we wandered down Blvd. St. Laurent.
Where to Eat & Drink
Hoo boy is Montreal a food city. While they are basically a mini France (with some key differences, as outlined by the perfect article), Montreal also has deep Jewish roots, and therefore, lots of delicious and comforting foods.
Some of the best places we ate:
Modavie: We ate here our first night, where we were looking for some good French food and wine. I especially wanted a hot bowl of French onion soup, which they did here magnificently. It was also super affordable for two glasses of wine, an appetizer, and two entrees.
Arthurs: Before we visited, I mined the @tastemontreal instagram account for places to eat. I stumbled across this picture of a stack of THICK pancakes, and knew we’d have to head to Arthurs. Everything on the menu looked amazing, but we both ordered the Syrniki (pancakes) and they were unreal. If I were to go back, I think I would attack some latkes, or smoked salmon, or matzo ball soup…
St. Viateur: Another one of our “must do’s” in the city was to get Montreal-style bagels. The general consensus we got from locals and the ‘net was that St. Viateur had the best. A few weird differences between NYC bagels and Montreal ones: they call everything bagels “fully dressed,” and they also don’t put schmears or anything on the bagel for you. Instead you buy cream cheese or other spreads at the shop and dip it yourself. The bagels themselves are a little sweeter, and a little chewier than the bagels I’m used to. Delicious nonetheless.
Schwartz’s: Again, being from New York, I know about Jewish delis, so I was a little neither-here-nor-there when a few people recommended this spot. But after we got bagels and walked around a bit, we stopped by on a whim for lunch. The smoked meat sandwich was amazing. They don’t even specify what kind of meat. Just smoked meat, either on a sandwich, or you can get a pile of meat and a pile of bread and do it yourself.
La Banquise: If we didn’t get poutine, did we even go to Montreal? This place came highly recommended, even by Saint Anthony Bourdain, so we made it a must-visit. Even though I mentioned above that there were no lines or crowds, there was a line here, despite the below-freezing temperatures. We grabbed a few beers at Pit Caribou Pub down the street, and then braved the cold in the name of cheese curds. We wound up waiting about 30 minutes, about half of that outside. I’ll be honest, the poutine was good, but I don’t know that I’d say it was worth the long wait. You can’t really go wrong with poutine though.
Tommy: This place was the sleeper hit of the trip. Located just a block from our hotel, it was a sunny and delicious brunch spot before we caught our flight home on Saturday. I had a bagel with cream cheese and lox, which was perfection. The interior was decked out with plants, and was adorable. Definitely worth stopping by.
And some great spots for drinks:
The Coldroom: I have a thing for speakeasies, especially when visiting other cities. I looked up a bunch of hidden bars before visiting, and this one was right off of Rue St. Paul, and only a few blocks from our hotel. The entrance is a nondescript door, you ring a bell, and someone from the bar will come and get you to let you in. They lead you down through what looks like the freezer for another restaurant, into a cozy bar. We went here twice in the three days we were in Montreal, we loved it so much. Both times I came in and told the bartender what kind of cocktails I liked, and what I was in the mood for, and they whipped me up something custom. For example, the first night, I said I like vodka sodas (shoot me) and I was in the mood for prosecco. He made me a drink with vodka, prosecco, and strawberry puree. It was dangerous.
Bar Pampelmousse: I found this place when I was looking up beer spots, and was dying to go, if only because it looked really cute. Lots of millennial pink, and lots of good beers.
Brewsky: This was another place we went twice. The embarrassing part is that both times we sat at the same table, and the second night, the waitstaff remembered us. But obviously, since we came back, it was really good beer. Lots of different IPAs, all made in-house. They also had an unreal bacon mac and cheese.
Vices et Versa: Another place on our beer list. We loved this place. The owner was a really fun and eccentric guy who paid us great attention, and let us try great beers. We stopped in here and sat in a sunny booth, recuperating before wandering back to the hotel for dinner. I could have lounged there all day. We also got poutine here, which was incredible, and — dare I say — better than La Banquise.
This trip made me want to visit France terribly bad, but was an amazing experience in itself. I’d definitely love to come back in the summertime and spend some time eating and relaxing by the river.
Where should we head next?