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45 things to do in Montreal before you’re dead

42

October 6, 2010 by joolsstone

This was my entry in a blogging competition, which won me a trip to Montreal in February 2011.

The best way to see Canada is by train. Check out the luxury Rocky Mountaineer service, as well as Via Rail’s equally excellent Canadian train.

Twitch Way to Montreal?

Tourists crossing, Montreal

OK, here’s the deal. I want to go to Montreal and you can help me twitch hike my way there. You know about twitchiker right? He’s the guy who’s blagged and couchsurfed his way around half the world relying solely on the kindness of stwangers on twitter.

Keeping it Montreal

My little project runs along similar lines.  I’ve asked the lovely tweeple of Canada to ply me with juicy sweetmeats on Montreal’s hidden gems. And boy did those little chickadees deliver the goods! If I win, they’ll have spirited me away from my Edinburgh sofa to the amazing cultural melting pot just across the Atlantic that is Montreal.

Blog Travels Competition

When I heard the weblog travels competition was offering a trip to Montreal I just couldn’t resist chancing my arm and writing about a city thousands of miles away in a continent I’ve never visited.  And they say I’m not a proper adventure armchair traveller! So, here’s my potted poutine guide to the city’s must-dos from your man absolutely nowhere near the scene. If I win, the ice-cold Labatts are on me.  Deal?  Deal.  Now on with the show!

1. Wrap up Warm!

OK, so my first tip may have been a little facetious: ‘It’s cold in winter’ Terence Carter told me. But what else to expect  from the two-man GranTourismo toboggan team?  They’ve been there, snapped that and written the guidebook – and then some.  So mark their words and pack those thermals folks.

2. Cheer on the Habs

The Habs and Hab nots

The Habs play the Hab nots

Ice hockey is Canada’s national sport.  According to Jerry Evans of Inspired Train ‘the Habs (AKA Les Montreal Canadiens) are a religion, they did really well last season.’ So get the puck down to a Habs game and see the sticks and blood fly at close quarters.

3. Practice your French

Montreal is Canada’s most European city with a strong heritage of French language and culture.  It can seem a little aloof if you can’t parlez Francais though, so brush up before you go and make an effort when you get there.  (But it’s not as rad as Quebec apparently.)

4. Dig a Museum

Montreal has more than its fair share of history and culture. Marsha of Single Occupancy Blog recommends the archaeological dig at Pointe a Calliere Museum. Just one of many great museums to shelter in on those chilly afternoons.

5. Bang a Drum with some Hippies

Spring Tamtam at Mont Royal

Hippy Hotty Tamtam at Mont Royal

Every summer Sunday you can do something genuinely offbeat and bang out a rhythm at the Mont Royal Drum Circle, or just laze around and hang with hundreds of hippies, picnicking and nodding along to the reggae sounds, as suggested by Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic.

6. Watch some Sparks fly

Montreal has the world’s largest fireworks competition. 8 teams compete with 30 minutes of spectacular pyrotechnics while the judges ooh and ahh from La Ronde. Join them or watch open-mouthed from the equally well-placed Jacques Cartier Bridge.

7.  Spot the Slebs at the Top Table

The laid-back and much loved Le Club Chasse restaurant is a popular hangout of many celebrities. Twilight stars Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart were caught canoodling over the  guinea hen with pork compote recently.

8. Chew on a Beavertail

Look at this little beauty, nuff said!

9.  Get Cash back on your Shopping

Here’s a city that knows how to reward its visiting shoppers. You can get up to 20% tax rebate on your duty-free purchases when you leave the city, so spend, spend, spend!  A pair of jeans in Gap might set you back around $50 Canadian dollars before the rebate.

10. Explore the Underground City

 

Montreal’s underground shopping mall is quite a draw. Harsh winters mean that they’ve built a massive complex of shops, bars and restaurants in which you can comfortably empty your wallet without surfacing above ground. The city has the largest subterranean city area in the world, stretching for some 20 miles.

11. Venture into another type of Underground

No poutine for you!

No poutine for you!

For the more outre, there are fetish and vampire clubs. You can even take a Hells Angels tour of the city apparently.  But be careful, the underworld here is very much alive and well – or not as the case may be.

12. Stay out all Night in the name of Culture

The High Lights Festival thumbs its nose at winter each February with a smorgasbord of performing arts, fine wining and dining, the celebration of light and Le Nuit Blanches, all night festivities with free public transport laid on.

13. Bike about for Free

Bikes in Montreal

Getting Bike Curious?

It’s easy to get about in Montreal thanks to the pioneering Bixi scheme, which gives you up to half an hour of free biking or 24 hours for $5. Its trailblazing success has led to its adoption in Paris and London. And if you want your own set of custom spokes check out the folks at Bikurious, a gay-friendly bike shop.

14. Go Jogging for Jesus

Start the day with an invigorating ascent up to the stunning St Joseph’s Oratory for great views over the city, as recommended by ex-pat Geordie Anne Kostalas on her blog Dear England, Love Canada.

15. Jet about those Rapids

Jet Boat tours on Lachine Rapids

Jet Boat tours on Lachine Rapids

Splash yourself awake with a Jet Boat Tour along the St Lawrence river and Lachine Rapids. The hour-long trip – in the sweetest pea-green boat you’ve ever seen – will brush away the cobwebs as you spray your way past the city sights.

16.  Have some Laughs

I still harbour fond childhood memories of watching televised highlights of Just for Laughs, one of  the world’s biggest comedy festivals, held each July.  It even has its own museum now.

17. Prowl about for Poutine

Go hopping for Montreal’s most famous dish. From McDonald’s and homey little diners at one end to fancy joints serving up high-end lobster poutine at the other. Get the inside scoop on the best places at the Montreal Poutine blog.

18.  Eat some Canned Duck

Say bye-bye to arteries and sample some crazy, fat, traditional Quebecoise food at Le Pied du Couchon. Run by Martin Picard, it’s one of the city’s finest eateries and home of duck in a can. Try their cabane a sucre too.  Thanks to Here be Dragons for that heart-stopping tip.

19. Walk the Ports ‘n’ All

Old Vieux Port, Montreal

Old Vieux Port

Take a wander through the Old Port district with a self-guided walking tour stepping back through five generations of Montreal life. There’s skating, exhibitions and outdoor shows year round too.

20. Stop to smell the Flowers

Lantern Festival, Montreal Botanics

Lantern Festival, Montreal Botanics

 

Take some time out to enjoy the Botanical Gardens with some 30 themed gardens, including a Japanese Garden and tea room. Go in September or October and enjoy the beautiful lantern festival there.

21. See the Light at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Interior, Montreal

Notre Dame Interior, Montreal

Who needs Paris when you’ve got Notre Dame here too?  It’s an amazing gothic confection of a building, inside and out. And as if that weren’t enough, an impressive multimedia, sound and light extravaganza brings the place to life several evenings a week.

22. Have some Serious Coffee and Bagels

Head to Cafe Olimpico for  amazing coffee and Fairmount bagels, a true Montreal tradition where you might even spot members of The Arcade Fire brooding over an Iced Latte while they contemplate their next mournful outpouring.

23. Savour a slice of Little Italy

Italians make up the city’s largest ethnic group and you can savour a taste of the old country yourself in this delicious district of churches, frescos, shops, food markets and restaurants that’ll make you say Mamma Mia. A favourite haunt of Charlotte from British Travel PR specialists ZFL.

24. Go Boho in Mile-End

Mile End Bagel shop

Walk a Mile End for bagels

Strut your funky hipster stuff down to Mile-End, a hip, young suburb packed with buzzy coffee and bagel shops, record shops, bookshops, furniture stores and boutiques. In recent years it’s acquired legendary status as the epicentre of the Canadian Indie Music ouevre. It sure looks way cooler than London’s Mile End! Get something tasty down yer gullet at La Montee de Lait and sample some of their fine wines.

25. Have a Bachelor Party

Montreal’s a big mecca for bachelor parties, popular with revellers popping up from the Big Apple, with clubs, casinos and strippers galore… if you like that sort of thing.

26. Take a Train ride to Gaspe about

Bay de Chaleur

Bay de Chaleur

Once you’re done with the city, why stop your adventure there? Montreal is nestled sweetly among some of the most beautiful rail routes in North America. Take the overnight train to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula and shuttle past the St Lawrence River, through the Matapédia Valley and then around to Chaleur Bay, officially one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

27.  Stock up on local delicacies

Try the smoked meat at Schwartz’s, lobster rolls at the Lobster Shack, and the Marche des Saveurs shop, which stocks all the best local goodies for foodies.

And finally, before you visit don’t forget to…

28. Check out all of the above mentioned Blogs and People

Sweet Chickadee

Love those sweet tweeting Chickadees!

Without them this post would be nothing but a bunch of ill-conceived maple syrup puns.

Just follow my ‘Canadians Who Rock more than the Rockies list’ on twitter to scoop up the lovely lot in one fell swoop of a Canada Jay. You’d be a Common Loon not to.

Special thanks to: @Banff_Squirrel @lintably @Ayngelina @inspiredtrain @CharlottewZFL @nomadicchick @viewfromalake @nctaylor

Gotta a tip of your own? Share it below.

I received so many fantastic additional tips on Le Bonne Province in the comments below that I’ve decided to  cheekily revise the post a little, taking me up to a grand total of 45 tips. I’ve bolded the new entries below to make it easier to share them with you all.

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42 comments »

  1. Brian Butler says:

    Fun stuff. Montreal is my favorite North American city after NYC, of course. Spent quite a bit of time there in my youth, but haven’t been back in almost 3 years. Great food, music & lots to do. But the winters well and truly suck.

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks Brian. I’m gagging to go now, may have to pay for a trip regardless of the outcome. As for the weather, well we’re used to it here too, though expect it’s much harsher over there.

  2. Leigh says:

    Great list & love your Bay de Chaleur photo!! If you’re going as far as the Gaspe then I think you should include the wonderful Eastern Townships, especially in the fall. Also the amazing Route Verte or Green Route takes cyclists through Montreal & all over the province. For a city that has such long winters they do a great job promoting biking.

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks Leigh, I wish I could say the pic was mine, but I sourced it via flickr. There are so many amazing photos of the city on there I got lost in them all for hours, especially the fall ones!
      I’ll check out the Eastern Townships and it’s good to see a city promoting cycling over driving and such.

  3. Good luck and happy travels! You’re inspiring me to visit Montreal, where I haven’t been in more years than I care to count. A lovely city, as I recall.

  4. Marsha says:

    Jools–I took the train (natch) to Montreal for Thanksgiving last year and had a stupendous time! You must go!

  5. Marsha says:

    P.S. If you’re short on cash, I wholeheartedly recommend staying at the Hostelling International – Montreal… Close to the Metro, right around the corner from the Montreal Canadiens’ rink (although I still don’t know why they’re called the Habs, lol!) and pretty much within walking distance of everything else. If you’re into museums, get the Museums Pass red card if it’s still available! Go Jools, go!

  6. Tandem World says:

    We had a great time in Montreal a few years back – happened to be there for the Film Festival, which was pretty cool. The “gay” scene is pretty remarkable as well. We didn’t go out or anything, it was just very apparent that the city is extremely gay-friendly (and that is a big compliment coming form Left Coasters).

    I think we would go back simply for the poutine. I mean, seriously. How wonderful is a place that puts gravy and cheese curds on french fries.

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks guys, yeah, it seems a cool and pretty vibrant place all round from what I’ve ‘seen’ so far. I could’ve done an entire post about its festivals alone. The closest we have to poutine here is two separate traditions of putting gravy (North of England mainly, also curry sauce) or cheese (big in Scotland for some reason) on the chips, never both, but I doubt it compares somehow!

  7. NRIGirl says:

    Wow! That’s FUN. I truly wish to visit Montreal soon. The best in your list is #14 but haven’t visited the linked post yet. Will do.

    When you have a minute care to stop by for some Coffee with Jesus?!

    ~ NRIGirl

  8. ayngelina. says:

    I go to Montreal every summer for the Jazz Festival, which has so many amazing free concerts. I always stay at the Sous Bois hostel which is in Old Montreal and is full of really friendly travelers.

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks again Ayngelina, Mont Royal looks fun, as does Nuit Blanche. The winner gets to go during that, which would be fab, even in ultra chilly Feb! There does seem to be loads of festivals there. Edinburgh’s the same but most happen all in August, too much on to sample it all properly really.
      I wish I could’ve used more of your pictures, simply stunning. And this Canadian lady is one great travel blogger as well as a sharp snapper, check her out pronto folks!

  9. Sounds like a wonderful place… if only it can be moved somewhere warm!!

  10. Sally Broom says:

    This is a great blog, really inspired me to visit – if only to see the lanterns and visit that wonderful bagel shop, a lovely local tip!

  11. Hopefully I’ll soon be reading your shivering tweets, as you bimble around fabulous Montreal!

  12. joolsstone says:

    Thanks folks, I really enjoyed writing it, it’s now very high on my bucketlist. Most of Canada is really. I yearn for 2 months with a VIA Rail pass, a big cosy, wooly jumper and lots of spending money!

  13. Boomergirl says:

    Ma belle ville, Montréal!! A writer from Maclean’s magazine in Canada once described the degree of civility in Montréal by its walk-a-bility. I couldn’t agree more. It is a fabulous city to walk. We spent six glorious nights in my fave Canadian city. Our pix and memories are posted here: http://roadstories.ca/those-nights-in-montreal/

  14. joolsstone says:

    Thanks Boomergirl, walkability is always good in a city, my current city of residence, Edinburgh is good for that too. Thanks for sharing your post here, it’s making me hanker after the place even more, fingers crossed! Jools

  15. A great post of Montreal tips Jools. Hope you get to go there soon. It’s still a place I’m yet to visit so this is bookmarked for reference when I do.

  16. joolsstone says:

    Thanks Caz, when I do get to go at least I’ll have a headstart! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve arrived in a city and wished I’d bought a better guidebook or done my homework beforehand!

  17. So many things I didn’t know about Montreal! Thanks for all those tips Jools. Good luck with it!

  18. Dominique says:

    Good luck, Jools! Oh…and Go Wings! (sorry, getting behind the Habs won’t work for this long-time Detroit Red Wings fan! :lol: )

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks Dominique! Ah, so it’s played in the US too then? (excuse my ignorance.) So is it one big league with Canadians and Americans playing each other? I bet there’s a few grudge matches if so! ;-) Yeah, go Wings, may you fly high too!

  19. robingraham says:

    So there are 28 things to do in Montreal? I would have thought 8, 9 maximum. I kid, I kid…

  20. I absolutely love that photo on number 13, that sums up the feeling of Montreal to me perfectly somehow.

    Did I miss it or did you not mention the Jazz festival? There’s another great one for your list, lots of amazing (and usually free) concerts that week!

    • joolsstone says:

      Beautiful isn’t it? Jazz Fest sounds good too, there’s so many festivals in Montreal it’s hard to know which to include! Could be an entire post on its own that. Thanks for commenting. :-)

  21. That’s a damn good list for a guy who has so far only enjoyed a cyber-relationship with fair Montreal! (Mind you, you had the excellent @viewfromalake on your side, so no fair.)

    To your recommendations I would add that Montreal is truly a festival city starting in spring through summer, so whether you like films, clowns, jazz or Francophone culture, you’re going to find something to keep you busy–and often for free. Also, starting in April–even before it’s really warm enough to be truly comfortable–the outdoor patios open up at all the restaurants and winter-weary locals make full use of them. It’s very European-feeling…

    I like prowling the markets for locally made food, cheese, and wine. My fave is Jean-Talon. I like walking/biking the harbour promenade, and eating at L’Express and Au Pied de Cochon. I like to shop the designer’s ateliers long Rue St.-Denis and never miss a stop at Simon’s for stuff you just can’t buy anywhere else in Canada.

    Hope you win!
    Julie

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks Julie! Someone else had recommended Jean-Talon. I like the sound of the ateliers and the European vibe.
      Did I say 28 things? I think I meant 58 at this rate!

  22. SamF. says:

    Ever been to a bakery that’s so popular it has a velvet rope?
    Well visit your first at Olive & Gourmando on St.Paul West (or ouest) in Old Montreal. Baked goods and sandwiches that are so good, you *will* wait behind the rope.

  23. lara dunston says:

    Never had an interest in going to Montreal. You’ve inspired me.

  24. Christian says:

    “Keeping it Montreal”? “A train ride to Gaspe about”? There should be a law against stuff like this… Enjoyed, stumbled and reviewd.

  25. joolsstone says:

    Thanks Christian. I hope you’re not advocating anti-pun laws. ‘From my cold, dead hands!’ as God himself once said!

  26. Natalie T. says:

    You will absolutely love Montreal! Its European flair, Canadian style. You’re spot-on with your tips. Au Pied has fois-gras poutine, one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had; Cafe Olympico, St Viateur and Fairmont are great local spots. One of my absolute favorite restaurants is Croissanterie et Figaro. From Jean Talon Market, detour through the neighbourhoods (and channel your inner Mordecai Richler on Rue St. Denis) over to C et F. Its classic Montreal with its terrasse on neighbourhood street. The Pain au chocolate is to die for and you can get a full breakfast with OJ and tea for under $10! You can’t be beat for views from Mont Royal but I recommend driving (its pretty hilly). If you like long,bike-rides and are fast, I recommend traveling east to Lachine where you can ride along the St. Lawrence River. More of a suburb scene but there is a stretch of really cute restaurants. Au Dieu De Ciel is a really great microbrewery. Touristy things I’d recommend: Schwartz and Notre Dame (where Celine Dion got married) -really beautiful architecture inside. Touristy things I wouldn’t: Rue St. Catherine, Crescent St, Peel Pub and the like. Mile End and Plateau are more “local.” Haven’t been but there’s supposed to be a really good cafe in The Darling Foundry (know it was recommended in T+L). Otherwise, if you like electronic music, Montreal has a pretty amazing electro scene and the Neon parties are a blast. Other eats: Pistol for a James Bond sandwich theme (but this place is very student oriented); Chez Ashton is the take-away poutine place well known in Quebec and for its chunky cheese curds! Chowhound is always a good source when looking for opinions on eats (its like Trip Advisor though; use with discretion and a grain of salt). I personally wasn’t a fan of L’Express but that could have been my choice of meal. Here’s the link I wrote 6 years ago (my goodness!). http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/97693?tag=search_results;results_list if it doesn’t work try searching my user name bottomless pit under the Quebec/Montreal board.
    Cheers and really hope you get to experience La Belle Province! If you do get the chance, I’d also drive up to Quebec City. Its beautiful, quaint and romantic. Bonne Chance!

    • joolsstone says:

      Quite possibly the most superbly useful comment I’ve ever received Natalie, many thanks indeed. On reading this, I’m quite glad you didn’t enter the contest yourself!

  27. Zoë Dawes says:

    You know how much I love this piece! Am sending a link to a friend who’s married to a Canadian and lives locally. Totally quirkilicious writing & photos…

    • joolsstone says:

      Thanks Zoe, this is now my most commented post yet, ray! I must enter more of these blogging comps. GranTourismo next, great prizes for few words with a meet the locals theme this time.

  28. Sabina says:

    I love the street performers who entertain (others and well as themselves ;) in the old part of Montreal. Absolutely my favorite thing about the city. Although I do love Montreal in its entirety.

  29. Great tips for the fab city Canadienne – and a fun read, too. Is the competition still on – and if so, how can we help?

    • Jools Stone says:

      Thanks Sophie! No, I won and went in late Feb! You can read all about it in my latest series of posts. Just look under the Canada category. :)

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