CELEBRATING MONTRÉAL'S 375th With PIKNICS, COCKTAILS + AXES
“Hey good lookin!”
The only thing to say to Quebec’s cultural epicenter as it turns 375.
Situated on an island in a thriving, vibrant metropolis, Montréal is a city with uninhibited creativity permeating with tradition. On the heels of my third visit to North America’s most welcoming country, I came back even more in love with the city.
Montréal is a nation within a nation, with plenty of festivals and pride to last a lifetime. With 2017 marking a dual celebration year with its home country you can be sure there's plenty of fun to go around. The warmth and friendliness Montrealers bring year round slightly reminds you of your Great Aunt Tessie who smells of freshly baked bread and eau de toilette — and in the summer months, it only gets stronger.
For those longing for warm, European getaways look no further than Montréal. Not only do you avoid the 7-10+ hour flight and jet lag, you can get your fill of long walks down cobblestone streets, lazy afternoons people watching from cafes, and sampling the limitless food and drink options. Not only that for us Americans and everyone on the Euro the exchange rate works in our favor. Canada is always a good idea.
The thing I love about Montréal is there are multiple layers to your experience, and you can do “touristy” things without actually feeling like a tourist - because especially during this anniversary year locals and visitors are flocking to the same locations. I tend to look for the lesser known activities - the activities that when I am doing them people stop and have the reaction of "I had no idea you could do that there"! I'm the person you go to for this random fun - and it's these types of activites that will truly help you celebrate MTL's 375th in the most unforgettable way.
WHAT TO DO
Inspired by Montréal's diverse history, Cité Mémoire is an awesome multi-media experience introducing you to a range of characters who share the evolution of the city. The videos are dreamlike and come alive with images, words, and music as they're projected onto surfaces throughout Old Montréal. The city’s history comes alive every evening at dusk across the sides of buildings, through the vibrant streets and bounces up onto the trees. If you’re yearning for even more immersion you can download the "Montréal en Histoires” app which provides the soundtrack and historical information in 4 different languages.
Mont-Royal Park and the Chateau
Mont-Royal is one of the largest outdoor areas within the city. As referenced in the name the small mountain is located immediately west of downtown. Within the mountain is the ever-popular Mont-Royal Park.
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who fun fact also co-designed New York's Central Park), and is one of the most popular areas for Montrealers to engage in outdoor activities (no matter the season).
If you have a limited amount of time I suggest you take a bus (you can even Uber) into the park and make your way to Kondiaronk Belvedere, a semicircular plaza which features Mont-Royal Chalet. Nowhere else are you going to get a breathtaking aerial view of downtown Montréal.
In addition to the chalet, there are a host of other areas and activities that can be enjoyed on Mont-Royal. Expansive green areas allow for the perfect afternoon picnic, a stroll through the sculpture garden and the Smith House interpretive center. My suggestion is to pick up a sandwich from either Schwartz’s Deli or Main Deli Steak House and enjoy it on Mont-Royal.
Search for Street Art
As synonymous as the city is with food + drink, mural art is right up there with it. The art scene is Montréal is permeated with the ever prevalent and continually expanding mural scene. Many of the murals are located in the Plateau neighborhood but my suggestion is to not limit yourself to those off of Saint Laurent. To get a good overview of Montréal's murals consider heading to the city for Mural Festival in June as well as checking out the lesser known street art on Rue de Boisbriand.
Visit a Market (or two)
If you wonder why I keep bringing up food and drink the answer is simple, Montréal is a city on the forefront of the food and drink industries. The restaurant scene is unreal but I also suggest heading out of the main area of the city to the Little Italy neighborhood to Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon) or to Atwater Market along the Lachine Canal. These farmers markets bring in a host of purveyors of local goods and its the perfect way to see what is in season and chat with the locals.
Take a class in French
Undoubtedly you are going to be experiencing the nightlife of the city – and rightly so! One thing that Montrealers know how to do well is have fun. Whether at a festival, a concert, a DJ performance or just bar-hopping you’re never short of activities in the evening. Rather than do the typical happy hour scene a fun and unique way to start an evening out is to take a mixology class. Not only will you be able to leave the class with skills to impress your friends is the perfect social activity to meet new people and start the evening with a few cocktails. I had the pleasure of taking the Tiki Ambiance class at Ateliers et Saveurs down in Old Montreal and would highly recommend stopping by for an evening. To find out more, check out my full post HERE.
Get cultured at the Museum of Fine Arts
The one thing I will say about Montréal and the summer is the weather can be kind of unpredictable. You would like to think that it’s going to be perfectly sunny and warm every day but while I was there I experienced three different types of weather in the span of 5 days – yes that is possible. Don’t fret though! A perfect way to duck out of a random rainstorm is to pop into the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum does an incredible job curating a multitude of temporary exhibits, as well as their permanent collection. In addition to the art, Montréal features a handful of other museums which can help you further absorb the culture of the city. For a full list visit Tourisme Montréal's website.
Go to the beach
The beach? Yes, it’s possible. Down in the Old Port is Montréal's urban beach. A favorite summer activity, the glorious Clock Tower Beach is the perfect place to experience a little “staycation” with its beautiful views of the Old Port, soft white sand, cute blue & white lawn chairs and parasols. Sure it may not be the beach us coastal Americans are used to experiencing, but it is a lot of fun. If you want to kick back, relax, and just chill the beach is the place to be.
Get lost in Montréal's "Living Museum"
Located just minutes from downtown is one of the world’s greatest urban escapes – the Montréal Botanical Garden. Covering more than 75 hectares (185 acres for the American folk) the garden houses 22,000 plant species, 10 greenhouses, and more than 20 thematic gardens. With programs and activities, all year round the botanical garden is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy the fresh air and natural beauty of this living museum. If you’re a bug person the Insectarium will definitely tickle your fancy – and if you want to get even more adventurous you can sample bug cuisine from the nearby stands. Yep, food made out of bugs.
Unleash your inner Khalessi or Khal Drogo
What is the most random activity you could think of? Guaranteed whatever you just thought of was not axe throwing. It’s a thing, a thing taking multiple cities by storm and for the Game of Thrones fanatic is the perfect way to kill an hour or two on the weekend. Montréal has taken this unique activity and done it right with Rage Axe Throwing near the Gay Village. From the moment you walk in and are greeted by the friendly bearded faces of the staff you know you are going to have a good time. Surprisingly it doesn’t take a lot of skill, just a little practice and the willingness to not take yourself too seriously. Yes, take the safety aspect seriously, but in general, you’re just throwing axes so just roll with it!
Dance the afternoon away
There’s a new meaning to Sunday Funday when you’re in Montréal. Piknic Électronik, the beloved electronic music festival which perfectly encapsulates Montréal's Summer 'joie de vivre', is the only thing that should be on your schedule each weekend. Established in 2003 the Plaine des Jeux on Parc Jean Drapeau is where you will find native Montrealers of all ages dancing, drinking and celebrating all afternoon. Local and international DJ's and producers, as well as unknown underground artists, are brought in each week to bring unparalleled fun in the sun (and sometimes rain), and this year it’s the cultural institution's 15th anniversary. See you in the park!
Piknic Électronik, runs Sunday, May 21 through Sunday, September 24. starting at 2 p.m. Ticket options vary but you can purchase online for $13.50, at the door before 4pm for $13 and after 4pm for $17 CAD. Season passes are also an option with special student pricing and a handful of packages.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK
The food and drink options in Montréal are endless and can be slightly overwhelming, especially if you have a limited number of days in this beautiful city. Rather than throw an insane list your way I’ve curated it down to my top 12 bars and restaurants you must put on your list.
Bar La Mal Nécessaire
Tiki style bar in the Chinatown area. Good drinks and even better music. Look for the neon, green pineapple.
1106 B Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Tucked away in Old Montreal, this speakeasy is a little difficult to find but the drinks are well worth the search.
Rue Saint Vincent
The interior of this place is gorgeous and the drinks are on point. If for nothing else go to say you've been there.
581 St Laurent Blvd
Do you want to drink? Do you want to listen to good music? Do you want to dance? Head down to Old Montréal.
111 Saint-Paul St W
The least pretentious place you could possibly go. A little bit grungy and a little bit punk the history of this place is fascinating. You're guaranteed to have a chill, good time.
87 St Catherine St E
What can I say other than it's iconic? It's better than Fairmount in my opinion and has even beat out the NYC bagel. Go, just go.
263 Rue Saint Viateur W
Do you want poutine? You can't come to Montréal and not eat it. I've heard the McD's version is pretty good, but for a classic, you must go here.
994 Rue Rachel E
If there is one restaurant that can live up to your absurb expectations it's Joe Beef.
2491 Notre-Dame St W
Modern Asian-influenced dishes. If you ask a random stranger in Montréal if Jatoba is good the answer will always be yes.
1184 Place Phillips
Schwartz’s Deli (or Main Deli Steak House)
Another food associated with this city is smoked meat. You have to have it, and you have to have it sandwich form. One of the oldest delis in Montréal, Schwartz is legendary. But there are some (the locals) who prefer Main. It's your choice. Either way, get a sandie, and avoid the line by getting it to go.
3895 St Laurent Blvd OR 3864 St Laurent Blvd
WHERE TO STAY
There are a large variety of options when it comes to picking a place to stay in Montréal. The great thing about this city is no matter your budget you will always be able to find a great place which fits your travel needs.
I tend to gravitate towards using Airbnb because I like feeling like a local but staying in an apartment in the neighborhood of my choosing. It’s almost like you’re apartment hunting – except with less commitment. My first few days in Montréal we stayed in an awesome Airbnb near the Gay Village and I could not have been happier. The two bedroom was perfectly decorated and featured a well-stocked kitchen, information about Montréal (should we need it) and perfectly comfortable beds. Our host Ken could not have been more accommodating, and even though we never met him in person he was more than available with any questions we had.
My last night in Montréal I was able to experience the luxurious Hôtel Nelligan in Old Montréal. If you’re not paying close attention it’s easy to walk by the entrance on Rue Saint-Paul but once you walk inside you’re immediately greeted with a chic and understated elegance. The friendliness and openness of the staff make you almost forget that you’ve walked into a 4-star hotel – until you walk into your room.
Located within walking distance to Notre Dame, the cobblestone streets of Old Town and some of the best restaurants and bars, Hôtel Nelligan is everything you could want and more - a luxurious modern experience enveloped in old-world charm. The restaurant offers a continental breakfast every morning, which is included in your stay, where you can dine on coffee, juice, fresh fruit, eggs, cheese, meats, pastries and those famous Montréal bagels. And on the rooftop is a terrace that should not be missed! Montréal prides itself on its summer terrace culture and Hôtel Nelligan’s terrace will give you spectacular views of Old Montréal.
I could not have been more pleased with the room I received. My dual wrought iron windows overlooked Old Montréal, there was a fireplace, large, insanely comfortable bed and luxe jacuzzi tub - I was in heaven.
For the more budget conscious Montréal also offers a handful of hostels throughout the city. The most popular is the M Hostel which features a bar on the lower level – and also draws in locals for an evening drink. The social atmosphere is perfect for the solo traveler and its well-designed interior will leave you feeling as through you stayed in a more budget friendly hotel rather than a dingy hostel. But after all these days hostels are far from dingy.
Montréal reminds me of New York in a way. You can keep going back and discover something new everytime. This may be why I went back for the third time in the span of seven months. Or it could be because my love of the city runs so deep I need to make sure I visit once a quarter. Either way you can be assured that whether you have 3 days or 3 weeks in this city you will not leave disappointed. The ever rotating calendar of events, new bars and restaurants and classic Quebecois culture will have you wanting to come back time and time again.
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Big thank you to Tourisme Montréal, Hôtel Nelligan, Rage Axe Throwing, Ateliers et Saveaurs and Piknic Électronik for making so many of these experiences possible! Can't wait to return and experience another layer to this beautiful place!