One city determined to take a step back from the hectic pace associated with the modern metropolis is Montreal. More like a park with a few buildings dotted about, Montreal must rate as one of the most beautiful North American cities I have ever had the pleasure of exploring. Unlike the majority of my layovers, Montreal made it refreshingly easy to take in the sites whilst eating good food under the limited time constraints of a layover. With everything an easy walk or bike ride away, 2 days in the parklands of Montreal was a far more relaxed affair in which I still left feeling utterly fulfilled…
Here is my quick-fire guide to your perfect 48 hours on the island/park.
Like always, my preference for hotel is location over quality for the simple reason I don’t intend to spend more time there than I intend to spend sleeping. So where should you stay?
As I see it there are 3 key areas:
Most tourists commonly opt to stay near the historic and touristic area of Old Montreal. A great area if you plan to see the main attractions, however, a little more expensive than other areas of town (both food and accommodation), and not quite where the main action is to be had.
Downtown is ideally located, at the base of Parc du Mont-Royal, within easy reach of both Old Town to the East and Plateau Mont-Royal to the North. Truth be told, this is probably your ideal vantage point from which to see and do most things.
Option number 3, and my personal favorite, would be to look at staying in Plateau Mont-Royal. A little further out from the main areas of Downtown and Old Montreal, (but more than easy to get to and from), it is perhaps the most charming area of town, littered with as many boutique shops, wonderful eateries and chic bars as one could hope for.
Suggestions? As always cross check any recommendations you come across with other options on some of the well-known travelers’ reviewing websites. This way you’ll be sure to find something that fits in with your personal desires and budget. Book in advance for the best deals of course.
With so many pathways along and inside the countless parks scattered across the island you won’t regret taking to the city by foot.
If particularly time limited, you may also opt to take advantage of Montreal’s Bixi system – An easy to use rent-a-bike company with stations all over the city. Traveler’s Tip – Stop and park your bike at one of the countless rental stations every 30 minutes to escape additional charges; And don’t worry, you can take your bike back after a couple of minutes without paying again (http://montreal.bixi.com).
It should be noted that Montreal is extremely bike-friendly with designated bike lanes for cyclists on many of the roads. Traffic, unlike the rest of Canada, is also forbidden to turn right at a red for the safety of cyclists!
If biking doesn’t grab your fancy and/or the weather gods aren’t on your side, the metro is easy to use with 4 lines running through the city.
My 48-hour itinerary outlines one day on foot and one day on bike. Skip to the bottom to see these.
If it isn’t the parks for which Montreal is so famous, it’s the food. A proud foodie city, you could easily spend your time jumping between eateries indulging to your full heart’s desire. My following suggestions are based on the three areas outlined above (and, where possible, I’ve tied them into my 48 hour itinerary below).
Considering Montreal’s rich French heritage you’d be mad to come here and not have some their fine French cuisine. Au Pied de Cochon comes highly recommended (just off Rue Berri on Ave Duluth Est) located in the Plateau Mont-Royal area. Europea in Downtown is highly rated, as are Toque, L’Original and L’Autre Version in Old Montreal. Le Club Chasse of Peche (Old Montreal) and Brasserie T (Downtown) are other options. (Most of these recommendations require bookings well in advance during the high tourist seasons so take heed!)
For some of the more famous institutional eats – check out Schwartz for their famous and oh-so-delicious smoked meat sandwich (Blvd St-Laurent). St. Viatear Café is a must try for possibly the finest bagel I have ever tried (sorry New York)! For Poutine, La Banquise is a popular 24-hour option with as many wildly creative variations on the famous dish as you can imagine. Grmman’s 78 Taco Truck (moves about) is also very popular.
Other great options include Joe Beef – a BBQ joint; Kazu for some wonderful bowls of ramen; M.BRGR and another favorite, Ferreira Café – a very popular Portuguese restaurant.
For those willing to take to foot outside the parks and restaurants of Montreal, a number of great sights and wonderful museums await. I have tried, where possible, to tie the majority of my recommendations into my walking/cycling tours below.
The number one area for most tourists is Old Montreal. A crisscross of narrow cobblestone streets intertwined between beautiful churches and picturesque squares, it’s a must explore area for all first timers. Top of the list in Old Montreal is Place d’Armes and the Basilique Notre-Dame (both included in my walking tour below).
Nearby a waterfront stroll along the Old Port gives great views across the St Lawrence River and back, the skyline of Old Montreal. From here you can go to the circus, take a thrill-seeker’s boat tour or simply hire a bike and make your way down the Canal de Lachine (Traveler’s Tip – If you decide on the latter make your way to Marche Atwater – see itinerary below).
In Downtown the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal is a great museum (not to mention it’s free!). From here one should almost certainly make their way into the Parc du Mont-Royal, if not for the best views of the city then for the beauty of the park itself. Other parks worth exploring include Parc Jean-Drapeau (islands in the St Lawrence River), Parc LaFontaine and Jardin Botanique (should you have enough time to explore all of these!).
Finally Plateau Mont Royal is worth the time taken to explore all by itself. With several parks and some of the most picturesque homes in Montreal you’ll be wishing you lived here by the time you’re done wandering around. Aside from the beautiful parks and homes, a huge number of boutique shops sit alongside some of the best eateries, bars and cafes in the city.
The best two activities, as mentioned, are walking and cycling. Indeed Montreal seems to have been built with those two activities in mind. If the weather isn’t kind, however, don’t despair – there is still a great deal to do.
As already mentioned Old Port is great for a number of activities other than walking (see above).
Parc Jean-Drapeau, in the middle of St Lawrence River, offers a full day’s worth of activities. Aside from the island parks, La Ronde amusement park contains the world’s tallest wooden roller coaster while the Biosphere is an interesting nature centre.
I should mention my itinerary is based on the three areas of Old Montreal, Downtown and Plateau Mont Royal, which is where I would stick to if I only had two days here. However this is another option should you wish or have an additional day or two to spare.
For Shopping Rue Ste-Catherine in Downtown is the main area to go. For a more quirky shopping experience take a stroll down Boulevard St –Laurent and Avenue du Mont-Royal.
For nightlife check out Places des Art for a number of live Jazz options. Upstairs on Rue Mackay also has nightly Jazz performances. Rue Crescent has a number of great pubs as does Rue St-Denis, Boulevard St-Laurent and the area around Avenue du Mont-Royal (for particular recommendations see my itinerary below).
LAYOVER ESCAPADES 2-DAY ITINERARY
Day 1 – Losing yourself amongst the trees…
The perfect bagel – Start your day by popping into St Viateur Bagel and Café (A) for the perfect doughy treat. Stroll southwest down the beautiful Avenue du Mont-Royal until you reach Avenue du Parc. Stop into Patisserie Kouign Amann (C) for a delicious pastry. Alternatively, for a more hearty start to your day, begin with a feed at L’Avenue (B) (also on Ave Mont-Royal) or Gastro pub Reservoir (on Blvd St-Laurent) – another popular brunch spot.
Getting lost in Parc du Mont-Royal – Once you reach the triangular intersection just off Avenue du Park and Avenue du Mont Royal hook a left (45 degrees) and follow the Olmsted trail into Parc du Mont-Royal. Alternatively you can get lost by walking down Boulevard Mont-Royal and making your way into the Mont Royal Cemetery by mistake as we did. I mention this for two reasons. One – it’s easy to do, and two – we were glad we did. We felt the cemetery was even more beautiful than Parc du Mont-Royal. The only difficulty, however, was then trying to cross the road (Camillien Houde Way) which separates the park from the cemetery. We managed it and if you decide to do the same… good luck!
Parc du Mont-Royal – However you manage to make your way into the park find your way to Chalet du Mont-Royal (D) for the best views across Montreal. (Following the Olmsted Trail will take you most of the way). After taking your postcard perfect snap shot head down the hill leaving the park on Peel Street.
Lunch in Downtown – Make your way down Peel Street to Ferreria Café (E) for a spot of lunch or down Rue Drummond to M:BRGR. Alternatively, a bit further away, but well worth it, go to Kazu (F) for some ramen (on Rue Ste-Catherine).
Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal (G) – After lunch, spend an hour or two exploring Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal – a beautiful and very accessible Art Museum housing both modern contemporary and old fine art. From here head down either Rue Sherbrooke or Rue St-Catherine (for some shopping) till you hit Boulevard St-Laurent.
Boulevard St-Laurent – Take a left and head northwest on Boulevard St-Laurent. Stop for an afternoon snack by sharing one of Schwartz’s (H) famous smoked meat sandwiches. Keep going till you reach Ave Duluth. Hook a right and pop into gastro pub Reservoir (I) (on your left) for a well-earned pre dinner craft ale atop their terrace. (Travelers Tip – note the Bixi station opposite).
Plateau Mont-Royal for dinner and drinks – Cycle or stroll down Ave Duluth till you reach Au Pied de Cocoon (J) – a wonderful spot for dinner. Another option, close by is La Banquise (K). Top off your first day by hitting the bars down Rue St-Denis or in the surrounding area of Plateau Mont-Royal. Candi bar is a whimsical place while Casa del Popolo is good for live music. Many other options surround.
Day 2 – From Old town to New…
Old Montreal – Start your day by exploring the cobble streets of Old Montreal. Make sure you visit the recently renovated Place d’Armes (A) and have a look inside the beautiful Basillique Notre-Dame (opposite).
Lunch and Old Port – After exploring the Basillique, exit back out front onto Place d’Armes then hook a right, (northeast), on Rue Notre-Dame. Keeping walking till you hit Place Jacques. Take a right and head towards the Old Port. Stop and have a feed at either L’Autre Version (B) or Le Club Classe of Pecile for lunch (both located very close to here). Before or after lunch, from Place Jacques, take a stroll around Parc du Bassin Bonsecours (C) for views across the river and back towards Old Montreal in Old Port.
Cycle along the Canal de Lachine and Marche Atwater – After the above mentioned, make your way southwest along the promenade until you reach the first Bixi station you happen upon. Hire a bike and follow the Canal de Lachine in the same direction until you reach Marche Atwater (D) (will take between 30 mins and 1 hour to reach). Park your bike at the bixi station located here, then take a stroll through the market. Stop for a coffee and pastry at Boulangerie Premiere Moisson inside. (On a side note – Joe Beef is a great restaurant should you find yourself in this area during lunch or dinner – located on Notre Dame Street West).
Back to Downtown – Grab your original bike back from the nearby bixi station and continue along the Canal de Lachine. Take a right away from Canal de Lachine following Rue de Courcelle (E) northwest till you reach Boulevard de Maisonneuve. Traveler’s Tip – Study the map carefully to make sure you stick to the bike-friendly roads with dedicated cycle lanes!
Drinks and dinner in Downtown or Old Montreal – Take a right onto Boulevard de Maisonneuve and follow the road all the way to Downtown. Park your bike at one of the many stations along here near Rue Crescent. Head right down Rue Cresent till you hit Brutopia (F) for another well earned pre-dinner craft ale. For dinner head to either to Ferreria Café or Brasserie T followed by some jazz at either Upstairs (G) or L’Astral. Alternatively, head back to Old Montreal for dinner at one of my other recommendations (see above). If you do this be sure to head up Terrace Nelligen to watch the sunset whilst sipping on a gin and tonic. Head to the bars along Rue St. Denis to finish your quintessential Montreal layover.