This time last year, we were booking a trip to Montréal for May. If I could have my way, I’d visit the city yearly. I love it so much!
I mean, how can you really go wrong with the beautiful surroundings & amazing restaurants? There is so much information out there on what to see & do in Montreal, but here’s my take on it: my Montreal.
I spent the couple years I lived in Montréal exploring the city & introducing visiting friends & family to the parts I grew to love. On our visit last year, this gave us the opportunity to stick to only the things I enjoy most: wandering the beautiful old streets, enjoying drinks with friends, & eating more than our weight in delicious food. (There are plenty of amazing touristy things to do in Montreal, but since I’ve done them all before & they’ve been covered many times all over the internet, this post will not feature them). So here we go – my top non-touristy things to do when I visit Montréal.
Wander the different boroughs
Montréal is pretty compact & easy to navigate. You can walk from the west end of the downtown to the east end in about half an hour. I find this particularly advantageous after all the food I tend to eat.
Each of the surrounding boroughs have a bit of a different feel, & I think they each have their merits. I love Old Montréal for its beautiful old buildings & cobblestone streets, the Plateau has a hipster bohemian vibe (& tons of great breakfast spots), & the newly re-invented Mile-Ex neighbourhood has some of the coolest new shops, restaurants, & bars anywhere. Something new is always opening up, making for a lively & exciting city to explore!
Take some time to get lost in a few of these different neighbourhoods – it’s one of my favourite ways to get to know any new city, or reacquaint myself with a familiar one.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you may even stumble upon one of the many festivals taking place around town. There’s at least one thing going on every single weekend, from music festivals to parades to formula 1 insanity – there’s something for everyone at some point. & if nothing else, head toward the old port to take in the brilliant fireworks competition every Saturday in July.
Get Breakfast in the Plateau
There are so many great places to get breakfast or brunch in Montreal, but all my personal favourites are in the plateau. On our latest trip, we took advantage of the beautiful weather & headed straight from the plane to the terrace at Fabergé. I didn’t even need to look at the menu to know I’d be ordering their breakfast poutine. How can you go wrong with a bacon & egg poutine in the province that does poutine best? (You can’t – it was fantastic!)
Just around the corner is the best bagel spot in the city, Fairmount Bagels. You really never know when you might need a half dozen all dressed bagels, so I recommend picking up a bag so you’re prepared whenever the mood strikes during your visit. Fairmount is strictly takeaway though so if you’re looking to sit down & have a bagel style sandwich for breakfast, their competitor St-Viateur has a great café on Mont-Royal E.
Enjoy some local beers
Montreal has some seriously great local beers. I’m fiercely loyal to my first love, Au Dieu du Ciel, in the plateau neighbourhood, but there are so many great places to get enjoy a drink with friends in the city.
DDC, as you’ll see many refer to this amazing craft microbrewery as, has a great little unassuming brewpub on Rue Laurier W in the plateau. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but trust me, you won’t regret your pilgrimage to this spot. Seriously, it’s the brewpub I wish I could go to every week.
On our most recent trip, we spent some time at another awesome craft brewery that also doubles as a restaurant & bar – Brasserie Harricana. I could have easily spent a couple hours trying all the beers they have on tap. We were on a tour though, so we had a limited amount of time.
It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but I highly recommend you check out this spot in the Mile-Ex neighbourhood. There’s some great things happening up there, so you can likely pair it with some other stops in the area.
One of those such stops is the third spot I recommend for great beer: Vices & Versa. We happened on the perfect spring day for a few drinks in their patio oasis. We took advantage of their amazing beer selection to sample some of the harder to find Quebecois beers.
Check out a Market
Markets are one of my favourite things to visit when I travel, & the ones in Quebec are especially good. The Jean Talon Market in Little Italy is worth the short metro ride north. This public market is open year round, however the summer is when it really shines, with over 300 vendors filling the open-air stalls. Sample anything from fresh produce to artisanal cheeses to homemade charcuterie – there’s something for everyone!
We decided to do a food tour on our trip, & this was also were it started. It was one of the main reasons I wanted to do the tour, actually, as it made for a great excuse to spend some time at the market. I also really enjoyed learning more about Little Italy, Mile-Ex, and the Park-Ex neighbourhoods, since they weren’t so much on my radar when I lived there.
If you don’t make it up to Little Italy, Atwater Market near the Lachine Canal is also a great choice. In winter, it’s probably a bit of a better option than Jean Talon as most of it is indoors. Grab a few delicious products & head to the nearby parks on the canal for a picnic.
Obviously, food is my favourite part of travelling anywhere, & Montreal boasts more great restaurants than most cities. With so many great options, it’s tough to go wrong. A little research will go a long way, however, here are my top picks.
Garde Manger is & has been my number one choice for years. Chuck Hughes is just such a cool chef, & his food speaks for itself. Seriously, he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, with lobster poutine. Obviously, I highly recommend you order that. N ordered an incredible short rib that was probably the wining main dish for the two of us. They’re also known for their oysters, which make an excellent starter (the fresh horseradish & homemade mignonette take it to the next level). Plan to walk back to your hotel afterwards to work off all you’ve eaten – it’s worth every bite.
Another new favourite after this trip is Au pied de Cochon. It’s number 34 on Canada’s top 100 for good reason. & with menu items described as “unapologetically glutenous”, it was right up my alley.
We went a little overboard here (I do not recommend ordering both of their signature items: foie gras poutine and duck in a can. Pick ONE!), but everything we ate was phenomenal & our server was so lovely.
Anytime anyone goes to Montreal, I suggest they stop by Olive & Gourmando for lunch. This adorable (& very busy) spot in Old Montreal is my idea of the perfect lunch. If the weather is good & the wait is long, order your lunch to go & find a spot in one of the many parks in the Old Port. It’s the best of both worlds. On your way out, don’t forget to grab a pastry – you won’t regret any of them.
I’ve already featured a fair bit of poutine in this post. Probably an excessive amount if I’m being honest. I have no shame in the amount of cheese I consume when I visit, however, & no trip to Montreal is complete without at least one poutine. If you find yourself craving one in the afternoon, look no further than Patati Patata. La Banquise may have more choices than you can fathom, but I prefer the classic simplicity of this tiny spot. What they may lack in space, they more than make up for in ambiance & delicious food!
Of course, this just barely scratches the surface of this incredible city. Even after living there for two years, there are still countless places I’d like to visit & restaurants I’d want to try. If you’re planning a trip to this great city & need extra tips, leave me a comment – I’d love to offer advice!
Have you ever been to Montreal? What’s your favourite place to revisit?