You’re visiting Montreal! How much time have you got? A day, a weekend, the entire summer? We’ve spent close to 20 years in Montreal Island and we feel that there’s still much to discover. Montreal is in constant evolution and it’s often been described as a vibrant metropolis. It must be that joie de vivre that French Canadians have exhibited to the hilt. It’s a contagious virus, this joyous living thing.
Visiting Montreal – regardless of the length of time you spend here – will change you. It is distinctly different from other North American cities, retaining much of the Old World charm and glory. The architecture reflects this, so does the philosophical approach of native Montrealers. “Don’t worry, be happy” is an unspoken mantra; so is “eat, drink and be merry.” You might have heard of the city’s gourmet reputation. Chefs trained from all over the world have settled in Montreal to tease the palates of even the most hardened meat and potatoes guy. When it comes to dining, Montreal is tops.
When it comes to winter, Montreal is also…well…tops. If you don’t particularly thrive in cold weather, stay away until mid-May. This year, for example, Montreal’s temperature is hovering around 14, 15 and 16. And it’s May already. It is nippy, and seldom will you see the natives in shorts and tank tops at this time of the year. Winter has a way of clininging tenaciously in Montreal, that’s the bad news. The good news is that the warm hearts of Montrealers more than make up for the province’s unkind, brutal weather. This is why as soon as the warm weather sets in, Montreal wakes up from a long slumber. The streets come alive with noises, tourists feel and experience the gaiety in the air, stimulating both physical and mental appetites.
Visiting Montreal: Overview
Montreal is for everyone. It welcomes all kinds of temperaments. If you like to be around people, rub elbows with fellow tourists, natives and members of the ethnic communities, Montreal won’t fail you. The city plays host to more than 40 festivals each year attended by the excited and the exciting. If you love jazz, Montreal is the place to be in July; if humor is your cup of tea, comedy clubs have their doors wide open. Comedians from the US, England, and Australia and far away countries like Russia come and crack their home-brewed jokes and make everyone laugh. Heartily too.
Are you a crowd avoider and would rather spend some solitary time? We have regal, ornate churches and basilicas (the Notre Dame Basilica is a favorite in Old Montreal – it is where Celine Dion had her very grandiose wedding years ago) or the St. Joseph’s Oratory – an imposing cathedral where people come to worship, lie on the grass, or marvel at the hundreds of crutches of once crippled beings who were able to walk again.
Ah yes, the food. The native dish is called poutine – but this is like your 7/11 type of fast food. French fries smothered in a brown sauce and topped with crumbled cheese – not exactly the kind of food you’d like to eat every day if you’re watching your waistline, but you ought to try it at least once when you come visit.
You say you like to walk? Excellent. If you want to take in the city on foot, start at the downtown core. Ask anyone for St. Catherine Street (if you go further east on St. Catherine’s, you’ll hit the red light district. If you’re with your significant other, you can skip this area). If you take Sherbrook Street West, this is where the world-famous McGill University is located and the other fine boutiques that your wife or girlfriend would love to visit – Cartier – Gucci – Oscar de la Renta – Roots. Corporate offices and swanky offices are of course found downtown, including banks from Europe and Israel.
Don’t forget Old Montreal. If you’re short on time, ride a horse-drawn carriage. The horsemen are bilingual and they can switch from French to English and back to French at the snap of the finger. Visit Place Jacques Cartier where public performers – jugglers, singers, dancers, artists, painters and merchants greet visitors warmly. You can dance in the open air to the tune of salsa or the latest rap music or just linger and listen to violins and guitars play old French favorites. Old Montreal is a miniature Europe of sorts, and it’s a city where marriage proposals just have a way of popping up, even those that were not planned. It’s that kind of city, you see. So ladies…
Visiting Montreal? Please try our subway cars!
The Montreal metro is an intricate network of engineering genius. Talk has it that our subway system is the quietest in the world because the cars run on rubber wheels. We’ve always doubted this, however, because yes, there’s rubber everywhere but it’s still roaring noisy. But oh so efficient! The subway map is user-friendly, it’s color-coded and a visitor who spends an hour underground can be a subway guide. The names of stops may be a little difficult to pronounce, but the French and English have since learned to compromise. Some stations will be tongue twisters like – Honoré Beaugrand or Angrignon – but English speakers will find Peel, McGill and Snowdon very easy to pronounce.
By the way, one last note on food. If you’re not into French food, there are thousands of ethnic restaurants guaranteed to tickle your taste buds: Greek, Vietnamese, Ethiopian (yes Ethiopian), Polish, Russian, Iranian, Chinese (what country does not have at least one Chinese restaurant?) and Jewish (Montreal’s smoked meat is newsworthy, and so are the bagels). Celebrities who have tasted our Fairmount bagels have them flown over to as far as Burbank, California and Tokyo!
When Visiting Montreal, check these out:
If you’re pressed for time and have only 24-48 hours to spend here, we suggest you visit the following spots:
- Latin Quarter – this is the best place if you enjoy the night life and want to rub elbows with a colorful crowd (metro stop: St. Denis or Sherbrooke). Walk up and down St. Denis Street. You’ll get your fill of restaurants, clubs, boutiques and erotic shops, as well as tons of second hand bookstores.
- Mount Royal – Montreal has its own “mountain” right in the city and it’s an ideal place for strolling, jogging, or people watching. Make sure you’re in good shape because as you ascend, you may need those old sturdy legs to work overtime for you.
- Little Italy – as the name suggests, you’ll find everything Italian here. Pasta shops (pasta made from scratch), gourmet coffees (espressos, cappuccinos – although you’ll find these anywhere), and gourmet Italian dining. Shoe stores, leather goods, furniture and kitchen stuff too.
- Pointe-à-Callière – a must if you’re into history and museums. Located in Old Montreal (metro stop: Place d’Armes)
- Crescent Street – a stylish hangout, lots of yuppies here. Fancy, expensive restaurants, bistros, cafes where you can sit for hours sipping coffee or Margaritas and watch the whole city go by.
- Olympic Stadium – again, another engineering masterpiece (although the roof has been at the center of controversy), but it’s quite an architectural feat. It earned the moniker “Big Owe” (original name: Big O, as in Olympic) because it turned out to be a drain for weary taxpayers. After riding the Stadium’s outside elevator – funicular – which hits the top in a matter of seconds, you may want to hop over to the Botanical Gardens. It covers 74 hectares – that’s 185 acres – of plants and flowers with 31 different sections (two are sponsored by China and Japan). There are ten greenhouses that assure it operates all-year-round.
- Biodôme de Montréal – feeling the environmental bug? Then scoot over here. It has four segments that are miniature duplicates of ecosystems, including 4,000 trees and plants, over 6,000 animals and imitates four climates – tropical to polar and the in-between.
That’s just a sampling of what awaits you in Montreal. On your next visit when you have more time to spare, plan on a two-day trip to Quebec City (bring along your French phrasebook), and take in the mountain air up north (Laurentian region) or up east (Eastern Townships) – two playgrounds of the rich and not so rich. In the summer, the Laurentians and Townships are mixing places for the wealthy, the intellectual class, artists, and of course the working class too! These are where Montrealers have their summer cottages. And where the skiing is one of the best in North America – actually Montreal’s ski slopes rank up there with those of Colorado and Utah…
Montreal welcomes you – bienvenue!