I love Montréal. Politics times south of the border in the U.S. does help make this French-Canadian city all the more lovable, but even on its own it’s hard to not adore.
June, I’m told, is one of the few months it’s nice to be here. The sun is out and festival season is in full swing. I came here on a little jaunt with my aunt to get lost on the city streets. Review the festival guides before picking your dates, we landed here on the one quiet week/end of the summer, and there really is something for everyone.
While you’re there, take special note of the light fixtures: in restaurants, bathrooms, hallways, museums, and nightclubs. I wonder if cities with long dark winters take more care on light design. Montreal certainly does and artfully so.
Hotel / Neighborhoods
I recommend staying in Le Plateau near the Mont Royal station or in the Mile End district for friends and peers in my demographic. However, if you prefer a hotel, I had a wonderful stay at Hotel Monville (and got a great deal on Hotels.com). This newly opened spot downtown near Old Montreal is in a touristy district but is close to a few primo museums and the Place d’Arms station which is on the Orange line (fun stuff goes on here). Monville recently opened and has a modern interiors true to their press photos, friendly service, reliable wifi, and a rain shower. Below I’ll link to a few fantastic restaurants in the ‘hood.
Food in Montreal is well priced and very delicious. I’m sure many people will give you recommendations but you can always rely on Eater Montreal in a pinch. We got gourmet poutine at hipster, open-air, slightly chic-punk spot Suwu. Have it somewhere! For a great view, book a table at Les Enfants Terribles at Sommet Place Ville Marie. A local friend took us there and several others recommended it. It’s a great way to start or end a visit to Montreal.
In old Montreal there are three yummy fresh, healthy vegetarian spots: Lov, La Mediterenee, and La Finca (a nice quick spot next to Hotel Monville)
Lov is a mid-range boutique vegan spot is full of plants, wicker, and botanical cocktails. An expert in millenial pink and mint must have done the interiors. While the color and styles are trendy, I have no problem with plants being a trend. And anyway, it’s done well here and the food was excellent–even for a carnivorous enthusiast like me. A few locals and blog posts pointed us here.
We stumbled upon this understated middle-eastern spot when we first arrived and may have been our favorite meal of the trip. Fresh, light, herbacious, quick, and probably the best service of the whole week. Lucky for us it was closed on weekends or we may have gone three times!
Bagels in Montreal are a thing. If deciding between the Fairmount and St. Viateur’s, go for Fairmount (full review in my IG post). Although a friend of a friend recommended Real Bagel. I can’t say for myself, but it seems like there is no wrong path here.
Bagels are a hot topic on Montreal travel blogs. I went to Fairmount and St. Viateur’s to compare. I prefer the Fairmont texture and taste: more crisp on the outside and a fresh rippable feel on the inside. It was also a bit saltier! My St. Viateur bagel came out hot and fresh but was too soft and doughy for my liking if I’m splitting hairs. Still delicious. Neither came pre-cream-cheesed. While I liked the hospitality of St. Viateur and the cool black wooden bench nearby, I recommend the Fairmount for its proximity to other fun neighborhood hangs. It also has a nice bench outside.
The cafe on the top floor of Ssense in Old Montreal is slick. But to get there you have to hustle through the rag-tag Gucci adorned hipsters on the ground floor and ride the elevator all the way up. You’ll either find yourself rolling your eyes, feeling unnecessarily uncool, or if you’re anything like my aunt, wonder why these young kids in expensive clothes have holes in their shirts and unkept haircuts. Don’t take it too seriously and enjoy the bookstore and concrete on the top floor. Adore the beautifully designed stairwells on the way down.
Architect futurist Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller designed the biosphere (not the biodome) on the island built alongside Montreal’s Old Port. I recommend reading the wikipedia page on the biosphere and Buckminster Fuller as a minimum. Save this activity for a sunny day, and if you can, plan to ride bikes around the island, I wish we did!
If you have some experience with light and music acts you can skip the immersive show. But it’s cute if you want to hang around. The coolest part is certainly the actual dome itself, and is indeed worth going. In fact, we went twice! Ok confession, we went twice because we needed to pickup something in the lost and found, but coming back a few days later, in different weather circumstances, did have a completely different feeling.
Société des Arts Technologiques
Check out whats happening at the Société des Arts Technologiques. We saw a lovely 45-minute immersive piano concert in their dome. There’s a proper bar and restaurant on the same floor if you want to bring a drink in with you or get a few recommendations for your next destination.
The painted walls were vibrant and and rich during our stay since we came just after the Mural Festival. Follow the links on the festival’s guide or stroll around the Plateau area off the Mont Royal Metro station.
Blanc in the Gay Village
The city is working on bringing in more public art, including this fantastic illuminated free open-air exhibit blanc. One of the exhibits (not pictured) had an Augmented Reality component. It was surprisingly not gimmicky, quite funny, and worth downloading an app for a one-time use.
What a wonderful nightclub. This after-hours spot has great sound and a clean and positive vibe. They don’t serve alcohol but you can get a Redbull at the bar or a vitamin water from the vending machines downstairs. Full review in my IG post.
Very nice fitness centre! Stereo felt like a younger sister to Berlin’s Big Club (🏢). You can’t deny the reveal up the staircase. The crowd last night was diverse by style (athletic, nerdy, technosexual, clubby, street), age (college kids to senior citizens), and ethnicity. The absence of alcohol made this night with @djjohndigweed an intense but unaggressive and friendly dance zone. I liked that. Throughout the night I spotted people in corners doing runners stretches and wiping their brows with sweatbands. People come here to werk out and I would like to do so again!
It rained on Sunday during my visit so I missed Picnic Electronik but I’m told it’s a wonderful, sunny, day party with great bookings. Have a look.
Lovely lady and talented DJ, Dominique Thibault (Mightykat), is based in MTL. During my visit she was co-hosting a few all-female dj lineup parties. I remember her sound as bright and housey. See if she’s playing anything in the ‘hood on Resident Advisor or her Facebook page.
Things to skip
MTL blogs insist on going to the Jean-Talon market. It was yummy and cute. But if you’ve been to a half farmer’s market/produce market elsewhere in the world, you have been here too. I’m told the Botanical Garden is missable. We didn’t go, but a friend told us if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I like flowers so I think I’d still like to have gone. And finally, the famous underground city talked about in blogs seemed to be mostly chain stores. Don’t sweat it if you don’t find yourself accidentally wandering around down there.