The first free weekend we had this spring was Easter, so we decided to book a quick trip to Montreal. Still loving that favorable exchange rate and cheap flights! We learned the hard way that flying with bad allergies is NO JOKE. Neither of our ears popped after landing, so we spent the weekend half deaf probably shouting at each other. Is that what old age is going to look like for us?? The city was eerily quiet, with the exception of a few spots downtown. Maybe it was due to the holiday, but either way, it was strange. Not our favorite trip, but still some good highlights to mention, like lots of good food. It may appear that all we did was eat, but I promise it was balanced with a lot of walking…
First, a little history. Montreal was a key city in the French North America under the name Ville Marie, and flourished as a hub for fur trade. It was later surrendered to the British in the 1760’s, but has since maintained French as the official language. The name Montreal is said to come from the mountain ‘Mount Royal’, which in French translated to ‘Mont Real’.
THINGS TO DO:
Mount Royal Park, A.K.A. Parc Du Mont Royal: The park is landscaped by Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and parts of Buffalo, N.Y. It contains the highest point in Montreal, aptly named Mount Royal. Despite the thick fog, we were able to see a nice view of the skyline.
This is a super high tech cross filled with LED lights. It is usually white light, but they change them for special occasions, like purple for new popes.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: File this under art fail. First, they offer pricing for those aged 13-30, and then 31+. The ticket agent assumed the latter. What a sad day. It’s the same disappointment when someone doesn’t card you at a bar or liquor store. Sigh. Second, the museum offers regular tickets, or tickets that include the featured exhibit. We decided to go all out and get the full ticket. We went through what we thought was the whole museum, walked outside, and realized WE NEVER MADE IT TO THE FEATURED EXHIBIT. How is that even possible? Was it a special super secret elevator we missed? Was it worth it? I’ll never know.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal: The original chapel was built in 1642 and has since been relocated and rebuilt several times, with the last major renovation in the 1890’s, until a fire ruined most of the interior in 1978. It was repaired to resemble the previous iteration and completed in 1982. The church was elevated to basilica status that same year after a visit by Pope John Paul II. Admission is $6, whether you pay in CAD or USD. Free tours are available in English and French. We were lucky enough to be there while the chorus was practicing along with the organist. Interesting fact: Celine Dion was married here, and also held her husband’s memorial service here.
Street art: While I didn’t consult this map before, it offers an easy walking tour of murals. Art is hidden around alleys throughout the city, so you’ll likely stumble upon it without even trying. Below are a few highlights.
As always, walking is the best way to find hidden treasures and see things not on a tourist’s agenda.
If you have time:
There are a number of public markets worth visiting, but we didn’t fit it in.
Visiting during a cold, Canadian winter? Check out the underground city of restaurants and shopping.
Boules Roses unfortunately wasn’t up yet for the season, but I bet that is pretty cool to see in person! Instead, we wandered around the Gay Village and saw Jaws below.
WHERE TO EAT:
Larry’s: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee. We came straight from the airport for a snack and caffeine. This was at the height of the hearing impairment, so I had a one sided conversation with Steve and the server. We were able to communicate coffee and food, so it’s all good. They also have an upscale sister restaurant (or would it be brother??) next door, Lawrence.
Restaurant Manitoba: Serving ‘New Canadian cuisine’, whatever that is. I highly recommend this spot. The server explained each dish, and where the ingredients came from, including the bee hive on-site to produce honey. They specialize in foods ‘from the forest’ and the St. Lawrence River. I’m assuming their river does not have the same reputation as the Potomac does here….
Art’s Cafe: Very cool little cafe. I can vouch for the chai latte!
Foxy: Located in Griffintown, which seemed a bit far from everything else. It was warm and cozy, plus the chicken avocado tomatillo salsa dish gets two thumbs up!
Aux Vivres: This vegetarian restaurant knocked my socks off! It is an upscale diner feel with a big menu. We got the Creamsicle smoothie made with coconut milk, carrots, and OJ to start. It tasted like a milkshake, mmm. I am planning to recreate this at home soon.
This breakfast was massive. Polenta, guac, salsa, salad, black beans, and tofu. I didn’t try the tofu, but everything else was sooo gooood. The entrees come with a chai latte or coffee, too. We were running late for the airport, so all of this was consumed in about 5 minutes flat.
Steve got the yogurt, granola and fruit. They definitely didn’t skimp on toppings!
Cafe Sfouf: This fun spot was full of people on their Mac books typing away. They only take cash or Canadian bank cards, FYI.
Venice MTL: Right around the corner from Notre-Dame is this California themed spot. They have poke and acai bowls, plus other healthy options.
WHERE TO STAY:
Mile End/Ex: We stayed in Mile End in an AirBnB because the neighborhood was charming and walkable to good food. It felt very authentic rather than a touristy area. The city felt very spread out, so it didn’t seem like location was critical. You could catch an Uber or use their metro system, but some spots were just too far to walk.
Even though French is an official language, all places we went to could speak English and could offer an English menu.
Check your phone carrier regarding international roaming. I was surprised to find out that my Verizon plan now includes no roaming charges for phone, data, or text in Canada. That made taking Uber, navigating maps, and checking Yelp so much easier.