We’re not claiming to be experts, but we have visited Montreal almost every year since 1998. We’ve fallen in love with the city and we think you’ll like it, too. Our suggestions will be most useful if you’re a middle-of-the-road kind of traveler. We’re not after the cheapest room, nor are we after the very most luxurious experience. Enjoy!
Planning your trip
While many people think of Quebec as a winter destination, we enjoy visiting in the spring and summer. And although Montreal is a fairly small city (home to about a million people), you’ll find plenty to keep you busy even if you have a week to spend there. An ideal itinerary might include four or five days in Montreal and two in Quebec City, which is more touristy but also more European in a way. Montreal plays host to numerous festivals and special events ranging from the Snow Festival in January to a Formula 1 race in May or June. You’ll want to find out ahead of time if your visit will coincide with a celebration of some sort, as that can affect crowds at attractions, hotels and restaurants.
Where to stay
We love the Old City and have enjoyed staying at Spring Hill Suites as well as the InterContinental. We’ve also stayed at a few places along Rue Sherbrooke downtown, which is quite convenient if you’re planning to focus on museums and higher-end shopping.
Where to eat
Years ago, we fell in love with a seafood place named Maestro S.V.P., which is at 3615 St-Laurent (near rue Sherbrooke). More recently, we enjoyed a fantastic night out at Modavie, a wine bar with live jazz on rue Saint-Paul Ouest in the Old City. Chez L’Épicier, also on rue Saint-Paul, is a spectacular experience as well. If you’re on rue Crescent, try Weinstein & Gavino’s, a large, upscale Italian place with gorgeous interior design.
On the fancier, more formal side, we can recommend Restaurant Bonaparte on rue St. Francois Xavier near Notre Dame in the Old City. We stand in awe of the six-course, reasonably priced tasting menu there. You’ll leave raving about the different flavors — and not feeling too full! You’ll want to dress up a bit, and reservations are probably a good idea for dinner.
For a lovely lunch in warm weather, check out Jardin Nelson just off Place Jacques Cartier in the Old City. The crepes are fantastic, the sangria is delicious and you may even be treated to some jazz music while you dine. If you’re in the Old City and just want a snack, try Maison Christian Faure, one of the most amazing bakeries you’re ever likely to find.
What to see
Montreal offers an incredible range of activities and attractions, from a casino to professional sports and from world-class botanical gardens to a small but excellent art museum. These are some of our favorite things to do there:
Visit the Jardin Botanique. Right across from the old Olympic stadium is one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the world. The 180-acre grounds are simply breathtaking, even if you’re not especially interested in gardening. Wear comfortable shoes and plenty of sunblock so you can enjoy your stroll. And if you have enough time, buy the combo ticket that gets you into the nearby Biodome and Tour de Montreal (the big tower at Olympic Stadium). All three are worth seeing.
Go to the Old Port. Here you’ll find a cool science museum with a great IMAX theater, access to a few different boat tours (we love the relaxing Bateau-Mouche) and an ideal place for biking or in-line skating, not to mention spectacular people-watching possibilities.
See the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Montreal’s main art museum is somewhat small, but often draws impressive special exhibits.
If you’re in town for a few days, you might want to buy the Passeport MTL, which offers admission to many attractions as well as free use of public transit.
The city has an incredible Underground City, with a network of passageways connecting more than 1,500 shops. One easy place to start is at the Complexe Desjardins on Rue Ste-Catherine.
Other stuff you should know
Language issues: You’ll have no trouble getting by if you don’t speak French. But if you’re looking forward to indulging your inner francophone, that won’t be a problem. Most people you’ll meet at restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions are bilingual.
Money issues: The exchange rate is less favorable than it once was, at least from an American perspective. Still, your dollars will stretch further here than in many urban vacation spots. Click here for a great online currency converter.
Rachel lived in Paris for several months in 1995 and we spent a week there together in 2002. She returned in 2015 for a few days as well. We are neither student travelers nor extravagant spenders; the recommendations you find here will generally be quite affordable as long as you put yourself in that middle category.
The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe both offer wonderful views of the city. We went to the top of one at night and to the top of the other during the day and enjoyed both immensely.
A river cruise with the Bateau Mouche, while a bit cliche, is also the best way to see some parts of Paris. It’s relaxing and easy on the feet, too.
If you plan to spend much of your time at the city’s fabulous museums, you’ll want to buy the Paris Museum Pass. You may or may not see a huge savings in admission costs, but it lets you skip long lines in some places.
The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are the absolute must-see museums, in our humble view. If you’re into modern art, the Centre Pompidou is a great place to go. The Musée National du Moyen Age focuses on medieval arts and crafts.
The Musée Jacquemart-Andre is the city’s best small museum, with an amazing collection in a truly unusual and spectacular setting. The sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin is also worth a visit. The Musée du Vin (yes, that means wine) is a bit cheesy but also fun.
Notre Dame is the obvious stop in this category. And it really is the type of building that could inspire faith in the most determined agnostic.
But you should also visit one of the city’s other amazing churches, even if you’re Jewish and church sight-seeing isn’t usually your thing. The Sacré Coeur in Montmartre and the Sainte-Chapelle in the 4th Arrondissement are our favorites.
Versailles and Giverny would be first on our list of day trips for people with the time and/or inclination to spend a day outside Paris. The weather is key here; both are definitely not places to spend a rainy day.
Bonjour Paris: www.bonjourparis.com