Heritage architecture and pop-culture icons. Quaint villages with cool microbreweries. And possibly the best sambo you’ll ever eat. What’s classic feels new in this French-speaking capital of culture.
Hit the highlights
Walking around Montréal is like time travelling across centuries and continents. In the Old Port district, territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples, boldly modern structures such as the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History and Montréal Science Centre pay homage to the city’s diverse roots while imagining the future. This is also the heart of Old Montréal, a cobblestoned village within a city, where slick bistros and boutiques crowd around the 19th-century Notre-Dame Basilica. Go inside to gaze upon its gold-and blue Gothic Revival artistry – come evening, the Aura show illuminates the arches, altar and vaulted ceiling with beams and images set to music.
Head one block north-east to work up an appetite on Saint Laurent Boulevard. Grab a coffee to go from a sidewalk café and take notes on hip eateries and bars for later. Keep going for about two kilometres, browsing vintage shops and department stores before lining up at Schwartz’s Deli. Say “smoked meat” and Montréal’s favourite sandwich will appear: 10-day cured brisket piled between mustard-slathered rye.
Montréal gets its name from Mount Royal, which rises above tree-lined trails west of downtown. In summer, join locals at its top for lively “tam-tam” drum circles. In winter, rent a pair of skates and glide around its outdoor ice rink.
The Quartier des Spectacles district is where you’ll find a party on an epic scale. Its streets are an open-air theatre, hosting celebrations of art, food and film throughout the year. The biggest events – the Just for Laughs comedy festival and Montreal Jazz Festival – happen in July.
Do the neighbourhoods
With its buzzing bar and restaurant scene and riverside beach, Verdun is one of Montréal’s coolest areas. Wellington Street and its tributaries offer cruisy patio wine bars and pubs that stay open late. Mile End has an artsier, bohemian vibe, with rows of colourful Victorian houses, indie shops – and the city’s favourite bagels. St-Viateur Bagel Shop is the place for handrolled, honey-water-soaked, chewy bites worth travelling across the world for.
Locals spend their weekends in the Eastern Townships, a collection of villages where quaint B&Bs, microbreweries, cheese producers and chocolatiers sit among rolling hills, about an hour’s drive from the city centre. On the outskirts of this region, next to the rocky summit of Mont Saint-Hilaire, Indigenous-run La Maison Amérindienne is a living museum of First Nations culture. Join a purification ceremony, walk through an ancient maple grove, see original art and artefacts and sip on iced crowberry tea made from traditional herbs.
Drive north-east from Montréal along the bank of the Saint Lawrence River and in just over three hours you’ll arrive in Québec City – a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its historic Citadelle, winding lanes lined with copper-roofed homes and the grand Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel.
Eat and drink
Driven by cultural diversity, Montréal’s food scene is eclectic. The creamy Thai tea-infused tiramisu at Pichai is a masterclass in fusion. With only one service per evening for up to 30 guests, Le Mousso’s ever-changing tasting menu indulges all the senses. Cross your fingers that you get the beet-flavoured candy floss or fir-smoked scallops with wild plum butter. The chef at Pastel applies daring techniques to local vegetables and meats and plates them with flair.
The Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded Give Peace a Chance. The suite in which the pair staged their 1969 “bed in” has been faithfully restored as part of a renovation that’s given the storied hotel’s golden die-cut ceilings, sculptural staircases and patterned floors fresh glory.
Housed in a refurbished 19thcentury warehouse by the Saint Lawrence River, Auberge du Vieux-Port has a more rustic appeal. Spend a summer evening at the rooftop bar, sipping cocktails and taking in the panoramic views over Old Montréal.