City with two souls
I had great expectations for Montréal. I was really looking forward to seeing the double personality of this city and all the different influences that shaped it. Unfortunately the weather ruined my plans quite a bit, but I still managed to enjoy the city, meet some friends and have a good time. If I had to imagine Montréal as a person, it would be an elegant designer with a flashy touch (like bright orange streaks in her short hair) and a rock soul. She would also be a foodie with a passion for alternative music and a daring personality.
I think that Montréal needs to be discovered slowly, little by little every day, corner after corner, detail after detail. My stay was way too short to paint a comprehensive picture of the city, but the following is a quick guide to Montréal if you don’t have much time.
Parc du Mont Royal
You can’t really go to Montréal and not visit this park. Situated in the heart of the city, this big park offers an endless number of trails and viewpoints, a lake and a few recreational structures.
At the very top there is a wonderful viewpoint that opens over an unobstructed view of the city. Learn a bit more about the historical significance of Mont Royal and take some panorama pictures. Take a look at the map inside the tourism office and decide which trails to explore. I stopped at Lac aux Castors, at the Croix du Mont Royal and finally headed down to the monument dedicated to Sir George Cartier.
The Plateau is a very characteristic and picturesque neighbourhood at the edge of Mont Royal. Take some time to wander through its streets, observing the colorful houses and the incredible number of coffee shops everywhere. For a delicious snack or meal, head to St. Viateur Bagels & Café and choose from their amazing variety of freshly baked bagels. I especially loved the rosemary and sea salt one.
Parc La Fontaine
Parc La Fontaine is small compared to Mont Royal, but I liked the atmosphere. The lake is perfect for skating or paddleboarding depending on the season and there are squirrels everywhere.
Vieux Montréal and Vieux Port
Being very close to each other, they are the perfect combo for a morning exploration. Visit the church of Notre Dame, read the story behind the two statues in Place d’Armes (“The English pug and the French poole”), take a look inside the Marché du Bonsecours and for a sugar refill try the traditional Cabane à sucre in Place Jacques Cartier.
The area of the old harbor is quite picturesque even with bad weather: walk along the old rail tracks, visit the Science Museum if you have time or catch a Cirque du Soleil show. Go all the way to the Clock Tower: in summer you can even go up the stairs and admire the view from above.
The Entertainment neighbourhood and the Latin Quarter offer quirky corners and some interesting art installments. Don’t worry too much about where you’re going and focus on the details around you. As far as museums go, the Musée des Beaux Arts is worth a visit. It’s extremely big and it covers centuries of art and even modern design with very enigmatic and controversial pieces. When I was there, there was an incredible exhibition dedicated to Chagall, so I spent most of my time in that section.
The great thing about Montréal though is that art is all around you. From hidden murals to modern pieces of design and sculptures to edgy music and exhibitions, there’s so much to discover wherever you decide to go.
BAnQ: I’m always fascinated by libraries and this one is huge and awesome.
Victoria Square: Take a picture with the only metro sign in Montréal that imitates the old-fashioned Paris ones.
Canal de Lachine – Flour Mills and Atwater market
If you want to visit another market, the walk along the Canal de Lachine all the way to the Atwater Market is quite nice. Not crowded, the path along the canal has panels explaining the history of the big flour mills in the area. The market itself doesn’t really stand out, it’s just your average souvenirs + grocery shopping market.
Recap – Main info
Where to stay: The HI Montréal hostel is really nice, definitely the best in terms of value for money. Breakfast is included, the common room and the kitchen are spacious, the staff organizes a different activity every day and the rooms are clean and well-organized. Highly recommended.
How to move around: Montréal is fairly big, so moving just on foot can be time-consuming. The metro works very well, so it’s a fast and reliable alternative.
How long: Three days at the very least, five to a week is better to appreciate things more.
Questions or comments? Let me know!
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