Travel Guide: A Weekend in Montreal

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on July 6, 2012 0 Comments

If this is your first visit to Montreal, the city will absolutely enthrall you. If you’ve already been to Montreal and had the time of your life partying, wining, dining and shopping, then chances are you’re returning to this gorgeous, European-like city just because you couldn’t help yourself. You just had to come back.

Don’t speak much (or any) French? No worries, because most Montrealers speak English, too.

Spend an afternoon at an outdoor cafe people watching and a night partying in the city’s numerous cafes, night clubs, bars and dance clubs  — or in Montreal’s famous casino at 1 Rue de Casino on Ile Notre Dame.

Morning after got you down? Montreal sleeps late, and the convenience stores provide hot coffee to get you through the day.

Where to stay

Stay downtown at the The Appartement Hotel on 455 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, at the very nice and comfortable Hotel Espresso on Guy or at the luxurious and newly updated Ritz Carlton Hotel, which was the first Ritz Carlton Hotel in North America and is now 100 years old, as Canada Guide Jane McLean explains. Or, stay at an historic bed and breakfast in in the Plateau, like the Gingerbread Manor at 3445 Avenue Laval.

Getting around

Montreal is a walkable city and you can easily orient yourself. Look toward the mountain and you’re looking north. Look toward the St. Laurent river and you’re looking south. You’ll know whether you’re looking East or West of Boulevard St. Laurent, the street that divides East and West because the street signs will read (Est or Ouest, East or West).

You can drive around Montreal, but parking is difficult, although you can refill your parking meter at any one of a number of refill stations, with coins or a card. You can rent a Bixi bicycle, you can walk, or you can take the efficient (and quiet) Metro.

Rain on the way? No problem. Montreal’s underground city is one of the largest indoor cities in the world, and it connects you to dozens of shopping malls, apartment buildings, office buildings, hotels, seven Metro stations and nearly 2,000 boutiques. During the long winter or on rainy days, shopping, eating and getting around underground is a god-send, as Canada  Guide Jane McLean shows you here.


Friday, 8 p.m.

Check into your hotel and then spend an evening getting acquainted with the city. Walk along  Ste. Catherine Street from Rue Guy to Boulevard St. Laurent to window shop, bar hop, grab a snack or duck into a club, along with the other night owls. In Montreal, you can find restaurants from every corner of the world.  Then, rest up with a good night’s sleep. The weekend is young.

Saturday, 9 a.m.

Take breakfast at your hotel or try the most European coffee in North America: Van Houtte offers a premier roast, and its cafe-bistros are only in Quebec. French-born Albert Louis Van Houtte started his unique French roast in 1919 when he traveled to New York to buy a coffee roaster. Today, Van Houtte offers 23 cafe-bistros in Montreal, such as this one at 359 President Kennedy;  this one at 400 de Maisonneuve West; or, this one at Place des Arts. Gourmet coffee like this you cannot find anywhere in the U.S.  The cafe-bistros include pastries, bagels, croissants, muffins, decadent desserts, salads, ciabattas, wraps, foccacios and whole grain sandwiches.Jazz and blues are piped into each cafe-bistro. WiFi at all locations. Special Van Houtte K cups to go are also available.

11 a.m.

After you’re properly caffeinated, walk down Peel Street toward toward Ste. Catherine Street. Turn right on Ste. Catherine, and at 1171 Rue Ste. Catherine Ouest, you will see Chapters Books, which is a division of Indigo Books and one of the few English-language bookstores in Montreal. Starbucks is on the second floor. Chapters also offers a convenient meeting place, since you can sit in Starbucks and wait for your party until they arrive. Starbucks is privately owned and you cannot bring books you haven’t purchased into Starbucks.

Enjoy Ste. Catherine Street during the day, and visit some of the many retail outlets. Tourist shops abound on Ste. Catherine and, along with tee shirts and post cards, these shops include many cool items, such as Inuit sculptures.

A popular department store is La Baie/The Bay, which is the Hudson Bay Co., which was founded in 1670 and is the oldest commercial corporation in N. America — and one of the oldest in the world.

Ogilvie’s was formerly a department store but is now a series of boutiques. Holt Renfrew is a high-end, Canadian department store similar to Sax Fifth Avenue and Barneys.

Many European boutiques abound, plus the Swedish department store H&M and Montreal’s fashionable, young-at-heart chain, Le Chateau.

If you shop H&M in your U.S. city, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see different apparel in the Montreal H&M. Men who wear fitted shirts and find  fitted shirts difficult to find in the U.S. will also be pleasantly surprised to see many men’s fitted shirts in the Montreal stores.

Holt Renfrew

This was the Ogilvie Department store, but is now a series of boutiques. I shot the camera directly into the window. You see reflections of Montreal, which accurately depict the spirit of Montreal, old and new in the same screen.

Left, H&M                  Right, Le Chateau

Both are on Ste. Catherine Street.

1 p.m.

If  you’re looking for a sit-down lunch, you’ll have plenty to choose from in whichever Montreal neighborhood you’re in.

If you’re in the mood for a very tasty, fresh-baked, half chicken with two sides for  $7.00 CDN, you’re in luck, because the Portuguese-owned, chicken rotisserie CoCo Rico is on the corner of St. Laurent and Napolean at 3907 St Laurent. This family owned restaurant offers sides of roasted potato, macaroni salad or cole slaw, which are superb. CoCo Rico offers only a few tables, but you can eat out. It has great reviews on Yelp and Urban Spoon.

3 p.m.

Enjoy the best of Montreal on Boulevard St. Laurent, which is also known as The Main, because it is the main street that divides the East and West sides of Montreal, and also is where Russian and Polish immigrants settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the groceries and restaurants on The Main, you will find food from around the world.

Cheese, herbs and chocolates are a few of the imported delicacies from La Vieille Europe (Old Europe) at 3855 St Laurent.

Food from all over Europe, including rare meats, cheeses, breads, coffee, olive oil. An olive oil tasting stand from Portugal, above.

A coffee roaster in La Vieille Europe. The store boasts more than 30 types of coffee roasted and sold. Simply put, the panoply of exotic food brings gourmets, gourmands and chefs from all over Canada.

While on St. Laurent, you’ll see a long line outside Schwartz’s. Wait in line at Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, (which is now in its 80th year) for the best Montreal smoked meat you’ll ever have. Montreal prefers to smoke rather than to corn its brisket. Enjoy the city’s utmost in deli pleasures. Many other

The Quebec coffee house, the 24-hour Cafe Depot on the corner of St. Laurent and Prince Arthur is a local coffee house chain that offers superb cakes, such as mocha almond, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, tiramisu and black forest. In Montreal, only Café Dépôt and the Polish Wawel (below) offer truly European cakes and tortes.

Low fat, hot or iced coffee is available in macchiato, cappuccino or maple cream. Sugar free is also available, plus exotic teas and Nutrivo, Café Dépôt’s  signature banana yogurt smoothie. 

For lunch, pair Asiago bisque soup or pesto salad with a Lyon or Szechuan baguetine. Or, try the Montreal classique — pastrami, Swiss and creole Dijon sauce.

In the mood for something different?  Try a ham and brie wrap, grilled Thai chicken or a braised pork chipotle sandwich. Add Brazilian coffee roasted with fruity notes. Wifi at most locations.

Downtown locations include:800 Blvd. Rene Levesque O.,(514) 390-8859;1490 de Maisonneuve O., (514) 931-1570;1200 Mc Gill College Avenue,(514) 861-0339;3601 Blvd. St. Laurent,(514) 285-0009.

Not far from St. Laurent is the original  Fairmount Bagel Bakery where Isidore Shlafman opened Montreal’s first bagel shop on St. Laurent in 1919. In 1949, Shlafman moved to Fairmount Street at the current location and where his grandchildren run the bagel factory, which features an open flame oven, which is prohibited in most U.S. cities. You actually watch the bakers shape the bagel, roll it in water, place it in the oven, and remove it and then sprinkle sesame or poppyseed on top. Fairmount makes more than 20 kinds of bagels 24 hours a day at its factory on 74 Fairmount West. People from all over Canada and the northeast U.S. wait in line on weekend nights for these bagels.

Few pleasures are as delicious as a hot bagel, fresh from the oven. They give you bags and you bag them. You can bring as many as you want into the U.S. We used to buy a gross, which made the customs officers smile.

The bagel is so well-loved that both Fairmount and competitor St. Viatur Bagel at 263 St. Viatur West are open 24 hours.

Both will ship to the U.S., for a fee.

The New York Times even has a recipe for the Montreal bagel, which is sweeter, chewier and is a heavier-gluten bagel than the New York water bagel, and whose dough has a flavor that’s a lot like contemporary Pretzel vendors in the mall. I bring you the New York Times recipe for the Montreal bagel here.

5 p.m.

Walk along the Prince Arthur Pedestrian Mall, where a variety of restaurants, dress shops and boutiques delight. This is the premier artisan neighborhood in Montreal, a neighborhood that boasts a long history of artists, writers  and poets from the nearby St. Louis Square neighborhood.

Here, you’ll find an ice cream shop, a convenience store, dress shops, and many restaurants, including several Greek restaurants such as Le Caverne Grecque and the Polish restaurant Mazurka, among them.

The pace is leisurely along Prince Arthur.

6 p.m.

If you make reservations in advance, walk east and north until you hit the exquisite Au Pied du Cochon, as Canada Guide Jane McLean talks about here.

Au Pied du Cochon is at 536 Avenue Duluth Est, proudly hailed as one of Montreal’s finest restaurants. It features many of Chef Martin Picard’s specialties, including Poutine au Fois Gras. Personally, I cannot abide by this  unusual pairing, mostly out of respect for fois gras, but many do swear by this classic hangover recipe and guilty pleasure. CNN recently proclaimed poutine, (the unique dish of french fries with melted curd cheese and gravy) as Canada’s national dish, as Montreal Guide Evelyn Reid talks about here.

The restaurant is pricey, but the quality is superb.  Open 5 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday to Sunday. Reservations recommended. Bring your wine (Apportez votre vin) and the restaurant will open it for you, with no corking fee.

7:30  p.m

Walk toward Crescent Street to at 1445 Crescent to see the Sir Winston Churchill Complex, which has been open since 1967, and is the longest running establishment on Crescent Street, the most well-loved street for Montreal tourists. Many other restaurants and shops abound on this street.

Club Karina is a small dance club that has great character, bongos and contortionists on the third floor of the complex. It opens at nine, but action doesn’t pick up until close to midnight. The bars close at 3 a.m. Open Thursday through Saturday nights. Also available for private parties.

Below Karina’s is the indoor-outdoor restaurant and English-style pub, Winnie’s on the second floor, and the original bar,  the Sir Winston Churchill Pub is on the ground floor, which is also indoor-outdoor.

Happy Hour is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The legal drinking age in Quebec is 18. Many tourists from the U.S. under age 21 come to Montreal. If you’re under 25, bring your ID. In Montreal, carding used to be unheard of, (believe me) but carding has become more common with the many 18-year old students who drive to Montreal from the U.S.

Montreal definitely still lives up to its reputation as a party city, which it rightfully earned during Prohibition in the U.S., when bootleggers had to soupe up their cars to outrace the sheriffs chasing them, all the way to the Canadian border.

9 p.m.

If you have tickets for Montreal’s world-famous Cirque du Soleil, you’re in for the treat of your life.

Located in the University of Quebec at Montreal’s student area is Montreal’s fave live music venue Club Soda at 1225 Rue St. Laurent. Club Soda features live music all year around.

In the summer, be sure to go to the  Montreal Jazz Festival, the Francofollies, the Just for Laughs comedy festival and the many outdoor concerts at the Place des Arts in the Quartier des Spectacles. These are certain to enliven city life, brought to you by’s Montreal Guide Evelyn Reid.

Or, go to Montreal’s Casino on 1 Rue de Casino. Only a few miles from downtown on Ile Notre Dame, you can’t miss it. You need a car or you can take one of the casino buses. If you’re driving, you’ll see signs directing you to the casino. The casino isn’t only for high rollers.

The food is absolutely delicious. I had simply the best Crème Brulee I’ve ever had and a very, strong and heady Café Irlandais at Le Buffet. There are numerous other restaurants in this gorgeous casino.

Sunday, 9 a.m.

Take breakfast in your hotel,  in your bed and breakfast or out on the town. The party-all-night culture isn’t  a myth — it’s a way of life. The convenience store chain, Couche Tard, is aptly named the “Sleep Late.”

The Couche Tard and many depanneurs (convenience stores) offer hot coffee by the cup, not only on weekend mornings — but every day. Couche Tard offers hot Van Houtte coffee, with a special price on Mondays. And interesting to note that you can go into any depanneur and find excellent hot coffee, not some dark swill that we in the U.S. jokingly call coffee. Depanneurs also sell Canadian beer. For other alcohol, you have to go to the provincial government outlets, the Societe des Alcools du Quebec — or SAC, for short. 

If you love Polish breads, cakes and pastries, you’ll enjoy the Polish gourmet pastry store downtown at the Polish Wawel on St. Marc Street. There are breads, pastries, Baba, brioche, ponki, streudel, tortes such as Black Forest, Vanilla Torte, Mocha Torte and many other pastries you can’t resist.

12 p.m.

Lunch in Old Montreal and relax outdoors.  The Papillon restaurant, below, at 85 Rue St. Paul Est boasts onion soup that is reportedly superb, and patrons have been known to order endless plates of escargot and mussels, which come with a scrumptious blue cheese sauce.

Reviewers report that the braised rabbit and salmon are tender, the price reasonable and the service superb. Papillon offers continental service, which is rare in the U.S., but common in Old Montreal.

As in any French city, the name of the game is to people watch from a sidewalk cafe.

Inside the Bonsecour Market, Old Montreal.

Take a tour of Old Montreal in a caleche if you wish.

3 p.m

Drive along Park Avenue to Mt. Royal Avenue to where you see an entrance into the mountain itself — Mount Royal and drive along the street Voie Camillien Houde toward the summit for a look out onto the city of Montreal. Parking at the summit is available.

From the summit, you’ll be able to see the Olympic Stadium in the far left, with downtown directly in front of you and mountains in the distance. Generally, Montreal is safe, compared to large cities in the U.S., but always lock your car and keep your valuables with you.

Lac du Castor (Beaver Lake) also offers a lovely small lake. You can park and go inside the building to read about Montreal’s storied past that began with the early Iroquois village Hochelaga when Jacques Cartier landed in the region in 1535.

The city of Montreal has plans to excavate the original village of Hochelaga, which I’m certain will be a massive undertaking but will be fascinating, once completed.

4 p.m.

The historic Lachine canal is enroute to Montreal’s West Island. The Lachine canal is notable for its remarkable place in history and it is also a Parks Canada National Historic Site.

The Dawes Brewery was the first brewery in Canada,  operating in Lachine from 1811 to 1847.

There is also a museum from Parks Canada that details the early fur trade in this region.

The Lachine canal area offers many paths for bicycling, jogging, walking or rollerblading and cross-country skiing in the winter.

6 p.m.

Drive along to the  West Island along Lakeshore Drive (Bord du Lac) from Dorval  and Pointe Claire to Beaconsfield, Baie d’Urfee, Ste. Anne de Belleville, Kirkland and the Village of Senneville. The West Island is on the island of Montreal, a few miles west of downtown. Many other suburbs are on the mainland, across the Champlain bridge.

The gorgeous scenery of the St. Laurent offers a respite from the nearby bustling  Montreal.

Even though the St. Laurent is a river and not a lake, it is a big river and from this perspective, it seems more like a lake than a river, hence the name of this picturesque Lakeshore Drive.

The West Island was where wealthy French and English had summer homes in the 19th century. In recent decades, affluent and middle-income English- and French-speaking residents have moved to these historic communities, whose streets date back to old fur trading routes.

These towns offer restaurants, dress shops, children’s shops, florists, pubs, and bed and breakfast establishments.  About 42 percent of West Island’s residents are Anglophones, English-speaking, about 31 percent are Francophones and about 25 percent are other.

A contemporary West Island home built in an architectural style reminiscent of an earlier era. This type of architecture is very common.

Sheep grazing in the Village of Senneville at McGill University’s agricultural campus, the McDonald-Ste. Anne de Bellevue campus. The campus is mainly in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, but this is in nearby Senneville.

Lakeshore drive (Bord du Lac) in Senneville.

A home in the Village of Senneville. In Senneville, you often see a stone fence around the properties.

The village is known for its unique rustic look and also for stately, gated mansions, that have been built in recent decades.

These mansions, gorgeous though they are, stand in contrast to this classically quaint rustic stone home. Actor Christopher Plummer grew up in Senneville, near friends of ours, who knew him growing up.

After this drive, you’ll have time to spare, so enjoy the rest of your stay in whatever manner you wish.

Truly, Montreal is for children of all ages, from five to 99.

9 p.m.

Return to your hotel for the night, exhausted but sated.

About the Author ()

An article of mine, 'On Marriage, Life, Death and Remarriage' was published in "Blended Families (Social Issues Firsthand) by Greenhouse Press." An article of mine was referenced in this book: "Margaret Atwood: a reference guide" by Judith McComb

Leave a Reply