Your new number one city-trip destination, Montreal. Just off the border with the US in Canada, conveniently located in the Quebec province and only a short flight from NY, is the beautiful island of Montréal (I know, island, mind blown!). Where Canada is famous for bears catching salmon upstream, handsome bushmen chopping wood (or maybe that’s only my fantasy) and winters being evil, is Montréal a city of it’s own.
I could give you a million reasons to visit Montréal, like the charming French/English slang, a giant glass ball that hovers above the city but is actually an environmental museum or the mouth watering bagels, but I’ve tried to compress the endless list to the most important reasons (bagels, bagels and bagels) to visit Montréal before wintertime when the sun sets at noon (not really noon but you might as well stay in bed all day anyway, days are short).
A FRENCHY IN CANADA
Montréal or Mon-real (pronounced the French way when you let the r roll on the back of your tongue while trying to cough up your last dinner), is the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. But it’s a type of French where this Dutch, conversational French speaking girl got lost in translation.
With a strange mixture of English slang and an odd, somewhat nasal, dialect I tried to throw in some ‘je parle un peu français’ but the essays I got as a response never made it to my linear brain. So unless you are a true Frenchy and you’re up for a little puzzling while conversing, just stick to your basic English. To order the traditional heart attack on a well decorated plate, Poutine, a mixture of French fries, gravy and cheese curds, or to find your way to the closest Jazz bar and sip on a bourbon cocktail.
ON THE GO INFO
The airport of Montréal, Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (you gotta love an airport with the name of Trudeau in it) can easily be reached by bus and train or a short taxi ride. Bus/train tickets can be purchased at the airport and taxi’s are everywhere! If you have a US cell you can probably get your provider to cover Canada as well.
Just like other big cities around the world, Montréal has a great bike system called the Bixi Bike. The city is full of stations to dock your bike and streets are wide enough to have cars and bikes drive side-by-side. Get a three-day pass for only $14 CAD but be aware of getting out of downtown Montréal. The climb to get to the more neighborhoody parts of town like the hip Mile End and traditional Rue Fairmont can be brutal if not in the right ‘I’m-going-to-bike-my-ass-off’ mindset. Public transportation in Montréal is as easy as my love life (food being my only love), with a great bus- and metro-system.
And now without further adieu I present you the main reasons to go to a city where you get to start your days with the most delicious bagel after you’ve indulged in too many cocktails, burlesque shows and jazz the night before.
BAGELS FOR LIFE
Since food is my number one love in life this could also be my only reason to visit Montreal. Maybe it’s because of the French way of life, enjoying every meal like it’s your last, or because of the many influences, food in Montréal is just pure greatness. Act like a local and start your day with a bagel from one of the two most famous bagel shops in Montréal, St. Viateur or Fairmount in the Mile End area.
St. Viateur and Fairmount, is a battle, a duel, a great big deal in Montréal which one you choose and it’s important to stay loyal to the shop of your liking. But since I have huge commitment issues I swayed between St.Viateur and Fairmount and found myself some mornings devouring the beautifully hand made bagels of St.Viateur, where some nights I stumbled into Fairmount for the perfect night-cap-bagel.
VEGAN OPTIONS AND CHOCOLATE
Apart from the traditional Quebec dish, Poutine, a heavenly (for some people deathly) mixture of fries and gravy, is Montréal full of vegan and vegetarian restaurants and café’s like Chu Chai and Le Kitchen. Chu Chai is a vegan Thai restaurant that plays with ‘meat’ and ‘seafood’, in a way that will have you stunned. Try the most delicious ‘faux chicken’ dishes or one of their killer signature cocktails. Le Kitchen is a downtown laid-back daytime eatery offering a menu of vegan, gluten-free & organic fare, baked goods & juices. Try their to-die-for-brownie and you’ll never look at chocolate the same way.
FOOD LOVERS UNITED
For the meaty monsters among us, you’ll be able to enjoy some great carnivore-cuts at Lawrence. Their shop is a locals’ favorite with two restaurants just down the street, Lawrence and Larry’s. For the best pizza, locals swear by Magpie in the Mile End area: ‘Largely based on traditional Neapolitan- style pizza, by using authentic Italian Tippo ‘00’ flour and by adding a touch of Montréal ‘je ne sais quoi,’ Magpie provides a unique twist on a beloved classic.’ Go for a classy high tea to Salon de Thé Cardinal and you’ll feel reborn with their ultra delicious scones.
Get your taco fix at Mais where tequila is poured like it’s water. Pho Tay Ho, for the best traditional Asian food. Don’t leave this Vietnamese gem without trying their big fish dish with dill. For a great atmosphere, amazing cocktails and cute bar staff go to Sparrow. The list can just go on forever, so hereby a short list of restaurants/bars and cafes for anyone that want to make their taste buts do cartwheels in their mouth.
Everybody loves a little list:
- Arthurs: Jewish classics with a twist
- Thazard: Fusion Japanese food
- Foxy: Ceviche and shrimp cocktails
- Le Cagibi: Artsy vegetarian cafe
- Lesters: Old-fashioned, traditional sandwiches
- Nora Gray: Southern Italian dishes and delicate wines
- Atwater Cocktail Club: Back alley neighborhood cocktail bar
- Boulangery Cheskie: Chocolate Russian goodies
SUMMERTIME IN MONTREAL
Since winters can be so darn long, people seem to relive their puberty every year come summer. Whether it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy that one last late night drink on a terrace or because they literally need more time shredding their winter fur, I’m down for any excuse that gets me to enjoy good-humored people, drinks, food and music. And because people swarm into the streets and outside after work hours, the wonderful restaurants of Montréal have an abundance of outside patio’s and unique pop-up terraces. Or terraces as locals call them which will pop up lining sidewalks, on rooftops or in hidden gardens.
CREATIVE OUTDOOR GET TOGETHERS
Terraces will stay put from somewhere in April till October, weather and outdoor heating permitting. And because of the creativity of the Montréalers these terraces are anything but ordinary. Some have amazing artworks on them where others are beautiful floral-lined sheds but all of them are just cozy nooks for people to enjoy summertime and to forget all about the horrid winters.
I was lucky enough to combine my two passions: Aperol Spritz and Jazz at the Furco bar/restaurant in the financial district. While gazing through colorful plants my ears where treated to the wonderful Jeff Louch Trio who play there every Tuesday from 6pm-9pm. For an extensive list of go to terrassesses visit the Local Montréal tour website that has compiled their favorite go-to places… Then ‘holla at me’ with your top picks!
NIGHT TIME ENTERTAINMENT
As much as food is my forte, music is the vain of my existence. And who knew that these Montréal hermits where these amazing, creative musical geniuses! Home to some of the most famous musicians such as Arcade Fire, Simple Plan, Celine Dion and the all-time favorite Leonard Cohen, Montréal has an extraordinary and extensive indie, jazz, experimental and even hip-hop scene. But there’s also a grand burlesque and Variety world that you don’t want to miss.
On a Wednesday night we wiggled our little bagel butts into The Wiggle Room. Montreal’s home for burlesque, comedy, live music, Improv, performance workshops and of course, cocktails! And boy was I happy we did… I got to ask the ‘Love Doctor’ about boys, got to see a woman do burlesque as a lizard (who knew that was on my bucket list) and laugh some abs on with great stand-up artists. And when I was ready to call it a night (I’m an amateur drinker, fraudster smoker and once-in-a-blue-moon-party-girl) my little local lover only just got started. So we made our way down the street to Barfly, the ultimate dive bar to meet regulars and check out the latest Quebec sounds. We were lucky enough to enjoy the amazing bluegrass group ‘Colin Perry and Blind’ while have a pint or two.
MUSICAL PICNICS, FESTIVALS AND ROAD TRIPS
Apart from the nightly venues and performances, Montréal also has some of the best annual events like Igloofest, MUTEK Festival, and the somewhat more commercial Osheaga. On Sunday’s, after you’ve indulged in a delicious brunch at Sparrow’s or Lawrence, head to the little Woodstock-like festival, Piknic Elektronik at Mount Royal. With amazing views and great shows this is the best place to finish of your Sunday. Or take a little road trip (in our case in a Ford Mustang, because we can…) for the weekend to Quebec city while blasting some French/English hip hop from the likes of Radio Radio or the soulful Apollo Lovely and enjoy the Canadian country scenery.
A GREEN CITY
With rent half the price of my shoebox flat in New York, the European flair of a Frenchy smoking a Gauloises cigarette and a city that feels like one big friendly neighborhood, I’m in serious doubt why my home is not in Montréal. The streets are tree lined, every other block features a historical building or church and there’s a beautiful mixture of French and English influences. Montréal is set on an island in the Saint Lawrence River and named after Mt. Royal, the triple-peaked hill at its heart. The boroughs, many of which were once independent cities, include neighborhoods ranging from cobblestoned, French colonial Vieux-Montréal – with the Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica at its center – to the bohemian Plateau.
THE HISTORICAL HEART OF MONTREAL
Walk down the cobblestone, narrow streets with old buildings and tons of history in the old port of Montréal to the Clocktower. Climb the Clocktower or better yet, tan underneath the Clocktower at Clocktower beach. You can’t actually dip your pristine feet in the St. Lawrence river but you CAN get a lobster like appearance while you’re playing beach volleyball.
Visit the grande Notre-Dame, even tho you’ll have to endure a little waiting you’ll get the chance light a candle for a loved one. Then make you’re way down Notre-Dame street to stumble upon more churches and historical artifacts. Or climb, bike or hike the beautiful Mount Royal to get the most stunning views of the city. And even if you don’t stay in the downtown or more historical parts of Montréal, there are hardly any streets in the city that don’t showcase different architectural styles, a small church or impressive murals.
And even if none of these reasons convinced you to hop on a plane to Canada, ask any Montréaler (if that’s even a thing) and they’ll have you convinced within seconds why this city is the best city to live, eat, play and visit. Every and any person I met in Montréal is obsessed with the city and it’s lifestyle. So go ahead, make the jump and try to proof them wrong… you’ll fail!
Have you ever been to Montreal? We’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comment section below! Read Next > A New Yorker’s Guide To New York