Montréal: city of history, cultural melting-pot, and home of the best soft-serve ice cream I’ve ever had. Here’s my mini-guide to the Old Town of a city I’ve been dying to get back to since I was 15.
I recently hopped on a plane for a whirlwind 72-hour trip to Montréal to celebrate the wedding of the lovely Karlie Rosin, and I was so excited, not only to witness my friend marry her soulmate, but also to finally explore one of my favourite cities as an adult. Specifically, the Old Town and Port (or Vieux-Montréal and Vieux-Port) areas.
Back to my roots
When I was 15, I spent a summer in Montréal, and even then I knew that I had to come back as an adult, ASAP. The city made such an impression on me with its beautiful architecture, cultural diversity and vibrant summer atmosphere. But while I’ve been back twice, both times were approximately 36 hours for layovers, and I stayed with family—my mum’s entire family lives in Québec. And when you’re the youngest grandchild who lives on the West Coast, you get taken around.
For this trip, I decided to be selfish. I chose one aunty and uncle to visit with—which my mum will probably hear about, but I warned her—and spent the rest of my three days using my very rusty French to explore on my terms. (French was actually my first language, but I rarely use it. That being said, I understand 99.9% and can read and write it; but I’m very self-conscious when I speak. I get over it pretty quickly in Paris, but that’s a whole other ball of wax.)
With sub-zero temperatures from about October through April (I experienced it as a kid. No fun.), this city knows how to live summer up. They bill themselves as the City of Festivals—and with 1-2 festivals on the go every week (including the revered Festival Internationale du Jazz de Montréal and Just for Laughs), they aren’t kidding. Also, it’s HOT. Like 30 degrees Celsius PLUS the humidex of however many degrees kind of hot. (Which means I packed only dresses—I’ve linked some great options, below!)
From the airport: The most economical form of transport from the airport into town is the P.-E. Trudeau/Downtown shuttle (747). You catch it right outside the airport, it’s 24/7, and it’s about a 35-50 min bus ride into town (depending on traffic and what stop you get off at.) For my purposes, I got off Lionel-Groulx Métro station and took the underground train to the stop closest to my Airbnb in Old Town (Places-d’Armes).
The fare is $10 one-way, but your best #GetThrifty option is a 3-day pass ($19.50) or the Unlimited Weekend pass ($14.00, valid from 4pm Friday to 5am Monday).
Getting around: The Métro is great—super efficient and easy to take. But aside from connecting with the 747 bus or if you want to venture more into the centre of town, you don’t need to take it. Despite the heat, MTL is a fabulous walking city. And there’s always taxis and Uber if you need a lift back to your accommodations after an evening out.
Luggage: Because I arrived in the morning, I couldn’t check into my Airbnb right away. (Though they did let me check in a couple hours earlier than was stated—thank you!) But I really didn’t want to lug my little case around all day in the heat. The night before, I called the hotel where my friend was getting married; and though I wasn’t staying at the hotel, they graciously said I could check my bag with them until my Airbnb was ready. They considered me a client for the wedding, and I really appreciate that customer service. Next, time, I’m just going to spend the extra night’s stay so I can fly in the night before.
(One thing I will remember next time is to have some cash so I could tip the bellman—I felt a bit in poor form for not having remembered. But he was professional enough not to say anything and I made sure to add even more pep than usual to my smile and thank you. In French—important.)
Top Tip: If you choose the red-eye flight, don’t underestimate the effect a quick outfit change and brush of teeth will have on you after a not-so-great night’s sleep on a plane.
Where to stay
Admittedly, the main reason I stayed in Vieux-Montréal was because I didn’t want to have to go too far to/from the wedding I was going to. But I think I would have chosen my same Airbnb anyway. It was right near the Métro and Notre-Dame Basilica, and it’s outside the more touristy east end of the old town; which also meant it was less noisy. While the wedding hotel (Hotel Nelligan, 106 Saint Paul St W) was a touch pricey for me, everyone who stayed there said it was lovely. I also used to book executives from my last Vancouver EA job at the Saint-Sulpice and St. Paul hotels.
Where to eat
If you’re looking for me to tell you where to get the best poutine, you’re looking at the wrong girl. This half French-Canadian doesn’t like it. (Oops.)
That being said, Montréal is known for its poutine as well as smoked meat sandwiches; which I will definitely make time for next time—Schwartz’s Deli, I’m coming for you! It’s a foodie city that I need to dive deeper into on my next visit. In the mean time, my Old Town favourites were:
- TOMMY St-Paul (151 Saint-Paul St W) for brunch. They also have a bagelry and cafe. Have the breakfast croissant.
- Le Petit Dep (179 Saint-Paul St W) for soft-serve ice cream (get the twist du jour!). Also, sandwiches, and your liquid and snack supplies.
Top Tip: If you go the Airbnb route and need supplies (wine, much needed water, snacks), look for a dépanneur (slang: le dep) on Google Maps. They are well stocked convenience stores that are (at least in the Old Town) very picturesque—particularly Le Petit Dep, where I went not once, but three times for excellent soft-serve ice cream.
- Bistro-Brasserie Les Soeurs Grises (32 McGill St) for excellent craft beer, great service and tasty food.
- Maggie Oakes Brasserie (426 Place Jacques-Cartier) in the Hotel William Grey for brunch.
- Pub BreWskey (380 St Paul St E) for craft beer and an excellent back patio facing out towards the river.
Things to see and do
- Notre-Dame Basilica (110 Notre-Dame St W) – To see the exterior of—it’s beautiful. Unless you are very devout, I don’t know that the very, very long line up to go in will be worth it. But if you’re keen, arrive very early in the morning.
- Walk along the boardwalk of the Old Port so you can feel the breeze off of the St. Lawrence River. The sunset is also pretty spectacular.
- Go on the La Grande Roue (The Big Wheel) for a bird’s eye view of the city and area. I didn’t do this due to time constraints and what turned out to be an expensive lunch at a place I have not listed here. (I would have rather spent the money to go on the wheel!)
- Explore the Old Town – It’s incredibly beautiful!
- Museums – Beat the mid-day heat with some A/C at the Montréal Science Museum, Chateau Ramezay Historic Site, or any of these museums in Old Town.Walking along the boardwalk at Montréal’s Old Port river views and a spectacular sunset.
What to pack
Keep it simple. Comfy shoes for walking; dresses, rompers or flowy jumpsuits for day-to-night. Nothing super tight. Il fait très chaud in the summer, so also remember to pack your sunscreen, maybe a hat (I wish I’d packed one), and your water bottle. Basically, the summer essentials—I’ve linked some below.
#GetThrifty: For anything from Orb Clothing, use my code YASMINE20 for 20% off your entire purchase!
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My life was in Montreal years ago. Best food in the world. ~ Don Rickles