CityGuide: Montreal

Things to do in Montreal

Updated: April 2015

The cobblestone paths of Old Montreal. PHOTOGRAPHY SHAYNE LAVERDIÈRE

Anchored by its central mountain (Mont Royal), Canada’s island city is a harmonious dichotomy of English and French, past and future. Dotted with church steeples and wrought-iron balconies, the colourful landscape is home to one of the hottest arts scenes in the country, with international events like the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs and homegrown phenomena like Cirque du Soleil. Add to this a liberal-thinking, multicultural society with a longstanding passion for terroir and a penchant for avant-garde fashion, and you have a city worth celebrating.

Where to Stay


Le Westin Montréal rose from parking-lot ashes in May 2009, erected in the booming Quartier International. It faces the multi-hued Palais des congrès, with 424 elegantly appointed rooms, 30 luxurious suites and a stunning front entrance that opens beneath the hotel’s glass-bottom swimming pool. The property includes the adjacent heritage building along rue St-Jacques, former site of the Montreal Gazette printing plant. Its history is observed by its new culinary tenants: Gazette restaurant (for refined dining) and the Reporter lounge (for nibbles and drinks). A short cobblestone path leads you to Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence waterfront. Or explore the subterranean corridor connected to the famous underground city, a network of shops, cinemas and restaurants. You can redeem Aeroplan Miles for your stay — or earn miles here (or at other Aeroplan Hotel Partners) by showing your Aeroplan Card when you check in.

Where to Dine

Le Local draws refined palates. PHOTOGRAPHY SHAYNE LAVERDIÈRE

In the heart of Old Montreal’s multimedia district, Le Local draws refined palates and those who wish to see and be seen. Housed in a former architect’s office, the contemporary space of brick walls and concrete flooring showcases chef Charles-Emmanuel Pariseau’s open-style kitchen and a glass cave à vin of mainly private imports. On Thursday evenings, hip professionals come for the lively 5 à 7 (Quebec’s version of happy hour). The wines are selected by award-winning sommelier Élyse Lambert, and the bistro-inspired dinners include a pork-ribs-and-lobster guédille, an honoured Quebecois recipe. Locals know the owner, Louis-François Marcotte, from his other restaurant, Simpléchic, and as star of Le goût de Louis, a cooking show on Canal Vie.

For foodies on the hunt, the classic Au Pied de Cochon is a can’t-miss eatery, as are the restaurants Le Club Chasse et Pêche (upscale surf ’n’ turf) and M:BRGR (the best burgers and sweet-potato fries in town).

Where to Shop

Reborn, a new boutique in Old Montreal. PHOTOGRAPHY SHAYNE LAVERDIÈRE

A petite owner for a petite boutique, Brigitte Chartrand was a fashion stylist before she opened Reborn in Old Montreal with her French bulldog, Pema. One of the city’s fashion finds, her designer offerings reflect Chartrand’s own avant-garde style, typically two or three steps ahead of the pack. Check out the imported lambskin leathers by Belgian-Italian Natalia Brilli, asymmetrical cotton basics by Rick Owens, experimental couture by Bless or the daring pants and tunics by local wunderkind Rad Hourani.

What to Do

Farm-fresh picks at the Marché Jean-Talon. PHOTOGRAPHY SHAYNE LAVERDIÈRE

If you’ve gone as far north as Little Italy — an ideal spot for an authentic caffè italiano — you’re just a hop, skip and espresso away from the Marché Jean-Talon. Opened in 1933, this is where many of Montreal’s top chefs, such as Normand Laprise of Toqué, start their day to source the freshest produce for their kitchens. Farmers from across Quebec come to sell their terroir goods, many of them directly out of their trucks. Local highlights include duck from Lac Brome, bison sausages and Le Riopelle de l’Isle, a nutty, triple-cream cheese. The arcades also offer a multi-ethnic feast: the finest fresh baklava, French-style crepes and Indian bhajis, all of which can be enjoyed while seated in the central hall or strolling the stalls. Just make sure to come with an empty stomach.

15Where to Detour

The Balnea spa in the Eastern Townships. PHOTOGRAPHY © THOMAS ASSELIN, 2005

Just under an hour from downtown Montreal, Balnea is a trendy spa based in a modern cabin overlooking Lake Gale in the Eastern Townships. Sprawled across several flat tiers, the spa offers plenty of ways to mingle or melt your cares away, from waterfall baths to rooftop yoga to lounge chairs for lazy naps. It has hot and cold dipping pools (indoors and out), a detoxifying sweat cave, Turkish steam bath and Finnish sauna, the latter with a panoramic view of the peaceful surroundings. A café serves soups, salads and hot meals. In warmer weather, soak up the sun in style at the Club de plage (“beach club”), with cedar Jacuzzi tubs, pillow beds and a juice bar.

3 Responses to “CityGuide: Montreal”

  1. melissa marcotte-shepard June 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    I am a dual citizen(Canadian First,I was born and raised in Quebec!) There is no place like Montreal! NO Place! I have been teaching French for the last Three years in St Paul,MN,bringing me to go back and forth to Montreal every 6 weeks max!
    Of course I have a 20 yr old son,and a 21 yr old daughter who stayed back to go to college (University)there.(FYI Montreal is home of WONDERFUL Universities) Two French,two English.People come from around the World,a lot are Americans.
    We are thinking of selling our home,as the “kids”are moving out of our south shore home,but I would never not have a home in MONTREAL.Il n”est pas de question!
    People in Minnesota are really nice in MN.(Minnesota Nice is very true,but la joie de vivre in Montreal,the “restos””,cafes,you can stay up all night and find something to do.The Grand Prix weekend,where even on the south shore,you can hear the cars roaring,The Montreal Jazz Festival has it”S uniqueness,Just for laughs,and on.If you think Montreal is all about a Poutine,you have to go back and take a closer look! I go back for the summer in a few weeks.Im so anxious !

    • Frances Vancer April 8, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

      I was born in Quebec as well and I agree with you the “joie de vivre” is there and no where else in North America. I live in Ontario and spend six months in florida because of the snow, but we are always glad to be back in Quebec, Montreal, Sherbrooke, in the Eastern Townships is one of the best kept secrets of Quebec. Skiing, camping in the summer, hiking, kayaking on Lake MemphorMagog, Mountain climbiing at Orford, theater at Eastman. Little hotels and inns make the charm of the Eastertownships a place to be. St. Benoit du Lac, where the monks make the best cheese. I can’t wait to go back.

  2. Joan Mizrahi February 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    Montreal is the best kept secret in North America. I have been coming up there from my home in New York since 1975. My husband and I loved it so much that in 1987 we bought a condo in Brossard. The people are friendly and thoughtful. The city has a wealth of cultural resources. I am a member of Museum of Fine Arts and make sure to check the Tourisme of Montreal site, before I travel, to find out about concerts, plays and festivals.