What to do in Montreal?
May 12, 2013 11:36 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Montreal and Longueuil, Quebec, Canada for two weeks. What budget-friendly things should I do there?

In a few days I'll be heading off, by train, to Montreal and Longueuil, Quebec, Canada and am not sure what, other than chill with my family, to do there.

I want to avoid doing costly activities and don't plan on spending more than $1000 CAD (I'll likely be spending much less than that).

I'll be spending most of my time in Longueuil, but should also be spending much time in Montreal.

Though I can speak French, I'm not fluent in it. But that shouldn't be much of a problem since I'll be with bilingual family members of mine who can act as translators for me when in very French places (supposedly most of Longueuil is very French) which means I can go pretty much anywhere without worrying much about language barriers. So please don't limit yourself to recommending very English places.

Questions regarding Montreal and Longueuil:
  • What are some good liquor stores there that sell beers such as Hoegaarden, Duvel and Holsten Festbock? Is Holsten Festbock, a great, cheap German beer (IMO; many beer connoisseurs would scoff at me for saying so), easily found in Montreal?
  • What are some good vegan restaurants there (I'm not vegan, but my partner, who'll be there with me, is)?
  • What are some interesting Quebec-exclusive products I should buy there?
  • What are some must-eat-at, budget-friendly, non-vegan restaurants there (anyone here been to Restaurant Lou Nissart? It's one restaurant I'm considering dining at)?
  • What are some must-see things there (I hope to snap lots of interesting photos there)?
  • What are some places that sell high-end colognes like Zino Davidoff or Rochas Man (I want to smell good while there)?
Questions regarding trains:
  • Do you handle your checked baggage yourself, or does someone else do it for you?
  • I'll be transferring trains on the way to and on the way back from Montreal . . . do you have to do much walking when transferring trains?
  • What's it like taking a train across Canada (the train ride will be extremely long and I don't really know what to expect on it. This is the first time I'll be traveling alone and am scared I'll lose my baggage—something which would be a huge bummer)?
  • Where exactly on the train does your checked baggage go?
  • Would it be stupid of me to bring expensive (closed) semi-portable headphones with me on the train (I've cheap, high-quality "beater" headphones that I could bring with me. But they're open, leak a ton of sound and I'm quite certain they'd annoy people on the train which would prevent me from getting use out of them)? Would there be much risk of them breaking on the train ride? I fear I'll be bored out of my mind if I don't bring headphones with me . . .
posted by GlassHeart to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I will let someone answer who has been here longer, but the Musee Beaux Arts has an excellent collection of local and international art, plus one of the better collections of design objects, and is free, except for local exhibitions. I would be willing to take tyou.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:47 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You'll likely want to get out of Longueuil: it's a suburban city, and while it does have a few neat spots, you're much better off taking the Metro (there's a station in Longueuil, and many busses will take you there) to Montreal.

To address your specific questions:

- Most alcohol (with the exception of cheaper beers and some wines) is sold at government stores called SAQ (for Societe des Alcools du Quebec). They are very easy to find. Larger ones will definitely have Hoegaarden and Duvel, I haven't looked for Holsten Festbock before. Some depanneurs (convenience stores) also stock a good selection of beers: this is one in Longueuil. Montreal is a *great* beer city; I strongly recommend L'Amère à boire and Dieu Du Ciel!. There are many, many fantastic local microbrews you should try.

- I'm not vegan, but I've eaten at Chu Chai before and it was fantastic -- they do really nice "fake meats", not as creepy as it sounds. Chu Chai is fairly upscale, but they also have a bistro next door, Chuch. Close to Guy-Concordia metro, La Panthere Verte is also quite good -- their falafel sandwich is the best I've tried.

- La Banquise. La Banquise. La Banquise. 20-odd kinds of poutine, and a decent beer selection IIRC.

- You'll find high-end cologne on Sainte-Catherine street (the main strip in downtown Montreal); La Baie has a decent men's cologne counter. You might also find these specific two at larger Pharmaprix (Shopper's Drug Mart) stores with a good beauty section. There's a Sephora near La Baie, too; they might have it.

- For photography, one unusual thing in Montreal is the number of strip clubs. I'm not advising you take your camera in one of them, but the neon signs outside are very unusual. It's always a bit of a shock seeing them again when I go back to Montreal.

Now for the train:

I took the cross-country Vancouver to Montreal train a few years back, transferring through Toronto. I checked my luggage at the gate, kind of like you would at an airport, and didn't need to touch it again until my transfer in Toronto. Don't be afraid to ask for help, the staff was very friendly.

When I transferred in Toronto, we left from literally the next platform over, and there were a lot of people transferring with me. If you miss the train, you can usually take the next one, it's not a huge deal.

The train was beautiful but quite boring. I took a large insulated lunchbox with me with a few salads and sandwiches for the trip, which covered the first few days, and ate in the restaurant the rest of the time. I slept a lot, I read a lot, and I met a few awesome people.

I had one carry-on bag with me. I locked the zipper and wrapped the strap around my leg when I slept. This is also what I do on long-haul bus trips. The train is generally pretty safe, so don't leave an iPhone on the seat or anything, but I was fine leaving my bag by itself for a few minutes while I went to the bathroom.

I wouldn't be worried about the headphones. Even if someone ripped them from your head, they won't be able to go very far before running into Via Rail staff :)

Enjoy your trip, and don't hesitate to MeMail me if you have other questions!
posted by third word on a random page at 11:59 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just took the train from Vancouver to Toronto with some overnight stops along the way, and if you're sitting in coach, I'd suggest bringing accessories to make sleeping a little easier: earplugs, a pillow (possibly one of those curved neck pillows), a blindfold of some kind (a scarf would be fine), a small blanket or a large jacket to keep you warm, etc.

It's very lovely but yes, very monotonous (highlights: farms, mountains, prairies, trees, lakes, more trees), and often there's no cell signal for several hours between towns, so it's good to bring some books, downloaded movies/TV, or other ways to pass the time. I find monotonous train rides relaxing for about 24 hours at a time and then I start feeling slightly claustrophobic, but sometimes the train stops for long enough to let you get off and walk around outside.

Here are some earlier questions about VIA Rail that I read when preparing for my trip: Traveling Across Canada by Train, Have you used the Canrailpass?, and My great train ride across Canada.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:34 AM on May 13, 2013

What are some interesting Quebec-exclusive products I should buy there?

French-Belgian comic books:
Planet BD
Librairie Marché du Livre

What are some good vegan restaurants there (I'm not vegan, but my partner, who'll be there with me, is)?

Le Commensal is fun.

What are some must-see things there (I hope to snap lots of interesting photos there)?
Montreal's Old Port and Old Montreal
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:33 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great posts so far, folks. Thanks.

I forgot to ask something in my initial post: Are there good tea joints in Montreal or Longueuil? I'd like to pick up loose leaf tea—preferably Japanese sencha/gyokuro or Darjeeling—to drink with my partner.

I know good places online to buy loose leaf tea, but I'm leaving for Montreal right away and don't have enough time to place any online orders and won't be able to in Montreal (because, unfortunately, my dad, who's oldschool, doesn't have a PC).
posted by GlassHeart at 2:07 AM on May 13, 2013

My favourite tea shop in the world is in Montreal: Camelia Sinensis. There's a lovely tea room and a fantastic tea shop, next door to each other.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Eat at Patati Patata, a little burger place on St. Laurent and Rachel (or Duluth?). Delicious! Cheap, and some vegan options.

A little pricier but totally vegan is Aux Vivres, on St. Laurent near Mont Royal. Try the dragon bowl or the veggie lox!

Sunday tamtams on the mountain are free and a fun experience. All of these things are close to each other so you could do them all in one day.
posted by whalebreath at 3:43 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are many, many fantastic local microbrews you should try.

And while Unibroue isn't a microbrew, you'll be in their heartland, and they do their own versions of a witbier (Blanche de Chambly) and a strong pale ale (Don de Dieu).
posted by holgate at 4:43 AM on May 13, 2013

Yes, definitely get out of Longeuil and take the subway ("Métro") to Montreal proper. Starting May 18, you can take the ferry right to Old Montreal. The ferry is wonderful, and you can bring your bike. (And if you don't have a bike, rent Bixi bikes to get around Montreal. It's the best way to go.)

Another couple of microbreweries: Les Soeurs Grises in the Old Port; Reservoir in the Plateau.

I'm not sure if it's started up yet, but there are all sorts of boat rides (the Saute-Moutons) that run the Lachine Rapids. You'll get wet, but where else can you go whitewater rafting within a major city?

Montreal has a lovely, very large botanical garden. The trees are in flower right now.

If you're a museum-goer, I'd skip the usual (Fine Arts, Modern Art) because you can see the same stuff elsewhere. (Though the Musée des Beaux Arts has a superb design collection.) But the McCord Museum of Canadian History has neat stuff you won't see elsewhere. And if you want to see a more or less unreconstructed Victorian museum full of dinosaurs and rocks and mummies and things, the Redpath Museum is free.

I wouldn't worry about your headphones on the train. I've never felt my belongings were unsafe on a Via train, and I take the train from Montreal to Toronto all the time. Canadian intercity trains are like European trains, not American trains: they're faster than cars, the government takes good care of them and everyone uses them.
posted by musofire at 5:25 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Definitely seconding L'Amere a Boire, Dieu du Ciel for beer. Mmmm.

Chuch has changed its game, unfortunately. Still vegan, but less Asian and more weird tapas. It used to be BYOW--which made it a cheap night out--but they stopped that, so the prices have gone up. (Disappointing.) I love Aux Vivres, but it can get spendy, so I'd go with Le Panthere Verte instead. In that same neighborhood is Burritoville, which is yummy as well.

I'd also like to put in suggestions to visit Marche Atwater or Jean-Talon because I like to browse and explore food stalls.
posted by Kitteh at 6:33 AM on May 13, 2013

Notre-Dame Basilica, which is unusual (stained glass pictures of Canadian history) and beautiful. They now have a light show at night which people rave about; sadly I've only been there in the daytime.

CinéRobotheque (National Film Board of Canada) was amazing, but apparently recently closed down due to budget cuts, so if you see that in a guidebook, it's gone, alas. I would still take the opportunity to see some Quebecois films at Cinémathèque québécoise.

Since you are going to be there for two weeks, I would consider also going to Quebec City for the day. It's about two and a half hours away. Touristy but still very beautiful. I always suggest seeing the Plains of Abraham, especially if you are a history buff, as that's where the climactic battle between French and English forces occurred.
posted by mitschlag at 6:57 AM on May 13, 2013

Type in the postal code where you will be staying and this will show you the closest places to buy the Holsten you like. Do a search for the others. White beer is pretty popular around here, Hoegaarden is easy to find but there are lots of good local choices too. Ask for a blanche in bars/restos.

Important note: drinking beer and wine in parks is legal as part of a picnic.
posted by Cuke at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2013

Seconding the Atwater Market, which has a badass cheese shop (La Fromagerie du Marché Atwater -- there are two other cheese shops as well, but they're inferior) as well as all kinds of stalls. Les Délices du Marché is also fun. From the market, you can get onto the Lachine Canal bike path and ride east to Old Montreal or west to Lac-Saint-Louis -- highly recommended.
posted by irrelephant at 9:41 AM on May 13, 2013

Oh, and the Fromagerie du Marché is also a good place to buy local beer. Forgot to mention that. There's really no reason to drink imports in Montreal.
posted by irrelephant at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Piknik Electronik!

Bring your own picnic/booze or buy there.

Don't miss the bagels. A lot of the bakeries have at least a variety or two of vegan bagels. Fairmount/St. Viateur/Real Bagel, everyone has their favorite but they're all good.

Check out what festival(s) will be on. Almost all the festivals have at least some free performances.

On a nice day, walk up and across the mountain (don't miss the overlook).

Have fun!
posted by Salamandrous at 2:05 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Cafe Myriade in a Montreal thread. It's near La Panthere Verte and Burritoville, and they make the best (IMO) coffee in Montreal.
(Owning up to my bias, the owner is a lovely acquaintance and my husband used to work there. Still objectively the best Montreal cafe!)
posted by third word on a random page at 4:37 PM on May 13, 2013

Seconding Aux Vivres. There's also this great Venezuelan vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Arepera in the Plateau neighbourhood. In addition to the market at Atwater, there's also a very good Marché Jean Talon.
posted by vasi at 9:17 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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