Vacation ideas for Montreal and Toronto
January 19, 2014 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Help me give my sister ideas for a trip to Montreal and Toronto.

She'll be travelling at the end of May/start of June, so would love to give her some suggestions on where to go, what to do, where to stay.

She likes cultural activities, museums, galleries, and sitting in nice cafés. She'd like to stay in a hostel if anyone can recommend a good one.

She's vegetarian and I found some good ideas for Montreal restaurants here so Toronto suggestions would be great.

posted by ellieBOA to Travel & Transportation around Canada (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
There's a backpackers hostel at King and Spadina, which puts her at an excellent spot to get anywhere in the city.

I advise an afternoon at the Art Gallery of Ontario--tell her to go on Wednesday but leave by four; Wednesday evening is free, so it gets rammed.

She could easily devote an entire day to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art right across the street.

She might be here at the right time for Luminato, an arts festival.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:12 PM on January 19, 2014

Oh and set up a MeFi meetup here and/or in Montreal!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:13 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she could move her trip up by a few weeks or a month she could attend either the Montreal Jazz Festival or the Just For Laughs festival, or potentially both, depending on when exactly she goes.

Assuming the dates are already set, though, I have to recommend my all time favorite museum ever, the Pointe-A-Calliere.

When I was there, I'm almost positive I stayed here. My goal on that trip was to hang out mostly in the Francophone parts of town to practice my French, so your sister's mileage may vary. Either way, it was a delightful hostel perfectly located for a more laid back and less "18 year old Americans enjoying the lower drinking age" type of trip. Plateau is a great neighborhood, really conveniently located, and ideal for sitting in cafes, browsing used bookstores, and general wandering around.

I also really loved the Marche Jean Talon.
posted by Sara C. at 12:13 PM on January 19, 2014

Sorry! Clarifying! The Gardiner Museum is across the street from the ROM, both of which are several blocks away from the AGO.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:22 PM on January 19, 2014

Response by poster: It's a trip following a wedding so the dates are set, shame she'll miss the festival! She speaks French so would be fine in a French speaking area.
posted by ellieBOA at 12:28 PM on January 19, 2014

As far as vegetarian restaurants in Toronto, this is a pretty good resource. I personally love Fresh and can recommend Urban Herbivore (a friend makes most of their decadent desserts).

If she likes theatre, she should look into what's going on at the Tarragon, Passe Muraille or Factory theatres, which produce some really good-quality work. It's too bad she's not here in July, because the Toronto Fringe Festival is wonderful.

If she's in Toronto on the weekend of May 24-25, the city hosts a Doors Open event where you can get into all sorts of interesting historical buildings that are usually closed to the public, for free. It's really worthwhile. Luminato (the arts fest) is June 6-15, and the Raw/Vegan Festival is June 7-8. I believe there's also an LGBT film festival at the end of May.

Museums: The ROM and AGO are probably the best, but there's also the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. There's lots of art the farther you go on Queen West. Casa Loma is pretty, and though the Ontario Science Centre is really for kids and a bit out of downtown, it can be a lot of fun.

Much of the fun of Toronto is just strolling through neighbourhoods; pick a few, like Little India or Greektown or The Annex and go from there. I once had an awesome day walking down Bloor Street starting at High Park and covering most of the city, seeing the neighbourhoods change, and that's the street a major subway line is on so if she gets tired there's always the next stop to get on.

I'd be happy to answer any more specific questions she might have!
posted by ilana at 12:46 PM on January 19, 2014

There's a backpackers hostel at King and Spadina

Looks like that hostel is no longer open.
posted by barnoley at 12:50 PM on January 19, 2014

Wow, that was quick, I went past there like a week and a half ago and it looked open.

Another option for her to stay at is one of the dorms at Ryerson. It acts as a hotel through the summer. Reservations can be made here.

NB: The ILLC is good. Do not make reservations at Pitman Hall, it's a shithole.

The ILLC is about 8 minutes' very pleasant walk from Toronto's main street, Yonge. Right downtown.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:54 PM on January 19, 2014

Toronto has a HUGE selection of vegetarian restaurants.

The Toronto vegetarian food festival is in September unfortunately.

She should check out the distillery district, especially Balzac's coffee. Yum
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:02 PM on January 19, 2014

When I visit Toronto, I usually stay at this hostel; which is pretty nice/still relatively new and shiny inside.
posted by ambilevous at 4:02 PM on January 19, 2014

Seconding the recommendations for the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario. There's also the Museum of Inuit Art and the Bata Shoe Museum.

I'd also recommend wandering around Kensington Market and/or the Distillery District—and if she goes to the latter, she could catch a show put on by Soulpepper, a small and wonderful theatre company.

The quality of Toronto's public transit depends a lot on who you ask, but leaving that debate aside, she can take a trip for $3 cash fare or get an unlimited travel day pass for $11 (sold at every subway station). If she's the wandering type, it's definitely nice to be have the flexibility to hop on and off at will, especially when you're on a bus or streetcar and spot something intriguing out the window. (Note that if she's there on a weekend, the pass is valid for 2 adults, if she's going to have a companion.)

The Biodôme (sort of like a zoo), Botanical Gardens, Insectarium, and Planetarium are quite interesting—I've been to them all save the Planetarium and quite enjoyed myself. They're grouped close together and you can buy various combinations of tickets based on where you want to go. If your sister is interested in architecture, the attractions are located near the Olympic Park and you can wander past the gorgeous Olympic Stadium from the 1976 games.

If she's into nature at all, Mount Royal Park is lovely and boasts the best view of the city and river. You can take a slow and easy route through the paths up to the top, or you can climb the stairs on the east side. (Note that while it's called a mountain, it's really not much more than a big hill and is scalable by anyone who's in reasonably good health.)
posted by mr. manager at 7:35 PM on January 19, 2014

Staying at the Université de Montréal's dorms can be an option, though the neighbourhood (Côte-des-Neiges), although loveable isn't quite as central as the Plateau or Ville-Marie would be. But she would likely enjoy sitting at the Brûlerie and Olivieri on Côte-des-Neiges road, and getting to the museums would be fairly quick. A standard visit requires you to go to the Fine Arts and Contemporary Arts museums, plus probably Pointe-à-Callières and the Redpath Museum (on McGill's campus). It also includes the mandated stroll up or down St-Denis, and, possibly, a visit to the Mile-End to get St-Viateur bagels or whatever the other bagel place is.

You can go up to see the Oratoire, but it's just a big concrete building with a chapel underneath that has the preserved heart of Frère André in it. If you want to visit churches, Notre-Dame-du-Monde downtown or Notre-Dame in old Montreal are more interesting, I think. The Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and Mount-Royal cemeteries may be worth a visit, if you're into that kind of stuff. NDDN is kind of breathtaking for its sheer hugeness, and also for how run down some parts of it are, and how ostentatious some of the crypts are.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:50 PM on January 19, 2014

For Toronto, there's also the new Ripley's aquarium (buy tickets online in advance). If you're willing to travel a bit, the Toronto zoo is also always a fun time.

Besides Kensington and the distillery district that others have already recommended, I will also suggest the yorkville area for window shopping. That area is also close to the ROM as well.

There are also always events happening at the harbour front centre and while you're down there you can check out the powerplant art gallery.

If she's into theatre/musicals, she can check out to see what's currently playing. If she's lucky, she will find something she likes at the winter garden, royal Alexander or princess of Wales theatres, all of which are gorgeous
posted by alvin545 at 8:45 PM on January 19, 2014

Montreal Museums Day is Sunday, May 25. It's the one day of the year when they're all free, and special free buses take people along predetermined museum routes. Last year 34 museums took part.

The beer festival is usually around the end of May, although they have not posted the 2014 dates yet.

Mutek will be on around the time she's in Montreal. Electronic music and related arts.

The various popular bike tours – Tour de l'Île and others – are on at that time also, but they're not things most people would want to do on a rented or borrowed bike.

The fireworks festival will be starting around then. Note that you can see them quite well without paying for a ticket, although you do get the best view from the official seating area. But traffic on the Jacques-Cartier bridge is shut down for the duration and it's kind of fun to walk up on such a massive structure and watch fireworks from it.

Suoni per il popolo and the Fringe Festival may overlap with her visit, but neither will have their schedules up yet for awhile.

I've been keeping this Montreal vegetarian restos list for years although I stopped being veggie years ago. It's up to date.
posted by zadcat at 9:40 PM on January 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the wonderful suggestions everyone!
posted by ellieBOA at 4:29 AM on January 20, 2014

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