Montreal Travel Questions
May 13, 2014 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Trying to decide whether to go to Montreal for our long weekend trip. Did you have a good trip there? Do you have long walks or other things to recommend?

My wife and I are planning a long weekend trip and we are thinking about Montreal. This is an "escape from the kids" type of trip. The main things we like to do on a trip like this are: (1) take very long walks (~10 miles); (2) go to "grown up" things that we don't do as much because of the kids (sit at cafes, go to bookstores, museums, etc.); and (3) go to great restaurants. I have read the past Montreal threads but I'm not seeing a recent one that covers these sorts of things.

For the walking part, we like walking through whole cities or many different neighborhoods - we might stop to eat or look in a store, etc. In other words - city walking, not hiking.

Here are my specific questions:

(1) We're a little lukewarm on the idea of going to Montreal. I don't know exactly why. We have never been there and we are not great at trying new things! I think the different travel sites and pictures and such just haven't grabbed us. I'd be interested to hear if you had a great trip there, so we can get a little more fired up.

(2) Any ideas for the long walks part of things? Restaurants we have to try? We'll find all of the obvious tourist ones, so any "local secrets" would be the best kind of recommendations.

(3) Hotel recommendations? We are willing to splurge - so the Ritz would be ok - but if there is something with more character or personality that you would recommend, that would be good to know.

(4) I think because we tend to enjoy ourselves more on "city" trips, Montreal makes more sense for us than Quebec City, but let me know if you think I'm making a big mistake on that. We have thought maybe we would take a car to QC for a day trip.

posted by Mid to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
My wife and I used to annually to do exactly this - get away from the kids, hang out and be adults. Montreal is beautiful and has lots to see and do. There's a fondue place we liked, Fonduementale, which isn't the best place in the universe, but very nice and not the kid of place we'd have taken small kids to. There are certainly a lot of guides to Montreal dining.

The university is nice to wander around (specifically McGill). We like wandering around the public markets and just generally doing some low-key shopping on St Catherine. Certainly there are more homey neighbourhoods - Westmount is supposed to be nice.

I say go and have fun. How terrible could a weekend away be?
posted by GuyZero at 12:14 PM on May 13, 2014

If you are lukewarm on Montreal, you might consider going to Quebec City and staying at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. It is luxurious and spectacular and it's really well-situated for a lot of long, leisurely walks to explore.

I have been to Montreal and loved it -- it has a wonderful European feel and tons of great food. But if it doesn't appeal to you there's no need to force it.
posted by kate blank at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in Montreal's Old Port, and it's pretty amazing. We regularly bike along the canal to the Atwater Market and back. You could walk it; it's pretty. The Old Port in general is lovely.

The Botanical Garden has huge grounds with all sorts of biomes. They have a Japanese Garden and a Chinese Garden, flowering trees -- you could easily spend an afternoon there alone.

The park on Mount Royal was designed by Frederic Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York, and it has a lovely lookout on the city.

The Nelligan Hotel has a lot more flavor than the big hotel chains. So does the Gault. So does the St. Sulpice. I'd recommend a boutique hotel in the Old Port rather than one of the big conference hotels adjacent to it. I have always longed to stay at the Pierre du Calvet, but seeing as I live ten blocks from it, that's not going to happen soon.

I tell everyone who likes meaty meatness to go to Au Pied de Cochon, which does everything you can possibly do with pork. If you're up for a bit of fun, Le Cabaret du Roy is fun (and good food too) as is Le Dragon Rouge.

Quebec is more of a tourist area surrounded by Cleveland. Montreal is a real world city.
posted by musofire at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

1) Oh, man Montreal is great! Easily my favorite North American city. If I could legally live there, and if I could hack the winters, I would move there in a heartbeat. I have to say that before I went, pictures of it didn't really grab me. It's much more of a hanging out city, like Austin or New Orleans, and much less an I Saw A Picture Of This On Pinterest And Had To See It For Myself type thing like Paris or Cusco or Angkor Wat. But you're going to have a great trip! It's everything you're looking for, per your intro to the question.

2) Re specific long walks, I'm not sure and it'll heavily depend where you're staying and what else you want to do. But if anything I feel like I overdid it in the walk department, in Montreal. (Because I was broke, and what you do when you visit a new city with very little money is to walk endlessly.) It's a very walkable place, and there's no real risk of running into a bad neighborhood or having a You Can't Get There From Here type situation. One of the walks I did was from the Plateau neighborhood entrance to Parc Mont Royal all the way across the park and through more of the city to the Oratoire St-Joseph, which looks quite close on a map but is really a long walk. It shows up as 6.3 kilometers in Google Maps, but I swear I must have taken a really roundabout way through random paths in the park and then got a little lost and man, I swear by the time I was done at the Oratoire my feet were pretty wrecked. For a longer walk in the neighborhood of 10 miles, you could do a loop from Plateau to the Oratoire to Marche Jean-Talon (a really cool outdoor farmer's market type spot) and then back, which would be about 18 km. Mile End, the area around St-Viateur Bagels, is also lovely for walking and could probably be factored into that loop.

3) I stayed in Plateau, a sort of hip Francophone neighborhood full of cafes and bars and bookshops and little boutiques, and it was brilliant. I don't think I'd like Montreal as much if I'd stayed in the main tourist hotel area. There's got to be a boutique hotel in Plateau that would do you, if you're in the Ritz price range. I stayed in a hostel, so I sadly can't recommend a specific place.

4) A lot of people do the Quebec day trip from Montreal, but with only a long weekend, YMMV. I didn't end up going and sort of regret it, because I now live on the US west coast and have no idea when/if I'll ever return to that neck of the woods. If possible I would schedule this as a deep "maybe" and do it if you run out of stuff you want to do in Montreal proper. If it's supposed to be a relaxing long weekend, though, I'm imagining you arrive late Friday or early Saturday, have all day maybe Saturday and Sunday, and leave on Monday. Throwing in another travel day means that 3 out of 4 days on the trip turn into heavy travel days, which doesn't sound that relaxing to me, but maybe you guys are different.
posted by Sara C. at 12:23 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely go. I love Montreal! And I'd love to go back. When I was there, we stayed at an airbnb in the Plateau, which worked out great. Excellent food was everywhere. If I could do it again I'd eat at more "apportez votre vin" places, the smaller the better -- we did that one or two nights only. It seems like a simple thing -- you bring your own wine, so what? -- but the whole vibe is friendly and warm and old-world and wonderful and totally unique. And if you have to wait for a table, no big deal, you have wine!

Also, I would go back to La Khaima, also in the Plateau. Mauritanian food! The guy who runs the place was so kind! We had scheduled something right after dinner and were in a hurry, which confused him and made me feel like we fundamentally missed the point of the whole experience. He was nice regardless. If/when we go back we're going to budget like four hours for dinner at La Khaima.

Walks: we took them. You can walk everywhere. The metro works great too. Check out the Marche Jean-Talon. There are great pizza places all throughout the neighborhood around it. We could have spent more time around McGill. Skip the underground passageways, unless you like walking in a plain old uninflected mall. Skip the Biosphere, or let's say save it for a longer visit.

Get a Canadian French phrasebook, if your French is no good. It'll be fun and helpful. Most everyone speaks English, and usually they'll initiate the switch to English if you're (like me) a little hopeless, but they (generally) appreciate the effort anyway.
posted by sleevener at 1:06 PM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love Montreal and have a great time every time I go. It is super walkable, so you don't even have to plan a walk - just walking around different neighborhoods shopping and eating is great. It is a beautiful city.

Do you like beer? St Elizabeth Pub and St Sulpice each have beautiful a patio or as the locals say - terrace. Brutopia and Le Cheval Blanc have great craft beer and good atmosphere. My favorite brewery is on the canal 20-30 walk from Atwater market - McAuslin has a low-key barbeque and beer garden behind their brewery. I can't stay away.

Also it is one of the Canadian cities that has an O Noir for all your complete darkness dinning needs.

As above states, the plateau is worth exploring - good eating and shopping. The old port looks like Europe. McGill is at the bottom of the mountain so you can wander around those two places in an afternoon.

Language politics exist. So, people will appreciate it if you don't assume everyone speaks English and you give it a try. Most people really do speak English but you are in Quebec, so dive in!
posted by Gor-ella at 2:00 PM on May 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

A lovely moderately priced hotel on the Plateau (it has even a kitchenette if you want to store goodies from trips to Atwater or Jean-Talon): Anne Ma Soeur Anne.

A less crowded but favorite microbrasserie on the Plateau: L'Amere a Boire.

More crowded but possibly has some of the best beer brewed here in QC: Dieu du Ciel.

And if you're going to have poutine--and of course, you're going to have poutine, aren't you?--most folks recommend: La Banquise.

Walk all over, rent a Bixi bike, practice your French (oui! c'est seulement poli!), check out the many interesting sights the city has to offer, and as the warm weather kicks in, there is no shortage of cool little street festivals to chose from.

Bonne chance!
posted by Kitteh at 2:41 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife and I had an excellent dinner a couple weeks ago at Le Cinquième Péché in the Plateau Mont-Royal. Definitely worth a visit. We ate well elsewhere, too, though we were there for a conference so a couple of our choices were due to convenience, not cuisine.

Montreal is highly bilingual. It's rare that you'll run into anyone, especially in the hospitality industry, who doesn't speak English, regardless of their native tongue. In fact, many francophones will immediately switch to English if they detect an accent in your French. The city has its anglophone market (Atwater Market) and its francophone market (Marché Jean-Talon), both worth a visit. There's also Fairmount Bagels, one of the homes of the famous Montreal bagel. (We brought back two dozen to freeze, and the customs officer at the Vermont border crossing didn't bat an eye when we said we were bringing back some bagels and bread.)

Montreal also has an excellent botanical garden, with greenhouses, a systematic garden (for studying plant classification), a Japanese garden, the largest Chinese garden outside of China, and plenty of other places to walk. Not to mention the Insectarium.

If you can get tickets, I've heard good things about Cirque du Soleil's latest show, which is going on now in the port in Vieux Montréal.

In short: go! There's no shortage of things to do and good food to eat.

FYI, many restaurants are BYOB, or AVV (Apportez votre vin = Bring your wine). You'll find shops that sell wine and beer near restaurant districts; most "dépanneurs" (corner stores, in Québecois) sell beer and wine. Other restaurants have a license. Spirits can only be purchased in provincially operated stores.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:23 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you like walks, grab a copy of the latest Ulysse guide to the city. It's notable for suggesting walks not just in the obvious touristy areas like Old Montreal and downtown, but also for pretty much every neighbourhood of interest.

Spring has come late this year in Montreal. In a week or two, trees that blossom will be in blossom. You can walk over Mount Royal (don't neglect its beautiful cemeteries!) or take a city bus to Lachine and walk around René-Lévesque park, which juts out into the wide expanse of Lac St-Louis and is full of crabapple trees and sculpture.

Walk through Outremont and Westmount, or go to Jean-Talon market and stop for a coffee at the Caffè Italia. Or spend an afternoon mooching along Bernard and Saint-Viateur, and have a coffee at the Olimpico – then you'll be able to say you've seen the real Montreal.

People speak well of the Fitz and Follwell bike tours. Kaleidoscope also does respected walking tours.

If you happen on a rainy couple of days, keep in mind you can walk for about 30 km through the underground city without doubling back on your path.

(I am not connected with any of these entities although I did do the page on René-Lévesque park.)
posted by zadcat at 5:40 PM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

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