What should a visitor check out in Montreal?
September 6, 2022 3:25 PM   Subscribe

What should a visitor check out in Montreal? (And what else should I know?)

I'm thinking about taking a trip to Montreal in the spring or summer of 2023. What shouldn't I miss?

I'm a middle-aged American dude, and I will be traveling alone. I only speak English.

Things I like include:

Good food of all kinds (as long as I can wear a T-shirt – i.e., no snooty places)

Classic-style cocktails

Modern art (anything from the Dadaists or later – especially installation art)

Electronic music (especially house, techno, and ambient)

Collecting vinyl records (which contain electronic music)

Funky grass-roots counterculture / art scenes

Ancient history (especially the Neolithic)

Walkable neighborhoods full of shops, cafes, etc.

Hiking, nature, and mushroom hunting (although I don't expect to find much of that in the middle of Montreal...)

General left-brained nerd shit (science, computers, books, etc.)

Whaddaya got?

posted by escape from the potato planet to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
For eating and drinking, Eater is a reliable source of data. But for the more upscale places, you really are going to want something a bit dressier than a t-shirt.

The Musée d'art contemporain is one place for contemporary art. The Phi Centre often has interesting things.

Mutek is the big festival of electronic music, and in season, there's the Piknic Electronik.

CultMTL is a good reference in English for cultural stuff. There's also a Time Out Montreal – here's a piece from 2020 about vinyl record stores, but I have no idea which ones will have survived the pandemic.

There aren't a lot of Neolithic traces in North America.

I don't expect to find much of that in the middle of Montreal

Sorry, but that's where it is. Every visitor has to climb Mount Royal and it's right in the middle of the city.

Also you might want to spend a day around what they call the Espace pour la Vie which includes a botanical garden, a planetarium, and an indoor zoo called the Biodome. There's also a science museum in the Old Port but I have a feeling it's mostly pitched at kids.
posted by zadcat at 3:44 PM on September 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oh boy there’s so much good stuff for you in Montreal.

First, as you’re picking dates, keep in mind that spring doesn’t really start until mid-May in Montreal. If you come in April or early May it’s quite likely to be cold.

For walkable neighborhoods, Montreal has MANY, but the Plateau, Mile-End, and Petite-Patrie/Little Italy are great places to start.

For food recs, check out Eater, which is a Montreal-based food publication. I trust all of their recommendations. For good restaurants that aren’t too fancy, a few places off the top of my head are Larry’s, Sparrow (it’s a great old-fashioned cocktail bar but also has delicious food), La Belle Tonki, Tsukuyomi Ramen, Le Super Qualité, Pumpui. Here’s a great starter list.

Lots of record shops in the city. La Rama, La Fin du Vinyle, Sonorama, Phonopolis to name just a few. La Rama in particular is run by a guy named Kris who’s also an electronic music DJ (on vinyl) and would probably really enjoy chatting with you.

If you’re interested in underground rave-type events DM me, I can give you some pointers.

Pointe-à-Callière is a really nice archaeological museum downtown (but very recent history, like early French settlers of Quebec). The vibe is a little too rah-rah colonialism for my taste, but the exhibits are beautifully done and you can walk through a (clean) old sewer tunnel.

The botanical gardens, biodome, and biosphere are all worth a visit if you’re a science head. The botanical gardens are BEAUTIFUL and huge. A walk up Mount Royal is also a great nature experience, feels quite remote and not like you’re in the middle of a city at all.

Everything I’ve listed is pretty accessible for English speakers, in tourist areas especially most people speak very good English. You may very occasionally run into someone whose English is not that good but as long as you’re polite and humble and patient you’ll be able to figure it out.
posted by mekily at 3:49 PM on September 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: for the more upscale places, you really are going to want something a bit dressier than a t-shirt

The point is that I don't want to go to the more upscale places :)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:51 PM on September 6, 2022

Drawn & Quarterly is a local comic publisher/shop that I love.

Definitely don't skip the Montreal bagels — they're much better than what you can get in the states. St-Viateur and Fairmount Bagel are the main spots people recommend, but I think they're all good.
posted by wesleyac at 4:45 PM on September 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

(Montreal native living overseas, I just spent a month there and it's made me consider moving back. It's that good.)

Montreal has a whole bunch of car-free streets over summer (I think from June to early September, they're all coming down this week!), I've really enjoyed spending time cycling (slowly!) or walking down those streets.

Get a Bixi access pass if you're there for more than a week, at $18 it's incredible value for bike-share (including electric bikes) with a million pick-up and drop-off spots. Montreal is incredibly cyclist-friendly.

Most neighbourhoods are going to be fairly walkable, I stayed in Mile End this time and it had everything (cocktails, cafes, casual restaurants, bagels, walkable, public transit access, etc).

My observation after living overseas for 11 years is that food from markets and small shops is better in Montreal (cheese! bread! cured meats! fruit!) but restaurant food is really hit-or-miss. We did OK when relying on recommendations rather than picking random places on a given street. I ate picnic-style most days, either in our apartment or in a park, and it was much better.

Go to Piknik Electronik if the dates align! Or if you can swing it, visit during festival season (June-July-August), a big part of the downtown core is set up as an outdoor festival space and it's incredible.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:35 PM on September 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I just went to two phenomenal cocktail bars in Montreal!

The Coldroom (in the Old City, speakeasy/whiskey bar with creative cocktails)
Le Mal Nécessaire (in Chinatown, tiki bar but not kitschy at all)
posted by capricorn at 7:24 PM on September 6, 2022

Montreal in the spring and summer is delightful. Agree that May/June is a nice warm time to go weather-wise - April is pretty cold and July/Aug are fine but can be a bit roasting hot. Montreal winters are horribly cold and should be avoided.

Almost everyone in Montreal speaks excellent English. If you happen to encounter someone who doesn’t, you can type things into Google translate on your phone and show it to them.

Have fun!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2022

Every visitor has to climb Mount Royal and it's right in the middle of the city.
Perhaps you don't have to, but you ought to. Mount Royal Park is a pleasant greenspace in the middle of the city, similar to venerable flagship parks in other metropolises (not surprising, as its original layout was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted). Devote one of your walks to climbing through the park to reach the Kondiaronk Belvedere for excellent views overlooking downtown Montreal.

Depending on what time of year you visit and what day of the week, your swing through the park could include checking out the Tam-Tams, which might tick a checkbox in your "Funky grass-roots counterculture / art scenes" category. (Assuming they're still a thing, I guess. My most recent visit to Montreal was pre-Covid.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:04 PM on September 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

One of the more unusual and interesting places I remember from Montréal is the Insectarium.
posted by zompist at 1:50 AM on September 7, 2022

Go to Schwartz’s Deli for smoked meat and a black cherry soda. Get there early, since the line is often long. It is the opposite of fancy, and it’s so delicious. Then walk up the hill and stop into any stores that interest you. Look at the houses and stroll in the park.

The old city is definitely worth walking around in too. It looks different from every city in the US, and you’ll probably see galleries to stop into while you’re ambling about. Montreal is a treat.
posted by saltykitten at 6:09 AM on September 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Fun places for good drinks that haven't already been mentioned:
Snowbird Tiki Bar
Bar Suzanne

Agree with zadcat, definitely go up Mont Royal. Either hike up or take the bus up and hike down--the view is incredible. There's also the other side of the mountain, Belvédère Outremont, that's good for a sunset hike. It's a bit steep and there's no buses up that side but there's a wide path and a lot of hikers, students and dogs and bikes.

A little quieter is Summit Woods, mostly locals, reachable by bus 11. There's a nice lookout there, Summit Lookout--it's closed this summer but may be open next year? You can also walk through the neighbourhoods up there to reach St. Joseph's Oratory, which is a pretty place with lovely gardens (Stations of the Cross, but the flowers are nice and there's a good view).
posted by kittensyay at 9:09 AM on September 7, 2022

Forgot, a couple good restaurants not mentioned (highly second La Belle Tonki and Le Super Qualité, btw--two of my absolute favourites!) In the Plateau there's Le Chien Fumant, which is expensive (think $$$$) but everything I've had there was so delicious, and they do good classic cocktails too. I went last time in a t-shirt and nobody said a word or cared--it's a small, neighbourhoody place, probably more jeans and a button-down but whatever. A few blocks away from it is Maison Publique, which I've never visited (yet!) but had recommended to me. Also in Old Montreal there's Brit and Chips which I get a lot.

Also the Tam Tams are definitely still a thing post(mid?)-pandemic, on Sundays at the base of the mountain.

Okay, backing away from the thread now, I promise. I just love Montreal. :D
posted by kittensyay at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2022

Not a resident but I’ve been there a number of times for work:

Montreal has really good Chinese dumpling shops and noodle shops. Like WTF-is-this-doing-here good. The style is Northern style with thicker handmade skins, with lots of juicy meat and soup inside. So not like what you find in dim sum, but what you might find in a small mom and pop shop in China. I really like the 2 outlets of Harbin Dumpling, but there are quite a lot of them spread all over. For the noodle shop, there’s one in Chinatown called Nouilles de Lan Zhou, that makes a very authentic noodle soup from Lanzhou region of China. All these are great on a cold/cool day.

Hof Kelsten is a bakery that makes an out of this world chocolate babka. It’s a sweet brioche-like that is just stuffed with layers of dark chocolate. I loved it and I don’t even like chocolate that much.

Totally touristy but we loved La Banquise for poutine. The portions are absurd, and the menu is huge, but for someone who’s never been, it was a memorable experience.

Plateau and Mile-End are just great to walk around. These areas are laid out in a grid, so it’s easy to just go up and down side streets as you make your way down the main street St Laurent Blvd.
posted by junesix at 4:48 PM on September 8, 2022

Montreal also has fantastic graffiti. Like, two walls of a three story building pieces, all kinds of distinct styles. There are tours, but some quick googling will find you areas that are so densely painted that you can, and should, wander for hours.
posted by Kreiger at 7:56 PM on September 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

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