Going to Canada, Eh?
May 4, 2007 6:14 PM   Subscribe

My boy and I are going to Montreal in August for vacation. Five days, and I'm just not familiar enough with the city to be excited about it. Admittedly, I'm ignorant of the sights offered by my fair northern Quebecois brethren. We're pretty liberal, so what should we do? What hotels should we book in what area? Great restaurants we should hit known to the locals? Is there a ‘best week’ to go during August?

I live in New York now, but grew up within spitting distance from the border in New England and have globe-trundled quite a bit. My fond remembrances of Canada are formed by visiting family in the north and hopping about New Brunswick - the classic family of four shoved into a Ford Escort in high-winter amid eight feet of snow until I was 12 years old. I know it’s a personality flaw, but it’s one of those childhood things I can’t shake off. I want desperately to be excited about this vacation because he is - although he knows next to nothing about Montreal either. Help please?
posted by eatdonuts to Travel & Transportation around Montréal, QC (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
August is, in some ways, the best time to go -- the weather's gorgeous but festival season is over and many have fled the city.

In any season, though, Montreal is the greatest city in North America. With such a plethora of pleasures on offer, maybe you should specify what you're looking for? High arts and culture? Food? Dirty boozing? Nature and wildlife? Shopping?
posted by docgonzo at 6:53 PM on May 4, 2007

Wikitravel is based in Montreal and has a decent entry on the city.

August is usually hot. Most of the big festivals are over by then, but then so's the construction holiday. There's also going to be a lot of road repairs in Montreal this summer, and even without that, parking is usually hard to find. I recommend you leave your car at home, get a downtown hotel, a map and a couple of transit passes.

You can cover Old Montreal and the Old Port, and the downtown core, on foot, unless one of you is disabled. The metro will bring you out to the Botanical Garden and its surrounding attractions, and your hotel will be able to advise you if you want to go to the Casino (there are shuttles).

Check the Chowhound board for foodie recommendations and have a look at previous Ask Mefi entries on Montreal, where there's a lot of upbeat advice about things to do in the city.
posted by zadcat at 6:54 PM on May 4, 2007

Hotels: If I was going there, I'd book myself into Le Saint-Sulpice. Last time I was there, I stayed at the W.

Restos: You'll need to make at least one pilgrimmage to Charcuterie hebraique Schwartz, aka Schwartz's. Or, if the lineup is too long for you, across the street at the Main. For bagels, go to St. Viateur's, not Fairmont. Au pied du cochon is great, but not for the vegetarian amongst us.
posted by docgonzo at 6:57 PM on May 4, 2007

Better Ask Mefi link and hi docgonzo, fancy meeting you here.
posted by zadcat at 6:58 PM on May 4, 2007

Hotels: Stayed at the Auberge du Vieux Porte which was small and beautiful, and a reasonable walk to everything -- our room overlooked a cobblestone lane, while others look over the water. The service was lovely.
posted by mochapickle at 7:05 PM on May 4, 2007

Montreal is my favourite Canadian city after my hometown of Halifax. It's bright and modern and sophisticated but with a sense of history.

If you like walking, walk to the top of Mont Royal. The view is lovely and it's a nice walk. There's a bunch of gardens at the top, plus you can see the city below you. Walking through Vieux Montreal is lovely too.

Fodors has some good information and suggested walking tours.

You almost can't go wrong with restaurants. They take their food pretty seriously, so any place that survives for longer than a year is going to be good. Try the quintessential Quebecois dish, poutine - the classic place to go is Patati Patata on St. Laurent.

For breakfast, try Chez Cora - it's a small chain in Canada, but doesn't taste like chain food. They specialize in breakfasts involving truly obscene quantities of fresh fruit - I enjoy their French toast made from coffee cake. Oh my God.

My favourite part of Montreal is Chinatown, though it may seem less cool to a New Yorker.

The World Film Festival and the Just for Laughs comedy festival are both in August.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:07 PM on May 4, 2007

Actually, I never thought there was much to choose between Fairmount and St-Viateur bagels (heresy!).

If I'd been away from Montreal a long time I'd want to go to Chalet BBQ for some chicken and fries, Émile Bertrand for fries and home-made spruce beer, Schwartz's (of course), and maybe Marven's in Park Ex for calamari. If you really want to get into it, have steak and beer at Magnan's and drop by Chinatown for a pho at Pho Bang or the Cristal #1. Then you'll have had some primo nosh and have visited a few neighbourhoods where tourists don't go.

The Just For Laughs festival (beware music on page load) runs from July 8-29. The World Film Festival is at the end of August into September: August 23-September 3.
posted by zadcat at 7:16 PM on May 4, 2007

Montreal is my favourite city in Canada! I even moved here I love it so much. :) I really think of it as a cross between New York and Paris.

You'll definitely want to see the Old Port in August. There are restaurants, artist's shops, street entertainment, and plenty of people. Jardin Nelson has an amazing outdoor patio and live jazz. It's a wonderful place to stop for lunch or supper in Old Montreal. Point-a-Calliere is an interesting museum in the area.

There are nice parks and paths on Mont Royal ("the mountain"). It's a reasonable hike to climb up to the cross at the peak. On Sundays, there's a huge tam-tam drumming gathering at the base of the mountain.

Ste-Catherine Street is the mainstream shopping strip downtown.

The Plateau is a great neighbourhood to shop in boutiques, people watch, eat, have coffee, and generally hang out in. The main streets include St-Laurent Boulevard, St-Denis Street, and Mont-Royal Avenue.

The Botanical Gardens and Olympic Stadium are also worth a visit, in the East end of the city.

Just relax and have fun! That's not hard to do in Montreal! :)
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 7:54 PM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lucky you! Go visit Biodome ; it's lovely and fascinating. I second a visit to Chinatown. For vegetarian (or just plain delicious) food, drop in to any of the Commensal buffets - often wired for internet access. Shopping malls have a delicious cultural cross-section of ethnic food, and now smoke-free! Woo-hoo!
posted by fish tick at 9:08 PM on May 4, 2007

Hey, zadcat!

I will not draw swords and declare epées at twenty paces (???) over the Fairmont/St-V debate but I will second everything else.
posted by docgonzo at 11:55 PM on May 4, 2007

I just wrote a mammoth post and my browser crashed... I can not bear to look up all my links and write all my descriptions again, so I'll point-form my suggestions for convenient googling. Consider everything here strongly recommended.

Casa del Popolo (cafe, bar, music venue)
Salla Rossa (music venue)
Else's (microscopic bar)
Smoke a j on the eastern slope of Mont Royal (NOT on a Sunday, you have been warned)
Lafleur's for poutine (most people will recommend la Banquise)

Quartier Latin:
Ste-Elizabeth (pub, terrasse)
l'Amère à Boire (pub)

December 6th Memorial
St-Joseph Oratory/Shrine

Old Montreal:
Pointe-à-Callières (amazing Montreal history museum)
Silo #5 and environs

Canadian Centre for Architecture
McCord Museum (Canadian history)

Lachine Canal (nice for walking, biking or just people-watching)

I think that's everything I had...

Also, I really don't want to be that guy, but Montreal's not "northern Quebec", and it's not "the north". It's actually at the southernmost part of the province and there's a area, like, the size of the US between it and the Arctic Circle.
posted by loiseau at 2:17 AM on May 5, 2007

OH, also, I can give you three hotel recommendations:

These two are basic hotels, nothing crazy fancy, but good and in excellent locations:


There's also a Comfort Inn on Parc at Sherbrooke:

Quality Hotel Downtown

All three of these are stumbling distance from anything you want to do. (I'm assuming you know you'll be walking around a lot.)

Also, if you want to get in the mood, watch some Montreal films before you come:

Jesus of Montreal
Love and Human Remains
The Barbarian Invasions
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
le Coeur au Poing
2 Secondes

& basically anything with Pascale Bussières in it

(all of these have subtitled versions, except Apprenticeship and Love, which are in English.
posted by loiseau at 2:46 AM on May 5, 2007

Last year I went to Montreal for a week, and stayed here. It was cheaper than a hotel and more friendly. However, most of the staff aside from the very nice owners are Japanese exchange students.
posted by mkb at 4:21 AM on May 5, 2007

Peel pub!
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 11:50 AM on May 5, 2007

If you are "pretty liberal" you might be interested in Divers/Cite, Montreal's Pride celebration Aug. 1-5.
posted by Cuke at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2007

The Montreal Youth Hostel
might be interesting. they do have private rooms.

Don't forget a hike/walk up Mont-Royal. You can't beat the view from the belvedere on a clear day or night.
posted by bluefrog at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2007

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