As a belated birthday present to myself, I planned a solo trip to Montreal in mid October. I had never been to Canada, and read extensively online about the museums, food, and culture before my trip. My weekend getaway was everything I had hoped for, and after experiencing things first hand I came up with this list of the best things to do in Montreal!
1. Hike up Mont Royal
If you feel like building up a sweat or just want to see the view, you can’t miss hiking up Montreal’s “mountain” namesake. The hike takes 25-30 minutes, and is only one kilometer (0.62 miles) up. If you come in the fall, you can see the beautiful foliage as you make your way to the summit. One thing I learned on my trip is that there are two places to take in the views of the city on Mont Royal. You can hike up the mountain from the George-Etienne Cartier monument at the base (which is the easiest hike) to the first summit, or take the 11 bus for $3 Canadian (around $2 US) up the mountain from the summit to the Mont Royal Chalet.
I bought a transit pass for the three days I spent in the city for $19 (which can be purchased in the airport after you land), so once I hiked up the summit I waited at the bus stop to take it to the chalet about another half mile down the road. You can also walk to the Chalet from the first summit. The view from the chalet is breathtaking, and definitely worth the trip. And there is a stairway path down the mountain near the lodge, which takes you down to the McGill University campus. This hike is one thing you shouldn’t miss!
2. Visit Notre Dame Basilica
No, this is not the same as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But this beautiful basilica has immense detail in every corner, and is one of the must see attractions in the city. It’s $6 Canadian to enter the basilica, but get there early; especially if you are planning to go on a weekend. There will be lines down the block if you wait until midday. However, I went around noon on Friday and there was barely a line. Also, there is a 45 minute light show inside the basilica called Aura at night, which seems to be a luminous experience. Tickets are sold out through 2018, but you can pick up your tickets for next year here.
3. Have a Montreal Bagel or Smoked Meat Sandwich
As a New York transplant, I love a good bagel or stacked sandwich from Katz Deli. And once I heard about the bagels and sandwiches in Montreal, I had to check it out. After I went to Notre Dame Basilica, I took a bus across town to Schwartz Deli to get a smoked meat sandwich. It did not disappoint, and tasted pretty similar to corned beef. One tip about Schwartz’ Deli, don’t wait in the line outside (that’s to sit down and eat). There is a small takeout spot to the left of the deli, where you can order a sandwich and pickle to go, and eat in the back.
As for a Montreal bagel, I didn’t go to Fairmount or St. Viateur as many of the locals recommended. Instead I walked a few blocks from my hotel in Old Montreal to Crew Collective & Café, which is honestly one of the most awe inspiring coffee shops and co-working spaces I’ve ever been in. Its located within an old bank on the south end of Old Montreal, with beautiful architecture all around. I order a bagel with salmon (I said lox to the cashier and he looked at me liked I was crazy), and it was pretty good. Definitely not as salty as a New York bagel, but it had a little bit of sweetness to it. Overall, I’m glad I tried it.
4. Walk around Old Port.
Old Port was a short walk from my hotel in Old Montreal, and it was beautiful to walk around. I had signed up for a Craft Brewery and Beer tour through Viator (which is a verified tour site run by TripAdvisor). The tour company, Broue Tours operates in Montreal and Quebec City, and it was honestly worth every penny. I’m a big craft beer person, and booking the Craft Beer tour was an amazing way to see Old Port, and meet some fun people along the way. Even if you don’t book this tour, look through Viator for some great food or walking tours in Montreal, or any city for that matter.
After my Craft Beer tour in Old Port, the people I met on the tour headed with me to Modavie, a French wine bar with live jazz every night. The restaurant is two floors, but there is a jazz band on both. We got a table for six around 7pm on a Saturday night, and only had to wait five minutes. The food here is amazing, no matter what you order (although I have to say the lamb poutine was delicious). This place looks pricey on the menu, but keep in mind the conversion rate to US dollars, and it isn’t that bad. This is a treat yourself place for sure, but you won’t be disappointed!
5. Visit a museum or the Montreal Botanical Garden
Montreal has a plethora of museums to choose from, for all you culture nerds out there (aka me). I went to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts during my visit, and it was worth it. The museum was kind of a mix of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (if that makes sense to anyone, haha). I also visited the Botanical Garden to see their Gardens of Light exhibit, which was very interesting. This exhibit ends on October 31st, but the Botanical Garden is worth a trip regardless. And you get a great view of the Olympic Stadium, which is right next to the gardens. I did both of these on my solo trip, but pick one or the other and you can’t go wrong!
If you are considering a trip to Canada anytime soon, definitely put Montreal on your list!