My Montreal Crash Course: What to See, Do & Eat

Back when I launched Legal Nomads, I never expected to have a following at all, let alone an RSS feed and email distribution list. I had no idea that SEO was something travel bloggers cared about, and thought Alexa was a girl I went to high school with. I had also never heard of Twitter. However, I did have a mother who was excited about my trip but justifiably concerned she wouldn’t be able to armchair travel with me. And I had a slew of colleagues and clients who wanted to see what I did and where I went. Thus, Legal Nomads was born.

After writing for a few months, I was approached by award-winning World Reviewer via their excellent editor Kat MacKintosh to ask if I wanted to put a portion of my posts on the World Reviewer site, with a link back to my blog. The site was a fun, easy-to-use travel portal and I happily said yes (I’m in good company too – many of my fellow travel bloggers do the same!). This week, Kat asked for some insider tips for my hometown of Montreal and I was happy to oblige.

Here is my personal Montreal Crash Course: What to see to and eat in the city I call home.

Montreal during the day, as seen from the Old Port (Photo credit: My alma matter, McGill University)

Photo Montreal at night (Photo credit: Université de Montréal)

1. Where’s your home town, and what’s the main reason people visit?

Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Despite being located in Canada, Montreal’s vibe is wholeheartedly different from the rest of the country, and many people visit for that reason: a taste of the unfamiliar within Canada as a whole.

2. What’s the main reason you think people SHOULD be visiting?

With terrific tiny restaurants and an emphasis on locally grown foods, a seemingly endless list of outdoor activities and a trendy nightlife scene, Montreal is a great place to spend a few days. We’re also bilingual and most shops will greet you in both French and English, waiting to see what language you reply in before moving on. And the downtown core is packed full of universities, lending a vibrant energy to the city.  The variety of what the city has to offer in such a small space is my primary reason for recommending Montreal as a travel destination.

3. If you had to recommend to the friend of a friend one unmissable thing to do in your home town what would it be?

Get on a Bixi bike (there are 400 Bixi stops throughout the city) and start exploring. Montreal has a tangled web of bike trails both in its downtown core and stretching out toward the Old Port and along the water’s edge. Bike your way toward the formerly industrial Lachine Canal, now revitalized into a green zone. It’s a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.

4. If they had a whole day in town what would you recommend they do?

For starters, a Bixi bike ride around the Old Port area is an ideal welcome to Montreal. In the summer months, Sundays include the fun outdoor party at Piknic Électronik on Île Ste.-Hélène. The tiny island adjacent to Montreal easy to find (take the métro to Jean-Drapeau Park stop or use your Bixi bike!) and a perfect place to relax. I’d also recommend visiting Mont Royal, the tiny mountain looking down over Montreal. You can walk your way to the top, visit Beaver Lake and see the sunset over the city. In the summer, you can partake in a huge, free drum circle called Tamtams in Mont Royal park, happening every Sunday afternoon. Montreal is also known for its Underground City (locally called RÉSO), and in winter months the many kilometers of tunnels (32km and counting!) provides a welcome respite from the biting cold.  If it is too cold for Mount Royal, get your view of the city from an evening drink at Altitude 737 bar or from the top of the Hotel de la Montagne at La Terrasse Magnétic.

5. What if they had three days?

For a three day trip to Montreal, I’d start out with the Bixi bikes and the Old Port, and then explore the bustling Atwater or Jean-Talon freshmarkets and their eye-opening selection of fresh cheeses and produce, head to the Casino at Park Drapeau just off the island (and facing the Old Port), see a Montréal Canadiens hockey game (if the hockey season is on) and spend hours strolling through the Musee des Beaux Arts for an ever-compelling series of art exhibits. I’d also focus on the food: almost everyone in Montreal fancies themselves a gastronomy expert and growing up with such a focus on slow meals and contrasting tastes certainly moulded my food sensibilities while traveling. If it is spring, I’d also recommend going sugaring off to see maple syrup being made (and eating it right as it’s done – delicious!) and if it’s winter, a side trip to Bromont or Mont St-Sauveur for skiing is ideal. I’d also be sure to check out the Fountain of Fire named La Joute. Created by Jean-Paul Riopelle in 1969, the fountain spews fire on the hour and makes for quite a spectacle. It’s located in Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle in the Quartier International de Montreal.

6. What will you never catch a local doing?

Riding one of those amphibian buses that drive on the streets and then go into the St. Laurence river. Never.

Note: I polled some friends from Montreal and one of them responded with “We would never stop for pedestrians.”

7. What WILL you catch a local doing?

Jaywalking. Despite new fines, it’s in our blood – we just cannot stop. Growing up, the buses had advertisements paid for by the city that featured a chalk outline of a person on the street and the words “Don’t Jaywalk!” It’s deeply ingrained in our systems, much like our aggressive driving!

8. And what local delicacies would visitors be fools not to try while they’re there?

Montreal is known for a wide panoply of gastronomic delights, and you’ll never run out of fun places to eat. For starters: BAGELS. Fairmount or St. Viateur are each an ideal place to sample Montreal-style bagels, which taste different from all others I’ve tried (they’re much thinner, crunchy outside and soft inside – and in my biased opinion, much better!). Then head to Schwartz’ Deli for Montreal-style smoked meat, a world-famous smoked beef that comes with a side of dill pickles. I’d also make sure to try poutine, our provincial dish of double-fried french fries, heaps of squeaky cheese curds and hot gravy (aka cholesterol in a bowl). The best place to sample poutine is at La Banquise – try the original before venturing off into the french fry unknown! Another great poutine spot is at one of the many La Belle Province diners in the city. Montreal is also known for pairing terrific, elegant food with bring your own wine (BYOW) restaurants. One of my favourites is Khyber Pass, for Afghani cuisine. Finally, if you’ve got the budget be sure to check out Normand Laprise’s world-renowned Toqué restaurant for delicate French food and Martin Picard’s wildly popular Au Pied du Cochon.

9. In 140 characters, how would you sum up your home town as a great destination?

“Montreal: a vibrant, multicultural city chock full of festivals to attend, succulent food to try & no shortage of bike trails to explore. Home!”

10. Anything else you want to add!?

Come visit: you won’t regret it – though you might come away a few pounds heavier.

-Jodi