With its easy-to-reach location, it’s no wonder Montréal is often referred to as “Paris without the jet lag.” Montréal is the largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, so it offers Francophiles a generous dose of the language, food, architecture, cobblestone streets, and joi de vivre often associated with a trip abroad. But, Montréal deserves its own due as an international destination. After all, it’s a melting pot of worldwide cultures and heritages, with some uniquely Canadian customs, too! Here’s how to spend
How to Spend a Weekend in Old Montréal
Montréal is a straight shot from the Southeast, comparable to any other big city in the Northeast. Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport has two direct flights daily (around two hours long), with similar options in Charlotte, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Houston. (Check travel requirements for Covid issues, such as proof of testing and vaccine passports — the Canadians are serious about health matters.)
Check into Hotel Place d’Armes, conveniently located in the heart of Old Montréal. You won’t need a car here since a short visit can easily be accomplished by walking, with an occasional subway or taxi/Uber ride if needed. Four 19th-century buildings were combined to form the hotel, boasting historic charm on the outside, with modern amenities inside.
Then, it’s time for some coffee! A few blocks away is a don’t-miss: the stunning Crew Café housed in the former Royal Bank of Canada, a 1920s building with gilded ceilings, original brass elevators, and a grand entryway. The coffee and food at Crew are great – grab an early lunch such as their popular Mortadella Sandwich to fuel up for the day.
Explore the streets of Old Montréal, starting with the gorgeous Notre Dame Basilica (tours of the interior are available). Make your way along picturesque St. Paul Street, a winding road full of historic buildings, charming shops, and restaurants. Head to the Old Port and hop on the city’s Ferris wheel, La Grande roue de Montréal, for a bird’s-eye view of the river and Montréal’s skyline. The waterfront area is usually bustling, with ice-skating in the winter. On the walk back to the hotel, stop by 3 Brasseurs (Three Brewers) Saint-Paul for dinner, a microbrewery in an old building that offers tasty pub food.
Start the day with a continental breakfast in the chic Brasserie 701, one of the hotel’s in-house restaurants with a decidedly Parisian flair. The breakfast is artfully arranged on a wooden platter with croissants, fresh fruit, and local ham and cheese. Next, meet up with a knowledgeable local guide from Montréal Food Tours for the Old Montréal Flavours and Aromas Tour. It’s a great way to explore the historic streets and learn about the different cultural influences that shape Montréal’s culinary scene. Plus, you can snag some tasty bites along the way.
Speaking of food, be on the lookout for Montréal’s culinary specialties: a Montréal bagel (thinner and crispier than its U.S. counterpart), poutine (a mix of fries, gravy, and cheese curds), and smoked-meat sandwiches. Neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Chinatown, and Little Portugal offer a chance to explore a variety of cuisines not far from the historic district.
Be prepared to spend lots of time outdoors, because there are plenty of outdoor activities year-round in Montréal. Put on your walking shoes to do the mural tour in the spring months, then hit a speakeasy (there are several “hidden” options around town). Visit the rooftop terraces in the summer and fall, and in the winter months, enjoy ice-skating next to the La Grande Roue observation wheel.
Charming residential neighborhoods such as Saint-Louis Square, full of Victorian houses, will have you checking Zillow prices and contemplating a move. For dinner, take in the plants and open-courtyard decor at NELLi Café Vin, an indoor wine bar with Montréal cuisine that offers excellent people-watching.
If you have time before you say goodbye to the city, we recommend walking a few blocks into Montréal’s downtown area to check out “Oasis Immersion” at the Convention Center before you head out of town. This 360-degree experience merges video and sound in an artsy, colorful, exciting way that’s hard to describe. Montréal is home to innovative entertainment such as immersion technology and the Cirque du Soleil headquarters, so Oasis gives a hint at the entertainment of the future.
When it’s time to head back, you can thank your lucky stars that there’s no six-hour time change to adjust to and no airplane journey across the ocean. We guarantee you’ll soon be planning a return trip to Montréal!
For more information on Old Montréal, including events and other attractions, head to mtl.org.
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