Montreal is just over the New York/Canadian border, about a 40 minute drive into Canada. While a lot of people only think of Montreal as a bachelor party or underage drinking destination, Montreal is a fabulous weekend destination, and offers travelers delicious food, a European feel and plenty of outdoor activities. Dan, our friend Pryor (a frequent wareontheglobe traveler) and I, spent a long weekend in Montreal over the 4th of July this summer. Yes, just the three of us. We drove from Princeton, New Jersey to Montreal on a Thursday night and back on Monday evening. It was an easy drive, a fun trip and a great way to spend a long weekend!
We arrived late Thursday night and found our AirBnB apartment pretty easily. We rented one of Flatbook’s apartments in the Gay Village (or Le Village). Our apartment was clean, spacious and in a great location, within walking distance to the St. Denis area and Old Montreal (a long walk though). Further, unbeknowest to us, Le Village has many restaurants and bars for everyone. Since it was summer, the main street in Le Village was closed to car traffic, decorated in pink(!) and hosted numerous temporary stalls selling things, kind of like a street fair!
On our first full day, we started early with my favorite breakfast sandwich, the Poached Egg on Your Face Breakfast Panini, from Olive et gourmando in Old Montreal. This should be your first stop, too! Get in before 10 a.m. for breakfast.
After breakfast, we did the standard walk though Vieux Montréal, aka Old Montreal, and checked out the historic sites, including the Place des Armes, Basillique de Notre Dame, Place Jacques Cartier, Marché Bonsecours and my favorite, the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Unlike the Basillique, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is free and so pretty on the inside, complete with replica ships hanging from the ceiling (it was originally a place for seamen coming into/leaving town to pray for safe voyage). Here are some pics (from top left to right, then bottom left to right): interior of the Basillique de Notre Dame; Old Town; Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel; interior of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel).
Aside from these sites, the main draw of Old Montreal is its European feel and adorable shops! Take sometime to wander.
Next, we walked along the Lachine Canal (starting in Old Montreal, also a popular biking route) for about an hour to the McAuslan Brewery’s Terasse-St. Ambroise for some Montreal beer. La Terrasse, as its called, is an outdoor beer garden on the McAuslan brewery’s grounds. While I wouldn’t call McAuslan craft beer, its certainly not Molson – and they make a really tasty apricot beer! You can buy flights, pints or pitchers, limited food is served and dogs are allowed! Sadly, it closes for the summer at the end of September. If you are around in Summer and like beer, this is a fun stop! And if you’re not, walking/biking/running the LaChaine canal is still a fun way to see a non-touristy part of the city.
To end our packed touring day, we stopped by the Musée des Beaux Arts to see their temporary Rodin exhibit!
Our first day ended with an amazing dinner at the famous Joe Beef! Make your reservations early!
Our Saturday started with brunch at Juliette et Chocolat – another Montreal favorites. Juilette et Chocolat specializes in chocolate and makes the most delicious European sipping chocolate from your choice of a laundry list of chocolates sourced from around the world. There are a few locations in Montreal and you should certainly stop into one!
We had left our late morning/early afternoon open, so we decided to check out Montreal’s weekend fair – Poutinefest! Poutinefest is a small fair in Old Montreal (Vieux Port area) celebrating one of Quebec’s most popular dishes, poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds)! There are a number of stands from all over Eastern Canada making and selling poutine. We were able to try two types between the three of us…probably not the best place to visit directly after brunch!
Next up, a craft beer and food tour with the Montreal Brewpub Experience. During the tour, we visited three bars and sampled about six small glasses of beer with small food pairings. My favorite was a beer with a marshmallow in it! While the beer tour was fun and interesting, It was a little light on the beer in my opinion!
We finished up our Saturday with dinner at one of Montreal’s newer restaurants, Barbounya. Barbounya is a Turkish tapas restaurant. We sat at the bar and enjoyed the food and atmosphere! Our evening was capped off with a drink at an awesome brewpub, Dieu de Ciel!
Sunday was dedicated to Bota Bota! Bota Bota is Dan and my favorite spa and a reason just to go to Montreal. We go every time we are in town and spend an entire day. Check out my post on Bota Bota here!
Sunday ended with an awesome meal at Au Pied du Cochon, which included a magnum of wine, a pig’s head and pesto gnocci mixed in a cheese wheel! That’s the pig’s head below.
Finally, our long weekend ended with a second, shorter trip to Bota Bota on Monday morning and a late lunch at Marche de la Vilette in Old Town.
Looking back, that was a really fun weekend and I would love to do it again! If you are thinking of going, here are some more pictures of beautiful Montreal, including one or two that I took on a trip during late Fall a few years ago! So pretty!!
NOTES ON MONTREAL
Here are some thoughts I put together based on questions people have asked me about Montreal:
- Yes, you need your passport.
- No, you don’t need to speak French but it is an excellent place to practice.
- You need to call you bank and let them know that you are traveling internationally.
- Take clothes you can layer, even in the summer. Weather changes quickly and often.
- Canada uses the Canadian dollar and you can get them from the ATM. It’s a really pretty currency!
(6. The exchange rate is favorable right now, I just googled it, on 10/8/2015 it is 1 US Dollar equals 1.3 Canadian Dollars (it was 1 to 1 as recently as 2011)-Dan)
STEAL OUR TRIP
I’ve linked to more in-depth posts of most of the places we visited within the article. To the extent I haven’t, here is the info:
AirBnB – Reservations can easily be made online through the linked website or AirBnB. Clean rooms and 24/7 telephone support. They helped us when our key code did not work (we were at the wrong apartment…).
McAuslan Brewery & Terasse – 080 St-Ambroise Street, Montréal. Only open during the summer.
PoutineFest – Check their website for dates! Apparently its held more than once a year!
Montreal Beer Experience – Make reservations easily online. These tours book up, so you should aim to book in advance before traveling to Montreal. Cost: about $60 a person for the tour, beer and food tastings.
Barbounya – 234 avenue Laurier Ouest Montreal, Quebec H2T 2N8. T: (514) 439-8858,
firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations can be made easily online.
ON A BUDGET
One of the many great things about Montreal is that it has a charming European feel without the cost of the Euro exchange rate and without the cost of traveling to Europe. Many of the places listed, including our AirBnB apartment, were very reasonable. To save money, take the easy metro system or walk and check out some of the less touristy areas, such as Little Burgundy or Mile End. Plus, the Canadian dollar is weak against the US dollar at the moment! Of the listed restaurants/activities, everything was rather inexpensive with the exception of Joe Beef, Au Pied du Cochon and the Montreal Beer Experience.