Travel Recap: Things To Do In Canada Part 1 (Montreal)

 
Gi Shieh, The Sensible Fay Style Blogger wearing grey staring across the street at Montreal building

Hello friends! If you’ve been following me on social media, you’ll know that I recently took a trip to Canada—specifically to Montreal and Toronto!

I had such an incredible time exploring the two cities and am beyond excited to share my experiences with you! Because this short trip was packed with so many activities, I’ve decided to split this recap into two installments. Keep on reading for my itinerary and insights on Montreal and I’ll update you guys on when the post on Toronto is out!


Notre Dame Basilica Montreal with Light and Dark Shadow

MONTREAL

My family and I traveled to Montreal on a quick 1.5 hr plane ride from NY’s Laguardia Airport. This was my third time visiting Montreal and first time visiting in the summertime. When we arrived, we immediately took an Uber to our AirBNB and then headed out to explore!


Day 1: OLD MONTREAL

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Pointe-à-Callière:

Our first stop was the Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, because better way to explore a city than begin with its history and infrastructure?

The museum was founded in 1992 to celebrate Montreal’s 350th birthday. It hosts a collection of artifacts from when the city was originated, and does a fantastic job of demonstrating how various cultures, such as the British, French, and natives, coexisted and interacted.

Exhibit Highlight: Memory Collector

If you get the chance, definitely check out this aesthetically intriguing exhibit. Memory Collector is a tribute to the first North American collector sewer. I love that it blends the original architecture of the sewer system with new artistic mediums, such as a light installations and sound technologies.

Lunch:

We originally had planned to take lunch at Olive et Gourmando (touted for their sandwiches) but when we stopped by, there was a huge line. We were famished so we decided to explore other local digs instead and ended up at a beautifully sun-lit spot called Mandys.

Overall, what shocked me about food culture in Montreal was the amount of fresh, natural, and real foods that were easily accessible. It seemed so much easier to access quality food products than the processed snacks that we’ve become so used to eating in the US.

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Explore Old Montreal:

The best way to see Old Montreal is on foot. We used google maps to take us on a route that included the Place-d’Armes, Montreal City Hall, Place Jacques-Cartier, and Bonsecours Market. The best part about planning your own walking tour is the flexibility—you get to walk at your own pace and take as many breaks as you’d like.

Back of Old Montreal Town Hall
Walking Tour of Old Montreal Screenshot

Tip: Use google maps to mark down all the stops that you want to see! Use the three dots to drag and rearrange the locations so that your path goes efficiently and save the link so that you can easily reference it from your mobile phone when you’re actually walking.

Interior of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal
Notre Dame Basilica Montreal Church Exterior Shadows

Aura at Notre Dame Basilica:

Turns out “Notre Dame” is a really popular name for French churches, chapels, and cathedrals, as it means “Our Lady” and refers to the Virgin Mary. The Notre Dame Basilica is one of Montreal’s most iconic churches. It’s located at the heart of Old Montreal and features some of the city’s most intricate interiors.

Every evening, the basilica hosts several light shows to engage its visitors. It’s an opportunity to explore the church’s beautiful structures as well as connect with this space through a unique and immersive experience. Aura is indeed a dramatic and exciting show that will take you on a journey.

Tip: Purchase your tickets online and line up at least 15 minutes before the show starts. You definitely want to take your time exploring the structures and getting a great seat.

 
La Grand Roue in Old Port of Montreal
 

Dinner & Old Port:

We stopped for dinner at a random tapas bar in the neighborhood and then continued to trek towards the Old Port. The setting sun and cooling winds were a welcome change from the daytime heat and we took to sipping coffee and strolling along the boardwalk just to unwind after our long first day.

If you choose to, you can also enjoy your time on paddleboats, bikes, or even take a ride on the massive Ferris wheel (La Grande Roue)!

Side-note: La Grande Roue is seriously huge and we chickened out due to fear of heights, but if you decide to go for it, I’d love to see your photos of the view!


Day 2: Jean-Talon Market & Mont-Royal

The AirBnb that we booked was in Mile End district so we had the opportunity to explore some of Montreal’s best eats without needing to venture too far.

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St-Viateur Bagel & Cafe Olimpico Coffee:

You can’t experience Montreal food culture without bagels and smoked meats!

Like New York, Montreal’s food scene was largely built by immigrants. Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries brought the bagel to North America and though the history of how it migrated over is consistent across the two cities, the Montreal bagel differs quite a bit in taste from the New York bagel! Each Montreal bagel is made by hand and poached in honey water before being baked in a wood-fire burning oven, yielding a difference in color, crust, and chewiness.

Tip: Get the all-dressed bagel from St-Viateur Bagel with a tiny packet of cream cheese and a cappuccino from Cafe Olimpico!

Jean Talon open air market montreal little italy

Jean-Talon Market:

Jean-Talon Market, or Marché Jean-Talon in French, is the largest open-air market in North America! It features the best produce, meats, fish, cheeses, ice creams, and maple syrup (of course) that Montreal has to offer. You can easily spend the greater part of your morning wandering through this inviting space and sharing small bites from the different vendors. Grab some fresh fruit and pastries to enjoy at home of if you’re planning on picnicking like we were, grab some cheese, crackers, and sandwiches for your lunch!

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Mount Royal Park:

Mount Royal Park (Parc du Mont-Royal) is the highest point in Montreal as well as the landmark that the city of was named after.

I’d recommend that you hike up to Kondiaronk Belvedere for incredible views of the city skyline and then take an afternoon break at the Mont-Royal Chalet. If you take the red path (up the wooden stairs) from Avenue des Pins on the McGill campus, it should only take you about 30 minutes. Trust me, while it’s a steeper climb, this path will take you less time than some of the more roundabout paths.

After taking ample photographs and enjoying lunch at the chalet, we decided to retire back to the AirBnB. If you still have energy and would like to explore more of the mountain, I’d recommend that you visit Beaver Lake (about a 15-minute walk from the chalet) or St. Joseph’s Oratory (exit the mountain first and take an alternate walking/biking path there).


Day 3: Botanical Gardens & Plateau Mont Royal (Feat. Schwartz, and Frites Alors!)

My mom has a passion for flower and the Montreal Botanical Gardens came highly recommended, so knew that this was something we could not miss.

Take the metro to the gardens (just google maps it) and depending on how much time you have, you might want to get a combo pack with admissions to the Botanical Gardens, the Planetarium, and the Biodome. Unfortunately for us, the Biodome was under construction so we only got the opportunity to visit the gardens and the planetarium.

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Planetarium:

As someone who knows very little about space, the level of explanation the Planetarium Rio Tinto Alcan offered was perfect. It’s definitely a museum targeted towards kids but was great to explore as an adult as well.

We watched two of the shows: Passport to the Universe and Night Sky. Passport to the Universe explores Earth in relation to the other structures within our Solar System, galaxy, and universe. Night Sky in comparison, was more of an artistic examination of the mysteries of a starry sky.

 
Gi Shieh wearing grey shirt white shorts in Montreal Botanical Gardens rose garden
 

Botanical Gardens:

The first thematic garden that you’re greeted with is the rose garden. The flowers were in full bloom and the garden displayed hundreds of different romantic varieties. We then went on to explore the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the First Nations Garden, and the Greenhouses.

The grounds are truly gigantic, so take your time to casually stroll through and make sure to take plenty of photographs to remember them by!

Montreal Botanical Gardens Multi-colored rose
Montreal Botanical Gardens White Rose
Montreal Botanical Gardens Chinese Gardens
Montreal Botanical Gardens Japanese Gardens
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Olympic Park:

The Olympic Park (Parc Olympique) was home to the 1976 Summer Olympics. It’s a huge stadium and you’ll likely only be able to (and want to) explore a small portion of it. As you’re walking around, be sure to stop inside the stadium and maybe even take a ride to the observatory!

Schwartz’s Deli Smoked Meat Sandwich
Poutine Frites Alors!

Plateau Mont Royal:

Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is a borough of Montreal that is home to some of the city’s mot iconic eats, including Schwartz’s Deli and Frites Alors!

We spent our evening eating and drinking our way through the little neighborhood and got to see how locals typically spent their Friday evening.

Tip: Get the smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s and the duck poutine from Frites Alors! They’re DELICIOUS.


DAY 4: The UNDERGROUND City & MILE END

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The Underground City:

It was an extremely rainy day so we took it as an opportunity to hide from the elements and to explore the Underground City of Montreal!

This underground network is a series of interconnected hotels, shopping centers, office towers, metro stations, bus terminals, and performing arts venues that run underneath Downtown Montreal. It contains over 32 km (19.88 miles) of tunnels for you to explore!

Needless to say, it’s impossible to walk the entire Underground City, so we plotted specific points that we wanted to visit and set out on a path from there.

Start at the gorgeous metro station of Champs-de-Mars; it’s a beautiful station that features glasswork from artist, Marcelle Ferron, and is the only station where sunlight reaches the train platforms.

From there, grab a cup of coffee and stroll through the tunnels until you hit a major shopping center (I recommend either the Eaton Center or Le Cours Mont-Royal Centre). There are hundreds of stores for you to browse through and enough snacks to get you through the afternoon.

Tip: Definitely use a map of the Underground City to navigate. Google maps will not be as useful in this instance because the service isn’t as strong and the tunnels aren’t mapped out.

Montreal Mile End Ramen Shop
Kem Coba Mile End Gelato, Sorbet, Ice Cream

Mile End:

After walking all day, we decided to return to our neighborhood for some local eats and retire to the AirBnb early. We had dinner at a local ramen shop, ice cream at Kem Coba (the line was so long), and even stopped by Drogheria Fine for some gnocci as a snack for later that evening.


Day 5: Hangout & Reset

Honestly, we really didn’t do a whole bunch our last day in Montreal. Our metro pass had expired and we were pretty exhausted from all the walking so we chose to spend the day enjoying the Mile End neighborhood and catching some last snacks before heading to Toronto.

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Mile End Food:

We took breakfast at Fairmount Bagel (the first bagel bakery in Montreal), skipped lunch, had dinner at La Panthère Verte (a local vegan chain), and once again, had dessert at Kem Coba (it was that good).

Alternative options for your final day include exploring Montreal’s Gay Village or maybe even biking to Park Jean-Drapeau.


Montreal skyline from Mont Royal Park

Takeaway:

Montreal is a beautiful, generous, and culturally-dense city. Fresh, healthy, and real foods are easily accessible; there are quality cafes everywhere; the people are considerate and polite. The city is extremely easy to navigate with public transportation, bike rentals, or walking. If it weren’t cold for more than half the year, I’d seriously consider moving to Montreal.

Which cities have you fallen in love with?

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