This time of year, Montreal is a frozen tundra, covered beneath feet upon feet of snow. Whether you’re here during the long days of summer or searching for cozy escapes during the depths of winter, this world-class city provides plenty to keep a weekend tourist busy.
I recently had the chance to visit Montreal this past fall, a place that has most definitely become one of my favorite North American cities. It possesses equal parts cosmopolitan energy and old world charm. A distinctly North American metropolis full of European culture. A perfect blend of all-things Chicago and Paris.
As a self-described “Urban Aficionado” (if that’s a thing), I felt right at home amidst the city’s walkable, character-driven neighborhoods and great public transit. If you’ve experienced the likes of London, New York, or Buenos Aires before, you’ll adjust quickly as well, even if your French is as bad as mine. For example…
“Hola! Parlez vous Inglese?!” Yep, you read it right. That’s 3 different languages right there. This too is definitely not a thing, and a simple “Bonjour, hello” will get you much further. Anyway…
My crew’s jam-packed long weekend took us to all corners of the town and all hours on the clock. Still, after 3 full days, we weren’t left feeling either rushed or idle, and at the same time like we had hit most of the high points. With that, here’s a sample itinerary that will help you make the most of 3 solid days and nights in Montreal:
Day 1: Downtown
Take in a Skyline View at Parc du Mont-Royal – Atop downtown’s neighboring hill and urban park, this spot provides the best panoramic of the city. Ample biking and hiking trails, along with plenty of fields for frolicking or relaxing, make this an ideal place for exercise or just kicking back (or tobogganing, during the “let’s-not-lay-around-outside-because-it’s-freezing” months)
- Feel Scholarly at McGill University – Some call it the “Harvard of the North,” but any good Quebecker should tell you Harvard is the “McGill of the South.” Walk through this classic campus and you’re bound to feel studious!
- Grab a Bite at m:brgr – Montreal is a culinary hotbed, and m:brgr is a great introduction to the food scene. This place is – you guessed it – a burger joint, albeit a fancier one, with an extensive wine list to compliment your extensive build-your-own sandwich choices. I recommend the Kobe beef with Brie and bacon. Wait, did that just sound awesome? Yes it did.
- Get Artsy at Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal – Montreal boasts an impressive museum of fine art. If you hate art, shame on you! But the good news is this place is free, so you can still be a good travel buddy and go with your art-loving mates with no impact to the pocketbook.
- Experience Quebecois Cuisine – Despite its culinary diversity, the signature dishes of Montreal are still highly French-influenced. Places like Joe Beef and Liverpool House are the staples for such fare, but they’ll cost you a pretty penny. If you’re the budget backpacker type, save those “loonies and toonies” (Canadian $1 and $2 coins), and hit up downtown’s cheaper Japanese and Korean options, and get your Quebecois-fix later in the trip (and for a better price) in the Quartier Latin.
- Be ‘All About the Bass’ at Jazz Clubs – With its French Heritage, Montreal has a handful of jazz clubs for your evening entertainment. Although you have multiple options, my sources tell me Upstairs is the undisputed champion.
Day 2: Old Montreal and Parc Jean-Drapeau
- Have Your Jaw Drop at Basilique Notre-Dame – This gothic basilica in Place D’Armes might be lesser known than its Parisian counterpart, but it’s no less awe-inspiring. The small entry fee will be worth every penny when you see the church’s ornate, glowing alterpiece.
- Explore Old Montreal – It’s here in Old Montreal that you really feel like you’ve jumped across the pond to Europe, minus the jetlag. Take your time cruising the shops and cafes of cobblestone, pedestrian-friendly Rue St-Paul, or park yourself at a restaurant or brewpub for some day-drinking while you take it all in.
- Take Advantage of Parc Jean-Drapeau – This island in the middle of the St. Lawrence can keep you entertained from dawn-past-dusk. Thrill seekers can visit La Ronde amusement park. Tree huggers and nature-enthusiasts can check out the Biosphere. If the sun has set and you’re feelin’ lucky, check out Casino de Montreal. On our visit, we just happened to be lucky enough to catch a tour-ending, hometown show from Arcade Fire before we found ourselves leaving the island to head back to Old Montreal…
Experience Old Port Nightlife – Back in Old Montreal, things come alive with a new energy at night. Grab a table and a good group of friends at start the partying at Philemon. For less of a party but a more thorough cocktail list, L’Assommoir Notre-Dame is your spot.
- Poutine! – At this point in your trip, there’s a good chance you may have already indulged in one of Canada’s most gluttonous gut-busters, a dish that redefines “drunk food.” French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds are the standard, but you can deck it out with as many toppings as you like (pork, or any meat for that matter, is a great addition). Montreal Poutine is a reliable joint, right there in Old Port, and most importantly, open late.
Day 3: Olympic Stadium and The Quartier Latin
Get Some Bagels from St-Viateur – Forget New York! Montreal has that place beat when it comes to bagels. Get your renowned hand-rolled ‘Montreal bagels’ here. ‘nuff said!
- Stand on the Medal Podium in front of Olympic Stadium – What once housed the ’76 summer Olympics and baseball’s Montreal Expos up until 2004, is now a tenantless concrete fortress, but still worth a visit,. Although the stadium’s glory days are behind it, the architectural fete of the iconic Olympic Tower is impressive, and at the very least you can pretend to be an Olympic gold medalist by standing on the podium.
Brave the “Line Up” at Schwartz’s – If you’ve made it this far, Montreal smoked meat is one of the last delicacies you have to try while you’re here. Schwartz’s is the destination for the brine-cured beef sandwich, and even though the line can be intimidating, it moves fast.
- Stroll down Rue St-Denis and the Quartier Latin – For hipsters, students, bohemian, and alternative lifestyles of all shapes and sizes, the Quartier Latin is a cultural switch from Old Montreal, but cafes and restaurants still line the streets. The artsy crowd is here as well, making the art just as good as the people-watching.
- Club It Up on Rue St-Laurent – Finish your sampling of Montreal nightlife here. The main drag in Quartier Latin, Rue St-Denis will not leave you at a loss for restaurants, bars, or clubs. Take it from me though, if you’re going to the clubs, make sure you have your French down. A mispronounced “bahn-jore” will likely leave you hanging at the back of the line…