A Guide to Montreal, Canada

Hi guys! We recently came back from vacation and we had a wonderful time while we were healthy (more to come on that later). We went to Montreal and Quebec City in Quebec, Canada. I have so much to share with you so I’m going to split it up into two posts. (So stay tuned for part 2.)

We started our adventure in Burlington, VT because it’s a good place to stop to break up the drive to Montreal. We’ve been to Burlington bunches of times, sometimes as the ultimate destination because we love it so much there. The foliage in VT was absolutely beautiful. We stayed just outside of Burlington, at The Essex, and they decorated for Fall which I thought was so cute.

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We stayed at the Essex last year and enjoyed it so we thought we’d go back again. Sometimes I wonder if you can go back to the same hotel and have the same great experience, but I was willing to give it a shot. We had a great time again and would recommend staying here. I blogged more about the Essex when we went last Fall so you can read all about it (and more on what to do in Burlington) if you head on over to my Guide to Burlington, Vermont.

Next stop, Montreal, Quebec (and the main focus of this post). This is our second time visiting. The last time we went was about 9 or 10 years ago (before I had my blog, so this is the first time talking about it here).

Here’s our itinerary and a list of our recommendations for Montreal:

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown, in the downtown area, which is about a 15 minute walk to old Montreal. It was a nice hotel and their restaurant (which I talk about below) was very good. I think the only downside is that I wish we had been closer to old Montreal. We’ve stayed closer, but for way more money, and this was actually an accident on our part when we tried to go to the same hotel as last time. It worked out just fine, even if it was a bit more exercise.

What to do:

Old Montreal. Old Montreal is my favorite part of the city. The streets are lined with buildings dating back to the 1600’s. We used Frommer’s walking maps and a local map from the hotel concierge. I’m not good with directions, but even I think that it’s easy to navigate around old Montreal.

For the sake of a little description, it’s basically 4 or 5 long parallel roads. If you are down by the river and need to get back to the hotel, walk away from the river. See? Super complicated. 😉 If you like the street you are on, just keep going, a lot of the shopping streets are quite long. If you don’t like it, well just go up or down a street and try again.

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You never know what you’ll find when you turn around the corner in old Montreal. I love the architecture and the history. I often wondered who walked around these streets hundreds of years ago and what they were doing back then. You can walk around this area for hours. And we did! We walked a lot. A lot.

There are so many boutique and souvenir shops. It was a bit chilly so we hit a few stores in search of gloves for me. I found a pair of red thick gloves with “Canada” written across them, that were probably made for men, but they did the trick. I felt goofy wearing them, but boy were my hands nice and toasty.

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We unintentionally found the most charming streets, like this one in the photo below. My husband likes to do a bit of a mix of sticking to the main areas at the beginning as he gets the lay of the land, and then he branches off to other areas. I think maybe because he has gotten bored of the main areas if we are being totally honest. The side effect of this is that he becomes a walking map. His sense of direction is downright creepy sometimes as we wander through places we’ve never been before and end up exactly where we were trying to go.

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The Bank of Montreal is quite the site to see. My photo doesn’t do it’s size justice. It’s across the street from a courtyard and the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal (which I talk more about below).

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There are many churches in old Montreal, including the one below that captured my eye. Unfortunately, I don’t remember it’s name. It must have been a popular weekend to get married because we saw two couples, at separate churches, posing for pictures.

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I hope that I’m not boring you with all these pictures. I took so many photos to soak up all the history and beauty of the area. (And it doesn’t annoy my husband at all.)

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Place Jacques-Cartier. Place Jacques-Cartier is a square located in old Montreal, on the way to the old port of Montreal. Okay, square isn’t quite right. It’s basically two parallel roads blocked off for just pedestrian traffic, and it’s a heck of a hill, as fair warning. It’s lined with a variety of quaint restaurants. Local artists congregate to sell their art and depending on the time of the day you’re likely to hear some amateur musicians. It’s so lovely and it’s like something out of a Hallmark channel movie. You know how much I love those movies, so I was in my glory.

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Notre-Dame Basilica. As I briefly mentioned above, the Notre-Dame Basilica is located in old Montreal and is gorgeous inside and out. There is a fee for going inside, with or without a guided tour. We skipped it this time because it was crowded and we took the tour on our last visit. However, if you’ve never been, then I recommend it because it’s worth seeing the beauty. The fee is not expensive.

Bonsecours Market. Marché Bonsecours is a beautiful historical site located in old Montreal. There are lots of boutiques, art sellers, and a food court. Also, it’s a great spot for public restrooms (not exciting but information that I always find handy when I’m researching new destinations). If you’ve ever been to Faneuil Hall in Boston, it’s a bit like a Canadian version of that.

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Observation Wheel – La Grande Roue de Montreal. I loved riding the observation wheel, well, mostly. The observation wheel is located in the old port of Montreal. It’s like a ferris wheel but each car is enclosed and holds up to 8 people. It’s about 200 feet high and moves very slowly. The entire “ride” was about 20 minutes long, with about 3 or 4 passes over the top. The views of the city are spectacular. It was not crowded so thankfully we had the car to ourselves. I didn’t realize that the car rocks a little bit when you move so when my husband got up to take pictures, I freaked out a little. Otherwise, it was great. Some people who reviewed the wheel said that it’s too much money for just 20 minutes, but we found it worthwhile. Not cheap, but vacation is about doing new and interesting things, and sometimes those things cost money. It’s just part of the adventure. In this case, it is an amazing experience that you can’t find elsewhere

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Montreal Science Centre. This science museum is also located in the old port of Montreal. We did not visit it this time because were weren’t interested in the exhibitions, but we did go last time when they had an Indiana Jones exhibition, which was great. (I’m a big fan of the movies.)

Downtown Montreal. We also walked to the downtown area. Saint Catherine Street reminds me of 5th Avenue in NYC (if you’re more familiar with NY) because the street is full of department stores, restaurants, and commercial buildings. As fair warning, this area is a bit… uhm, “rougher” than the old Montreal area. Be aware of your surroundings in this area.

Botanical Garden Montreal. Montreal’s Botanical Garden is the biggest garden that we’ve ever been to (and we’ve been to a number of them around the world). We visited the gardens on our last visit but it rained for most of that visit. As in epic thunderstorms that left everyone running for the little cafe they have on site. This time, we knew we wanted see it again to see what we may have missed. Of course the various gardens will differ depending on what time of the year you visit. For example, the rose gardens were in bloom when we visited in August, but not in October. On this visit they decorated their Chinese, Japanese and First Nations Gardens with colorful paper lanterns.

I recommend that you check the garden’s website prior to your visit in order to see what buildings and exhibits might be closed because on both of our visits something was closed for renovations. The respective closures didn’t bother us because we knew what was open before we got there and still had interest to go. If you had an area of the garden in mind and didn’t know that it was closed, then it could be a let down when you got there and couldn’t see it.

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Where to eat:

Le Darlington. This is a great restaurant in the hotel that we stayed in. We enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner, as well as a breakfast. The food was delicious and it was super convenient since we didn’t have to walk far. It was literally off of the lobby of the hotel we were staying in, so not walking far may be cheating a little.

3 Brasseurs. We had a delicious big soft pretzel and shared a lunch of German sausages and sour kraut. They make their own beer right on the premises (which I tried and loved). We recognized the chain because we ate at their location in Quebec City about three years ago and loved it. (I even posted about it.) They may have grown as a chain, or we didn’t realize how many there were last time, but either way I think there are 19 of them now, so you don’t have to be in Montreal or Quebec City to eat at one.

Laura Secord. This is the place to go when you want delicious ice cream. 🙂 We found one in the Complexe Desjardins mall down the street from our hotel.

Reuben’s Deli. We enjoyed a delicious egg breakfast at this diner. It also looks like a great spot for lunch too, but it was a pretty long walk so we didn’t end up going back that way before we left town.

La Baraque Du Vieux. We shared a tasty pizza, sitting outside on St. Vincent Street. I could have sat their all day watching people (not in a creepy way though). For this one there was a guy with menus on the more main street trying to coax people down the side street of St. Vincent Street, which worked out because we were hungry and would have walked right by it.

Eggspectation. My husband and I have mixed reviews about our breakfasts here. I enjoyed my bagel breakfast sandwich, but my husband did not enjoy his pancakes. It’s a cute cafe and it was very busy. Since we’re split on whether we’d recommend the place, I thought it was still worth mentioning since I liked my meal and would go back. My husband prefers pancakes that are considerably less rubbery. You decide and let me know what you think.

Lattuca Barbecue. This restaurant was recommended by my husband’s co-worker. They have a limited menu of barbecue chicken, pork rib, beef rib, and brisket, with a choice of 2 sides. In 2012, the restaurant was awarded Jack Daniel’s world’s brisket champion. My husband and I were not impressed with the brisket, which was sort of a let down, but the chicken and pork ribs were amazing. We’d go back for the barbecue chicken, hands down.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our stay in Montreal. Stay tuned to part 2 of our vacation, our visit to Quebec City.

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