Wanted to flee the country for a bit, so for this trip we flew to Montreal! Quebec’s official language is French, but a lot of the population is bilingual in both French and English, so you can get by easily if you only speak English.
We had a 6AM American Airlines flight on a Sunday morning plus a 6-hour layover in Chicago. Combine that with the three hour time difference, we landed in Montreal around 10PM. We weren’t renting a car so we took the 747 bus (which runs 24 hours) to our hotel in downtown Montreal. We purchased a three day L’Occasionnelle card, which covers the fare for 747 bus (which is $10.00 one way), metro, and bus lines.
We stayed at Candlewood Suites in the Ville-Marie area of Montreal. It’s a long term stay hotel, so our suite had a full kitchen. We didn’t cook during our stay, but it was nice being able to store and re-heat leftovers. Since it’s a long term stay hotel, they only have housekeeping once a week. If your stay is less than a week, you can pick up new linens, towels, etc… at the front desk if needed. This was perfect for us as we’re pretty low maintenance hotel guests. The hotel is also centrally located to two metro stations and a number of bus stations, plus various cafes, restaurants, and bars.
We started our morning by walking to Cafe 1880 for some breakfast and coffee. They had really good flat whites and pastries. There’s free WiFi, which was great since we didn’t have a roaming data plan in Canada. This made planning our day a lot easier.
Our first stop was the Notre Dame Basilica as it was walking distance from the cafe. It’s a $5 cash entrance fee into the church. There are tours available, but unfortunately for us the next English tour wasn’t for another few hours. Nevertheless, we enjoyed walking around the church and appreciating the beautiful architecture.
Next we took the bus to Mont Royal park. The park had nice walking/hiking trails and a little cafe next to the small lake. We made our way to the lookout so we could get a nice view of downtown Montreal (which unfortunately we forgot to take pictures of!). There’s also a chalet at the lookout that has free WiFi (very important for tourists).
From there we planned our way to Patati Patata for our first try at poutine. This place is super small (fits maybe 10 people at most?) but we were eating at an odd time so there was a table for us. The prices at Patata Patati can’t be beat (my cheeseburger cost about $3), but I wasn’t a fan of their poutine. The gravy may have been too salty for me.
After the poutine we walked all the way down Saint-Laurent back to the hotel so we could check out the neighborhood. I imagine Saint-Laurent to be very lively on the weekends as there were a ton of restaurants and bars on either side.
This morning we were on a hunt for some of those famous Montreal bagels. We stopped by Fairmount and St. Viateur. I liked the texture of the Fairmount bagels more, but St. Viateur had a really tasty rosemary bagel. They are both open 24 hours so you can get your bagel fix any time of day!
After eating we took the metro to the Botanical Gardens. This place was huge! You’ll need at least a few hours to walk through and see everything. The highlights for me were the greenhouses and seeing a fox roam around the grounds!
Your ticket to the Botanical Gardens also includes entrance to the Insectarium. There aren’t too many live bugs in here; most of the bugs are preserved and displayed on the walls. It’s still pretty interesting (if you can stomach all the creepy crawlies!).
We also passed by the Olympic Park right across the street from the Botanical Gardens. You can see the Montreal Tower in the background.
At night during September the Botanical Gardens have the Gardens of Light, where the Chinese and Japanese gardens are decorated with colorful lanterns.
For dinner we ate at Bistro La Cervoise, where my charcuterie came with smoked seal meat! Coincidentally, we watched Andrew Zimmern eat seal meat on one of his shows the night before, but it never crossed our minds that we’d be able to try it. I didn’t really like it and don’t think I’ll have it again (it’s very lean with a fishy, liver-y taste), but I’m glad I got the chance to taste it.
When we purchased our Botanical Garden tickets, we purchased a package that also gave us tickets to the nearby Biodome.
I really liked the concept and layout of the Biodome. Each section represents an ecosystem in North America, so they have a broad variety of animals/fish. I also appreciate how they used an old Olympic building to create the Biodome.
We only spent about an hour and a half at the Biodome, so we went to Marche Jean Talon, the farmer’s market that’s open 7 days a week. Many vendors will have samples of their produce. There are also a few vendors that sell maple souvenirs (such as candy, syrup and beverages).
While they have a small eating area where we ate a delicious salmon crepe, they are also restaurants and cafes in the surrounding streets of the market.
We went back to the hotel to rest until dinnertime, where we walked to Schwartz’s on Saint-Laurent. We got their famous smoked meat sandwiches and some traditional Cott’s Black Cherry soda for drinks. I can see why there’s almost always a line for this place- the sandwiches are delicious and huge. We were lucky and had no wait (maybe because we went around 9:30PM on a weekday?), but I’ve heard there can be lines out the door. The inside is small but service is very friendly. It’s more of an eat and bounce type of place so that’s exactly what we did.
Today was our last full day in Montreal. Today would be spent roaming around Old Montreal/Port of Montreal and looking for souvenirs. I enjoyed all the cobblestone streets and architecture in Old Montreal.
We decided to give poutine another try and stopped by Poutineville. It’s a Canadian chain restaurant but this was the best poutine on our trip. They have a menu full of poutine with different toppings, plus an option to create your own concoction. Prices are fair and service is excellent. Glad I was able to find poutine I actually enjoyed on this trip.
After some shopping we made our way to Delices Erable & Cie, a store specializing in all things maple. We found cheaper maple syrup items at another souvenir shop, but came here to try their maple latte and maple taffy. I recommend getting a sample of the maple taffy – they pour syrup on some snow, you let it sit for a little bit then roll it up on a popsicle stick. It’s a very sweet little treat.
Since our flight was at 6AM the next morning, we checked out of our hotel downtown and moved to one closer to the airport with a free airport shuttle. The Crowne Plaza Montreal Airport hotel is pretty nice for a hotel in an industrial area. It had a huge lobby with a grand piano. The Italian restaurant was good with large portions and the bar was comfortable and the perfect place to watch a hockey game. We lucked out and got a corner suite with a spacious living/dining area. Too bad our stay here was so short.
Since our flight was international, we arrived at the airport 2 hours before our flight. I quickly learned that some airports are still busy even at the crack of dawn. After getting through security and customs, we got to our gate with about a half hour to spare.
Our trip to Montreal was pretty relaxing. The weather was great (sunny in the high 60’s) and many things to see/do are easily accessible by public transportation. A major plus is that the US dollar is still pretty strong in Canada, which made budgeting for this trip a lot easier.