After a crazy start to 2019, I finally took a much-needed vacation! Every year, my mom and I take a mother/daughter trip to a different city. In the past, we’ve visited the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, sampled pralines in Savannah, and let the good times roll in New Orleans, but this year we decided to break away from our tradition of visiting southern cities in the winter. Instead, we traveled north for the summer, to the beautiful city of Montreal.
I had only been to Canada once before, for a quick day trip to Victoria (very different from Montreal!), so I was excited to visit our neighbors to the north. We had an amazing time exploring Old Montreal, indulging in some sweet treats, and chasing waterfalls in Quebec City. For those planning a trip to Montreal in the near future, read below for my tips for creating the perfect itinerary!
Where We Stayed
We decided to stay in the picturesque Old Montreal — just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the basilica and other must-visit sights. Our hotel of choice was LHotel Montreal, which happens to be home to North America’s largest private art collection. The hotel is also home to one of Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculptures. Perfect for snapping a pic on your way out the door! (Did I mention I love his work?) The hotel staff were friendly and accommodating with suggestions and anything else we needed throughout the trip, and we were within comfortable walking distance of the port, several attractions, and of course, public transportation.
What We Did
Riding the Grande Roue de Montreal (Montreal Observation Wheel)
On our first full day in the city, we wandered around the Old Montreal port area and stumbled upon the Montreal Observation Wheel. The wheel goes up 60 meters and gives visitors a breathtaking panoramic view over the port and the city. We rode the wheel for about 20 minutes on a beautiful day, and felt it was a perfect introduction to the city.
Sampling Canadian maple treats at Délices Érables & Cie
We visited the tasting counter at Délices Érables & Cie, a boutique-bistro that sells maple syrups, candies and cookies, honeys, spice rubs, teas, and even mustards. The verdict? This was one of our favorite stops on the trip! We learned about the different variations of maple syrup and left with plenty of souvenirs for family and friends. The store also sells gelato, sorbet, fresh baked goods, and much more.
Hiking Mont Royal
For beautiful views of the city, make sure you visit Mont Royal Park! We chose to hike the scenic route, traversed by lots of runners and bikers, and although we were exhausted when we reached the top, it was so worth the climb. If you’re looking for a more relaxed approach to get to the top, that’s ok! You can also hitch a ride by bus or car. If you do walk, bring water and be prepared to climb a lot of stairs. After visiting the chateau lookout point, you can continue your hike or visit Lac aux Castors (Beaver Lake) for aquatic activities.
Day-tripping to Quebec City
We hopped on a bus and took a day trip over to Quebec City, the capital’s province, to explore Old Quebec and the Montmorency Falls. The drive took about 3 hours each way, so if you are traveling alone, you may want to bring something to read or listen to since the tour does not begin until you arrive in Quebec City. Quebec City is at the heart of French Canada, and you truly feel like you’re in Europe while exploring here! Our bus missed its exit at one point on the trip, so our time in Quebec City was shorter than planned, but you receive a guided tour and guide to to the area before breaking off to explore the old city. The tour also stops at the beautiful Montmorency Falls, which are even higher than Niagara!
Tip: Do not eat at the restaurant suggested by the tour company. We stopped there because it was supposed to be quick and we had a coupon from the tour company, but the restaurant didn’t honor the coupon and the food was only so/so. We also spent way too much time there when we could have been off exploring! Instead, if you’re doing a quick day trip and are strapped for time, I suggest stopping for a quick bite at a cafe first instead.
Exploring the Chateau de Ramezay
The Chateau de Ramezay is a history museum and former home that sheds light on the founding and evolution of Montreal. We toured the museum, but were even more moved by the temporary exhibition War Flowers, which highlights Canadian soldiers at wartime and explores different themes of war. The exhibition will be on display through January 2020, so if you visit before then, be sure to check it out! The gardens of the chateau are also a must-see.
Visiting the Notre Dame Basilica
Notre Dame Basilica is a major landmark of Old Montreal and definitely worth the visit. Admission is just $8 and tours are offered every 20 minutes (included in that admission price). However, tours tend to fill up quickly and are not guaranteed. If you want to visit the basilica and learn more about it, I strongly encourage you to book a tour ahead of time!
Making a deposit at the Bank of Montreal Museum
Working for a credit union, I couldn’t resist walking through the Bank of Montreal Museum, located just across the street from the basilica and close to our hotel. The museum portion of BMO is small, but still fun to look through (and FREE!).
Wandering through the Underground City
This pedestrian network, known as the RESO or the Underground City, is definitely worth exploring — especially if you’re in Montreal on a rainy day! You can wander through this indoor network to visit shops, restaurants, and even metro stations.
Where We Ate
Just a quick note about our culinary experience in Montreal: the food was great, but we had difficulty finding lighter options throughout the trip. In hindsight, I wish I had researched food options ahead of time, since food ended up being a bigger challenge for us, but we still enjoyed some delicious meals.
This vegan/vegetarian restaurant was the perfect stop for us to enjoy some healthier fare, and to try poutine for the first time! I strongly suggest making a reservation first, since this stop was packed when we arrived. I had a delicious coconut curry, while my mom experienced her first Beyond Burger.
As a huge Harry Potter fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a Harry Potter bar! The Lockhart has locations in Montreal and Toronto, and features Harry Potter-inspired artwork and menu items. If you’re ordering alcohol, you must order food as well, but the food is so good that this won’t be a problem! The Lockhart is open for brunch through dinner, but I highly encourage going around brunch time — the place is much quieter and you’ll be served quickly.
This pub-style restaurant is located near the water in Old Montreal and the perfect place to enjoy some comfort food. On our first day in town, we were cold and damp from trying to navigate the city in the rain, so we stopped here for some beer and good old tavern food.
Le Petit Dep
This little dépanneur is located in Old Montreal right next to the Basilica. We stopped here after our Quebec City tour for a late night dinner at their cafe, but Le Petit Dep also includes a small grocery store, candies for sale, and adorable souvenirs. I even picked up a onesie for my friend who’d just had her baby a few days before the trip! Did I mention that the interior and exterior are both absolutely gorgeous?
Bagels are a big deal in Montreal, and they are a little different than the traditional New York bagels we usually think about here in the States. Canadian bagels are wood-fired! People have differing opinions on where to get the best bagel in Montreal, but we visited the widely acclaimed St-Viateur Bagel for some delicious cinnamon raisins. Definitely worth the visit, especially after climbing Mont Royal earlier that day!
A few other highlights: Modavie, a fun French bistro on Rue St. Paul. Creperie St. Paul had some delicious crepes, both hearty and sweet. We also had some delicious pizza at Al Pizzetta right by the water in Old Montreal. And of course, we had to try a little Tim Hortons at the airport!
I usually recommend taking a hop on/hop off tour of any new city on your first or second day in order to get a great overview of where you’re visiting. However, the tours here require two consecutive days, which we were not able to commit on this trip. If you can make it work, it’s an easy way to get around town and learn a lot in a short time!
We also were unable to fit in a ghost tour this time, as hours were limited during our stay. Later in the summer, ghost tours are available nightly, so keep an eye on the schedules when you’re making plans.
Also important to know: For those of you who don’t speak French, you may wonder what the Couche-Tard stores signify on every street corner. Turns out they are convenience stores open late, which you may very well need when you’re on your trip!
We had such an amazing time exploring Montreal this summer, and I can’t wait to plan our next trip!
Have you been to Montreal? Share your favorite sights in the comments below!