It’s been hard to not think about Montreal. We dedicate a trip every year to kick off the warmer weather. Of course, those are all on hold, so in the meantime… let’s revisit the list and make an update to the Musts in Montreal!
It’s been three years since I first made my visit to the city, and each time has been just as memorable as the last, continuing to be my favorite place to escape to. Throughout the years, there have been consistent must-visits (check the end of the post for that), and new loves, with others, disappointingly falling off the list (L’Avenue, Vua & Foie Gwa, I’m looking at you).
On top of the existing suggestions from our 2017 post, I add & re-affirm the following:
1. Experience the best of both worlds at BYOB restaurants.
It’s astonishing that in Montreal, we have the opportunity to let a restaurant focus entirely on creating delicious food, and all we have to do is show up with own alcohol to pair with the meal. We’ve made it a point to visit at least one BYOB restaurant on each visit, and we absolutely recommend the following – in this order: O’Thym, Le Pegase, Le P’tit Plateau & Grenadine. BYOB spots generally have a prix-fixe meal (including an appetizer, entree & dessert), and some are a la carte. Make it a competition among yourselves to randomly pick out the best bottle of wine at SAQ for under $15.
2. Make time to visit the farmers market!
We pick Jean-Talon Market over Atwater Market, any day. Upon entrance, you’ll first see a line up to Aqua Mare Poissonnerie for breaded seafood. Get a combo of 2 of shrimp, capelin and/or calamari for $10. You will not regret it, and will be tempted to lick every drop of that tartare sauce. Next, stop by Les Cochon for their holy mushroom cured sausage. Then hunt for ridiculously addictive pickled mushrooms, and pick up a block of cheese or two to complete your board for at-home drinks.
3. Spend a day at the Botanical Gardens, Biodome + Insectarium
The insectarium was a quicker skim than the biodome. But the gardens alone, I would visit multiple times, and between September & October, they have the annual Gardens of Lights festival that truly transforms the space.
4. Fine dine at the bests– and try to get a seat at one of Joe Beef’s restaurants
There are plenty of great restaurants in Montreal. Outside of BYOB restaurants, we have to be truly selective. Trust the Google reviews. We went by a suggestion of a friend to try Helicoptere (10 dishes for $55, per person) and the tasting experience was incredible. And of course, there’s Joe Beef and their line of reputable restaurants that are ridiculously difficult to get a seat at. If you can, set alerts for yourself and try to catch a last-minute reservation on the DINR app. Personally, we made a visit to Liverpool House and loved every dish that was sent our way.
5. Relax at the floating spa, Bota Bota
Along the river beyond Old Montreal, is a spa… On a boat. Bota Bota sounds tacky at first, but it’s far from that! Take a few hours to take the floating spa experience in. Prices range depending on the time and days of the week you go, starting from $40 a person. Facials and massages are additional.
6. Get your caffeine fix at one of the many beautiful cafes
There’s plenty of beautiful cafes scattered across Montreal. Le Darling is just one of them, which transforms into an equally beautiful cocktail bar at night. Other caffeine pick-up spots I’ve seen high praises for include: Crew Collective, Cafe Parvis and Tommy.
7. Get to know the neighbourhood
Plan your routes by neighbourhood, and take the major streets. Walk from Little Italy to Quarter Latin, and Old Port down to Atwater Market. Let yourself stray away off the major street, and stumble into any stores, restaurants & sights that look interesting.
8. Prepare yourself for a meal at Ma Poule Mouillée
I mentioned previously that Montreal is all about the battle of the foods – Smoked meat sandwiches, poutine, bagels… And now I discover, Portuguese Chicken as well! We only tried out Ma Poule Mouilee, and I really can’t imagine how any other would be better. Avoid the peak hours of this place, we last went during the dinner rush, and that was a 1.5-hour wait (and it was worth it). This time, visiting at 2PM, it was only a 10-minute wait. There are plenty of ways to enjoy Portuguese chicken here, and the portions are very generous. I highly recommend sharing a plate between two. Other highly-rated fellow Portugeuse chicken restaurants include:
- Restaurant Jano (3883 St Laurent Blvd)
- Le Grill Barroso (8670 Sherbrooke St E)
- Romados (115 Rue Rachel E)
9. Stop-in at a speakeasy.
Skip the Foiegwa restaurant experience for their far better speakeasy: Atwater Cocktail Club. Make your way through the alley and to the bar, try their cocktails and order their menu (classic pasta included). Another cocktail bar we enjoyed the selection at was Le Mal Necessarie. Take a seat at the bar, order up a boozy cocktail and watch the bartenders in action.
10. Stock up on beer at a convenience store.
We’ve been to plenty of convenience stores, and our favourite charmer at Depanneur AS (St Laurent & Fairmont). She stocks the latest craft beers, and it’s a great stop – especially after picking up a few bagels at Fairmont! It’s expected that you enjoy a bag full of beers to fully enjoy the variety back at your Airbnb.
Other beer stops to look out for:
- Les Délires du Terroir (6406 Rue St-Hubert)
- Peluso Beaubien : Bières Micro-Brasserie (251 Rue Beaubien E)
- La Maison des Bières (4485 Lanaudiere St)
10.5. (Maybe) do the Mont Royal hike
A hike up Mont Royal is one of the top to-do items in Montreal, but to be honest I’m not sure who I would recommend this to. It’s not a very rewarding experience, as there wasn’t a grand skyline view that greets you at the top. If you take the hour-long path up, there will be a man manning a pull cart filled with ice-cold drinks – you’ll think you reached the top, but you’re only 3/4 of the way there. He reminded me of a frog wizard guiding us in the right direction. We did the walk on a Saturday, but on a Sunday, it’d be lively with Tam Tams.
Visit after visit, we always end up with the same to-do’s on the list, for absolute musts:
- Dieu Du Ciel (📌) for the a pint of an old favourite, or try a new one in a flight of samplers.
- Line up at Fairmont Bagel (📌) for their garlic bagel.
- Drop by Kem Coba (📌) to cool down to a familiar Asian-inspired ice cream
- A plate of Portuguese chicken is a must – cheap, cheerful & very filling – our favourite is Ma Poule Mouilee (📌)
- Poutine, always poutine, at Frites Alors (even better with a beer)
- Make a lunch visit to Jean Talon (📌, refer to #2) for a bite of crispy battered shrimps, freshly shucked oysters, or just take a stroll and pick up a selection perfect for a charcuterie board back at your Airbnb
- Pick up a few wines at an SAQ (📌, our favourite location is outside Jean Talon), and battle it out pairing wine at a BYOB restaurant (we love O’Thym & Le Pegase)
- (A personal one) Even though the thrill has gone down at Vua, I still return for the nostalgic flavour of our first year trying it. The ingredients just don’t taste as fresh, and there is no longer nem chua sold. A forewarning: the locations have a chain, ‘coffee time’ feel.