I have a confession to make. Pretty much everyone who has been to Montreal will tell you it’s a GREAT, FANTASTIC, AMAZING city with a European vibe. Except me. I don’t know if I’m just being contrary but for me, Montreal has always been “meh”. Nevertheless, one day, I decided to give the city another try and my goal was to approach it like I was crafting a blog post. And mercy me, it worked. While I’m not a full convert, I think now I understand why people like this city so much.
A little background on this place, first. It is located in Quebec, Canada and is the largest city in the province. It is also the second largest city in Canada. Montreal sits on an island. Its official language is French but don’t worry about that if you’re visiting and don’t know the language – many people speak at least some English (which doesn’t help you if you’re trying to practice your French).
If you decide to give Montreal a whirl for a day or two, here are six things worth doing on your visit:
Eye for Art
One thing that I love about cities is the opportunity to find unique street art. Montreal is no different and if you especially move away from the tourist areas, you’ll be able to find many samples of Montreal’s urban art side.
Montreal’s Chinatown is small but there is a lot jammed into about one or two city blocks. It’s a typical Chinatown with the multiple Asian restaurants, including pho, dim sum, seafood, and those places that hang BBQ birds in their windows. There is a pedestrian walkway which you’ll find useful in not getting run over by the crazy drivers. Places here are open late into the night so you can always find something to eat or a party to attend. I particularly enjoyed going to a Chinese bakery and picking out random snacks – still have no idea what I ate but some of them were really good!
Jean Talon Market
This market went a huge way to making me change my mind about Montreal. I seriously loved this place, located in Little Italy. The market has been open since 1933 and is therefore, very well established. People come here for the amazing array of vegetables and fruit (I almost swooned when I saw a particular type of mango that I thought I would only be able to get in the Caribbean). They also come here for the wide variety of cultures represented by the different stalls. I really enjoyed sampling all sorts of things, including a fresh box of strawberries as I wandered up and down the aisles. The market has items ranging from oils to spices, cheeses to meats, and bakery goods to flowers. There is even a cookbook store. If you get tired, grab a bite to eat from yet another stall and pull up a seat at the picnic benches available for your use. Once rested, continue wandering!
Wander the City
People love to say that the old quarter of Montreal, which dates back to the colonial days, is like Europe. Quite frankly, it is like Europe only if one has never been. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still pretty. Old Montreal is along the water and the buildings to bring to mind the old colonial era. Here is where you’ll find the majority of tourists. If you’re tired of this area, check out main streets such as Sainte Catherine for shopping and other various aspects of Montreal life.
Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal
For years I never bothered going into this church. No real reason other than I didn’t want to cough up the entrance fee. But recently, I finally bit the bullet and did it. I was pleasantly surprised! Especially having traveled a fair amount in France and have done the Camino de Santiago in Spain, Roman Catholic churches tend to start to look the same. However, while this Basilica is clearly Roman Catholic, it was different enough to tickle my camera trigger finger. It is dark inside but the colours made it a warm dark, some of the art work was intriguing, and the stained glass did not depict the usual scenes from the Bible but instead reflected Montreal’s religious history.
All year round there are festivals in Montreal but summer time is definitely the peak time. The most famous is the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal – it’s the world’s largest. The festival is ten days of music from around the world, mostly jazz. It’s a fantastic way to see famous artists perform (I saw Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, and Charlie Musselwhite) and to hear fantastic new-to-me artists such as Ester Rada and Cécile McLorin Salvant. The city is jam packed at this time so if you don’t like crowds, consider picking indoor paid shows and not the outdoor free ones. You’ll have your pick as the festival apparently hosts about 1000 concerts and activities from 30 countries!
Have you visited Montreal? What did you think?