Skip to main content

There’s No Canada like French Canada: A Traveler’s Guide to Montreal                    

Even though Montreal is just an hour north of the US border, it feels like a world away. The proprietary blend of French charm with North American modernity is unlike any other city on the continent and potentially the world. The city and its people will welcome you with open arms as long as you’re ready to unlock its secrets.

Contents

Montreal is built like a puzzle: several distinct neighborhoods are interlocked by transitive streets while anchored by Mount Royal park in the center and Old Montreal by the water. Large Italian and Portuguese neighborhoods complement the Francophone lifestyle that’s proudly enjoyed by everyone with radiant independence. Every culture plays a crucial role in the diverse dynamism of a city that’s celebrating its 375th birthday this year.

After a recent trip to La Metropole, we logged some of our can’t-miss stops as an itinerary for a city that must be experienced first-hand. Without further ado, our traveler’s guide to Montreal.

Stay

Hotel Gault

This minimalist charmer in Old Montreal is a relatively new project within the city. The hotel sits nicely on a street corner minutes from the shopping on Saint-Catherine Street and an even shorter walk to the subway. Rooms are progressive-chic with waterfall showers, standalone tubs and amenities hidden behind flat wooden cabinets. While it’s not a nightlife spot, it does have a solid breakfast lobby and coffee/tea all day long (the latter free to guests). The exterior also looks like it fell out of Paris, which adds to the overall Europe-in-North-America vibe.

Kozu Food Montreal
Photo Courtesy of Kozu Image used with permission by copyright holder

Eat

Kozu

Asian-Fusion seems to be an international trend these days, but few do it as well as the team at this new spot. Clean lines and palm tree prints offer the perfect environment to tackle salmon tataki, roasted cauliflower, duck, chicken and a well-curated wine and sake list. The only thing prettier than the food is the crowd indulging in it all. Twenty and thirty-somethings dot the tables, well-dressed for a night out in one of Montreal’s coolest districts.

LOV Vegan

LOV is a booming vegan restaurant full of bright colors, patio furniture, and outstanding healthy fare. Right down the street from the Gault, it attracts a mix of young professionals and trendy visitors looking for things like quinoa fritters and almond feta. It feels like a slice of Los Angeles in the Great White North. They’ve recently opened a second location in the Golden Square Mile neighborhood, too.

Lov Vegan Food Montreal
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Schwartz’s

Yes, it’s the most popular restaurant in town. Yes, you’re going to face a long line of similar tourists eager to see and taste what all the fuss is about. Montreal is famous for its smoked meat and this deli is where it all started. Thick cut slabs of beef center between two pieces of rye with a dab of mustard. If you don’t want to wait in a long line, a shorter line is next door for take-out.

If standing in line for a sandwich isn’t your thing…

Schwartz's Sandwiches
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Then try the fascinating Portuguese neighborhood near the deli. Traditional Portuguese chicken sandwiches and coffee replace wafting scents of smoked meat. You’ll know you’re in the neighborhood when Portuguese flags adorn every storefront window surrounded by unwavering support of national hero Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bagel St. Viateur

It’s as simple as this: don’t leave Montreal without having a sesame bagel fresh off the oven line. Make it a point to go to the original location.

Old Montréal
Old Montreal and Old Port at Jacques Cartier Place/© Montréal Tourism/Stéphan Poulin Image used with permission by copyright holder

Drink

Barroco

Chances are, you’re going to find yourself out in Old Montreal at least one night. The neighborhood has two distinct sections: one is very touristy, the other full of local designers, shops, and solid drinking away from the hubbub. Barroco falls in the latter as a wine bar/bistro hybrid. The menu is full of French and Italian classics and feels like someone carved a restaurant into the French countryside. It’s hip, accessible and worth a stop.

Le Royal

Even though you have to descend a flight of stairs to its entrance, calling this craft cocktail haven a speakeasy seems almost unfair. The vibe is very urban with a well-illuminated back bar setting the tone for an intimate, but jovial soiree. The bartenders have a rotating menu of new recipes, often with tropical flavors, but be sure to try something with one a local Québécois spirits. The distillery scene is quietly pumping out some of the best gins in Canada. Drinks are expensive, but they’re worth it. Treat yourself; you’ve made it to Montreal.

Le Royal Montreal
Whiskey Sour at Le Royal/Instagram Image used with permission by copyright holder

Shop

Maison Cloakroom

We’re listing Maison Cloakroom here because it’s a tailor and made-to-measure shop first. The team deals in handcrafted suits and jeans from Japan, coupled with gorgeous bespoke Italian shoes. Beyond that it has a barbershop and, tucked away behind another set of doors, is a small, 25-seat cocktail bar. It’s a manly oasis on steroids: rich mahoganies coat every wall while furniture and adornments are placed perfectly on the shop floor. We would spend a lot of time (and money) here.

Frank and Oak Flagship Store

It’s no secret that we’re fans of Frank and Oak, so when in Montreal, a stop at their flagship store downtown is a must. The store is three stories of tightly curated current collections paired with a barbershop and café. The staff is super friendly and also a great place to get recommendations for the rest of your Montreal stay.

Frank and Oak Flagship Store
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Rooney

If higher-end brands like APC and Maison Kitsune are your thing, then this looker of a store in Old Montreal should be on your list. The store has plenty of neutral colors and is definitely more for the minimalist dresser.

Cité Mémoire of Montreal
Cité Mémoire/© Stories of Montreal/Joe Beef Image used with permission by copyright holder

Do

Cité Mémoire

Imagine the sultry Montréal evening sky lit up by impressive projections on a number of buildings in Old Montreal. More than 30 short films showcase the history of Montreal from its controversial beginnings to current modernity. The entire project can be controlled by anyone with a smart phone – simply download an app and walk through the streets at night and press play once you’ve arrived at a designated showing. Every stop has free wi-fi, so anyone can join in. Again, Montreal prides itself on inclusiveness. Cité Mémoire runs nightly for two more years, with discussions in the works to extend the project further.

Cité Mémoire - English version

Jean-Talon Market

The heart and soul of a city often reveals itself in its central market and Jean-Talon is no exception. During the summer, vendors are hawking everything from fresh seafood to some of the most beautiful breads you’ll see this side of the Atlantic. Produce sampling is encouraged, especially when local fare is in season.

Peruse Saint Laurent Shops

Saint-Laurent is one of Montréal’s largest streets, essentially running the span of the city. It also notably divides its French speaking side from its English speaking side (although its more of a ceremonial divide than anything). Up in the Mile End neighborhood, local boutiques and thrift stores adorn both sides of the street, making it ideal for afternoon wandering.

Embrace Art

The Québéc government mandates that 1% of every public project in Montreal has to include some type of art. That could be a sculpture, series of paintings, or projections on the side of a building as with Cité Mémoire. The city is a veritable living art gallery, without even mentioning the Francophone architecture around every turn. When we visited, there was a glass sculpture outside the city’s art museum, multiple colorful outdoor terraces, and a mobile gallery in The Village. Much like a real museum, the city’s exhibits change regularly. And unlike most museums, it’s all free.

And, just to round out our traveler’s guide to Montreal, here’s a key swear that the Quebecois love to employ: “tabernac” which is French for “tabernacle” and plays heavily into the region’s French Catholic heritage. Employ it in the same manner as you would “shit” and you’ll fit right in. Example: “Tabernac! I broke a shoelace!”

Editors' Recommendations

Geoff Nudelman
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Geoff is a former contributor to The Manual. He's a native Oregonian who’s always up for a good challenge and a great hike…
The Best Travel Destinations to Visit This December
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It’s that time of year again when flannel, winter lagers, and holiday overconsumption are back in-season. Unless you’re a lumberjack or a snowboarder ready to embrace the next three months of blizzards and Polar Vortices, however, you’re eagerly planning your first winter vacation. Although holiday travel is typically expensive, it can also be a great time to getaway. Based on the weather, travel prices, and goings-on, here are five of the best travel destinations to visit in December.
Tropical Escape
U.S. Virgin Islands

Even before the harshest winter weather sets in, most Americans are already daydreaming about escaping the cold. The Caribbean is an easy choice —it’s warm, it’s a short flight from the U.S., and it’s often cheap. This year, think outside the resort-shaped box (we’re looking at you, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic) next month with a getaway to the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. John is like the Key West of the Caribbean. It’s compact, lush (two-thirds of the island is a national park), chill, and the beaches are among the best in the world. It’s the antidote to many of the region’s larger, busier, more tourist-centric islands. For a more affordable alternative, check out neighboring St. Croix or St. Thomas. Both are easily accessible by ferry or a quick, island-hopping flight. Plus: Because the USVI is part of the U.S., travelers needn’t worry about passports, visas, customs declarations, and the like.
Winter Wonderland
Quebec City, Canada

Read more
The Ultimate Hawaiian Adventure Guide to Oahu and Kauai
adventure guide to hawaii oahu and kauai press trip 2019 utv raptor tour at kualoa private nature reserve gp 9763

When thinking about Hawaii, you often picture cocktails, beaches, and relaxation. However, Hawaii can also be a thrilling and adventurous destination. There are plenty more things to do than golfing green pastures and sipping Blue Hawaiians, especially on Oahu and Kauai.
Oahu
Atlantis Adventures
Since 1988, these sustainable battery-powered submarines have been a great family-friendly and mellow way to explore the sea. During a recent trip to Hawaii, I took a dive at the Waikiki location, where artificial reefs have been installed to create more areas for fish to inhabit. There are also reefs that have grown over old wartime aircraft remains.

Atlantis Adventure is a good option for those who do not want to or can’t scuba dive. You get to see the ocean in the comfort of air-conditioning with a host to lead the tour. Also, how many times can you say you have been in a submarine? You descend to 100 feet underwater for closeup views of some turtles and a variety of fish that don’t normally visit the surface.
‘Iolani Palace
For those who want to take in a bit of Hawaii’s history, ‘Iolani Palace will take you back to the Kamehameha Dynasty (the 1800s). Be sure to opt for a guided tour to get the full scope of the royal residence and how it came to an end. It is one of the oldest and best-known buildings in Hawaii. Its story is grand and contains dark memories, including the imprisonment of the native Hawaiians' own Queen during her reign due to great opposition from her own subjects. She was overthrown, stripped of future claims to the thrown, sentenced to hard labor, and confined to her own palace bedroom for almost a year.

Read more
There’s Never a Bad Time to Visit Whistler, the Four-Season Outdoor Playground
whistler canada bc four season outdoor playground squamish  getty images

When you think of Whistler, British Columbia, the Canadian town (population 12,000) tucked between the bases of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, you probably think of skiing. If so, you're spot on. Indeed the resort hosted many of the downhill events during the 2010 Winter Olympics held in nearby Vancouver, and is considered one of the finest downhill spots on the planet.

Then again, if on hearing the name Whistler your first thoughts are of mountain bikes, you're right there, too. Whistler is the birthplace and site of the main and final event of the annual Crankworx World Tour -- arguably the biggest circuit in mountain biking today -- and the go-to destination for tens of thousands of mountain bike enthusiasts, the sport that transformed Whistler from a pricey, upscale ski town to ... a pricey, upscale multi-sport town.

Read more