I have been wanting to go to Montreal for awhile now. My original plan was to get a group of friends together and make it a group thing, but that can sometimes be like herding cats. Eventually though, I got sick of saying “I want to do that,” and just picked a weekend and booked it. The result? I should have done this years ago!
Montreal in late November isn’t exactly the prime tourist season. However, I make a habit of visiting Canada on American Thanksgiving, so my long-awaited Montreal trip fit perfectly. While it was frigid (between 8° and 24° F), I am no stranger to a harsh winter, especially when it would be that sunny.
I grabbed the red-eye by way of Vancouver on Wednesday night, thus giving myself three full days in Montreal, leaving Sunday to travel home and recuperate. I hit the ground running, dropping off my bag at my Airbnb in Le Plateau Mont-Royal.
My favorite thing to do in any city, is a “guided walkabout.” I do my due diligence, researching to find the places and attractions I want to see, and then structuring my day around those. Day 1: Museum of Fine Arts, Stewart Museum, explore Mont-Royal and downtown.
Having just flown in from the west coast, and being up for well over 24 hours at that point, I was starving. Three different friends who I asked about Montreal said Schwartz’s Deli was the place. Luckily for me, it was a five minute walk from my Airbnb, a pleasant coincidence.
To say I over-ordered is an understatement, as you can see. Although, is it over-ordering if you eat it all? I did, and while I should have regretted it, I didn’t, even though it was my only meal that day. It most certainly lived up to the hype though.
Once engorged with meat, fries, and coleslaw, I waddled down to the Metro stop and made for The Stewart Museum. The Montreal Metro is awesome, especially for visitors. If it doesn’t get you to all the major sights, it gets you very close. Plus, it’s pretty cheap; a three-day pass was $19.50 Canadian.
The Stewart Museum is located on an island in the St Lawrence River, Ile Sainte-Helene. It was a nice walk from the station to the museum, which is an old fort, so right up my alley. Being from Michigan, I knew a decent amount about the History of the region, but also learned a lot more.
Next I headed back into downtown to check out the Museum of Fine Arts, which had some incredible works. Everything from historical pieces right up to that weird modern art stuff I don’t understand, nor care to.
After expanding my mind, I meandered my way back toward my Airbnb. This was the “Walkabout” portion of the day. I swung past McGill University, through Place de Arts, and then grabbed a train back up to Le Plateau. I scoped out a bit more of this area, aka, did a lil bar-hopping with my long lost friend Labatt Blue.
I crashed early on the first day, still a bit tired from traveling (I don’t sleep much on planes). The next say I started early, hitting the Olympic Park, and surrounding area. The park was awesome, with a lot of history, and they do tours. It’s also still used, and they built the Montreal Impact’s stadium out there, so it’s nice to see not every Olympic facility is abandoned.
You could get up the tower, and get a tour, for about $12 Canadian. I skipped the tour, but the tower had some amazing views. It didn’t hurt the weather was about perfect as well. One disappointing part was they didn’t have much in the way of Expos gear.
Next I went to Old Town, which I should have gone to earlier. This place was awesome. It’s all the old style buildings, the waterfront, Notre Dame Basilica, and Habitat 67. I swung into a small pub/restaurant and enjoyed some food and a couple beverages, and continued wandering through the narrow streets.
I also stopped in the Cathedral, which was pretty incredible inside. While I am prone to rants, and do enjoy them quite a bit, I will refrain about the other tourists in attendance. What I will say is, not a ton of people carry respect with them when it comes to obeying rules and regulations of attractions.
From there a meandered back toward downtown, stopping for some poutine, because after all, it’s Montreal. Called it a fairly early night, as my friend Eric was picking me up early for a hike outside of the city.
It was a good 45 minute drive from downtown to Mont Saint-Hilarie, but well worth the ride. The hike was an ass-kicker, if not for the snow, but the ice and the rocks. However, the views were amazing. The views were 360 degrees and you could even see the Adirondack Mountains in the US to the southwest. The -10C couldn’t damper the mood.
That afternoon was the coup de grâce though, and one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Montreal: A Montreal Canadiens game. Canada loves hockey, but Montreal takes it to the next level. They have an entire channel dedicated to the team 24/7 and the games are an outing. Tickets were not cheap either, even with Eric’s hookup, but it was a must see.
While they lost, in overtime, it was a great experience. The crowd was engaged and paying attention throughout, and despite a less than stellar start to the season. This is the type of sports city where they sellout no matter the performance of the team. I am definitely down for another one if I get the chance.
After the game it was back to Old Town to drown our sorrows in beer and steak at Gibbys. It’s not the cheapest place in town, but my god is it worth it. The food was incredible, from the bread all the way up to the filet. I would eat here again in a heartbeat.
The food definitely capped off a great day, and trip. It was back to the Airbnb as I had a 7am flight to catch the next morning. After that hike, and that dinner though I needed no effort to fall asleep.
One common thread I found through the whole trip were the people. The people I came across in Montreal were very friendly, open, and seemed to be happy for the most part. I felt welcomed wherever I went, even when it was obvious I was the dumb tourist. I find that can really make or break any city or destination.
Montreal was everything I had hoped it would be and more. When I landed in Vancouver I had a text from Eric asking if I had a good time. I responded “Had a good time? The whole flight I was thinking of ways I could move there!” My only two regrets are: I didn’t stay long enough and it took me so damn long to make it there. I can’t wait to go back.