Top Reasons to Visit Montreal Right Now - 2 Dads with Baggage
Montreal Quebec Canada downtown city skyline view overlooking Dorchester Square public park

Top Reasons to Visit Montreal Right Now

The City of Montreal has a mystique that is especially alluring to Americans. Maybe it’s the well-preserved Old City with historic buildings, cobblestone streets and charming businesses that reminds us of a more easily accessible European experience. It does help that vibe when nearly everyone speaks French in Montreal, and when they speak English it is with a delightful accent.  Regardless, this Canadian melting pot seems to be on everyone’s hot list, and here are our top reasons to visit Montreal right now.

Bonsecours Market in Montreal is located on cobblestoned historic St. Paul Street in Old Montreal. It is a public market and is also available as a public banquet hall.
The Old City area of Montreal harkens back to the 1600s. (photo: LIVINUS)

Top Reasons to Visit Montreal

Aside from its ridiculous charm, gorgeous cityscapes, incredible food and friendly residents, the city of Montreal has an appeal unlike any other city in North America. The city is an island, or a series of them actually, bounded by the St. Lawrence and Prairies Rivers. This separation from the Canadian mainland may give Montreal its whiff of “otherness”, which leads to a wonderfully quirky character that values art, design and simple beauty in all things.

As recent visitors, we walked the clean and safe streets in constant amazement at how smartly designed everything seems to be. From an American perspective, it made me envious of the people that live here. It also left me wondering about affordable real estate and cost of living and if we could swing a French-Canadian pied-a-terre.

Honestly, we were more than a little surprised at how much we liked it here. We’d heard many good things, and our expectations were surpassed. Here are some of our top reasons to visit Montreal right now:

  1. It’s a great alternative to Europe.
  2. The food scene is insane.
  3. The city lives and breathes art.
  4. The weather is totally doable.
  5. The destination is easily accessible.
Montreal’s Old City is filled with charming lanes and little streets lined with boutiques and restaurants.

1. It’s a Great Alternative to Europe

Want a European experience without the hefty price tag of airfare or the long distance jet lag? Montreal felt like a welcoming alternative – emphasis on the welcoming part. When some say Paris can feel a little off-putting to Americans, Montreal leans forward with a friendly smile and a double-cheeked kiss.

As one of Canada’s largest cities, the greater Montreal metro area is home to more than 4 million people. Even so, residents live comfortably in a variety of neighborhoods, from historic to high-rise to suburban. Located in Canada’s Québec province, the city is centered around Mt. Royal, which gives Montreal its name.

The French influence here is strong, but the locals are quick to note their extreme independence from France. In reality, their language is a different variation that my American ears could not detect but is quite evident when you hear the two dialects spoken together. It seems the French migration from Europe began in the mid 1600s, and French rule continued until 1760. The city was known as a strong trading center, and the gateway to the interior of Canada due to its role as a port city.

Independent and proudly Canadian, the City of Montreal has found a happy medium between its French roots and its modern personality.

Interior dining area at Jellyfish restaurant in Montreal, including high ceilings with elaborate glass lighting fixtures.
The interior spaces at Jellyfish Crudo & Charcoal restaurant are visually stunning and inviting.

Things that Will Make You Feel Like You Are in Europe

Cobblestone Streets in the Old City

In the original neighborhood where modern-day Montreal was born, the streets are still paved with individual stones that harken back to European roots.

Montreal Shopping District In Quebec Canada, Building Exterior, Retail Store, People Walking, Sitting Down, Eating And Drinking In A Restaurant Scene
Montreal Old City shopping areas are quaint and charming. (photo: Steven_Kriemadis)
Notre Dame Cathredral

Central to the Old City, the cathedral spires soars high and the stone walls with ornate stained glass windows. This feel like so many European masterpieces.

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Montreal in Quebec, Canada
Notre Dame Cathedral with dramatic night-time lighting. (photo: Wirestock)
Architecture

The mix of buildings from the 1600s with modern sleek skyscrapers.  The successful blend is much better displayed than in many large European cities.

A bird’s eye view of downtown Montreal.
Food Culture

Montreal is famous for a specific dish – poutine. But the city is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and customs that make for a rich tapestry of tasty dining options.

Drinks at Hiatus brings new meaning to the word highball in Montreal.
Sophisticated Transit System

The underground Metro runs throughout the city and burbs. In addition, several other forms of transportation connect across the metropolitan grid to make everything easily accessible.

A passenger waits for the metro at Montreal's Préfontaine station.
The Montreal Metro is clean, safe and efficient. (photo: Eric Santin)
Moody Weather

While there are plenty of sunny days, even during the warm summer here you might be caught in a downpour. Umbrellas are commonplace all year around.

2. The Food Scene is Insane

Poutine

Let’s get poutine out of the way since it seems to be very polarizing. I love it. Some do not. Poutine is a uniquely Montrealian dish made from french fries, cheese curds and gravy. So delicious! It can be topped with additional things like bacon (yum) crunchy fried onions, steak, mushrooms, sausages and more. It ranks as one of the top reasons to visit Montreal right now. Really at any time.

Poutine dish low angle view. A classic fast food cuisine dish from Quebec. This canadian junk food is made with french fries mixed with tasty cheese curds and a delicious brown gravy sauce.
Poutine is like Canadian junk food and is sooooo good. (photo: Louno_M)

Having said that, poutine is not for everyone. Good thing Montreal is a foodie capital with a plethora of restaurants for any taste and budget. Here are some of the places we sampled that were so good they blew our minds.

Hiatus

Recently opened to rave reviews, the stunning spaces at Hiatus are positioned at the top of a skyscraper. With 360-degree views of the city, this is a special place to visit in Montreal. The cuisine here is elevated too, and we had some of our tastiest dishes here such as an interesting dish called Chawanmushi made with scallops, lardons, mushrooms, asparagus and more. The pork and halibut entrees were also delicious. This place is a must – if not for the sweeping views alone.

This colorful seafood “stew” is an indigenous dish made new at Hiatus in Montreal.
Jellyfish Crudo & Charcoal

This was our favorite dining experience in Montreal, because of the quality combination of innovative cuisine and a lively, welcoming atmosphere. We took our time to savor the dishes we ordered at Jellyfish, including the tuna crudo and the avocado carpaccio appetizers. For the main course, we raved over the rotelle with oxtail ragu, parmesan and bone marrow.

At Jellyfish, the dishes are colorful and full of flavor.
Baked Goods at Olive & Gourmando

We are suckers for a good bakery, and Olive & Gourmando is an excellent one. Simple and very casual, guests can order at the counter and munch on a croissant to go. Or you can wait for a table and enjoy a variety of breakfast choices. I inhaled my Peach French Toast with creme anglaise and nut crumble, which was the perfect balance of not-too-sweet flavors.

The bakery counter at Olive & Gourmand is filled with many different baked products.
Baked goods of all kinds at Olive & Gourmand in the Old City.
Vegan at Tendresse

This restaurant was recommended to us, and we are glad it was. Although we don’t normally choose vegan options, our palates responded welcomingly to the interesting flavors and textures at Tendresse. The vegetable dumplings with chili oil and peanut sauce and the potato millefeuille with sunflower cream, pan-fried beans andmushroom duxelle were particularly tasty.

Vegan Asian dumplings stuffed with vegetables and topped with peanut sauce, chili oil and fresch cilantro.
Who knew vegan dishes could be so flavorful and memorable?
Damas

We saved this restaurant for our last night, and it was the perfect way to end a fabulous visit to Montreal. Damas serves Syrian specialty dishes in elegant rooms decorated in warm red colors and lanterns reminiscent of the Middle East. The food is over-the-top delicious, and potions are enormous. We could have shared the Fattet Mozat (lamb shank, rice, tahini yogurt sauce, crispy pita, pistachios, cashews, and ghee) but I gobbled it all myself.

Interior bar area of Damas Syrian Restaurant in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with hanging lanterns and a fully stocked bar.
The interiors at Damas Restaurant in Montreal are lively and colorful.

3. The City Lives and Breathes Art

This is a creative city deeply invested in displaying their talents in all sorts of interesting ways. It is the founding headquarters of Cirque du Soleil, and those incredibly creative minds have spurred a bevy of artistic endeavors.  Art is all forms is highly regarded in Montreal, and the locals are very proud of this rich devotion as it is displayed across the city. This is yet another of our top reasons to visit Montreal right now.

A relatively new addition to Montreal’s streetscape is The Ring, hanging between two buildings in the downtown core. Meant by its creator to symbolize the continuous connection of Montreal with its residents and visitors, The Ring is an enormous, measuring nearly 100 feet in diameter and weighing 50,000 pounds. Gleaming in the day, it is illuminated at night in an array of colors. It’s a must-see.

The Ring art installation in downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada, illuminated at night with a large circular white light against the city skyline.
The Ring is an impressive art installation in downtown Montreal.

Here are some ways to enjoy art in Montreal:

Take a Walking Tour

When in Montreal, you can take a walking tour to enjoy plenty of public art throughout the city. Our very knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide René Lemieux led us across the city at a brisk pace, covering history, art, literature, food and local customs along the way. We saw parts of Montreal we would have never known to explore, and even took a dip below the streets to explore the city’s famous underground pedestrian walkways. From the Golden Mile and the shops of Sainte Catherine’s to the colorful Village, the walking tour helped us get our bearings.

Public art like this enormous metal sculpture grace the streets of downtown Montreal.
Murals For Days

Montreal may be the city that embraced street murals first. If not, it has certainly become synonymous with the streetscape here. Literally everywhere you go, on nearly every block, walls are adorned with stunning artistic creations. They range in style and size – from one to nine stories high! There are too many to list, but you can take a tour of them here with Spade & Palacio.

Group of Montreal street artists doing a project
Murals grace almost every street in Montreal’s city center and neighborhoods. (photo: martinedoucet)
Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral

During the day, this 17th-century French-inspired Gothic-revival cathedral is impressive in size and stature. At night, the inside comes alive with a special light show set to music. This show is called Aura and is a breathtaking avalanche of moving light, images, colors and shapes set to music. If you plan to see the show, reserve tickets well in advance because the best times sell out quickly.

This interior shot of the Aura show at Notre Dame Cathedral is just a glimpse of the colors to be seen.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Montreal is home to more than 40 museums and we had time to visit one of the best. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was showing a variety of art exhibitions including one dedicated to indigenous Columbia. We also enjoyed many of their other collections on display, so make sure you wander around a bit. The museum campus actually incorporates several other buildings on this block, so leave time to walk across the street to see more.

Woman peers at display cases inside Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Art is showcases with drama and good lighting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal.
Performing Arts

There are a dizzying number of visual and performing arts festivals throughout Montreal and across all seasons. Whether it’s circus acts or sports, music or ice festivals, there are things going on nearly every day of the week. Although there are too many to list here, the Montreal Tourism website has a number of helpful links and a calendar to find options that match your taste and timeframe.

Exterior of Usine art space in Montreal, with converted brick and metal warehouse space now used for performances and presentations.
The Usine art space in Montreal hosts art gatherings in its renovated warehouse space.

4. Weather Schmeather

There are reasons to visit Montreal right now if you want to avoid winter weather. Right now, the temperature is what we call “Autumn Chilly”, where locals and visitors bundle up in their warm Fall sweaters and boots. Snowflakes may have fallen but nothing serious. In the summer when we visited, days were warm and even a little humid. We wore shorts and did not need sweatshirts during the day, and jeans at night when the weather dipped below 70-degrees F. It was very pleasant and comfortable.

As the days grow shorter and the air gets colder, Montreal can reach staggeringly low temperatures in the winter. It’s not uncommon for snow and ice conditions to bring temps down to as low as minus 20 degrees F or more. Locals are prepared for this, and even welcome it. Lakes, ponds and rivers freeze over to allow for winter activities like skating and ice fishing. A network of underground tunnels burrows beneath the downtown neighborhoods for some 20 miles of paths. If you don’t want to walk the streets of Montreal in the winter, you can go from passage to passage without ever hitting the cold air. Shops and cafes line these tunnels, which connect to the metro and other major transportation hubs.

One minute the weather in Montreal is sunny, and the next it is raining. How European!

5. Easy to Get To, Easy to Get Around

One of the things we loved most about Montreal is how easy it is to get around. Infinitely walkable in good weather, the city is at your footsteps if you feel the desire to explore. The Metro is also an easy hop from one station to another, and the city is well-routed for public transit above and below ground.

There is also a whopping 20 miles of underground pedestrian walkways for people to traverse the city center when weather is rough. We had the opportunity to tour a length of these tunnels, and they are clean, well-lit, efficient and full of life and character. Think of these as an underground mall of sorts, lined with shops, restaurants and underground entrances to the businesses and residences above. Very good idea.

It’s possible walk for miles underground in Montreal.
Air Travel

We flew direct from San Diego to Montreal in just over five hours, and the fare was very reasonable. In fact, Montreal’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport is within close proximity to the city center and offers flights from about 30 different carriers. A major hub for Canada, the airport has direct flights to many destinations in the US, Europe and more.

Hotels are plentiful and we enjoyed the central location of the Warwick Le Crystal Hotel.

Our suite at the Warwick Le Crystal Hotel was ideally situated in the middle of town.

For More Information About Travel to Montreal

To access tons of information about visiting Montreal, go to Tourisme Montreal for all the details.

 

 

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