Montreal City Trip
72 Hours in Montrealby Amie Watson
Rich in culture and history, Montréal is also one of North America's liveliest enclaves. The second largest city in Canada, this Québécois hotbed represents a little slice of Europe right on the St. Lawrence River; in fact, it's the second-largest French speaking city in the world, after Paris. Four million people call Montréal home, meaning the opportunities to experience museums, theaters, the great outdoors and incredible nightlife are nearly endless. And then there's the food.
From outdoor cafés along Rue St-Denis to Vietnamese Restaurants in Chinatown, from smoked meat and poutine to wine and charcuterie, Montréal's food scene has something for everyone. Even in winter, the gourmet experience drives the city, with cozy neighborhood bistros, BYOB's and brewpubs leading the charge. It would be easy to spend months walking the city's cobbled streets, but in 72 hours a lot can be covered.
Begin your journey by stepping out onto Sherbrooke Street in The Golden Square Mile district at the base of Mount Royale, once home to a majority of Canada's wealthiest citizens and the traditional heart of anglophone Montréal. Many of the surviving structures, still among the city's grandest, are now owned by adjacent McGill University, and a stroll through the neighborhood is a great way to get a feel for old Montréal.
A short walk away is the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, established in 1860. Québec's largest museum straddles Sherbrooke Street, and includes fine collections of Asian, Arabian, African and contemporary art, as well as the occasional Rembrandt, Giacometti or Calder. The recently expanded exhibition space presents shows ranging from classical painters to modernist designers to the world of fashion.
A few blocks away on St. Catherine Street is Ogilvy's Department Store, one of Montréal's best-known Scottish landmarks. With its ubiquitous tartan boxes and noon-hour pipers, Ogilvy's has come to symbolize Québec's Scottish heritage. Established in 1866, Ogilvy's has welcomed a myriad of musical groups to its Tudor Hall, and hosts piano recitals and choirs to this day.
From here it's a short walk to Montréal's métro system, and an underground pedestrian network that connects stations with some 20 miles of shops, restaurants and cultural attractions. This includes both Place des Arts — home to Montréal's symphony and opera — and the Musée d'Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art), which concentrates primarily on Québec artists.
For a change of pace and scenery, take the Green Line south to the Lionel Groulx station in trendy St. Henri, and browse one of Montréal's best-known markets. The neighborhood offers a mélange of antique shops, market items and restaurants, but the highlight is definitely Atwater Market on the Lachine Canal. Locals and knowledgeable visitors descend here for the colorful produce and gourmet treats from artisans like Les Douceurs du Marché. Summer visitors can sip café au laits on Au Pain Doré's patio as boats bob on the canal below.
From here, head to the Musée Juste Pour Rire (Just for Laughs Museum). Comedy fans will want to try their best to visit Montréal during the Just for Laughs Festival, but the rest of the year the museum has eight mini-theaters screening clips of 20th century French- English-speaking comedians, from Laurel & Hardy to Dame Edna. Visitors with kids will want to head upstairs to the children's pavilion, where comedians and magicians devote personal attention to the children in a fun-house setting.
Around here, St. Catherine Street becomes a strange and beautiful juxtaposition of high-end shops, neighborhood cafés, strip shows and the occasional tattoo parlor. The city's fabulous and wild sides culminate in the Village, with block after block of bars, clubs and cafés, including the six-story Le Drugstore, which has a hair salon inside. Dinner tonight is Indian food at Restaurant Tabla in the Village, followed by a leisurely stroll to check out the evening St. Catherine Street scene.
* Images: Downtown and St. Lawrence River: © Tourisme Montréal