Montréal! I’d heard so many great things about this city so when the opportunity to visit landed in my lap, I didn’t hesitate for a second! I arrived in Montreal on a stunning summer day. The sun shone bright from a cloudless sky and people were out-and-about, shopping, sipping lattes at one of the many terraces or simply basking in the glorious sunshine. I stayed in a cool apartment in the hip Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, famous for its many restaurants, cafés and vintage shops.
During my four-day stay in Montreal (which was way too short), I chose to explore the city as much as possible on foot. One thing that struck me almost immediately was how cosmopolitan Montréal really is. Though everyone speaks French, Montréalers hail from all parts of the world and it’s this diversity that makes Montréal so attractive. The other thing that struck me was how relaxed everyone was. Wherever I went, this laidback, unmistakably European vibe was omnipresent. It was a joy to watch and be a part of a community of people who understand and make ‘joie de vivre’ a way of life. Montréalers are always in for chat and if you make an extra effort to throw in your best French, you’ll notice an instant gleam in their eyes and a smile.
You don’t have to do much more than stroll around the city’s gorgeous neighbourhoods to experience this cool diversity and Montréal’s unique brand of joie de vivre. Look at the face of the Montréalers in the streets and you’ll see ethnic influences from around the world. Turn your gaze to the shops, restaurants and architecture and you’ll see more examples.
Here are five things I did that truly helped me experience Montréal’s diversity, and believe me, I had an awesome time doing so!
1. Food tour
Go on a food tour along Boulevard St. Laurent. The walking tour, called ‘Flavours of the Main’, is organised by Fitz & Follwell, and explores the history of Montréal through its different cuisines. The tour starts in the heart of Chinatown and ends at one of Montréal’s most iconic delis, Schwartz’s, where you can taste Montréal’s famous smoked meat sandwiches. You’ll also be getting your fair share of another Québcc favourite, poutine, so come hungry!
Montréal truly is a shoppers haven. From the chic boutiques along Sherbrooke Street and the local designer boutiques in Old Montréal, to the more mainstream Ste. Catherine Street (almost 1,200 shops line this street!), Montréal has a diverse shopping scene. For fans of vintage shopping, I highly recommend checking out the vintage shops and local designers in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood and along Boulevard St. Laurent.
3. Go bar-hopping
Montréalers love their local watering holes and micro-breweries. I spent one evening going from one alfresco café to the next along the wonderfully atmospheric St. Denis Street. It’s a great way to mingle with the locals – as I said, Montréalers are always in for a chat! I also visited several microbreweries in Montréal such as L’ Amère à Boire on St. Denis Street and Le Saint Bock, both of which produce some of Montréal’s best beers and are great places to strike up a conversation with locals.
4. Admire the architecture
In my view, after its cuisine, nothing illustrates Montréal’s great diversity better than its architecture. From the Golden Mile in the Mont-Royal neighbourhood, with its elaborate Victorian and Edwardian Mansions, and the Renaissance and Art Deco buildings of Old Montréal and the breathtaking Gothic Revival style of the Notré-Dame Basilica, to the skyscrapers of Downtown and the intriguing Habitat 67 in Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montréal’s architecture is a fabulous reflection of its rich history and cultural heritage. I loved searching for the neighbourhoods with excellent examples of a Montréal specialty: its unique spiral staircases. I found the best staircases along Laval Street and in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, especially along Christopher Columbus Street.
5. Visit a festival
Montréalers love their festivals and it shows – there are more than 50 of them every year! If you’re looking for some joie de vivre, Montréal-style, visit one of these festivals. From the Jazz Festival to the Just for Laughs Festival and the Fashion & Design Festival, there really is something for everyone. I went to the Beer Festival and had a wonderful time sharing beer (and other) experiences with the locals.
To add more local flavour to your stay in Montréal, opt for a holiday rental. HouseTrip offers a variety of accommodation options in Montréal from cool, artsy apartments (such as the one I stayed at in Plateau Mont Royal) to contemporary chic. The apartment I stayed at is located in the heart of Plateau Mont-Royal. I loved its bright colours and airy spaces, but most of all, its location right in the midst of this hip neighbourhood and minutes away from the nearest Metro station.
I also checked out this spacious apartment in Plateau Mont-Royal. Located on the ground floor and spread across three floors in a quiet street, this apartment is perfect for a group of friends or families.
Another apartment I visited is located in the Rosemont neighbourhood near Little Italy and the Jean-Talon Market. With its huge kitchen, bright dining/living areas and four large bedrooms, this apartment oozes contemporary chic. It also has a garden that’s perfect for BBQs.