In celebration of my boyfriend Jeff’s birthday, we drove to Montreal, Canada for a long weekend. Montreal seemed like a good choice because both Jeff and I are working on improving our French and Montreal is the largest French speaking city outside of Paris, France. It’s also only a 9 hour car ride from my home. In 2000, I lived in Montreal for a summer and, sadly, I hadn’t been back to visit since.
As always, we packed A LOT of activities into a short span of time. I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 favorite activities to do while in Montreal.
1. Rent a bike and ride through Old Montreal.
Montreal is a leader in public transportation. It is a bike friendly city, and many streets have dedicated (curb enclosed) bike lanes.
They have a bike sharing program of over 5,000 bikes that makes cycling easily accessible almost anywhere in the city. You will find rows of rental bikes every few blocks. The cost ranges from free for one 30 minute ride, $7 for a 24 hour period of unlimited rides, or $30 for one month. A bargain, especially considering Canada’s favorable exchange rate.
We stayed at a charming hostel downtown (Auberge Bishop) and there was a bike rack directly out front. We rented bikes to reach farther neighborhoods such as Old Montreal, The Plateau and Mont Royal. I recommend riding along the St. Lawrence River, past the Bonsecours market and through the parks on Mont Royal, if you can handle the hills.
Old Montreal is the oldest neighborhood in the city, and is known for its ornate Baroque architecture and many historic sights. One of these sites is the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde (Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral), a minor Roman Catholic basilica and the third largest church in Quebec. There’s an admission fee to enter, but the breathtaking interior is worth the small fee.
Another must see is Saint Joseph’s Oratory near Mont Royal. It is far less ornate than the Basilica, however it is Canada’s largest church and the third largest domed church in the world. Construction of the church began in 1904 by Brother Andre, a priest known for healing the blind and crippled. The church displays hundreds of crutches left behind by the healed. Pope John Paul II visited in 1982 and Brother Andre was canonized as a Saint in 2010. This church remains a major pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics.
Visit one of Montreal’s many markets (I highly recommend the Atwood Market) to shop for fresh bread, cured meats and delicious cheeses. Pick up some olives and cornichons (and don’t forget the macarons) and head to Mont Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the center of the city, of which Montreal gets it name. Here, there are several parks to choose from to set up your picnic lunch. It’s a great place to people watch, and perhaps catch a game of pickup soccer. Make sure to visit the summit and check out the impressive city vistas.
Ah, Poutine. God’s gift to the French fry. If you are unfamiliar with this French Canadian delicacy, you will be pleased to know that this dish involves freshly cut French fries covered in savory brown gravy and cheese curds.
Our first Montreal experience was at Frites Alors!, where we shared an order of La Vladimir, the original sauce poutine. They offer several vegetable and meat toppings, as well. We also tried the Deli Vieux Port food truck variety that was topped with Montreal’s famous smoked meat. Hippi Poutine in The Plateau neighborhood is delicious, too.
That’s right. A cafe filled with cats. Sleeping. Purring. Sleeping. Playing. Sleeping.
We serendipitously found Le Cafe des Chats on Saint Denis Street in the Plateau neighborhood. It’s the first cafe like it in Montreal. They rescued 8 adorable cats from an animal shelter, brought them together to test their compatibility, and then unleashed them on the coffee consuming crowd.
We walked in and felt like we were home, with cuddly cats stroking our legs. Our chai lattes sat getting cold as we played with Shadow and Princess. We also struck up a conversation with a French woman and her student daughter (who had recently lost her own cat and came here to enjoy their company) and shared our own pet photos together.