We’re already saying farewell to Montreal tomorrow, after kicking off our nomadic adventure here earlier this month.
Between adjusting to this new life of ours and witnessing the past month’s news cycle, it’s been a whirlwind. The news cycle has scared, angered, and saddened me daily — I’ve also felt somewhat removed from the goings on at home. I guess that distance is a reason we kicked off this adventure in the first place. To take a step back and gain a broader perspective about the world we live in.
But five weeks in Montreal proved to be just what we needed as an introduction into our nomadic style of living. The city is home to about two million people, and has the restaurants, bars, parks, and activities we expect after seven years in New York City. It’s also small enough that we can easily commit it to memory, crawl by bike, and re-visit our favorite spots without guilt.
…. all of which goes to say, this past month has kept us busy. I’ve documented my favorite and least favorite moments in Montreal here, as well as recommendations for the next time you visit this wonderful city.
(And by the way, Portland, ME is next. Please leave any and all recommendations you may have for us in the comments!)
Montreal: My Favorite Moments
99 Miles in 30 Days
We exclusively explored this city via the BIXI bike share. I covered 160 km over the month, which translates to annoyingly shy of 100 miles (99.4, in fact) and all for $30 total. I wouldn’t feel as familiar and connected as I do to each neighborhood if I hadn’t woven in and out of its streets, alleys, parks, and paths by bike. I particularly loved a secluded dirt bike path that connected our first neighborhood, Rosemont, to the Mile End. Biking along that path was like being in the forest, in the middle of a city.
Worker-Friendly Coffee Shops
Montreal cafes are surprisingly worker friendly. Many of them have meeting rooms you can rent by the hour, in fact. I parked down in coffee shops to read, to work, to write this blog, to people watch… I returned again and again to Crew Collective in the old town, Ville-Marie. The cafe takes up the lobby of a staggeringly grand old bank — I loved starting my work days there as often as I could.
I’ll always think of HP when I think of Montreal. Joe and I dove pretty deeply into a Harry Potter deck building game this month (seriously. play it.) that we returned again and again to the Randolph game bar to play. And on our second-to-last night here, I got my own teeny tiny patronus to protect us in our travels.
Montreal: My Least Favorite Moments
My phone didn’t work and an ATM swallowed my only debit card in my first three days here. Both happenings were my own fault from lack of planning around life in another country. And having Joe to help me sort through the details made this experience much easier. But living sans phone and debit card for a few days made me feel oddly vulnerable and entirely stressed.
Charlottesville. Harvey. Trump being Trump. I often felt guilty for having so much fun, when so much was going on. Donating helps. Calling my senators helps. But this month was a tough one; anyone else battle this feeling over the past few weeks?
Spin… and DANCE
I tried a shall-not-be-named spin studio that turned out to be an EDM + dance + spin experience. I literally pulled a muscle in my thigh trying to stay on my bike as I flailed my arms around to the beat of techno music. All in all, it was a silly experience. But one I don’t need to do again.
Where to Eat When You Visit Montreal
For Date Night: Lawrence
Joe and I wandered into Lawrence in the Mile End and had the best meal of our trip here. We asked our waitress to guide us and she nailed every choice. We tried corn and clam chowder, smoked rabbit, rum cake with mulberries, and some killer manhattans.
For Pizza: Magpie
After seven years in NYC, I accidentally fell in love with Montreal’s pizza at Magpie. I know. I KNOW. But I ate my entire prosciutto and arugula pie and proceeded to finish Joe’s pepperoni one for him too. I blame the chili oil they give you on the side.
For a Splurge: Joe Beef
I’ve wanted to try Little Burgundy’s Joe Beef since our 2012 visit to Montreal. Unfortunately for us, reservations were booked through October. But Joe found an app called DINR and scored last-minute spots for our second-to-last night here. Foie gras tart with peaches and cherries. Pork chops with clams and corn chowder. Housemade pasta with lobster and bacon. The meal was a splurge, but totally worth every penny.
For Late-Night Noms: Schwartz’s
Smoked meat and no-frills attitude. We stumbled into Schwartz’s Deli around midnight one Saturday after an evening of Harry Potter games and had our favorite late-night salt-fest of recent memory.
For Afghani: Khyber Pass
Montreal has a thriving Middle Eastern population, which translates to a lot of Lebanese and Afghani restaurants. Kyber Pass was a relaxed BYOB Afghani spot in the Plateau with great food and a solid prix fixe option.
For Piri Piri Sauce: Taberna
For A Weekend Night Out: Satay Brothers
Singaporean street food and a roucous atmosphere made for a fun Friday night at Satay Brothers. We shared a bunch of plates, including my first beef rendang.
For A Quick To-Go Meal: Omnivore
For Brunch: Faberge
Faberge has unabashedly hearty brunch food in the Mile End. I had the eggs benedict with lox, cream cheese, and fried capers over a Fairmont sesame bagel.
For Brunch: Les Empoteuses
Les Empoteuses is an unassuming Rosemont spot that our AirBnB host had recommended. It actually made standard brunch dishes interesting: I had a poached egg dish with mango chutney and Joe had crepes with ricotta, lemon zest, and blueberry compote. They also sell jams and preserves right from their counter.
Cafés: Where to Drink When You Visit Montreal
For the Views: Crew Collective
Taking over the immense lobby of an old bank, Crew Collective is everything I dreamed a coffee shop could be. Great coffee and food. Lots of nooks to work from. Plugs everywhere and speedy wifi.
For the Vibe: Replika
Cafe Replika is smack in the middle of the Plateau. Its cafe menu has a subtle Turkish flair — think tahini brownies — and plenty of couches, tables, and counters for everyone to find a spot that works for them.
For the Tea: Cafe Aunja
Cafe Aunja surprised me. Tucked underground on an ugly street in Downtown Montreal, it’s incredibly cozy inside with overstuffed armchairs and book-lined walls. The tea menu is Afghani inspired — I tried an ice tea with grated cucumber and mint.
Something Stronger: Where to Drink When You Visit Montreal
For the Beer: Broue Pub Brouhaha
On the corner of our first Rosemont apartment, this neighborhood spot looks like a standard pub. Once inside, you realize it has a huge (20+) draft list with tons of local offerings.
For the Beer: Dieu du Ciel
This Mile End microbrasserie brews its own beers and offers up a variety of interesting cask and tap options.
For the Games: Randolph Pub
Randolph has 1,000+ games, cheap drinks, solid food and a concierge who helps you find a game and teaches you to play. We spent hours here, multiple times.
For the Music: Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill
Montreal is known for its jazz, and we had fun committing a night to music inspired by Ella Fitzgerald at Upstairs late one Saturday night.
What to Do When You Visit Montreal
For Treat Yo’ Self Day: Bota Bota Spa
Um, Bota Bota is my idea of heaven. It’s a Nordic spa on a boat parked along the Montreal waterfront and overlooking the skyline. I spent $60 for full use of the saunas, steam rooms, and hot and cold pools. I may have even fallen asleep in a rocking hammock for an undisclosed amount of time.
For Sports Stuff: Impact Montreal at Saputo Stadium
Joe and I bought tickets to see Montreal’s soccer team in action on a whim one weeknight. We’re not the biggest sports fans (see ‘Harry Potter deck building games’ above). But the stadium was small, the fans were insane, and the soccer game was lively. We had a blast.
For the Art: Museum of Fine Arts
Housed across three buildings catty corner from one another, the Museum of Fine Arts has a surprisingly large permanent collection, thoughtful special exhibits, and a stunning space. You can read more about my experience here.
For the Everyday: La Fontaine Park
La Fontaine Park may live in the shadow of Mount Royal mountain, but I think it takes the cake. Between running and biking through its paths, picnicking on its lawn, and strolling around its border, we spent a ton of time here.
For A Lazy Sunday: The Tam-Tams at Mount-Royal Park
Mount-Royal does have its perks though: every Sunday, drummers from all walks of life swarm to the Northernmost corner of the park. Drummers drum. Children dance. Something called space cake is sold. It’s the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
For The Touristy-But-Worth-It: Local Montreal Tours
I won’t give away or include any of the spots that Local Montreal Tours highlighted in our Mile End food tour. But the tour was a really fun introduction to Montreal — we recapped the experience more here. We also got a handy list of Montreal-wide and Mile End-specific suggestions that we referenced time and again.
For Food Shopping: Jean-Talon Market
We talked about visiting the Jean-Talon market here. Located up in Montreal’s Little Italy, you can get lost in the rows of local produce, cheeses, and treats.
For A Day Trip: Parc Regional des Sept-Chutes
Just an hour drive from Montreal, Joe and I popped up to Sept-Chutes for a hike one Saturday. We took the steeply inclined Mont Brassard hike, which gave us some gorgeous Canadian views and just enough of a challenge over 6.7 kilometers.