A week ago Colin and I drove from Toronto to Montreal for a quick 36 hour stay in the French Canadian city. It was a bit of a whirlwind coming off of our wedding weekend in Toronto and knowing we had to fly back to Vancouver just two days after we arrived but I think, despite the heat, we both had a good time.
We left Toronto shortly after 12pm on Sunday and didn’t arrive in Montreal until closer to 7pm. The trip was pretty smooth sailing for the most part: we listened to the Hamilton soundtrack, counted roadkill (11 and 1/2 on the way there, 8 on the way back) and stopped in Belleville for lunch. But things turned hectic as soon as we entered the outskirts of Montreal. It seemed like almost every road was under construction and our GPS didn’t know to route us around it. Poor Colin, who had already been driving for 5+ hours on little sleep, kept getting thrown onto different freeways and one-way streets until we finally made it to our hotel (which we had to circle twice due to lack of parking). Once we got checked in, we flopped on our bed for a quick breather before heading out for a late night dinner.
A couple friends had recommended we visit Montreal’s famous smoked meat restaurant, Schwartz. We walked the 20 minutes from our hotel and found ourselves in a packed, hole in the wall diner sharing a table with two large Russian men. We ordered a smoked meat sandwich each while admiring the countless newspaper reviews and celebrity photos on the walls. Verdict? Colin loved his sandwich and I was just meh about it. I don’t think smoked meat is really my thing.
We headed back to our hotel and cut through the Place des Arts. This outdoor area is completely pedestrian-run and taken over by festivals in the summer. Unfortunately, there weren’t any festivals going on while we were in Montreal but it was fun to stroll through, listening to street performers play their instruments and watching little kids run through the fountains.
Heading out the next “morning” (I think it was past noon by the time we left), we were met with a bit of muggy weather. We decided to walk down to Old Montreal. From a handful of trips to Montreal, I think this might be my favourite part of the city. I love the cobblestone streets and cute little shops. We stopped at Chez Suzette and indulged in some delicious breakfast crepes. So yum!
After eating, we walked up to Notre Dame and I was pretty blown away. It reminded both Colin and I of the gorgeous churches in Europe. We paid $5 to go inside and I think it was well worth it. From there, we strolled down to the Old Port. We happened to stumble upon this really cool amusement park-type thing that had a bunch of inflatable bouncy castles – except they were all different pirate ships. And on the other side, it had an insane ropes course (easily 3-4 stories high with 20+ obstacles) that ended with a zipline across the water. If Colin and I weren’t scared to death of heights, it would’ve been a lot of fun to give that a try.
We walked back to the hotel for a mandatory air conditioning break. It took quite a lot of cajoling by Colin to get me back outdoors but we finally did make it back out. We took an Uber (because Colin was done with driving in Montreal) to Mont Royal to check out the scenic viewpoint. And I guess all of Colin’s cajoling was worth it because the view was stunning!
From there we took another Uber to St. Joseph, Montreal’s most famous church. When we first got there, the sight of the stairs almost had me turning back but I made it up and we found an escalator for the last bit. To be honest, I wish we had seen St. Joseph before Notre Dame as I was actually a little unimpressed. This is the church where Celine Dion was married but I didn’t find the inside nearly as spectacular as Notre Dame.
One cool part about St. Joseph was the gardens outside. You follow a path through a dozen or so statues that depict the crucifixion of Christ. It was actually really interesting because they set it up so that you’re walking uphill just as the statues would show Christ carrying his cross up a hill.
After all that sight-seeing, it was time for dinner. We headed to La Banquise so Colin could get his much sought after Montreal poutine. We had planned to visit another poutine place but our hotel concierge insisted that La Banquise was the best poutine in the city. The restaurant itself was really cool and, of course, really busy. We managed to snag a table and ordered our poutine. Colin got a smoked meat version (he’s hooked on that smoked meat) while I opted for one with cheese sticks and marinara sauce instead of gravy (I don’t actually like poutine, so this was my compromise). And since I’m not a poutine lover, I’ll have to trust Colin’s verdict that this was the best poutine he has ever had.
Following dinner we dragged our full bellies one store over for dessert at La Fonderie. We got a small chocolate fondue and it was delicious. I’m sure there is better (and cheaper) fondue to be found in the city but we were satisfied – so satisfied that after our fruit was gone we kept sticking our fingers in the bowl to get more of the yummy chocolate!
The next morning we had to pack our bags and get started on our long drive back to Toronto. While we didn’t get super lost this time (just one wrong turn out of Montreal), we did hit some crazy traffic coming back to Toronto making our journey another 7 hours. But before we left Montreal, we had to sample some Montreal-style bagels!
We headed to Fairmount Bagel, the oldest bagel shop in the city, and picked up two poppy seed and two chocolate chip bagels. They were extremely dense and we both enjoyed them. Though eating them in the car without a knife to spread the cream cheese did prove a little difficult.
And that was Montreal! It was a short little trip but fun to play tourist and fill our bellies with all of Montreal’s finest. I hadn’t been to Montreal in about 7 years so it was nice to head back and Colin definitely enjoyed his first trip. We were both big fans of the architecture and the food but decided that the humidity and language barrier would be enough to discourage us from moving cross-country permanently.