After living in NYC, I am frequently asked my favorite highlights by friends heading to the big apple. I have to dig up the same information (what cross street is that on again?) and think of and type out all my recommendations each time. So while I’m still fresh, I thought I’d just consolidate that information right here, right now, in case in the future any of you decide to visit Montreal. And obviously, this is written by someone who does everything with a little kid in tow, so if you are here for the nightclubbing, this review is not for you.
Parc Lafontaine: in the Plateau is very nice to walk around in almost any season. It has a pond and playgrounds, and in the summer a mini choo-choo train for kids. It’s below Rue Rachel between Ave Parc Lafontaine and Papineau. Closest Metro: Sherbrooke
Westmount Park: Adorable little park with an interesting water-feature and nice playground. Some of the friendliest (and thieving) squirrels in the city. Westmount’s library is nestled in the corner of the park and has a lovely children’s section downstairs. Along Rue Sherbrooke between Melville and Lansdowne. Nearest Metro: Vendôme.
Park Wilfrid Laurier: One of my favorites in the summer. It has really tall trees and a lovely lawn for picnics. The playground is great for mixed ages and it has a fantastic pool and wading pool with fountain. I especially love the wading pool because the bottom is kind of soft and it has a sloped entrance which is really nice for babies and crawlers. It’s free on weekdays and only $4 for adults and like $1 for kids on weekends. Along Rue Laurier between Mentana and Brebeúf. Metro: Laurier
Museum of Fine Arts: While not the largest collection, it has many wonderful pieces of European, American, and Canadian art. And there is usually an interesting special exhibit to check out. The museum is free (donation requested) but you need to have a ticket for special exhibits. There is a nice room with puzzles and things for kids, and really shallow “horse steps” going up to each of the floors. My daughter loves climbing them. On Rue Sherbrooke between Bishop and Crescent. Metro: Guy-Concordia.
Old Town Montreal and the Old Port: In the way all old adorable places get super touristy, this area has unfortunately fallen to the temptation of filling its charming streets with tacky souvenir shops and overpriced dining. But there are still a few interesting things to see and the views of the stately, old buildings of the city are quite nice. It’s nice to take a walk around this area and there are a few interesting art galleries here and there. Go on weekends or it will feel a bit desolate. Between Rue Notre Dame Est and towards the waterfront, near Rue Ste-Gabriel. Metro: Champ de Mars.
Botanical Gardens: A gigantic, sprawling garden, or rather series of different gardens, the crown jewel of which is the lovely Chinese Garden, with it’s little temples, lake, bridges, and winding paths. My favorite is the Temple of Infinite Pleasantness, it just sounds like such a nice place to hang out. The Japanese Garden is also very beautiful and quite large. Don’t miss the Shade Garden and the First Nations Garden either. You could spend a lot of time wandering this place, appreciating all the hard work that goes into all the different plants. There is also an indoor system of greehouses featuring different climates’ vegetation. In the early spring, they have a Butterflies Go Free exhibit where you can walk around in a greenhouse filled with free butterflies and their native fruits and flowers. June and July are probably the best months to see all the flowers blooming outside, but if you come in the winter, the Chinese Garden has a temporary exhibit of lit silk lanterns after sundown. It’s breathtaking. At Blvd Pie IX and Sherbrooke Est. Metro: Pie IX.
Marche Jean-Talon Our large semi-permanent, open air, farmers market and various small shops for cheeses and spices and lots of other wonderful things. Jean-Talon is the kind of place you WISH you could buy all your vegetables. It’s only really hopping in the late spring through early fall, but it gets wonderful local produce for good prices and even if you are just visiting, you are bound to find something at one of the stalls or in the surrounding shops. Grab lunch at one of the little places in and around the market and if you are here in June, grab some local strawberries. On Rue Jean-Talon Est at Ave Henri Julien. Metro: Jean-Talon.
Streets to Walk Down
St Laurent between Mont-Royal and Rue Prince Arthur Est, take a left on that and walk down to Square St Louis (so pretty) and through to St Denis, make a right and continue to St Catherine.
St Catherine between Papineau and Downtown
Sherbrooke Oest between Blvd Décarie and Ave Victoria
Ave Du Parc between St Viateur and Mont-Royal
Restaurants and Cafes
I’m not going to pretend that this is in any way comprehensive… my restaurant-ing has been dramatically hampered by the baby-to-preschooler conversion project I’ve been working on as well as income, but here are a few of my favs.
Juliette and Chocolat: One of my favorite places for crepes, actually. And their cocoa menu isn’t too shabby either. Cacao 70 is good too, but their focus is more on chocolate everything and Juliette has really good regular food too. Two locations, one at St Laurent and Prince Arthur Ouest and the other at St Denis between Ontario and Maisonneuve.
Commensal: A vegetarian buffet, lots of interesting salads and warm dishes. Two locations, one on St Denis and one on McGill College Ave downtown. I think it’s rather kid friendly.
Comptoir 21: A cute fish and chips shop, but very good food. St Catherine, just east of Amherst.
Icehouse: A southern, “tex mex,” fried food kind of place. They dump your food on paper in the center the table in sort of the most charming way possible. I like the burrito but really I go for the bourbon lemonade which is pretty much the only thing I want to drink all summer for the rest of my life. The experience/service is a bit brusque, but I’m a NYer so it doesn’t bother me so much. If you can, go on a weekday evening as early as possible as it can get busy (no reservations). Ave Roy, just east of St Laurent.
Cacao 70: A chocolate goo fest. Crepes and desserts and chocolate pizzas… it’s delicious and terrible and wonderful. St Catherine between Panet and Beaudry.
La Mie Matinale: A very small bakery, cafe, sandwich shop. This is a totally personal recommendation. When we first moved to Montreal, I had a tiny baby and no desire to leave the apartment. My husband brought me back sandwiches from here quite frequently. I fell pretty hard for them. If you happen to be nearby, go in and grab a coffee, a pain au chocolate, and a smoked salmon sandwich. It’s my favorite sandwich in all of Montreal and will probably be the one food I miss the most. St Catherine between Panet and Plessis.
I hope you have fun running around Montreal, remember to keep your metro cards until you’ve completed your trip (sometimes they check), bring your winter coats between October and April (and all year except July/Aug if you are from Florida), and yes, the paper money feels like plastic so don’t accidentally throw out stuff in your pockets without looking at it. Bon voyage!