In August this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal for 2 nights. It was going to be a short stay, but I wanted to make the most of it.
I was traveling with my new partner, Ang. She was presenting at a conference, and I joined for some fun! I have been to Canada before—to Toronto and Bromont. But Montreal is a city I have been wanting to visit since I took French in high school. So this trip was 15+ years in the making! It also marked the first time I had been out of the USA since my round-the-world trip!
Summers in Montreal are full of art, music, and outdoor fun. I experienced everything I describe in this post over 2 days. But you can easily see and do it all in 24 hours.
1. Chow Down On Crêpes
We were staying in a posh hotel in the center of Montreal. This was such a luxury in comparison to what I am used to when traveling. While I find the center of tourist-land to be annoying, I appreciated being close to great food!
A few blocks from our hotel was Cafe et Crêpe. It was the perfect place to catch breakfast before starting a full day of activities. And the crêpes were très délicieux!
2. Kayak The Lachine Canal
We hopped on the subway down to the Charlevoix stop and then walked over to the canal. H2O Adventures provided the solo kayaks and life vests for $35 each for 2 hours.
It's about a 2 mile stretch of canal. If you want to go farther, you have to wait for the locks to bring you up or down.
We did not see much nature along the canal other than a pretty reed bed and a turtle sunbathing.
I appreciated being out in the sun and fresh air in the morning. It was a nice arm workout especially going against the current one way.
Remember to retrieve your ID from the front desk after you return their gear. I forgot it and had to backtrack to get it later! Booo!
3. Explore The Place Du Marché
When we finished kayaking, we crossed the cute little bridge over the Lachine Canal to get to the market. The markets open at 7AM every day. They're a great place to catch food vendors for a meal or stock up on groceries if you're in town for a longer stay.
This place had some of the most beautiful, fresh fruit I've seen since SE Asia! We couldn't resist nomming a small basket of raspberries—yum!
4. Check Out The Open Air Museum Exhibit
We rode the subway back toward the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). There was an outdoor art exhibit taking place all along Rue Sherbrooke. This was an Open Air Museum that took place from June-October for Montreal’s 375th Anniversary.
The exhibit featured tons of older work and newer work. The focus was distinctly social justice-oriented. There was photography about the refugee crisis in Europe. There was a sculpture celebrating the liberated woman. There was all kinds of thought-provoking work.
There was also some gorgeous modern art displays. One of my favorites was a glass sculpture by Chihuly right outside the museum.
This was on display for their Revolution exhibit to celebrate the late 1960s.
We didn't catch the exhibit inside because we felt so fulfilled by all the art on the outside. And who wants to be in a museum in the perfect weather of August in Montreal? Not me!
5. Climb Mont Royal For City Views
We took Avenue du Musée up toward Mont Royal. A right on Avenue des Pins brought us to a path on the left into the park. This path led us to many, many stairs going up and up to Chalet du Mont-Royal.
A half hour of climbing stairs and passing by many other tourists finally brought us there. It was a beautiful, clear day, so many people were there.
Plus, there were camera crews and media organizations all over. We didn't know what was going on at first until we realized they were recording the mayor of Montreal!
That's right. We got to see Mayor Denis Coderre delivering a speech in french. I couldn't understand what he was talking about. But I think it may have had something to do with Charlottesville in the United States. This was the same weekend that the "Unite the Right" rally took place, leading to the death of Heather Heyer.
6. Lounge In An Adirondack Chair
It's easy! They're everywhere! Downtown...along the Lachine...all over! People seem to love them!
7. Drink In A Hidden Speakeasy
The Cloakroom is a secret speakeasy hidden in a men's clothing store. Before you enter the store, there is a mirror to the left. But it's not only a mirror—it's a door!
My co-worker told me about this one! We knew what we were looking for and we still missed it on first pass. But once inside, it's a neat space and the menu has some great cocktails.
8. Take Part In Activism
Canadians, and especially Montreal dwellers, definitely lean more liberal. Plus, the murder of Heather Heyer and the Charlottesville protests had taken place in the states that weekend. And so there was lots of activism taking place on the streets especially on this weekend.
I found a gathering of people protesting in Phillips Square and joined in for a few minutes.
9. See Some Street Art
For art that's a little less traditional and more rough around the edges, Montreal has tons of street art. In fact, while we were in town, there was a huge street art festival taking place.
And artists were out spreading their creativity across the streets around Rue Sainte-Catherine.
10. Listen to (Free) Live Music
In conjunction with the street art, there was tons of live music happening along Rue Sainte-Catherine. The street pedestrian only to accommodate all the activities.
The Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal had a stage set up for free jazz music. Further up the street was another stage with hip hop artists making a large crowd go wild.
11. Eat All The Poutine
A great evening meal (or anytime meal according to Canadians) is poutine. It's a must cultural experience while in Canada.
I learned about poutine for the first time from Fabrice. He was my French Canadian road trip buddy in Iceland. He tried to explain poutine to me then and said I had to try it sometime in French Canada. Well. Here I was. And, in honor of Fabrice, I made sure to try poutine not once but thrice during my 2-night stay in Montreal. Each was slightly different from the one before it.
In general, poutine is french fries and cheese curds smothered in a brown gravy. You can get other things mixed in, like I put chicken and bacon in it once.
Poutine is...okay. I'm not a big french fries or brown gravy fan. And I love cheese, but cheese curds? It was just okay. But I do get it. When you've been drinking on Sainte-Catherine all night, a bowl of poutine is the perfect belly-filler.
12. Celebrate Pride
The last time I celebrated Pride internationally was in Auckland in the month of February! August in Montreal is LGBTQ Pride month. Neither are like US cities which have Pride in June. And that is fine with me!
Ang and I met some of her conference friends up in the Gay Village. Rue Sainte-Catherine runs through the Gay Village. It was decorated with colorful streamers running the entire length of the village. Such a welcoming vibe!
We went to a few bars and clubs and enjoyed the atmosphere and culture. There's something consistently liberating about the gayborhoods of various cities. It's so nice to be who you are without having to worry about what anybody else thinks!
13. Watch The Bridge From A Rooftop
The Pont Jacques Cartier is a beautiful bridge with a nightly light show. Starting this year through 2027, the bridge will feature a special light show. The lights respond to various data points related to Montreal, including weather, traffic, noise and activity on social media.
The light show celebrates the 150th anniversary of Canada and 375th anniversary of Montreal.
You can walk across it at night or you can sip a cocktail and enjoy the show from a nearby rooftop. The latter is what we did. From the rooftop of Unity Club, I watched the lights dance across Jacques Cartier to end our day in Montreal.
There is so much I'd still love to do and see in Montreal. I'll have to go back one day when I can spend more time there. But I'm glad I was still able to see so much of it in such a short amount of time!