Fall is coming and there is nothing more pleasant than being able to walk an international city in crisp and cool weather (with perhaps a splash of fall colors) while enjoying diverse neighborhoods, great ethnic restaurants, lively markets and interesting street art. If you pick the right time, you can have an incredible Montreal weekend trip without spending a fortune.
Traveling to Canada has never been more exciting or affordable. When thinking of fall Canadian destinations, Quebec City always seems to be the first choice of U.S. travelers —given its history, the Chateau Frontenac and its proximity to the ocean. But, don’t ignore Montreal. It is easily accessible with numerous direct flights from most major U.S. cities. Another plus – the exchange rate makes everything look incredibly affordable. You may feel like you are in Paris since the city is French-speaking and has incredible French delicacies (including chocolate).
Arrive late on Thursday so you can spend Friday walking the streets and neighborhoods of Montreal. I suggest grabbing a pastry and coffee for breakfast at a cafe in the Mont Royal district. Then, move on to the historic Rue St. Paul and Vieux Montreal, where you can experience the history of the city (the Notre Dame Basilica) and enjoy a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River.
Have lunch in old Montreal at Brit and Chips and you’ll feel like you have been transported to England. Experience the Spanish influence with tapas at Santos Tapas Bar. Interested in barbeque? Try Lattuca Barbecue where the beef ribs are fall-off-the-bone special.
Return to the Mont Royal district for a drink and some people watching at a street cafe before you enjoy an incredible French dinner. You might try Maison Boulud at the Ritz Carlton, if you want to spend a little more for incredible service and French food. There are also number of smaller restaurants and cafes in the Mont Royal district, like Plein Sud, which is a family-owned French bistro.
Rise early on Saturday morning and head to Marche Jean Talon in Little Italy. Wander through its endless supplies of fruits, vegetables and flowers and grab some fresh and crisp fall apples. Try the Portuguese natas pastry booth or La Fromagerie Hamel. If you want more French pastries and great coffee, don’t miss Boulangerie Premier Moisson. There are many locations around town for this first rate bakery and delicatessen, but the market location offers great outdoor seating and an incredible people watching experience.
The rest of Saturday can be devoted to culture (the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or some very compelling small museums) or stroll the shopping districts. Rue St. Denis offers several opportunities to benefit from the great exchange rate. Shop fabulous and unusual shoes at John Fluevog or small boutiques with lots of different jewelry and clothing options. You can wander Mont-Royal on Rue Sherbrooke, Rue Crescent and Rue Ste. Catherine. If you want the boutiques, try General 54 or Citizens Vintage for unique fashion designs on Boulevard Saint-Laurent or French inspired boutiques on Avenue Laurier.
Saturday evening can be spent at any of a number of restaurants. For something fun and different, try Manitoba for a hearty Canadian meal (with wild game) or Moleskine for pizza. After dinner, drink and party like an Irishman at Hurley’s Irish Pub or try Brutopia, both on Rue Crescent. Another option is to catch a performance by Cirque de Soleil, a unique Montreal experience from the artistic troupe that started here. Or just wander the streets, as Montreal is a safe city where each neighborhood can offer you vistas and green spaces.
Spend Sunday morning trying the unique bagels that the city has to offer at St. Viateur Bagels or Fairmount Bagel. They are different than New York bagels – all handmade, honey infused and smaller. Well worth the experience. Then, if you have time before your flight, wander through the Montreal Botanic Gardens for some interesting fall landscapes and colors.
Where to stay? The choices are endless. Small boutique hotels or an icon like the Ritz Carlton. Your choice. It is easy to get around in the city no matter where you stay due to friendly taxi drivers, Uber availability and a great subway system (which is even free on some weekends).
Don’t forget to get to the airport early for your return flight. If you haven’t done enough damage, you can enjoy some great duty free shopping before returning home.
Montreal deserves more than a weekend, but if that is all the time you have, it’s a great way to create a different, sensory-stimulating, international experience.
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