Montreal is often dubbed as the most European city in the Western hemisphere. And I’ll dare to say it’s even more than this. Not only the views are scenic, especially during Christmas season, the food is mighty fine, cheap and diverse. In fact, Montreal boasts the 2nd highest number of restaurants per capita in North America with NYC coming first. The city definitely has a unique charm of its own, discovered when you wander through different neighborhoods.
So, if you are heading to Montreal for work or play (or even permanent relocation), here are the coolest neighborhoods absolutely worth a stroll.
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Often dubbed as the “the New France of Montreal” this neighborhood is uber charming. Think a huge international restaurant scene; loads of quirky artisanal shops scattered around, hipsterish coffee shops, lavish parks and Instagram-famous colorful staircases and adorable townhouses.
Not to miss places:
Rue St-Denis and Boulevard St-Laurent – the two busiest streets in the neighborhood with loads of shops and eateries. Be sure to dine at one of the BYOB (“apportez votre vin”) restaurants. St-Laurent is also a popular party street with loads of venues open till late.
Parc Lafontaine – the green heart of the neighborhood, perfect for mid-afternoon picnics in summer and ice-skating during winter. It’s a popular spot to mingle with the local francophone hipsters throwing al-fresco BBQ birthday parties.
Head to La Distillerie for your cocktail fix. The venue serves extremely strong, yet delicious cocktails in Mason jars. Be sure to arrive before 9PM as the place can get super busy, especially on the weekends.
For a dose of good music, visit Métropolis – the place hosts all sort of live performances, but consider yourself super lucky if you get there during an International Jazz Festival.
History buffs should appreciate L’Écomusée du Fier Monde – a small museum, documenting the neighborhood’s development since its industrial origins.
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Hike up the Mont-Royal for the most picturesque views of the eastern portion of the city, plus shiny modern downtown. If you don’t feel fit enough, just take the bus leaving from Mont-Royal métro station.
The neighborhood’s also popular among European expats, so you are likely to find yourself in a good company if you decide to move here. The rent is pretty affordable with prices starting from $600 for 1 bedroom and $900+ for 2 bedrooms.
The Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal)
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The best place to experience how European and American cultures mingle together is the Old Montreal neighborhood. Put on comfy shoes and get ready to roam the streets with a raised head till your neck starts to hurt. Here are the must-see stops to add to your itinerary:
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Notre-Dame Basilica – a grand Gothic church with dazzling stained glass windows and a massive century-old organ that was built in 1820s on the site of an earlier church from the 1650s. Check out Old Sulpician Seminary next door, which is also the oldest building in Montreal dating back to the 1685.
Place d’Armes – one of the loveliest and oldest public squares in Montreal. Apart from the great view on the Notre-Dame façade make sure you spot the old Bank of Montreal on the northern side and the Aldred Building on the western side – the first skyscraper in the city that kind of resembles the Empire State building. Fun fact: Celine Dion got married at this square in 1994.
Museum Pointe-à-Callière offers great insights into the city’s history and is jammed pack with some archaeological curiosities. Yet, this museum is rather modern with loads of interactive materials and interesting temporary exhibitions e.g. about the life and work of Agatha Christie.
Saint-Paul Street – arguably the most popular, yet still charming pedestrian street in the Old Montreal. The ambience and old architecture make this place a must-walk. Head towards the amazing Place Jacques Cartier – a pretty touristy spot, yet still sending this unique old city vibe.
Champ-de-Mars Park is a good place to take a break under the lavish trees and munch a sandwich before heading to the gorgeous Château Ramezay and exploring the longest remaining part of the fortification wall that used to begird the city.
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After you get tired of marveling the facades and walking the cobblestone lanes, head to the Underground city – the largest underground complex in the world hidden right under the Downtown. Here you can get your shopping fix, dine for cheap at one of the yummy food courts, throw a coin and make a wish at the huge fountain hidden beneath the ground and even view a piece of the Berlin wall.
Climb Up the 192 steps of the Montreal’s Clock Tower. Your reward? Some splendid views and a chance to see the huge clock mechanism assembled in England back in 1919. If you are visiting the area during summer, take a chill at the Clock Tower Parisian-style Beach.
For more epic views and tasty, affordable drinks head to Stellar Terrace – a cool venue on an Old Port terrace.
If your budgets scratch for upscale dining, visit the Bonsecours Market – a 150 year-old public market, now featuring a decent selection of cafes, bistros and small boutiques. Don’t miss the stunning Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours nearby. It’s definitely worth even a quick glance from the outside.
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If you feel tired of the crowds and touristy things and want to experience Montreal the local way, head to Petite-Partier. While the area used to be a low-income, working class neighborhood just a few years ago, it has now morphed into an up-and-coming vibrant spot with new venues and stores popping up. Dubbed as the “the new Plateau”, the district now boasts a good amount of independent designer stores, quirky cafes and fine eateries.
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If you are renting an apartment during your stay, head to the famed Jean-Talon market for fresh, organic produce and local delights for dinner.
If you are into gnocchi and pizza, you’ll love the nearby Petite-Italy with loads of family-owned trattorias, cooking delightful Italian food according to the traditional recipes brought from the Old World. Pastaga Restaurant is a bit pricy, but the food is really great, plus the homemade wines. Caffé San Simeon is where you can find robust Italian coffee, brewed up to the highest standards.
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Located on the western slopes of Mount Royal, this neighborhood has a long fame of being upscale. First inhabited by the wealthy English immigrants, it’s now home to Montreal’s upper class. Think loads of posh restaurants, designer boutiques, extravagant manors and loads of well-kept spacious parks around. If you have disposable income, that may be your dream place to live.
Brunche lovers should head straight to Lavanderia Restaurant – their French-inspired menu is sub par. Le Bilboquet is arguably the best ice-cream parlor in town with amazing fruit sorbets. And if you are ready to splurge, book a table at Park Restaurant – a hip Japanese restaurant with super fresh sushi and sashimi.
Have you been to Montreal? What are your thoughts of the city?