Often referred to as Canada’s coolest city, Montreal is the perfect blend of North American charm and European ‘je ne sais quoi.’ From Little Italy to Mile Ex, the city is made up of neighborhoods with their own distinct personalities.
Coffee culture is huge in Montreal, especially during the winter when locals cower from the cold, so you could spend days hunting for the best espresso in town. But don’t leave without trying poutine: french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy (it tastes better than it sounds!).
The underground tunnels make navigating the city super easy, too – they’re air conditioned in summer and heated in winter. Here’s where to start:
Where to stay
Hotel William Gray
If you’re travelling to Montreal in the winter, you won’t be able to resist the spa at Hotel William Gray. Choose from the hot/cold thermal circuit with a Himalayan salt room, Finnish sauna, steam room or herbal sauna. The pool and terrace are open during the summer and there’s plenty of places to chill inside too – the hotel’s Living Room offers reading nooks and a pool table.
Found in the heart of Old Montreal, some of the rooms at Hotel Nelligan have fireplaces, so it has our vote. In the warmer months they open the rooftop terrace (it really is a hotel for all seasons). The on-site restaurant Verses Bistro offers a market-fresh menu so there’s no need to venture far for good food.
Auberge du Vieux Port
Right on the Saint Lawrence River, Auberge du Vieux Port was a 19th Century warehouse and still retains some of the old charm with exposed brick walls. Out of the 45 rooms, try to choose one with views of the river. This is as central as you can get so the nearby restaurants are pricey – we’d recommend travelling out of the center for the steals.
Where to get coffee
Named one of the ‘Greatest Cafes on Earth’ by The Telegraph, you’ll have heard of Cafe Olimpico, which has been going since 1970. Found in Mile End, the atmosphere lives up to the hype, but you’ll have to wait for a space.
Pikolo Espresso Bar
Near Downtown, Pikolo definitely has an Australian cafe vibe and the staff are super friendly. There’s no wifi and the food is limited but we love the strong coffee. Definitely one for someone who’s fussy about their beans.
As for this Little Italy favorite, go for two reasons: the big coffee portions and the resident Saint Bernard dog. The interior is fun and laid-back with palm trees and monochrome tiles.
Where to eat
The best smoked meat sandwiches in town. Get the ‘medium’ and classic dill pickles. No Montreal trip is complete without this classic! Leonard Cohen himself was a customer.
Marche Jean Talon
This open-air market has been running in Little Italy since 1933. Snack kiosks serve crepes, cheese, coffee and everything in between. Look out for the many maple variants – from fudge to butter.
Opt for the tasting menu deal here – just C$70 per person for five dishes. The fois gras and black cod are exquisite. Non-alcoholic drinks are great too – try the coriander lemonade.
We adore the Caribbean theme of this Haitian restaurant with its jungle foliage wallpaper and giant street art murals. As for the food, it’s meat heavy with oxtail and pork ribs. Wash it down in the summer with an ice-cold beer slushie.
Olive + Gourmando
A boulangerie selling the best bread in the city. The Valrhona brioche is to die for.
Where to drink
This super cool wine bar is on the western strip of Notre-Dame St. in St-Henri. The knowledgeable staff suggest wine pairings to go with the nine dishes featured on the menu. Of course, you don’t have to go with all nine…
Blink and you’ll miss this basement cocktail bar, which is hidden in a former industrial cold room. We love the award-winning cocktails and the interior inspired by “industrial meets grandma’s basement.”
Where to shop
The best in the city for menswear. Expect super cool skate apparel and streetwear gold.
By far the biggest retail player in Montreal. Not to be missed. The shoe collection alone is spectacular.
Found in Mile End, this upscale boutique sells clothes, accessories and beauty products. We love the Grown Alchemist cosmetics and Linda Farrow eyewear.
A classic MTL born and bred brand that specialises in rich leather products and fabrics. 90% of items are crafted in their own workshops. Shop without the guilt knowing you’ve chosen local.
Frank and Oak
You’ll find a few of these dotted around Montreal. The brand is a Canadian favorite for stylish outdoor essentials and has been featured by magazines like GQ and Esquire. The shop also offers a barber shop and cafe.
Since 2006, this local favorite has been championing quality manufacturing in Old Montreal. A great place to hunt for emerging designers.
Thrift shopping at its finest, the two owners Lara et Becky handpick clothes for your perusal. Promoting sustainable fashion is at the heart of Citizen, encouraging customers to think twice before they buy brand new.
Where to workout
If you’re travelling to Montreal during winter, there’s no better way to warm up than a quick spin session at Cadence. The instructors’ enthusiasm is contagious and a tough workout is always guaranteed.
Studio Yoga Club
This beautiful little yoga studio is found in a suburban spot in Rosemont. Classes are taught in French but English is mixed in if requested. The hot yoga is perfect during the winter months.
What to do
From Leonard Cohen to photography and sculpture, if you only have time for one museum in Montreal, make sure it’s MAC. The permanent collection features 8,000 pieces from Quebec, Canadian and international artists with temporary exhibitions rolling throughout the year too.
If the weather allows, head up the extinct volcano Mount Royal for a 30 minute hike. Wander through the 470 acres for some fresh air and skyline views. Fun fact: Mount Royal was designed by the same landscape architect behind New York City’s Central Park.