Full disclosure: Montreal is currently my favourite city on Earth. It’s not too big, but not too small. Not too populated, but not too quiet either. It has enough culture to be different, but not so much as to make it inconvenient. And the icing on the cake, it has a vibrant travel community.
We’ve been told we’re smitten with Montreal because it’s summer, and apparently everyone loves it in summer. I guess we’ll see, but for now, here are our top things to do in Montreal.
Mont Royal and Tam Tams
Climbing Mont Royal using the direct route via the stairs is pretty hard work. You can get up and back in an hour or so if you really hustle. It’s a great workout for aspiring mountaineers and those who’ve feasted on the local cuisine (see poutine above).
Also, every Sunday during summer, hippies and non-hippies alike congregate around the George-Étienne Cartier Statue to play bongo and djembe drums (aka Tam Tams). It’s a real spectacle, and often surrounded by other activities such as Medieval sword fighting, circus acts and ubiquitous picnics. Grab some French cheese, water crackers and a bottle of vin beforehand, find a patch of luscious grass, and take a seat to enjoy the raw beats.
Olive et Gourmando
Like La Banquise, there’s always a line out the door at Olive et Gourmando. It’s a gorgeous little cafe/deli in the Old Montreal quarter (Quartier Vieux-Montréal). The atmosphere is always electric and the food always delicious.
Last time I visited, I had a hot panini with caramelised onion, fresh goat curd and homemade ketchup. So yum! You’ll need to book in advance if you’re a party more than two, or at least get there before the crowds, which seem ever-present.
Montreal loves to party in summer. From the day we arrived here, we’ve had the Grand Prix Festival, Francofolies Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs Festival, and more. Then of course there’s Cirque du Soleil, a world-renowned Quebec-based circus that often infiltrates these events to put on a show of truly epic proportions.
There’s something about Montreal festivals that draws crowds: the noise is always thunderous, the action comes from all sides, the performers get closer, and the summer weather is perfect, even when it rains.
The circus alone is certainly one of the top things to do in Montreal.
The unofficial national dish of Montreal is poutine. It consists of fries (aka chips), cheese curds and gravy. La Banquise is the quintessential Montreal poutine eatery. It’s in the middle of Le Plateau, adjacent to Parc La Fontaine on Rue Rachel. They offer over 20 styles of poutine AND they’re open 24 hours, 7 days a week. That’s right, they’re open all the time. Let’s just hope we can exercise a modicum of moderation like the slim native Montrealers do.
Have you ever experienced total darkness? The type that visually impaired people must live with? Well, O’Noir can help you out there. It’s an experiential restaurant where you eat in complete darkness. Blind waiters serve you, blind musicians serenade you, and for that three or so hours, you are blind too.
It’s well worth the ~$30 price for such an eye-opening experience (on that note, just relax your eyes, no matter how far you open them, you won’t see – you’ll just end up with eye cramps). Book a few days in advance though, because O’Noir is on everyone’s Things To Do in Montreal list.